Fire and Ice: A Halloween Story – Bishkek, Kyrgystan
Fire and Ice: A Halloween Story
I was trying to cross the street. It was late and looked safe. There were no cars except for a black Mercedes Benz cruising down Chui Prospekt.
I stepped off the curb, onto the street and began to walk. I heard the sound of wheels screeching. I was bathed in white light. I looked to the left. The Mercedes careening out of control, fish-tailing wildly, nearly hitting a metal pole on the corner.
The driver hit the brakes and the car slid up onto the curb. Smoke from the burning rubber began to rise. The bright tail-lights cast a reddish glow onto the road.
The driver shifted the car into reverse and sped backwards. The engine made an unsettling whirring sound as the car sped backward recklessly.
The Mercedes came to an abrupt halt. I looked into the driver’s side window. The driver was a Russian wearing a leather jacket. He had a blond crew cut. He blinked and looked down at the gearshift.
The slick Mercedes sped away into the darkness.
One block away a white delivery was slowly backing out from a row of parked cars.
The Benz honked its horn and veered left but did not slow down.
The delivery truck driver misjudged the speed of the Mercedes and sped backward.
The impact was loud. The truck was hit on the driver’s side. The jolt spun the truck completely around. Glass shattered and sprinkled onto the road. The truck kept sliding until it struck a parked car; more damage, more noise.
I continued to stand there, frozen in place. I was wide-eyed with amazement at being able to witnesses the destruction. I didn’t know what to do.
Then there was silence. The only sound came from the angry hiss of steam rising from the under the crumpled hood of the white pick-up truck.
The Mercedes loudly revved its engine. It was still drivable. The car now looked menacing and predatory. Low, sleek and black with tinted windows.
I walked to the sidewalk and waited to see what would happen.
The Russian hopped out, leaving the car door open. I heard the pulsing beat of techno music pour out onto the street from inside the car.
He made it two steps then turned around, got back in, and sped away. A car alarm from one of the cars began was to shriek. There was no one around to hear it.
I turned onto a side street of a high rise apartment block. It was a dead-end street. At the end of the road was a a freight train yard. In the fence to the trains someone had cut a man-sized hole. It was
I needed a place to drink. I kept walking down the narrow road until a came to an unlit, abandoned courtyard.
There was an old, crooked tree in the center. Twisted roots from the ground had burst through the sidewalk and wrapped up the chain link fence. It was chilly and crisp out, windy.
I had a plastic grocery bag with tomato juice and a bottle of vodka. The box of tomato juice had a green cap and a photo of a juicy red tomato with tiny beads of water dripping down its side.
I disliked drinking in bars, sitting as socializing with all the morons with their overpriced cocktails, pretending to be interested, pretending to be interesting.
I quickly drank half the tomato juice and poured vodka inside. I kept pouring until I saw clear liquid dribble over the lid of the box and onto my fingers.
I screwed the cap back on the box, licked my fingers and began to drink alone in a dark courtyard. From where I sat I could see a skyline of grim high rise apartment buildings. Dim lights from inside the apartments dotted the sides of the crumbling Soviet era tenements.
It didn’t feel like Halloween. Only small reminders would pass by me on the street; a pair of girls in devil outfits, a mummy, someone dressed like a Wizard.
It was getting cold. The seasons were changing. The days were short and gloomy. In the mornings, where there used to be an endless, clear blue sky was now a chilly expanse of gray clouds.
At dusk the sky would be darkened by thousands of birds. They flew in chaotic patterns, rising and falling at random.
The wind would blow and leaves would fall. In vibrant colours, orange, red, yellow, brown, they would float down from the trees and onto the broad sidewalks.
I sat and drank and reminisced. Halloween always arrived when it was getting cold and I always felt a kind of energy from cold weather.
When I was a child I lived in a large public housing complex. There were many other children my age. Halloween during this time was law-less and fun. Stealing other kids’ candy, shooting bottle rockets from the roof, riding bicycles late at night. On nights like Halloween I felt as if I would live forever.
As I got older Halloween grew more sinister. We discovered alcohol, drugs and women. Going to other neighborhoods and fighting people. Cruising. Shooting people with paintball guns, robbing people, painting graffiti, running from the police. The anonymity of the holiday made it easy to get away with things. Halloween in the city is a time of viciousness and mayhem.
I kept drinking and wondered about all the people I knew; where they were, what they were doing. I wondered if they were dead or alive, free or imprisoned but mostly, I wondered if they ever thought of me.
It was times like this when I felt the most alone.
There was a party across town, at a place called The Metro Bar. I had never been there but had heard of it in the Bishkek Observer. They had had an advertisement for a ‘Halloween Bash.’ The ad showed grainy, black and white photographs of people in costumes, smiling and holding up drinks.
I walked down the deserted street drinking my tomato juice. I felt happiest like this, lost and drunk on a cold night in a foreign city.
I was a stranger and there is power in being a stranger. I could come and go as I liked. I could be engaging or solitary. I could pretend I understood things or I could pretend to be naive and lost. Being a stranger is to be mysterious and interesting.
I continued to walk down the broad, empty street. I had the sidewalk all to myself. The wind blew and a small cyclone of leaves rustled noisily off the sidewalk and onto the street.
Walking the opposite direction of me was an American. He had gray hair and was wearing a baseball cap that said: Snap-On Tools.
I had seen him once before, in a restaurant that was frequented by expatriates. He was downstairs in the bar with a woman. I eavesdropped on their conversation. He was trying to get her back to his hotel. It was a desperate attempt; it sounded pleading and needy, the kind of things women smell from miles away and run away from.
She wouldn’t do it. She had to get home, she said, looking away from him. She smelled his loneliness and desperation. She told him her sister was waiting. In front of them on the table were the remains of a vast meal and a nearly empty bottle of wine.
The bill arrived. The man reached in his wallet and slapped a large sum of money on the glass-top table. It was more money than most Kyrgyz make in a month.
She quickly put on her jacket and left. Her shoes clipped and clopped up the spiral steps. The man sat in silence. He looked angry and frustrated. He thought the woman would have sex with him. To many women in Soviet Central Asia, foreign men are walking ATMs. To many foreign men, Central Asian women are all walking pussies. In some ways, both are correct assumptions.
I stopped him and asked where the Metro Pub was.
“Straight ‘head,’ he pointed and squinted. ‘Go ’bout 3 blocks, can’t miss ‘er. You’ll see Halloween masks, people outside, all that stuff. Big party. Use ta be called the ‘Merican Pub but that all changed while back. New owners, see” he explained with a look on his face. “Most still call it the Merican pub,” he said.
He was wearing a backpack and a flannel shirt. The backpack made him seem younger and more approachable.
We stood and talked. He smoked a cigarette. He told me he was working for the U.S. government, constructing a new section of the Embassy. He’d been here over a year, he said, and sorely missed his family. He said he hated living in Kyrgyzstan. He said was lonely.
The Metro Pub was filled with people in costumes. The bar was far bigger than I had expected it to be. The ceilings were high and arched. There were two large rooms, one with a fine wooden bar and the other with a large dance-floor. A smoggy haze from the hundreds of cigarettes loomed above all the people.
At the entrance an old Russian woman sat at a wooden table. She had paintbrushes and cups of paint. She was charging people to paint their faces. As I walked past she looked at my unpainted face and held the paintbrush up hopefully.
This was an American party. Kyrgyz people didn’t celebrate Halloween. The cover charge was unreasonable by local standards. It was an American holiday, eccentric and strange like American people.
I walked around, looking at all the people. I was the only one without a costume. I wore only my street clothes: jeans, white t-shirt, denim jacket and stocking cap.
A group of American blacks stood at the far end of the bar. I had seen them before; poor kids plucked from rural and urban ghettos to fight wars or to do menial jobs at the military bases.
One of them had a mask with a distorted, screaming white face. His friends had rolled up a tissue like a joint.
“Walk aroun’ like you ah uh-uh-uh ah…muthafuckin’ base-heaad,” his friend told him, giggling. I always liked the way some black people laughed. It would always made me laugh too.
Someone stuck the tissue in the mouth of the mask and lit it with a lighter. It ignited with a sudden flash.
The man in the mask stumbled around towards a group of girls. The tissue burned too quickly. It started to burn the mask.
“Hol up-hol up-hol up,” one of his friends shouted.
The heat began to warp the plastic on the bottom of the mask. The fire spread and ignited the polyester black robe.
His friend dumped some water on him and slapped out the flames.
They all laughed and walked away.
I went to the bar and stood next to a middle aged woman dressed like the statue of liberty. The crown was made out of tampons and the torch had a large dildo arising from a bed paper flames.
“Those tampons on your head?” I asked her casually.
“Yes!” she shouted. She was tightly clutching a glass filled with bright green liquid. “And I am,” she raised the dildo-torch dramatically, “the statue of puberty.”
I felt something hit the back of my neck. It was painful and sharp, like something had stuck me. At first I pretended like I didn’t notice. I just kept on as if nothing happened. After a minute I casually looked behind me and saw a man and his friend laughing. One of them had a black toy gun. He was stuffing it in his pants. I looked at the ground and saw a crumbled blue rubber band near my feet. They had shot me with a rubber band from a rubber band gun.
I left the statue of puberty and walked over to them.
“Don’t do that again,” I said to the one holding the gun.
“Wha…Heh…What are you talk-in’ bout, man?” he stammered.
His friend snickered.
“Yo, what?” I laughed. “I’m playin with you? Check it out, you shoot me with that shit again,” I said pointed at the black plastic gun sticking out from his waistband, “We’re gonna fight.”
They were bigger then me, taller and stronger. They had crewcuts and almost transparent blond hair.
“You could try,” the one in the middle said, scoffing.
He knew I was bluffing, that they could take me.
“Yeah,” I said, “I could and I fuckin’ will asshole.” I was angry about being shot with a rubber band. I had too much pride.
The looked at each other and scanned the crowd for their friends. I knew I had gone too far.
“Check it out,” I said, softening my voice. “I gotta do some-thing. You would too. What,” I shrugged, “you think I’m just about to stand here while you shoot me with rubber bands? So look, you do that again I am going to walk over here and fight you. You’ll fight back, the shit’ll get broken up and we all gonna get tossed out, right?”
The one holding the gun nodded dumbly.
“Shit, look at you two,” I said. “There are more of you and you are bigger then me. But I’ll do something, I got to. It’s just the way it is. So, you do it again, we gonna scrap. Maybe you win the fight, maybe you don’t, but either way,’ I looked into their eyes, slowly enunciating the words, ‘You are gonna get hurt.”
I thought of the switchblade I had in my jacket pocket.
“So let’s drink our shit and have a good time,” I put my beer up for a cheers. They both clinked their bottles against mine. Nobody wants to be a coward.
I held out my hand and they shook it. I didn’t want to fight anyone. I’ve been fighting my whole life. I was tired.
Fire and Ice was also having a Halloween party. It was a Pakistani owned ‘disco’ in the city centre of Bishkek. It was on the second floor, above a bowling alley. To get there you had to walk up a spiral staircase with vividly coloured walls.
I didn’t like the place because it was owned by people from Pakistan. Anything owned by Pakistani’s is always deficient. There is something shady about businesses that are owned by Pakistanis.
Fire and Ice attracted a bad crowd. They would let American soldiers in for free. Many prostitutes hung out at Fire and Ice.
I walked up to the entrance. Street kids were hanging around. They seemed cat-like to me, agile and survivalist. They turned tricks for money. Sometimes one of them would offer to give me a blow-job for American dollars.
I went to the corner kiosk, bought a small bottle of vodka. I was too poor to drink in a nightclub. I liked to stand outside and get drunk and then go inside. The outside of bars and nightclubs are always more interesting then inside. There is more life outside.
A group of Kyrgys teenagers were standing next to a small window embedded in the stucco wall. The window was situated in front of spiral stairway leading up to the club. As women would enter the boys would huddle around the window, looking up the girls skirts as they walked up the stairs.
I stood with them, drinking my beer. Every few minutes I would go to the window with them, looking up skirts. I liked the way you couldn’t see much, just legs and underwear but there was a certain fun in being a voyeur like that. Panties are sometimes sexier then pussy.
I walked into the club, hurling my bottle of liquor across the street. The empty bottle flew slowly, in a high arc, like a seagull flying against the wind. The bottle landed on the curb across the street with a loud shatter, startling the prostitutes gathered near an parked taxi.
I began to walk up the stairs.
People were shouting at the top. Someone yelled, ‘fuck his shit up, dog’ and I felt the heavy, frightening thump of people trampling down the stairs.
I walked up, toward the sound.
I rounded the corner and a sudden avalanche of people collided into me. I heard someone say to me, ‘you got our back? yo, you got our back, son?’
A broad faced Kyrgyz ran into me, startled by my presence. More followed him. Waves of yellow and brown bodies filled the narrow corridor. I was pinned against the purple wall, able only to move my arms. Someone tripped and fell onto the stairs and more people tripped over him, tumbling down the stairs.
It was a fight between black American G.I.’s and Kyrgyz locals. I was caught up in the middle of it.
I was the only one not fighting.
“Yo!” I shouted to the blacks. “I ain’t in this, I ain’t in this. This ain’t my beef, backup!”
It seemed like I had spent my whole life either being friends with, or fighting black kids. I was either riding with them or on the other side, fighting them.
A Kyrgyz saw me. He was three steps above me.
He had no one to fight so he kicked me.
“Calm down, fool,” I said, blocking another kick with my hand.
He tried to punch me in the face.
I ducked it and grabbed his collar and pulled him down the stairs. I pinned his arms so he couldn’t punch me.
“Chill the fuck out!” I shouted in his face.
“Be cool, kid, I ain’t in this beef,” I said quietly, looking around. If his friends rounded the corner and saw me holding him like that I would have a fight on my hands.
I stepped back and made my hands like I was flattening grass; “cool out, dude, everything is alright,” I said calmly and evenly. He didn’t understand. He looked panicky and skittish, like a trapped animal.
I wanted out of this, out of here. I wanted to go get out of the situation but didn’t want to turn my back and be attacked from behind. For better or for worse I had to see it through.
A bouncer pushed him from the back. We both stumbled backwards.
I felt a bump. Blood was pouring down my face in think waves. The Kyrgyz had head-butted me in the nose.
A bouncer wedged in between us. He pushed me down the steps and held the Kyrgyz boy in a headlock.
“I’m not in this muthafukkin shit!” I shouted to anyone who could hear me. My voice echoed off the walls and it reminded me of being in an empty high school or hospital.
“I’m not in this!” I shouted again, mostly to myself. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. But I knew I was in it now. The violence had made part of it. It was unfair.
‘Fuck!’ I shouted in the stairwell, in a rage. People ran by me.
I kept bleeding.
“Dog,” a black kid said to me as he walked down the stairs. He sounded empathetic. “You straight?” He took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
“Ooh, you cut bad,” he said, shaking his head slowly. He was fat. He was wearing a white t-shirt that came down to his knees.
I wondered where he bought a T-shirt that big. In his chubby brown earlobes were shiny silver earrings. A shimmering, heavy chain hung down midway to his belly. At the end of the chain a hood-ornament sized medallion hung down like a door-chime. I used to have one just like it.
I pushed past him. I was angry because I got caught up in their fight. I struggled with the urge to not call him a “nigger.” It was the most powerful insult I knew of.
I went downstairs to the bathroom. There was no line. Only one person was waiting, a Russian girl. She was wearing black pants and a button up shirt. Only the top buttons was fastened. Her belly button was pierced. From a silver ring a small chain hung down. It looked stupid and pointless.
She looked at me in horror, taken aback by the blood. “Now? Is here?” she asked.
I nodded, pinching my nose. I felt embarrassed. Some black dudes ran down the stairs, being chased by the Kyrgys bouncers.
“Is really crazy place, you must take care.”
“Yeah…well,” I said, shrugging. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
The door opened. The previous occupant, a freighted looking Kyrgyz came out and scurried down the stairs.
I gestured to the bathroom.
“Please,” she said.
I began to walk inside.
“We go together,” she said to my back. “It’s OK?”
I walked in and immediatly looked at my reflection in the mirror. Blood was everywhere. It had dripped down onto my shirt. My nose was slightly crooked. When I was a teenager I used to fight a lot and could always get laid more when I had a busted up nose.
“Hell no. Fuck this. Fuck this,” I said, pinching my nose.
“It’s OK” the girl said. “You vashing. No problem.”
I leaned against the wall and looked in the mirror. It was ironic in a convenient sort of way; I could just go out with blood on my shirt and face and claim it was my costume. Maybe I could win a prize.
I turned on the water and washed off my nose. It was a small cut on the bridge of my nose. Not bad. I was OK. It was amazing how much small cuts bleed.
When you are an adult, the worst thing about being roughed up like that is how you look. Swollen cheeks, black eyes, missing teeth: when people see you like that they distrust you and become suspicious. You can’t take someone seriously if they have a fat lip or a broken nose.
In my peripheral vision I saw the girl matter of factly hike her skirt up.
I went to the door, to leave.
“You stay,” she said. “No problem. You vant you can make thees,” she laughed and pantomimed male masturbation. “How you call thees?” she asked.
“Jerking off,” I said. I was pinching my nose. My voice came out strange and funny. We both laughed. It made me feel better.
I considered it. I had never done that before, jerk off and watch a girl take a leak. I heard people could get into it.
“I’m not in the mood,” I said gravely, wiping blood from my chin.
She climbed onto the rim of the toilet and squat down. I heard a thick, powerful stream of urine splash into the toilet bowl.
I was amazed at the balance that must take, to squat onto a toilet bowl like that, especially in the sparse high heels she was wearing, straps and pokey heels and shit. It would be easy to fall in.
“Merican boy is so crazy,” the Russian girl said as she awkwardly hovered over the toilet bowl.