I’ve been told numerous times never to go into a bar at the bottom of a set of stairs in Russia. I always remember this just after I find myself, inhaling dust, surrounded by cracked support beams and dirty looks.
To be fair, this time there are just two dirty looks; a young bartender and a man with hair so dark and skin so pale he might’ve been in black and white.
I eye the cooler of bottled beers, not confident enough in my Russian to risk asking for a beer selection. I must have looked too confused for too long and it gave me away.
“Where are you from?” the black and white man asks with almost no accent. I turn. One eye is black, blacker even than his hair; the other, green.
“Uh–Boston,” I tell him. He smiles, then laughs.
“Come!” he leads me to the counter. “What do you like?” he asks.
I shrug, “Hm–I like traveling and–uh–romantic comedies?”
He frowns at me then looks to the beer taps. He taps the left side of his neck with the back of his right hand. I feel my face redden a bit.
“Ah–yeah, a stout.”
The black and white man orders two stouts. They’re poured and set down. The bartender looks at me. I look at the black and white man. He looks away. I sigh and pay. He follows me to a table.
There is no music playing.
“So, you’ve been to America?” I ask.
He smiles, “oh yes! Many times.”
“You like it?”
He shrugs, “the last time I was there it was during the war, hard times for everyone.”
He is still smiling.
I smirk a bit, he can’t be much older than me, late thirties, maybe.
“And what war was this?” I ask, playing along.
He frowns, “The war. The Great war. The one you Americans always seem to like telling everyone you won.”
I don’t rise to the goad, instead I play further, “you look good for your age.”
He smiles again, “I look good for every age. One of the perks,” he says, patting his own head.
“And how old are you then?” I ask.
He looks at his fingers, ticking away. “A couple hundred years, at least.”
I sip my beer and look around the bar. The bartender has moved from behind the bar and is sitting close by on his laptop with headphones in.
I look back at the black and white man and ask, “how come I paid for the beers then if you’re, immortal or whatever? Shouldn’t you be rich.”
He gets an annoyed look for a moment then shrugs, “I don’t know what makes people think being immortal somehow gives you insights into money management. Or that every time we come back to life we’ve got lotto numbers tattooed on our butt cheeks!”
“Well, that wouldn’t be very convenient,” I remark.
I mockingly try to turn and look at my own butt, “If it’s on your butt cheeks you probably wouldn’t notice it. Seriously, how often do you look at your butt cheeks?”
He gives me a dark pitying look, “only someone without a butt would make a statement like that–but, that’s not the point.”
I laugh, “okay, what is the point.”
He smiles, but it’s less than confident. He looks around the bar. “Being immortal doesn’t get you much–less than much. You find yourself wallowing away in some bar at the bottom of a set of stairs.”
I give him an empathetic smile. He glares back at me.
“Don’t you go pitying me, I’ve had hundreds of years to hit rock bottom, what’s your excuse?”`
I gulp down the last of my beer and stand up.
“I’m a geologist,” I tell him.
He laughs and hands me his empty glass.
“One of us is a liar, then,” he says as I walk over to the bartender and order two more stouts.