A portrait in 5 snapshots
J is a waitress, and a student as well. She works in the pub a couple of blocks away. I am a regular there ever since the football World Cup in 2010. I am not sure she likes football. It doesn’t matter: the games are opportunities to have a good time in a lively atmosphere, and lots of beer. And long evenings chilling out with pub regulars who stay even when the game is over.
We play name-boozing: each participant gets allocated a football player. Whenever the player is mentioned on TV during the game, the participant must drink from their pint, empty it if the player scores a goal. If memory serves, the game is Germany vs. England. J gets Schweinsteiger, and complains that she will be too drunk to work by the end of the game. I get Mertesacker, who must have eaten a tiger if one is to judge by the number of times he is mentioned that night.
A heart of gold under an iron façade. She can be sulky at times. She seems to like the job, despite it being hard, despite the long hours and the unrelenting days — but sometimes, you can see she wants to grab the more obnoxious customers and shake the hell out of them. Which she doesn’t do, of course. She keeps working with efficiency and kindness. Just stay clear of her sharp tongue!
How often does she go to the pub even though she is not on duty, to help out the other barstaff? To be fair, maybe also for friends and company. In time I have come to associate the pub with her, more than with everyone or everything else there. Is it her strong radiant personality? Maybe because she is so often present, even off duty? Or do we just happen to be there on the same days?
It is winter, a particularly cold one this year. The pub still opens on Sundays, and because of the weather there is even less animation than usual Sundays. I go there anyway: the company is lovely, and the beer is nice. Sunday is a day off for J, but she often shows up anyway.
We have taken to playing rummy, the two of us, sometimes with a third man. I get systematically trounced backwards and sideways. It doesn’t matter, it is fun all the same, with her slightly wry way and mock regret.
Another night, same winter, after a long party evening. Is it halloween? I remember candles. It is late, very late, and too cold, and the wind is chilly. We leave the pub together. Instead of heading straight for home — our ways start the same — we make a detour through the gas station, to grab a last beer to drink on the way. We do not speak that much; too cold. Or maybe our conversation has dissolved in alcoholic mists.
We walk the short distance to her flat, sit in the street downstairs for a while. We try to light some candles we have brought from the pub. It is hard, because of the wind. Magic of the moment. We don’t speak much. Too bloody cold.
A bunch of people having a smoke just outside a bar is a familiar sight nowadays. J often stands outside the entrance just after opening the pub, enjoying a last Gauloise in peace before the first customers arrive. Many times on those lonely winter Sundays, I accompany her to chat and freeze a bit.
When I pass near the pub, I always take a look to try and spot her familiar silhouette standing there. Even when the pub is closed. Even though she is no more.