The Story with Yuliya Has a Bad Ending
What sort of café frappé is this, Pavlo, man? If I hold the glass near the lamp I can see through it – see? Say that again? Ah, it sort of settles after a couple of hours… Right. Make me another one. One and a half spoons of sugar, six drops of milk. Strong. Very strong. And bring me a jug of water with ice. I’m thirsty. Make the frappé very strong, eh? These bloody mosquitoes fuck my evening. Tell your boss he must do something about these bloody mosquitoes. And it’s so hot, man. You know, Pavlo, why don’t you quit polishing those glasses and bring your stool closer? I want to tell you the story with Yuliya. Do you remember her? Pffff… What a woman, eh? Russian. We used to come here sometimes for ouzo and meze. Really? You remember everything? What? OK, OK. Later. Don’t forget the jug of water.
Pavlo doesn’t want to listen. He says he’s busy. What the hell, I’m going to tell him the story with Yuliya anyway.
Listen, man. She was such a beautiful woman, Russian, you know, tall, blonde. We were living together at my place. In my flat. I wanted to marry this woman. I knew. I understood. Me Egyptian, her Russian. Different cultures. You see, I let her sometimes go out for a coffee with her girl friends, but why did she have to work? I was working as a fisherman at the time. OK, yes, we went out together, sometimes she’d come here to the café with her girl friends, drink coffee, have ouzo, you know, nice, civilised stuff. But why did she have to work in a bar?
DON’T JUST STAND THERE! MAKE MY COFFEE! I’M THIRSTY!
I don’t know, Pavlo, sometimes you’re so slow. You aren’t dumb or anything and that’s why I talk to you, but sometimes you’re so slow, mate. I’m sitting here at the bar because I don’t like the other Egyptians. Only one or two of them are real men. The rest talk behind your back. They say I’ve done things back in Egypt and that’s why I never go home. They can fuck off. Look at them, man, look at them, sitting around that table, miserable, hunched over their beer, one hand in their pockets so as not to lose their money, talking about the job on the caïque boats. They only care about money. Caïque, caïque, caïque, caïque. Fuck you and your caïques. I’m sick of the caïques.
Nice one, Pavlo. Thanks. That’s fine, keep the change. Ah, I forgot there’s no change. No problem, I won’t keep topping it up with water and ice, it loses its colour, all right, I won’t, whatever you say. You want a cigarette? Here, have one of mine. Bloody mosquitoes. Come on, man, stop that polishing, it makes me dizzy. That’s the third time you’ve polished the glasses. I told you to bring your stool closer. I’m not going to fucking bite you. I want to tell you the story with Yuliya. What do you mean you’ve heard millions of stories, man? You’re a bar tender, that’s part of your job. I’m not like the others who come here and tell you their bullshit and break your balls just because they’ve nothing better to do: ‘Oh I miss my country, oh I lost my job, oh my mummy, oh my grandma.’ No, man. Morning, noon, night, I always think of the story with Yuliya. Listen, do you remember when Yuliya and I used to come here? What a woman. Yes, yes, of course. Later.
He says he’s busy. Bullshit… Angie the waitress is doing everything. All he’s doing is opening a bottle of beer and making a lousy coffee now and then, and putting them on her tray. And washing a glass or two every ten minutes. Right.
You see, Pavlo, Yuliya left me because she was scared. She left me and she fled the town. And she thought that I couldn’t find her. Now, did she really think that I couldn’t find her? I get hold of her number…
Bloody hell, I told him to make a strong frappé. What’s wrong with him?
What’s that coffee, boy? What’s wrong with you? You call this thing strong? No, man. The fact that I’m tense doesn’t prove that your coffees are strong. I’m always tense, for fuck’s sake. No, I don’t want a fucking chamomile tea. Put those aspirins up your arse. Never mind. Fuck it, I’ll drink this one. Where was I?
So, yes, Yuliya leaves Kavala and thinks that I can’t find her, but I get hold of her number. I call her. Once she listens to my voice, she shits in her pants. ‘Look,’ I tell her, ‘are you trying to hide from me? What are you scared of, sweetie? I’m not going to hurt you. Come back and we’ll talk it through. Nice, civilised stuff. Why did you leave like that?’
She didn’t want to come back. I told her again, ‘Don’t be scared,’ but she didn’t want to come back.
I find out from my guys, you know, the undercover officers, I know lots of undercovers, they’re nice people, they’re my friends, and by the way they know that you’re a hashish smoker, so I find out from my guys that Yuliya ran away to Sparta and got a job there. In one of those, you know, bars.
I go to see her friends. Two Ukrainian girls. They used to work together.
I say, ‘You working today?’
They say they aren’t.
‘Then let’s go and find my girl.’
‘Where is she?’
‘Haha! Are you crazy, Rasool? Go to Sparta? How can we get from Kavala to Sparta tonight?’
‘Get in the car and don’t worry.’
We get in the car. Sit comfortably. We begin. The roads aren’t busy and I’ve got this special light on my plates so that the cameras can’t read them. Because I go fast. Very fast. Bullet-fast. I pass by Salonika. Pass Thessaly. Pass Lamia. Going down down down. All the way down. Man! The girls saw Greece from end to end in six hours or so… Yes, of course, it’s fucking possible, man, I’ve done it, we left Kavala in the evening, approached Athens at night.
When I’m near Athens my phone rings. It’s one of my guys, an undercover. He hasn’t seen me for some time and worries about me. He probably thinks, ‘What’s going on with Rasool?’
He says, ‘Hey man. Where are you?’
I say, ‘I’m here. Where are you?’
He says, ‘Well, I’m here, too.’
I say, ‘Good. I’ll come by later on.’
I switch off my mobile and drive past Athens.
Now, what happens next is this: Mohammed with the One Arm passes by the café and my guy asks him about me. One Arm has heard that I’ve left for Sparta and tells him so.
‘SHIT!’ my guy says, ‘CRAZY RASOOL IS OFF TO SPARTA!’
He goes straight to the police station. He says, ‘Oi, lads! Anyone got contacts with undercovers in Sparta? WE NEED TO STOP RASOOL BEFORE HE REACHES SPARTA.’
They find a contact. They call the contact. They say so and so. They say Rasool this and Rasool that. They pass on my details, the details of my car, and ask the Sparta contact to take care of me because I lose my temper easily, but I’m a nice lad really. They say to their contact that under no circumstances the police should let me inside the bar that Yuliya works in.
And I’m driving. Fast. It’s night and I’m driving bullet-fast. With the two girls in the back seats. I enter Peloponnese. I see the sign for Sparta.
I’ll find you, sweetie.
And just on the edge of Sparta, I see a police road block. As soon as I see the road block, Pavlo, I say to myself, ‘This has something to do with my guys. They’re trying to protect me.’
The police stop me.
I get out of the car.
I say, ‘What’s up, lads?’
They look at my plates. ‘Where are you coming from?’
I tell them.
‘Long time since we saw a car from up there in Sparta. Why’re you going to Sparta?’
‘Vacation. See Sparta. Just me and the girls. Is that bad?’
They let me go.
I reach Sparta.
I reach Sparta… Fuck. I need to find the bar now. Where could it be? I don’t know Sparta. The girls don’t know Sparta. We don’t know the name of the bar. We don’t know where to find it.
I know how to find it.
‘Watch out for policemen,’ I say to the girls.
I drive around the town centre.
‘POLICE, POLICE!’ scream the girls, ‘POLICE, POLICE!’
Fucking hell. They almost made me deaf…
‘Why are you screaming, sweeties?’
‘Rasool! Be careful of the police, Rasool.’
I drive near the police. I park.
‘What are you doing, crazy Rasool?’
‘Don’t worry, sweeties.’
I get out of the car.
The policemen come over to me.
‘What’s up, lads?’ I say.
‘Where are you going to?’
‘I’d like to have a drink. In a bar. I’m on vacation, you see. Just me and the girls.’
‘Do not enter the bar.’
‘Ah that bar? But why? Look, guys. We aren’t going to do anything wrong. Just one drink. Nice, civilised stuff. Just me and the girls.’
‘All right,’ they say. ‘But we’ll be waiting outside. If anything happens, if anything happens, we’ll take you straight to the police station.’
‘Nothing will happen. Don’t worry.’
They let me go.
We enter the bar.
Yuliya sees me and shits in her pants.
She’s behind the bar. She says something to her boss.
The boss comes over to me.
I say, ‘I’m not talking to you. I want the girl.’
‘The girl can’t come over. She’s busy.’
I say, ‘I’ve nothing to say to you. Send over the girl.’
‘I told you she’s busy.’
I say, ‘LOOK. I’M NOT GOING TO SAY IT AGAIN. I WANT HER TO SERVE ME. HER!’
‘I’ll send you another girl.’
‘I want her.’
‘Can’t send her.’
And he goes to grab me.
‘DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME OR I’LL SMASH UP YOUR FUCKING BAR.’
He goes to jerk me out of my seat and I jump up and push him off and smash whatever’s in front of me and throw tables and kick chairs and chuck ashtrays and shout: ‘I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, YULIYA! DON’T YOU KNOW IT?’
Police come in.
They grab me.
They take me to the station.
They say Yuliya will sue me.
They say her boss will sue me.
They say they’ll get me a lawyer.
But this doesn’t matter, cause they say I’ll go to prison anyway.
I make a phone call.
They change their mind.
They say they know I’m a nice lad really.
They say I must leave Sparta first thing tomorrow morning.
They say, ‘You must leave Sparta first thing tomorrow morning.’
That’s what they say.
‘I’ll come back here after I’ve killed her.’
That’s what I say.
But they let me go.
I find a hotel for the girls to sleep.
I don’t sleep.
I wait for the morning.
I wait for the night.
I put the girls in the car. Drive past the bar. Slowly. It’s closed. I get out of the car. Approach the bar. It’s dark.
I press my face up against the window. It’s pitch black, there’s no-one there.
The girls say they need to go back to work. They say they’re tired.
I press my hands against the glass to stop the glare of the reflections.
Where are you, sweetie?
The girls want to go back home. They moan.
My nose bends against the glass.
Don’t be scared, sweetie.
The girls moan. They need home.
I press harder against the glass, I feel it on my lips, I press harder, harder, my lips flatten against the glass – and I stay like that, staring into the darkness…
‘Oh, Rasool, Rasool, don’t act like that, Rasool!’ scream the girls.
And I see a shadow moving… It moves quickly, from one corner to the other, as if someone is sliding along the floor.
I go to the door. It’s locked. I smash the lock, get inside. I can’t find the light switch. I feel my way in the darkness, stamping my feet on the floor: ‘Yu-uuuuliya… Are you trying to hide from me, Yuliyaaaaa?’
I hear a screech. I feel pain on my calf. It’s a sharp pain. I get my lighter, strike it, look down. It’s a cat. I’d stepped on her tail. Her teeth have sunk into my flesh. She won’t let go. I kick her away.
I sit down, light a cigarette. I need to think. The cat comes to me, bites my other calf. She’s a fucking crazy cat. I kick her away. She comes back. She’s nuts. I grab her from the neck, strike my lighter. I bring the flame near her face, she stares at me, she shows me her teeth, hisses, she scratches my face with her claws. I walk around, with the cat in my hand. Her flesh feels soft and warm in my grip, I like it. I walk, feeling my way in the dark. I come across a freezer. I open the freezer door, shove the cat in, shut the door.
I sit down, smoke.
The girls call out to me, ‘Please, Rasool, please get out of there. Please let’s go back.’
‘Don’t worry, sweeties. I just need to think for a moment.’
I finish my smoke, get in the car, we leave Sparta.
When we’re near Athens, I stop the car. I turn around, drive back.
‘What are you doing, Rasool?’
‘I forgot the cat in the freezer.’
‘I put a cat in the freezer. I must get her out of there.’
‘Please don’t talk like that, Rasool. Please, you scare us.’
‘You don’t need to be scared, sweeties… I put a little cat in the freezer because she annoyed me. I’ve got to get her out.’
‘Oh, don’t talk like that, Rasool…’
I think of the cat’s flesh. I drive fast. How soft she was, man… How warm she was, that’s what I think. How warm and how light and I drive very fast, bullet-fast, and I enter Peloponnese again and the girls scream and I pass Corinth and they cry and I pass Argos and Tripoli, and take the exit for Sparta.
I’m coming, little kitten. I’ll save you, I’ll give you to Yuliya.
I reach Sparta. I find the bar. Park. I enter the bar, open the freezer.
The cat is frozen.
‘Girls, can you write Russian?’
‘Yes, we can, Rasool.’
I ask them to write down: I love you, Yuliya. Rasool.
I stick the note with the Russian writing on the freezer and we leave Sparta.
And that’s it, Pavlo, that’s the story with Yuliya.
Well, say something, man…
What is it? I want the truth. I don’t know, mate, nothing extraordinary happened in the end. What about the cat? She was fucking crazy, I didn’t give a shit about her. No, I didn’t eat the girls on the way back, I’m not like that.
You don’t like the ending?
Fucking hell, you’re right, Yuliya is in Sparta and I’m here. Pour me something strong now, a whisky. It’s going to be a long night.
This story is part of Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness: a novel in stories, published in 2021 by Spuyten Duyvil. The book is based on ethnographic work on the lives of Egyptian immigrants who worked as fishermen in the town of Kavala, Greece. The fieldwork took place nearly twenty years ago, while I was an anthropology student, but also a waiter and barista in the harbour-side café where Egyptian fishermen liked to gather and spend their spare time. This story is based on one conversation I had with an Egyptian man, who insisted that I listen to the story of the woman he loved.
Alexandros Plasatis is an immigrant ethnographer who writes fiction in English, his second language. His first book, Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness: a novel in stories (Spuyten Duyvil), is shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize 2021. Stories from this book have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net. He is the editor of the other side of hope: journeys in refugee and immigrant literature (othersideofhope.com). He lives in Bolton, and works with displaced and homeless people.