A fine mist fell. Jeremy zippered the slicker his mother had made him wear. Heading down Leidsestraat, he saw cheese, he saw cappuccino, he saw fries. He smelled pot, he saw Heineken, and he could have jumped on a canal cruise and taken a guided tour, passing houseboats and brasseries, experiencing the city as it should be done.
He walked north instead.
The breeze blew cold. Walking quickly, he grabbed the slicker’s collar and tucked the ends together then pulled the hood up over his head, shading his face from the lively crowd, overflowing onto the sidewalks, standing under umbrellas and smoking cigarettes, speaking in Dutch and English. Locals sped by in cyclist caravans, probably off to fill another bar or restaurant. Passing through a square, dancers spun on their heads to beat music while people circled around them and clapped.
Jeremy continued on his journey.
He stopped when he reached the corner of Oudezuds and another cross street whose name he could not pronounce. Two waist-high cement, cylinder barriers stood in the middle of the cobblestone road. Each barrier had small, red lights glowing from their tops, signaling a warning or a welcome. Jeremy breathed deep and walked around them.
These streets – no chatter, just pitter-pattering feet – were filled with mostly men, lumbering up and down the constricting alleyways, heads down and hands in their pockets. Jeremy couldn’t help but look up. An excitement coursed through his chest that he’d never felt before. His pace quickened and he took shallow breaths. Jeremy glanced from side to side, inspecting each girl. The girls, standing behind glass doors, danced in bikinis and waved. Maybe at him. Maybe at the other men trotting by. Red bulbs glimmered through small fixtures next to each door.
Jeremy stopped at one door. The girl inside, plump and Asian – nothing he’d date back home – smiled. Jeremy pulled the hood from his face and smiled back. He opened the door and walked in. Vanessa, she called herself, closed the shade on the door and shoved Jeremy onto a mattress.
Forty-five seconds later, Jeremy pulled up his pants and handed Vanessa thirty Euro. “That happens to every man their first time,” she said in her Dutch accent.
A man he thought as he walked back. He stopped at a whiskey bar. He figured a man would drink whiskey after doing that. He sat on a stool and threw down a smoky single malt. He didn’t taste its subtle hints of oak, but only felt it burn his throat.
Back at the hotel, he slithered past his sleeping parents. He got in the shower and scrubbed himself clean. Harder and harder. He lathered and scrubbed. He cried and scrubbed, using only his hands, his fingernails scratching red lines into his hot skin. He held in his bellows and let out puppy whimpers.
Will I tell the guys when I get home? he wondered, toweling off. He grabbed his stomach and lurched toward the toilet, hugged the damp porcelain, and emptied remnants of his night into its whiteness. Probably the scotch.
Originally published in Pure Slush on 16 September 2011