Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reconstruction (Warsaw: Late Winter/Early Spring 1997)

Krzysztof sat next to me in the waiting area of the Okęcie International Airport. We had said almost nothing to each other all morning and well into the early afternoon. His English was as good as my Polish. That might have been frustrating except that we hadn’t been saying much to each other for almost two months.

The terminal had morphed into a purgatory after the first two or three hours of aimless waiting. My flight back to New York had been delayed by a spontaneous luggage handlers' strike.

Well, that’s Solidarity for you, I thought.

From the airport public address system, I heard “Nowe Jork.” Krzysztof tilted his head towards the broadcast in an expression that was both hyper alert and furiously concentrated. I looked at him, searching his reaction for good news. His face became apologetic, and that told me that my status had not changed. I offered a small smile to thank him for the effort.

I'd met Krzysztof at the Kozla Pub. I picked him out of the crowd because he looked like someone else, someone I was missing very much.

It had been the 1st of March, my third week in Warsaw. I was a young man, 27 years old, outside the USA for the first time in my life. The Kozla, unmarked except for a single lantern above the door, nestled into a row of 18th century looking, brick artisan houses in the Stare Miasto, or the “Old Town.” It was a misnomer to call the town "old," as it had been rebuilt from the rubble that was Warsaw at the end of World War II. The Poles used whatever money they could raise to make it as an exact replica of itself, as it once had been. Unlike the rest of the city, it presented an old European, fairy tale charm. Every cobble stone on the very dark and quiet street was a reproduction.

The door to Kozla opened into a shocking orange foyer followed by a curved staircase down into the basement. Handsome men squeezed up and out while others replaced them below. The “Grease Megamix” played loudly as I walked down the stairs and through the flirting crowd to the bar.

That was when I saw a ghost. Or I thought I so. Almost as a reflex, I reached out and grabbed onto his forearm.

(Read the rest of the story by clicking here.)

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