“Adrian, man where have you been? I looked for you all over the place!” Isidro was scrambling all over the apartment as Adrian climbed in through the window from the roof. He knew that something was not right… Isidro seemed to be very nervous about something.
“Dude I was sleeping on the roof last night, what’s going on here?” He asked concernedly.
“We have to go right now. Not only does our train leave in half an hour, but there’s a few people waiting for us out on the street that I really do not want to see right now.”
Adrian lost his breath for a moment. “Who would be looking for you?” He asked, and looked out the window.
“Don’t show yourself, they’ve been looking up at this room for the past hour and a half, since sunrise. We gotta get out of here through the other side.”
“How do we do that?” Adrian cried frantically.
“Same way you just barely came in my friend.” Isidro said. “Pack your backpack; we don’t have much time before they will start moving in on us.”
“But who are they?” Adrian asked as he threw a pair of clothes into his backpack.
“The Albanian mafia that I thought you belonged to yesterday.” He said, and put his sack around his back. “Are you ready?”
“Only if you are.” Adrian said nervously. He took one last look out the window through the crack in the curtains.
“Come on, this way.” Isidro beckoned and they made their way to the back of the room to the window where Adrian had just climbed in through. One at a time, they climbed out of the window and grabbed onto the drain pipe, climbing up to the roof. They stood on the side of the roof where Adrian had lay, and Isidro jumped across a small gap in between buildings and landed on the roof right next to the hostel.
Suddenly, gunshots sounded and the window just below the roof they stood on shattered. The two mafia men were now in their room. “Isidro they have guns!”
“Well of course they have guns! What do you expect, crossbows?” They ran up to the peak of the building and just as they reached the other side, more gunshots were fired and the clay tiles on the top of the roof exploded. They continued to run and jump across from roof to roof, and finally, they rested against a wide chimney on a small house right before they reached the main highway that crossed through the city.
“How long are they going to continue to follow us?” Adrian panted.
“Not for long. The mafia today isn’t the mafia you know from the 1920’s. They won’t chase someone over just stealing some food from one of their markets. If the runners are even remotely getting out of sight with no way of catching them for days, they just get lazy and turn to other more important problems.”
“So will they stop following us then?” Adrian confirmed.
“We’ve got a sixty percent chance that this is true.”
They slid down a drainpipe and surfaced down in a narrow alley that led out into the main road where all the popular shops were. People were just beginning to leave their apartments to perform their daily routine; it was about seven-thirty in the morning.
“Careful on how much you smoke during the day Adrian.” Isidro indicated as Adrian lit up a cigarette nervously. “The heat during the day can affect you more than you think.”
“I’m sorry.” Adrian said, “I’ve never been chased by the mafia before.”
Isidro led him to a small bus station on the side of the road and less than a minute later they jumped on the city bus. “Another custom you should learn.” Isidro said as the bus passed all the tall, important buildings of the center of Nikolai. “You should never stare someone straight in the eyes for more than three seconds. They will think of it as a challenge and before you know it you’ll have two black eyes and a broken jaw.”
“Oh lovely.” Adrian said. “There’s one thing I can’t do is not look at people. There’s gotta be thirty others on this bus alone.”
“Oh, this is nothing. They pack these busses like sardines, just like the trains here. They’re real communist. We should have been on the platform twenty minutes ago waiting to get seats on the train.”
The train station was only about a ten minute’s bus ride from the center of the city. As soon as they got off the bus, Adrian and Isidro ran down the stairs, following the signs to where they needed to buy train tickets. The tickets were only twenty euros, just as Isidro had said, and soon they were waiting for the train on the platform.
“There’s not a lot of people waiting for this train, isn’t there?”
“That’s because we’re traveling down to a city that nobody knows anything about. I hardly know anything about it.” Isidro replied. “But of course, the train does make a few stops along the way. I believe there are two or three stops in the outer villages of Nikolai, and then one more stop in a village right before reaching the mountains. Then the remaining half is spent mostly through the mountains and lots of tunnels. Rakavor is in the middle of a valley, just north of the mountains that separate us from the country just south. It used to be a very militaristically important location back in the world wars.”
“Well I don’t think we will have much problem with finding seats on the way there.” Adrian said.
“Yeah, I don’t think so either, but we really gotta be careful on the way back. Let’s hope you’ve got a solid butt to sit on for four hours.”
A train whistle filled the station, and the train pulled into the station, finally stopping in front of the full platform. “Oh we got one of the newer trains, not the true communist ones that I told you about.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Adrian sighed. They were one of the first ones on the train. It was the sort of train that had an aisle on the right side of the train and there were individual compartments that fit about eight—four sitting on one side and four on the other. Isidro and Adrian found their own compartment and put their backpacks on the racks above their heads.
“So is anyone else going to be joining us is the compartment then?” Adrian asked curiously.
“Well, usually if we close the door then nobody will come in. It’s your choice.”
“Let’s just close the door and then wait for the other compartments to fill up.” Adrian said, and Isidro slid the door shut. Minutes later, however, the door opened up and a middle-aged man with gray temples walked in with a briefcase, sitting across from them. They exchanged in small talk for about three minutes in Kestovnian while Adrian looked out the window into the station trying to see if he could understand anything remote that they were saying. After these three minutes, the man sat down and opened a book, keeping his mouth closed for any more conversation. Three more people walked in, a young woman in her thirties, an old man in his seventies and then another middle-aged man in his forties. They all exchanged in light conversation for about a minute before they all kept quiet and retired to their own train duties.
“One thing you should know about Kestovnians,” Isidro started to whisper, “people on trains and busses, they may look very unhappy and unfriendly, but that is just how they are. Once there is a little bit of conversation they are very friendly. It is just very hard to ‘break the ice,’ as Americans say, here in Kestovnia.”
“Oh, okay. It seems to be one of the bigger differences between here and Silver City,” Adrian said, thinking about how easily he could ‘break the ice’ with late-night cashiers at corner gas stations. At least that was true for the Midwestern states, about how friendly they were; he wasn’t quite so sure if it was the same way with the east coast or west coast.
The train whistled, and lurched forward, picking up speed. Soon the station was whizzing past and soon had disappeared altogether. Adrian passed his time on the train by just watching outside the window as the scenery shifted from all the crowded stucco houses to open fields and farms. In the distance he could see the mountains where he saw the radio tower from the airport his first night.
Every mile that the train traveled on the tracks made Adrian grow in anticipation of meeting his parents, after all this time searching for them and after all his bad luck. He tried to imagine their faces from the pictures in real life, how they would look when they would see their long lost son. He wondered what their real, genuine reaction would be, whether it be surprise, shock, or maybe something else. If they had given him to the orphanage for a special reason, maybe they would react differently. Adrian couldn’t stop thinking about it. He wanted so bad to just hold his real parents and embrace them in a loving hug, telling them that he was alright back in the states. He wanted them to assure him that they can be together for the rest of their lives.
“Adrian, we’re here.” Isidro nudged him and he opened his eyes.
“How long was I out?” He asked, rubbing his eyes.
“About an hour and a half.” Isidro said, and they stood up in the compartment and grabbed their backpacks, along with the other six in the compartment. They slowly made their way out of the train and onto the platform. It was a fairly sized underground station, and there was a fair amount of people. It was just very rundown.
“Someone needs to drive a garbage truck down here.” Adrian said.
“Oh, they don’t care. Since the monarchy died and the communist regime took its place, they have neglected most public transportation areas like this. They figure that since nobody is living down here they don’t have to make it a hospitable place.”
“Well it would definitely be different in America, if they even had an underground system. Only the bigger cities do.”
“So how do you think we’ll be able to get to your parents’ house? I don’t know this village very well.”
“There’s a map right over there.” Adrian pointed to a cinderblock wall over to the side. They walked over to it and studied the streets.
“I guess your parents’ house is right… here.” Isidro pointed to the northern side of the village. He drew a little map on his hand. “It’s only like, five blocks away from here, I think.”
“Isidro, what if my parents aren’t there? What if they moved away, or what if something happened to them?” Adrian asked worriedly. He couldn’t stop thinking about all possible reasons why his parents wouldn’t be at their home in Rakavor.
“Well, I guess we just keep looking. You’ve got ten years to spare, right?” Isidro said, and led Adrian away from the map after drawing on his hand and they walked up a set of dirty, stained concrete steps.
“That doesn’t really make me feel better.” Adrian said. “I sure do have ten years to spare looking for them, but I feel the longer I wait or the longer it takes for me to find them, the harder it will be.”
“I always try to keep on the bright side.” Isidro said. They reached the surface of the street and Adrian did his best to absorb the atmosphere. Everything looked a lot older than it did in Nikolai. All the houses, crammed side by side, all the shops and all the apartments looked very old and withered, and the bright colors from the exterior plaster walls had long faded, leaving a dull, sullen gray color.
“I think the village lost that idea long ago.” Adrian pointed out.
“With some new paint and maybe some newly planted flowers, I think this village would look very beautiful.” Isidro said, smiling and nodding.
“Isidro, how do you do it?” Adrian asked. “How do you manage to keep so cool in all these hard times?”
“Not many do.” He said. “I have my ways.”
“Alcohol?” Adrian asked.
“Exactly.” He replied, smiling. “It solves all problems.”
“Spoken like a true European. It sure creates lots of problems too.” Adrian said to himself, thinking about how several people die a year from alcohol alone. He tried not to keep his mind on the thought for long however, he was a hypocrite just by thinking it.
“Come on, let’s go find your parents!” Isidro said and started to walk briskly down the crooked street. They walked past more and more houses, a couple statues and lots of churches.
“Kestovnia is a very religious nation.” Adrian pointed out.
“It won’t be for long.” Isidro said. “The regime is going to start burning all the churches and mosques, just you wait. They won’t have anything to do with religion.”
“That’s really sad.” Adrian said. “Not that I’m much of a priest myself, I haven’t been to church in years. But these are beautiful churches.” He admired the intricate architecture of the many steeples, towers and minarets.
“Have you ever heard the call to prayer yet?” Isidro asked.
“What’s the call to prayer?”
“It’s when a singer prays at the top of the minaret in song and every Muslim on the street stops and prays wherever they are. The village I grew up in, it was very close to the border of Kestovnia and Albania, and the whole village was very Muslim. The call to prayer would sing from the minaret every single day at a certain time. It was always very beautiful. But my parents, they were never religious.”
“My best friend from America was always very interested in Muslim culture.” Adrian said.
“Adrian, what do you think you will do once we get to your parents’ house?” Isidro asked. “I mean, I know we are going to reach the house in like, five minutes, but I haven’t really imagined what you are going to do when we actually get there.” Isidro was starting to remind Adrian of Jesse. He was always confronting Adrian with overly important matters in casual conversation. Isidro made Adrian miss Jesse even more than he did. He didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t know what to say.” Adrian said, speaking what was only on his mind. “I guess it’ll all just be a surprise to me when we actually get there.”
“What do you expect we will see there?” Isidro asked.
“I don’t know.” Adrian said, as they walked around another corner and started up a short hill.
“We’re nearly there. Your house is right at the top of this hill.” Adrian lit a cigarette anxiously. He could do nothing to stop his heart from beating about three times its normal tempo. “Hmm, looks like someone is burning leaves or something up there.” Isidro said.
“What?” Adrian said, and looked up at the top, seeing a light pillar of smoke. They reached the top of the hill.
“Your house should be right here—” Isidro stopped dead in his tracks. Adrian cursed frantically. The sight was terrible. Adrian had expected a lot of things, but did not expect to see a three-story house almost completely burned to the ground.