Paluse, Lithuania

Sitting in the cafe in Paluse, eating what was described as roast chicken with stuffing but isn’t quite, a guy arrives and asks in Lithuanian if he can pull over a bench and sit down. I understand what he means and say yes in sign language. I’m sitting in front of my laptop, trying to catch up on the news. Britain has a new Prime Minister. The guy, in his late fifties or sixties, sits down and says some things that I don’t really understand. I stare into the screen of my laptop, even though the new prime minister story isn’t very interesting. Another guy sits down opposite me, saying a few things to his friend, which seem to translate as “what the fuck are we doing here?”, and he indicates me. I ignore him. The first guy is more friendly. He tries to speak German to me, which I speak a little, though no more than him it seems. He says “beer” and “camarades”. Then he says “rauchen?” – smoke? – miming smoking, and I say “ya” (yas). Camarades. Rauchen. Beer.

Trinken, essen, they say, as I eat and drink. I try to hide behind my laptop screen but the second guy objects to this. He asks me, in sign language, to close it, suggesting that he’ll hit it shut if I don’t. So I do. There are some attempts at communication, them speaking Lithuanian with bits of German, me saying in English and German and sign language that I don’t have a bloody clue what you’re saying so why are you even bothering? It seems they’re impatient for the waitress to arrive, sitting there watching me eat and drink, encouraging me to eat and drink more quickly. When the waitress does arrive she sets two pints of beer in front of each of them. They seem to think I’m a bit pathetic only having one beer in front of me. There is some sign language and words I don’t understand. It seems like they want me to drink up, perhaps because they want the table to themselves.

The first guy gets on his mobile phone, saying something about English. I think maybe he has an English dictionary on there, but then he makes a call and I realize he’s going to hand the phone to me, which he does. I say hello. A female voice says hello, and then, my father wants to know what your name is, what you’re doing in Lithuania and how you like it. I tell her my name, and that I’ve been in Lithuania for two months, living in Vilnius (it takes a few attempts before she understands my pronunciation of Vilnius) and working on the internet. I then hand her back to her father. After the call I shake hands with him and re-introduce myself. I don’t catch his name. He says something but I’m not sure if that’s his name or something else. I shake hands with his friend. His friend looks at my hand, as if to say what’s this. He then squeezes my hand tightly, staring at me and smiling. His hand is about twice the size of mine. His eyes are glazed and vacant. I pull my hand away and he hardly seems to notice.

His friend, the first guy, says we’re kamarades. And the other guy is his kamarade, his guten kamarade. He’s the Chief of Police for Ignalina, the main town where I got off the train. I’d noticed his blue shirt, with some writing on the pocket. He was obviously something official. I thought he was a postman. I mention that I was in Ignalina, but the first guy is disagreeing. This is also Ignalina. Zona, I suggest, trying to remember my limited German. Ya, zona! His friend is the Chief of Police for the region that we’re now in.

The chief of police seems to be suggesting that I’m a wimp for only having one beer in front of me. He calls over the waitress and says something to her. I know she speaks English so I ask what’s going on. He wants to buy a beer for you, and she’s already on her way to get it.

The beer arrives, and the old beer which I haven’t yet finished is pushed to one side by the first guy, as if it’s bad form to keep on drinking your first beer when the second has arrived. I say “Isvikata” = cheers, one of the few Lithuanian words I know. We clash glasses quite violently.

Then three vodkas arrive. And they’re quite large vodkas. I pick mine up, waiting for someone else to start drinking, wondering if it’s a down in one kind of thing. It is. The first guy downs his, and I down mine, though more slowly. The chief of Police downs his, but doesn’t quite get to the bottom of it. It looks like he’s had a few already. I go outside for a cigarette and the first guy joins me. I give him a cigarette, which he smokes about halfway down then drops on the floor. IO pick it up for him but he doesn’t want it.

They’d just ordered food, but the chief of police wasn’t eating any of his. He was just looking at it, and fingering some of it. His friend was trying to get him to eat his food, a slab of meat with chips and sour kraut, but he looked like he was about to use it as a pillow. The friend said “essen” to me, forgetting that I’d been eating when they arrived. When I went back in after my cigarette I saw there was a plate of food sitting in my place, but then my phone rang and I went outside to take the call. It was a long phone call. It lasted until the bar closed. I was still on the phone when the police arrived and carried their unconscious chief out into one of their cars. The first guy wandered off. At the end of my phone call I went back into the empty bar, paid my bill, picked up my laptop and asked the waitress what had happened. Was that really the chief of police? Yes. And was that the police that came to take him away? Yes.

And it was not even 10 o’clock. It was still light outside. I could have sworn I put my cigarettes in my back pocket, but they’re no longer there. I was planning on quitting anyway.