No Prayers in Shkoder

Exercise: 20 minutes of contemporaneous note-taking, cafe in Shkoder.

Click of heels on stones and bass of techno, bicycle chains and conversations. The lamps click on their orange glow, against the minarets and mountains. Two men in business suits behind me, speaking accented English and I have to turn and look, have to stop and snap a photo of the pedestrian walkway—Albanian for picturesque, which means that if you take a picture just of it then it could be Croatia or Montenegro—leave out the tin roofs and rubble, cats in the trash and the smell of something rotting, which you couldn’t photograph anyway. A chill and I check my phone for a text that hasn’t come.

“Runaway Train” comes on the cafe next door, and I think of the “10 year delay,” and wonder if it’s more like 20 years here—remember the dreads and the video, my parents’ living room, thick rug on bare feet and the feeling of being safe.

A dry claw in my throat but I keep smoking—rumble of a motorbike—young girl in a pink parka, sunken eyes—“Somehow neither here nor there.” Women sitting sidesaddle, cross of the ankles and stockings that bunch like that—wrinkles.

Iggy Pop and the lights on the minaret twink on. But it’s dusk and it’s silent and I wonder where the prayers have gone, my own book sitting closed in my purse, haven’t wanted God in any of this (a dry claw, I keep smoking)—listened to my own fable, “see the bright and hollow sky”—which part of my is still in New York?—track suits and tight jeans, spiky hair and lanky grins.

Evening stroll hour, though it’s not like Phnom Penh—the limbs don’t swing but sit tucked into pockets, in the crooks where elbows hinge, old couple, walking into this, through this. Two backpackers walk up, table where the business men have left, stubs still smoking—“Oh here”—hoist bags off and sit.

And the adhan begins to whine and echo, a ghost everyone ignores—but I’ve ignored my own prayers, not forgotten but avoided, God like a lighted tower between the buildings, and I wonder what it takes to become the man who sings out those prayers—what training? And then the Christian church bells chime, 6pm, and the man hits a higher note and holds it, “and I ride and I ride,” and the motorbike engine cuts on and the heels click and I’m still nowhere but here—Albania at dusk.

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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