My mother has a recipe for something she calls Pizza Bread. Take a choice of meat, onions, garlic, pasta sauce and cheese. Roll it all up in a hunk of dough and bake on 400 degrees (230 celsius) for 12-15 minutes.
No one told me that we were walking into my mother’s pizza bread. In St. Petersburg, we trod along with the cold and the wet until we find a crack in the buildings. As we slip through, someone points to the top of a cathedral peaking over the buildings and says
“There is God.”
Then he motions to a large gate ahead “and there is hell.”
We go through the gate into a massive courtyard filled with shivering fiends; twisted fingers latched on to the cool ends of damp cigarettes. The stairs attached to the building lead up to a large cleared out railway tunnel, packed with people. Inside the pizza bread, still in the oven. People were everywhere and it smelled of bad music.
The group split in different directions to hide their jackets and bags behind trees, sofas and one large and out of place looking dresser. I decided to go to the bathroom. A long and sweat filled line of women wait outside the entrance marked WC. The only man in line is blind drunk and resting his head on the woman in front of him as she runs her nails over the top of his head. I wait.
A man approaches me and begins speaking in Russian. I shake my head, smile and tell him I don’t understand. He continues on in Russian anyways, motioning at me, at the entrance to the bathroom. I smile until he gives up.
I spend somewhere just short of eternity in that line until I notice a small group of men scoop around the line and enter the opening. Then a minute later another man confidently stepped in. Confused, I step out of line and peeked around the door.
Only then do I realize a room of urinals that branches off from the line of stalls. I step around the line of women and approach the urinal as I consider what it must have looked like for me to be in that line. I think back to the confusion on the Russian man’s face and imagine what he must have been saying. Most likely something along the lines of
“Do you have to poop? Because if you don’t have to poop, you can just go in to the urinal.”
I walk out of the urinal and flea the long line of women who I’m sure were either were thinking me an idiot or assuming I still had to poop but decided to save it for later. I go to the bar and spend a few minutes listing the prices of different bottles of alcohol I could easily obtain at the store near my house. I leave the bar to find the others on the dance floor. A lot of ungainly movements commence and quickly end with me standing there, inhaling fog and thinking about picking a scab on my foot.
The disco ball laughs me out of the room and I head out to join the shivering fiends. I stand next to the outdoor bar, look up at the prices chalked above it and think about the bottle of wine in my cabinet.
One of the fiends appears next to me and offers me a small white packet. On the front it says “Raffaello”. “What is this?” I ask. “Candy, have you had one?”. I shake my head. He opens his own and pops it into his mouth. I do the same. It is some sort of nut, wrapped in a liquid sweetness and dunked in coconut flakes. He stares at my mouth as I chew.
“You know, I cannot remember the last time I tasted something for the first time, I am jealous.” He smiles.
He hands me another one, I put it in my pocket for later. He leaves me for the crowd. To wash the taste from my mouth I spend a bottle’s worth of money on a shot of vodka. My mouth tastes of chocolate and poison. I light another cigarette. My friend Nikita spots me from atop the stairs and comes down.
“I want to go. Do you want to?” He tells me. Thank God! I think.
“Sure.” I tell him. We gather our bags and jackets from their respective hiding places and excuse ourselves through the pile of meat and out of the oven. Walking along the canal toward home we pass the Cathedral.
It is cold and dark and dead.