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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Albania 12: Tale of Terror pt.2

[NOTE: This blog/diary of Mykel's Italian-Albanian trip starts several entries before this one. Due to the oddities of Blogging, the entries appear in reverse order. As much of the reportage is base on the previous days, I recommend reading from the start, at the entry ALBANIA 1.]

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Qeparo (Coldsore day 9, but will it matter anymore?)

I don't sleep very well that night. When I do manage to drift off the dreams are terrible. Fortunately I can't remember most of them. Only one where I was standing outside, just standing, my eyes closed, seeing nothing. I feel a hand grab the front of my shirt, just about solar plexus level. In the dream I know it is a dream. This is not real. I read down and feel the hand. A human hand, masculine, holding tight. I grab the hand and squeeze. It crumples in my grip. Then I wake up, again.

I must have drifted off yet again, because I'm again awakened. This time by the sound of the glass door being slid open. There he is, unsmiling, with a large cup of coffee and more fruit.
The only thing I've eaten in the past days was fruit. Figs, pamagranite, and a mysterious cactus fruit. It all grows in the garden 30 or so feet directly below. Fertilized, I'm sure, by many others who have stood in this exact spot.

I understand why he asked me how long I'm staying. He really hates what he has to do, and wants to postpone it until the last possible minute. I could escape, maybe. But I'm so far out of town, so lost, how would I ever get anywhere? And he'd see me with my backpack, that'd be a... er... dead giveaway.

Finally he tells me his name. Coocho. I'm horrible with names, but I know if I don't remember this one, I'll be in even worse trouble. Somehow it becomes the most important task of my life to remember. Let's see: Ocho is eight in Spanish. Co-means together like co-worker or cooperate. Two eights together. I fix the image in my mind and superimpose it over his face.

I take out my camera and motion that I want to take his picture. I figure when my remains wash up on shore, they'll find the camera and then catch the guy. Surprisingly, he agrees. I guess he figures on taking the camera after the act.

After the photos he points out to the sea. He asks me if I'm going to go swimming. I tell him it's too cold. He says maybe tomorrow. I say, no I'm leaving tomorrow.

I can see the sadness in his face when I make it clear I'm not staying another day. The longer he can wait the better. I know doesn't want to have to do this, but he's got to. But now it has to be tonight.

Dua te shikoj Himara. (I want to see (the town of) Himara.), I tell him. Not thinking clearly, that if I manage to get into town I could never find my way back to this place. I get lost in Soho, for God's sake.

He points to me, then himself, and then makes the two-fingers-next-to-each-other sign that means together.

Ok, at least that will get me back to the death chamber.

Together we climb the stairs to the alley that leads to the tunnel that leads to the ditch, that leads to the stone steps that lead to the road where the bus will come to take us to Himara. We wait for a bit. The bus does not come.

I take a picture of the stone staircase, another of the garage door close to it, another of a sign that says QEPARO FSHAT, right near the descent from the highway. I have no idea what “fshat” means, but maybe some cab or bus driver will recognize the sign. Besides, if I escape, like the girl in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I can use the photos as clues for the cops to find Albania's Ed Gein.

Still, the bus doesn't come.

A car pulls out of a nearby driveway, off the main road somewhere. Slowly, it makes its way to the outer street. Coocho walks over and signals the man to stop. He has a conversation with him and opens the front and read doors of the car. He motions for me to get in the rear. I do. Then he closes both doors and waves good-bye to me. We head into town.

The driver lets me and the other passenger off at the post office. I look up the word return in the Albanian-English dictionary: kthim.

Ku kthim? I ask him. (When return?)

He shows me two fingers, one bent halfway. I guess that means in an hour and a half. I figure he'll park his cab here and return to it when it's time to leave. That doesn't give me much time, but I can buy some stamps and mail my postcards, go for a stroll down the beach, look at the ocean, have a cup of coffee. When I get out of the post office, the cab is gone.

I'll never find my way back now. My bags, most of my money is there. My computer. I know the only logic is death, but what if I'm missing something? What if he's just this nice eccentric old coot who does want to take care of me. It's not logical (or true, it turns out), but what if?
I walk to the taxi stand near the post office. Maybe the driver will be there. He isn't.

Most of the cabs are empty. In the only one with a driver, the driver is asleep on the front seat with the door open and one foot out of the cab. Knowing my own consciousness on just awakening, I decide not to wake him for the drive.

From a nearby restaurant, another guy, late thirties, needing a shave as do all Albanian men, walks toward me. [Note: Albania joins that list of countries: Turkey, Mongolia, Brazil, where the women are neck-wrenchingly beautiful, but the men are as ugly as the Bush family.]

Taksi? he says.

I pull out my camera and flip through the pictures until I find the garage on the main road.

Ju dini ketu?I ask. (You know here.)

He squints at the picture and then shakes his head. “Po (yes),” he says.

Then he says 13 Euros in English. I try to bargain, but he sticks to the price.

Taxi-meter he says.

During the ride, he never turns on the taxi-meter.

But he does get me to the garage. And actually a little past where the QEPARO FSHAT sign is. I get out and go down the stairs, trying to remember the way to the house of horrors.

A strange kind of trance music comes from someplace. It's like a pop version of Phillip Glass. I never heard it before, but it may be what's popular these days. It sounds spooky to me.

I walk down some steps, through a tunnel, another tunnel, past a ditch, through an alley. I see a
pile of bricks I never saw before. A door with a large round knocker... never saw it before. I'm lost.

I turn to retrace my steps. An old man comes the other way.

“Co-ocho?” I ask him.

He laughs, and points back where I came from. Then he makes a downward motion with his hands, and a sweeping curve with his arm. I retrace my steps, and soon get lost again.

“The sea, the sea,” I think. If I can find the sea, I can look up at the houses. I'll recognize it from the blue front and the sheer drop. If I go down, any path down, I'll find the sea.

I pick a downhill path. The music is louder here, more menacing than mellow. Like a horror movie soundtrack.

I follow the path until it ends... dead ends, then I go up a little and take another path through a bunch of fruitplants, and then down again. Sand, plastic debris, I've found the sea.

Turning my back to it, I scan the houses. There it is. Blue, in its glory, ready to fall with me, into the sea. I head right for it, up the path to the lower gate to the house. I know this gate, Co-ocho took me through it yesterday, to show me the fruit and the path to the beach. I'm sure this is the way back to the house.

The gate is locked.

I do not scream. I do not pound on it. Instead, I keep the house in view, and go up through the trees, catching my sleeve on the cactus, then pulling free. The music continues, insistent, droning. Up to a small trail. I've lost sight of the house, but I think I know where it is. I follow the path. The house comes into view again. I can see it slightly below and to the right. I reach the set of steps I recognize. They lead down toward the house. They end at a gate.

The gate is not locked.

I walk through it and escape into my room. It's warm. I collapse on one of the two beds in the room and fall into a dreamless sleep.

I awaken when it's still light outside. There is a rattle as the glass door slides open. Co-ocho brings a tray with more figs and other strange fruit on it. Much of the fruit from yesterday lies rotting by the sink. He doesn't seem to notice. He moves the food in smooth motions, like a robot. Gliding the tray to the plastic table in my room.

He makes an eating motion, putting his hands to his lips.

Bukë? (Bread?), he asks.

Po (yes), I say. I need something besides all that fruit. It'll just go right through me. I'll be a pretty messy corpse after all that fruit. He'll deserve it.

“Did you take a shower yet?” he mimes.

Yo (no),” I say.

He shrugs, goes away and comes back with a couple slices of bread and a few cubes of cheese. He also brings about a cupful of cold spaghetti with tomato sauce. Everything looks homemade.

Then he goes away for a bit and I write a little more. Just as the sun is setting over the Adriatic, he returns. He looks grim.

Opening the sliding glass door, he takes a chair and puts in next to mine.

The miming starts again. You eat. You sleep. Now you pay. I recognize the Albanian word.

Pagoni. (You pay.)

Pay with my life? I don't ask.

He holds up one finger. A thousand Lek?? That's ten dollars. Hah, that's wonderful. I give him two thousand.

“You're my friend (I use the Italian word amici, since it was a word I never needed in Albanian),” I say. “Take more.”

He nods NO.

I don't understand. One night, four thousand lek. Two nights, eight thousand. That's robbery. That's more than I paid in my jacuzzi hotel in Vlora. This is a haunted house! $80, that's ridiculous. I'm not going to...

I hand him the money. It's most of what I have left from my last trip to the bank. But, he's only robbing me! He won't kill me. It's just extortion. He's a hustler, a con artist, not a murderer. Take my money, please! I cudda kissed the guy.

I ask him what time the bus leaves for Saranda tomorrow. He tells me 9 AM. I say I'll get up at 8.

Too late, he says.

OK, I tell him. Statë ore. Seven o'clock.

I set my phone alarm (that's all it's good for, it doesn't work here) for 6:30, just to have time to clean myself up and empty out all the fruit.

At 6:15 he opens the door to wake me up. He stands and watches as I get dressed, stuff my remaining clothes into my pack and go out the door with him. He leads me back upstairs through the alleys and ditches to the road. His wife joins him.

My bus comes and I get on it. He does not say good by. I watch him cross the street to go back to Vlora, and wait at the bus stop. Someone not from around here, will get on a bus headed South.

He will ask them where they're staying, then he'll offer his own place. Eventually, someone else will say yes, and move into the room I just left.


Toestubber said...

I've really been enjoying this diary. You're able to keenly describe a whole bunch of shittiness, while still keeping an eye out for the small bits of grace, understanding and humor. I get the impression that you don't lose sight of what a privilege it is to be traveling in these amazing places, even when it sucks. An open attitude has gotta be the first step in not being miserable.

It's good you escaped the local creep, suffering only financial damage. That guy's photo needs to end up on a Wanted poster for the tourism board.

aldi said...

Ok, why would you agree to stay in someones house without asking for the price? Especially when this man ignores you once reaching an agreement. The man was not a psycho, just an aswhole, and sounds like he had miserable health. By your description he hated interacting with people, which means he probably couldn't bear his own presence. Stop making poor choices and trust your instincts.