A wind drifted through the bazaar, and carried with it a melody – a tune. It was haunting and grand, seeking out the soul of the listener. The music floated from the Desert Oasis – A hotel/restaurant and bar, a favorite gathering place of those seeking the off-beat, the eccentric, the unusual. One had only to follow the music, and could find just about anything you would desire.
Rick had never been here before – a western traveler – young, brash and full of bravado. He’d made his fortune in the cities of the west – and now he was exploring before he got consumed by the jungle of the business world.
The music’s distant cords slowly got stronger the closer he came, and before he knew it, he was drawn to the Desert Oasis. It was an old structure, adobe brick from the outside, and though worn somewhat, it was grand and tall, something from another era.
Inside, it had that old world charm – as if it were out of some old movie with Bogart, like “Casablanca”. The music was stronger when he went in – the violin was sawing away some exotic and beautiful tune that struck at his heart. Yes, this was the place. A cascade of images played in his head, and he felt himself getting excited. The music set the mood for possibilities.
He checked himself into the hotel, and had his bags taken to his rooms. He was dressed in a white suit and white button down shirt, all light cotton against the heat – and a fedora. Now who was out of Casablanca?
Rick went to the restaurant, ordered a meal, and sat observing, and enjoying the strains of the music. He ate, and sipped at the fresh spring wine, and watched the other clientele. Some were the wealthy and traveled, and some were hard to classify. Some seemed like him, but others were dressed in strange garb. No, not the ones in desert robes (the locals), heads wrapped in turbans and dusty with the sands of the desert.
The things that caught his attention were anachronisms. That thought about Casablanca occurred to him – styles and fashion had changed, and he could swear some of it must be cosplay or fetish. Soldiers of different countries, wars and eras could be seen. Some were dressed from the 1800s or even before – such strangeness caught his eye. But the smoke and haze of the room distracted and softened such detail. And the music. There must be some sort of costume party going on?
The Concierge came to his table. He was a small man, middle aged, with a fringe of dark hair and a thin mustache. He wanted to know if the Rick was satisfied with the meal, and if there was anything -special- he could possibly bring him to make his experience more comfortable.
As the little man spoke, Rick was distracted by a passing face in the crowd. It was a young man who carried a Black swan. He wore an outfit was light and airy, but he had such grace with which he moved it was remarkable. The young man looked back at Rick, and his lips curved into a smirk. Rick saw these amazing blue eyes, accented by some strange golden appliance or tattoo over the left eye. Piercings glittered on his face and ears. Long lustrous brown hair swept over his shoulders, framing a high cheekbones. The young man wore a white lace shirt that revealed his midriff, bared his shoulders and arms, showing pale skin and lithe muscle.The outfit was provocative without being overly revealing. It was tantalizing, giving hints of what might lay underneath. The wide-legged pants were pleated and gathered at the ankles and waist, giving the illusion of billowing out like pantaloons as he walked. The swan had a golden silk ribbon around its neck, and it wound around the young man’s wrist, as if a fancy leash. It seemed content to be held by its owner, who looked over his shoulder and smiled at Rick.
The little concierge tugged at Rick’s arm, “Sir? I asked if there was something.. “
Rick turned to look at the little man with annoyance, and frowned before he glanced back to see… the young beautiful man was gone. Rick glanced around and swallowed. “Who was that? “
“Who was who, Sir?” the concierge replied.
“That.. brown haired .. boy with the swan?” Rick gulped. He couldn’t believe he was feeling so strange right now.
“Ohh.. ahh. You must mean Ralphie. Now, Sir, you would not be interested in him. But if you seek companionship I can arrange…”
Rick pursed his lips and tilted his head, and chuckled. He knew where the little man was going with this. He was probably the local pimp. “Ummm No thank you. If I need something like *that*, I’ll let you know.“
The little man smiled, as if he had figured Rick out. Those rich young americans and their way of throwing their money around. He smiled knowingly. “Of course, Sir. “
“But who is this “Ralphie”? What an odd name for a young man in these parts. “ Rick said that, almost to himself.
The concierge looked puzzled, and shook his head, “I do not understand, Sir.. he is a traveller like you, a guest in the hotel. But if you truly want an introduction…”
“No, no, I don’t need you to do that. Just.. bring me some more of this spring wine, please. “
“Of course, sir, “ said the little man, who bowed and seemed almost to vanish.
“I hear you were asking about me?” a voice said from behind him, a moment later. Rick started, his eyes a little wide, as he turned to see the young exotic man with the swan.
“OH!” Rick said, as he swallowed – he didn’t know why he was feeling so vulnerable – but those eyes.. They were so intense, and they seemed to see inside him. Nonsense.. That’s just the wine and the excitement talking. “Oh, yes..I wondered why you had a swan .. and you seemed.. Well.. “
“I seemed what? Unusual? You don’t like swans? “ The young man said, arching an eyebrow, and pursing his lips with a sassy smirk.
Rick chuckled and shook his head, “Let’s .. start over.. I’m Rick.. “ He extended his hand, and Ralphie took the hand, shook it, giving him a firm grip with his nimble fingers. Rick’s hand was larger, but he didn’t try to squeeze too hard, and neither did Ralphie. The young man’s arm was pale, the lines of exotic tattoos on his forearm and wrist seeming almost alive in the hazy atmosphere of the restaurant. He sat down at the table, next to Rick’s seat and leaned back.
“I’m Ralphie.. So.. tell me Rick.. have you ever been to Kashmir before? I think you and I will be getting to know each other quite well, once you .. get to know this place. You’ll be staying for .. quite a while.“
Rick had no idea how true that would be. The Desert Oasis was like the Hotel California. You could check out if you wanted, but you’d never leave.