Erin Gardner

PO 2481

Unexpected Conversations

I stretched out my legs on the windowsill as I settled in to enjoy my morning cup of piping hot coffee and a beautiful sunrise. The wind from outside my sixth floor window tickled my face with the loose strands of dark brown hair dangling in front of my eyes as I leaned back to gaze outside. It was my first morning in the city of Riga, Latvia, and I was looking forward to spending the day out exploring the city and viewing some of the Eastern European architecture. I could imagine exactly how the pointed spires of St. Peter's Church, St. John's Church, and the Riga Doma Cathedral would look lined up along the shoreline of the Daugava River from a photo in one of my old textbooks, and I couldn't wait to see the view with my own eyes.

The sun crept higher on the horizon, and I idly stirred a spoonful of sugar into the still steaming coffee while watching the colors spread out over the rooftops of the buildings in the distance. The hotel wasn't in the center of Riga, so the view wasn't too spectacular. All I could see was a few trees and a conveniently located metal scrap yard just beyond a cement patio that was under some renovation. I heard a cat yowl somewhere nearby and automatically took a peek over the edge of the windowsill to see if I could locate the animal. The hotel I was staying in, Hotel Europa, had not provided screens on the windows, so I clung to the walls around me as I poked my head outside.

Nothing moved other than the leaves on the trees rustling in the breeze, so I resettled back on my windowsill. I'd always enjoyed mornings. Waking up early and getting ready for the day at my own leisure always gave me more energy than if I had to rush. I could take time to mentally prepare and plan for everything I had to do, and it generally left me starting the day with a positive outlook. I glanced out the window at the distant Riga skyline and started thinking out what I wanted to do for the day. With thoughts of European architecture still floating through my head, I temporarily refocused my attention back on the cup in my hands, and my breath made ripples on the surface of the hot coffee, one final attempt to cool it off before I took a cautious sip. The bitter liquid nearly burned my tongue, and I decided to wait for another few minutes before trying again.

The sun was just beginning to climb high enough in the sky for light to crawl up the side of the hotel building and vanquish the nighttime darkness still struggling to maintain hold of the land. I glanced outside once again, though this time I heard the sound of another window swinging open.

The hotel had the general shape of the capital letter "L" with the unattractive courtyard nestled in the corner between the two parts of the building, so from my vantage point you could see every window on the other section. A man stood in the window on the adjoining building, leaning forward with his elbows placed casually on his windowsill. He held a cup of coffee in his own much larger hands, though he didn't seem to notice me right away. His golden brown hair glistened in the early morning light, splayed in all directions from a shower, and he wore a dark blue t-shirt that clung tightly to his body.

His head turned in my direction, and his bright green eyes locked with my own dark chocolate brown ones. "Hey," he called across the courtyard.

"Hey," I replied, feeling the slightest tinge of pink creep into my cheeks at being caught staring at him. Brushing off the feeling, I continued, "Where are you from?"

I caught the smile that he sent out his window and returned one of my own with curving lips and a flash of teeth, listening carefully as he replied, "The United States. Texas, to be exact." At that moment I noticed his drawn out A's and labeled his Texas twang for what it was. "What about you?" he returned.

"Michigan," I told him, suddenly becoming very aware of my northern accent. I ducked my head and my short, dark brown hair veiled half of my face from view.

"Damn yankee!" he called back, and my head jerked up again. I felt my mouth crack open in surprise at his comment, and it took me several moments to notice the large grin threatening to engulf his face. The corners of my mouth tipped up upon this discovery, and I let a genuine laugh spill over into the courtyard between our windows. "So what are yah doing all the way over here?" he shouted again, and I detected his own laugh peeking through in between his words.

"Oh, just taking a vacation. I've always been interested in art from this area of Europe. And Riga has a lot of Art Nouveau – that's mainly what I'm here for," I called, relaxing completely against the window frame.

"One of those artsy types, are yah?" he replied immediately. "Figures. Yah look like one." His tone sounded so condescending that I had to look back at his face and see the smile lingering there before I realized that he was just messing with me.

I glanced down at my rolled up blue jeans and black and white printed blouse. "I guess so," I replied evenly, playing along. "Why are you here?"

"I just wanna get out of the U.S. and see the other ninety-nine percent of the world. There's just so much out here-" he spread his arm out over the courtyard "-that the idiots in our country don't even care about, let alone go out and see. It really changes your perspective – yah know, being out in the world."

"I know what you mean," I told him, mulling over what he said. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a stray cat prowling down a small alleyway; it might have been the cat that I had heard earlier.

"Yah never told me your name," he said after a moment, distracting my gaze from the cat outside.

"Katie," I told him. "And you are…?" I paused, waiting for him to fill in the blank.


A third voice then drifted up from a window a few floors below me. "And I'm Sergey!" Ryan and I glanced at each other and simultaneously raised our eyebrows.

"Um, nice to meet you?" I voiced skeptically as I leaned over the edge of my window, making sure to keep a secure hold on the edges.

"Yes, same to you, but I'd rather be meeting with my bed right now!" Sergey replied in an irritated, heavily Russian accented voice. "So please, go away! You Americans make far too much noise."

I leaned back into my window as I tried to conceal my laughter and turned back to Ryan, but I found that he had disappeared from my view. There was silence for a few minutes, and I started thinking that the man across the hotel courtyard had decided that our conversation was over. I sighed and slid down to the floor from the open window. I needed to start preparing for my day out in the city alone, anyway. I pulled the rumpled blanket back up from the foot of the hotel bed and arranged it neatly, and then looked around to see what I needed to bring with me for the day. I was just about to tuck my camera inside my purse when a knock came to the door. I left the purse and camera on the freshly made bed and opened the door.

"Who is- Ryan!" I exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

Ryan grinned and leaned against the side of the doorway. "Our conversation got interrupted by our mutual friend Sergey, so I decided to come over here."

I gave him an exasperated look. "I realize that. But… how'd you find my room, though?"

"Just a little guesswork. I knew yah were on the sixth floor, so I just had to count windows. If yah really wanna know, I knocked on that door first." He pointed to the door just to the left of mine. "Good thing no one was there, right?"

"Yeah, good thing."

"Do yah wanna come down to the lobby and get some coffee with me?" he asked.

I spared a look over at the mug that was still sitting forgotten in the windowsill and then turned back to the door. "Sure," I replied, "that would be nice. I could use some fresh, hot coffee anyway. Just give me a sec." I smiled at him. The sun had risen higher in the sky and was now shining directly in my window. My smile lingered on my face as I pulled the window shut, leaving the curtains wide open to let the sunlight remain in the room. I gathered my purse and camera from where I had left them on my bed and headed toward the door, stopping only briefly to dump the chilled coffee in the bathroom sink.

As much as I had been looking forward to exploring Riga before, the idea seemed so much more exciting now that I would have someone to share it with. I smiled again, content that I'd gained a friend and companion for my stay in the sprawling city of Riga.