98. Insomnia

WHEN SHE WAS TWENTY-FIVE, Ludmila decided to spend a summer at the beach. Because it was high season, she couldn't afford any of the rooms in the centre of town, so she rented a room at the back of a modest house on the outskirts. There wasn't much to the room: a single bed, a child's desk with an old lamp and some yellowing books on it, a picture of a boat on the wall. But it was within walking distance of the beach and there were a few shops nearby, as well as a restaurant called The Minotaur, where at her landlady's suggestion she found some work waiting tables in the morning and at lunchtime, leaving her plenty of time for swimming in the afternoon. She liked the work as it was never too busy and her boss was the owner, a taciturn man who mostly left her alone. The clients were mostly locals - not many tourists made it as far as the outskirts of this small resort town. They were gruff and reserved, for the most part, and for the most part they left her alone. She was finished in the restaurant kitchen by three, meaning she could go to the beach for the rest of the day. She went swimming each afternoon, then she went home to read the yellowing books on the bedside table. They were all unremarkable romance books, and they bored her, but she wanted nothing else than to be bored, it was precisely what she felt she needed. She got to know a few of the locals at the restaurant, but she didn't try to make any friends. One in particular came in late morning every day for a coffee and pastry. His name was Miroslav. Most of the time he ate alone, although sometimes he was joined by two men who made Ludmila wonder what they could possibly have in common with Miroslav He was a writer, he told her once, and he always carried a book or two with him. She thought he looked sick, wasting away. What is a writer doing in this place, she thought to herself, referring to the town as much as the restaurant. Still, she asked to borrow a book from him as the only books where she was staying were cheap romances. He promised to bring one in the following day, but by the following day he seemed to have forgotten. Otherwise she mostly kept to herself, and the customers didn't seem to mind. Her landlady was inquisitive at first, but Ludmila answered her questions simply and honestly, and the old woman lost interest in her soon enough. Ludmila was happy in every respect but one: she was having great difficulty getting to sleep at night. As she lay in bed under the mosquito net, a ceiling fan whirring above her, trying to sleep despite the heat, she could hear the rhythmic boom of music coming from the nightclubs in the Old Town, and occasional roars of crowds of holiday makers. One especially hot night, hearing the music and the crowds, she got out of bed, dressed, and slipped out of the house, walking along the shoulder of the narrow road in the yellow light of the streetlights towards the Old Town, a cobblestoned compound of bars, restaurants and discothèques surrounded by walls thirty feet tall. It had once been a pirate stronghold, it was said. The closer she got to it, the more detail she could hear in the music, beyond the mechanical thud of the bass. She had never been able to enjoy this kind of music, but all of a sudden it made a kind of sense to her: under, or behind or above, the repetition, and the anger and violence in it, there was sadness too. She entered the Old Town through the arched gate. The landlady waited three full days for Ludmilla to return before she contacted the police on the fourth day. On the fifth day she put all of Ludmila's belongings in a cardboard box and filled the room with another tenant, a young woman who intended, she said, to spend the summer by the sea. The landlady told her that if she needed a job she knew of a restaurant in the neighbourhood where she could find work.