Two strangers meet in a bar and tell their stories
| The man in the brown hat
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon, I was done for the day and it was too early to make for home where no one was waiting for me. Killing some time in the company of a glass of beer seemed an attractive idea.
An unfamiliar wine bar across the street seemed a reasonable place to have a drink. The name of the bar was Sandy’s. I went inside, sat down on a stool by the bar and asked for a beer. There were perhaps half-a-dozen people in the place but none sitting at the bar.
My drink was placed in front of me and I paid for it and then watched the barman polishing wine glasses at the far end of the bar. “Well,” I thought, “that’s one way of making a living and better than some.”
A man wearing a fawn-coloured Burberry-type raincoat and a brown hat and carrying a leather briefcase came in from the street and sat down on the stool next to mine. He ordered two double scotches, “Straight and without ice,” he said, and when the barman placed the drinks in front of him he drunk them both, one after the other, and then said, “Same again!”
The barman refilled the two empty glasses and the man downed half of one of the whiskies and placed the glass next to the other glass and gazed at them with a bleak and empty expression.
I had a sip of my beer and after a while turned my head towards him. “Want to talk about it?” I asked quietly. He ignored me and kept his eyes focused on the two glasses in front of him. “Well,” I thought, “he doesn’t.”
Then he started talking quietly at the two glasses of whisky in front of him. “I got home from the office early today.” He paused before continuing. “I found my wife in bed with my best friend.”
He took a sip of his whisky and I said, “Man, that’s awful. I am sorry. What did you do about it?”
“I yanked her out of bad. She was naked. I yelled at her. Called her a fucking bitch and told her to get out of my life – for ever. To gather her fucking stuff and just go.”
The barman was paying no attention and went on polishing glasses and I was wondering what to say. All I could think of to say was: “It happens.”
He emptied his glass and was contemplating the other one which had whisky in it. He looked distressed and I was wondering why he was drinking with his gloves on. I was still searching for something to say.
“Is she a redhead by any chance? Your wife, I mean,” I heard myself saying. God alone knows why I said this. Perhaps it was a desire to keep the man talking instead of drinking and brooding.
He looked at me with a surprised expression on his face, and said, “Yes, as a matter of fact she is. Why do you ask?”
“God makes reds to break men’s hearts. I too knew a red once. Seems a long time ago now.”
“What happened?” he asked looking at me.
“Well,” I said, “we met at a party. We dated a few times and got on really well. Then one thing followed another and we decided to share a flat and see if it would work. She was working at the BBC’s overseas news section. It involved a lot of travel. Then, by pure chance, she was in Berlin when a bar full of GIs was blown up by the Libyans. She was reporting on it live before anyone knew what had happened. It brought her a lot of kudos at the BBC. And then, when temperature between the US and Qaddafi seemed likely to reach boiling point, they sent her out to Tripoli.”
“Did you go with her?” asked my drinking companion.
“No, of course not. I had my own job, man. I had to earn a living. I hated her work because it left me lonely when she was away. But she loved the excitement and the buzz of it all. When she was home, we would always make up for lost time. Never a dull moment.” I finished my beer and asked the barman for another one.
“So she went to Tripoli?” asked my drinking companion.
“You bet she did,” I said. “She was as excited about the assignment as a sixteen-year-old virgin might be just before losing her virginity. You see, it was a big step-up from the minor events she had been covering. Many of which didn’t even get airtime. If she were to do well in Tripoli, it would have meant a lot to her, career wise I mean. I saw her off at Heathrow, kissed her goodbye and told her not to forget that I was waiting for her and to come back quickly. Stupid things to say, really. But what can you say at an airport check-in desk to a woman you love, when you have already whispered all the ten-dollar words into her ear the night before.”
The barman moved a couple of feet closer. He was still working on the glasses but I could tell he was listening to the story. I gave him a wink.
“Did she get to Tripoli alright?” asked my drinking companion.
“Sure as hell,” I said. “She phoned from the hotel she and her crew were staying at. I forget its name but it was a big, new luxury hotel in Tripoli. I remember her saying that the air-conditioning had a problem and was not working and she was complaining about the heat. But otherwise, she felt great. I told her I missed her and will never again let her go. She laughed and said I talked like an idiot but that was one of the things she liked about me, not taking myself too seriously. That was the last thing she said to me. I never heard from her again.”
My drinking companion appeared more relaxed now, which was precisely my objective when I started with this yarn. He finished his drink and was about to pay the barmen.
"Say," I said to him, "What did you do to your best friend?"
"Oh her?" he said. "She is still my best friend. As a matter if fact, I am taking her out to dinner tonight." He paid the barmen and left without even glancing at me.
I was sort of dumbstruck. I looked at the barman questioningly. He shrugged.
"He is a regular here", he said, "comes in most days at about the same time. Always orders the same drinks, always tells the same story to anyone willing to listen."
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