I hung a handwritten sign on the door to the reception room reading “Be back in 15 minutes.” It was about 10 PM on a weekday and the hostel was booked to the max. I had recently picked up a job working for my friend as the receptionist at his hostel, Mountain 13. I felt little qualms about leaving it unattended for just a few minutes as the entire place was populated with a school group on a field trip. I wasn’t sure exactly where from, but they had two chaperones who seemed to be keeping the group entirely under control.
I walked down the block to my apartment to pick up a bottle of wine that I had been meaning to try. There wasn’t much to do so I figured I would treat myself to a small luxury while sitting behind the green felt covered desk.
When I returned, a lady was standing outside the door waiting.
“I sorry to bother you.” She started.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting! What can I help you with?”
I had just started working here and my mission was to raise the reviews of this business and I was already off to a bad start.
“I just wanted to check and see if we could get some extra towels.” She continued.
“Oh yeah, of course. Come on in.”
I opened the door and walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a stack of towels.
“How many do you think you need?”
“That looks to be plenty.” She said.
I still had not placed her accent.
“Where are you all from,” I asked.
“Warsaw, Poland. We came by bus together. What brings you here? You are American I take it, yes?”
“What gave it away? And I came here because I’ve been writing techno music with my friend from here for a while. So I came here for friendship and the music.”
“Oh that’s lovely, Would you give me a moment. I have to take these to the group.” She said, taking the stack of towels from my arms. “Are you super busy right now?”
“No, I was just about to open a bottle of wine, if you would care to join.”
“I would love to, also if you don’t mind, I would like to introduce you to one of my students, who is very interested in that sort of music.”
“Of course not. I’ll grab another chair.”
She departed and I went to the kitchen to grab a wine opener and a couple of glasses. I opened the bottle and set it on the table surrounded by glasses and a chair. She returned shortly after with a young teenager with dark shaggy hair.
“This is Alex.” She said.
We shook hands and he sat down.
“Can he have one?” I asked pointing at the young man.
“I would love to say yes, but I can’t risk getting in trouble.” She glanced at him and said something in polish, that I assumed was “I’m sorry”, while I poured two glasses and handed one to her across the table.
“Georgian wine.” She mused “It takes me back in time.”
We touched the glasses over the table.
“So you make music here?” Alex said as he turned towards me.
“Yes. I have a small studio that I live out of, just down the road.”
Almost immediately our inner nerds came out and we began to blather about different types of musical equipment and different artists that we like. His teacher looked at us the way people do when everyone around them is speaking a foreign language. After a while, she leaned over and said something else in Polish. The boy stood up and shook my hand again.
“It was really nice to meet you.” He said.
“We are getting up early and young minds need sleep.” She said to me as he left the room.
“His English is incredible,” I noted.
“I’m aware,” She said. “But you should hear his Russian. That’s my work.” She said with a smile. “You don’t speak any Russian do you?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” I replied.
“It’s a pity you do not, but I could teach you if you like.”
“Someday, I would like that very much. How long have you been teaching Russian?”
“A very long time. I wasn’t born in Poland. I was born in Russia, so Russian is my first language.”
“What brought you to Poland?” I asked.
“I needed to be free of a place that had held me hostage for my whole life. Please understand that there is much I love about my home, but it is drenched in the sorrow of hundreds of generations. Even the language sounds best whilst describing sorrow and misfortune in the beautiful classic literature. I left as soon as the communist regime fell in Poland.”
She took another sip of the wine.
“I have always loved everything about this small country. The first wine I ever tasted when I was a young lady was Georgian wine. Wine is like a lover. You never forget your first.”
“So I imagine you come here pretty often to restock on a few bottles?”
“Actually, this is my first time here in Georgia.”
“No way,” I exclaimed.
“It’s true. This is my first time to ever drink Georgian wine in the country it was made.”
I was shocked.
“Well cheers to that,” I said raising my glass.
We drank deeply.
“Sounds ridiculous right? I love their wine and I’m also in love with the art and the old films from here.” She continued, “But do you know what I love the most?”
“What?” I asked leaning in.
“The women here. I love the Georgian people I have met in my life, but the women from here are so beautiful and yet so strong. A strength to me that is unexplainable. I idolized these women and the stories about them when I was a girl.” She paused for a second and took another drink from her glass. “In the worst of times, it takes the true strength of women cut from a certain cloth to maintain a home, to maintain culture care and civility.” She paused once more. “Oh and the cinema. If you haven’t started watching classic Georgian movies yet, you absolutely must. It is such a special thing.”
We spoke for a while about different things we loved about this small country. Somewhere near the end of the bottle, the conversation had turned to a more political path. I heard stories of growing up in the USSR, stories of a time lived in fear when family members could just go missing in the middle of the night and are never heard from again; artists and brilliant minds executed only for the crime of inspiring thought.
“To me”, I said, This is one of the most unfair and tragic parts of history.”
“This may sound harsh, but there is a saying that goes ‘every man deserves the country that he has’.”
I opened my mouth to disagree, as it was, in fact, harsh or perhaps part of me hoped it was untrue, but I was left dumbfounded.
“If you allow evil to rule then you will allow for evil to be served. You must always fight and you must always sacrifice if justice is of importance to you. If not, then you will get only what you allowed to happen.”
It’s easy to say something like that for shock value, but coming from a woman who had seen into the absolute worst of humanity, lost family and loved ones to a system of oppression, there was such weight and truth to those words that I carry them now in my heart every day.
She took one final drink from her glass and set it back on the table.
“I hate to end things on a somber note, but I want to thank you for the hospitality and for your time. I hope I didn’t bring the mood down.”
She stood up to walk away.
“On the contrary." I said, "You made my night. Thank you so much for everything and I’ll absolutely check out some good old films.”
“I recommend the Blue Mountains,” she said, walking to the door. “Good night. I wish you all the luck with your music.”