Sunday, October 30

Polizei

THE BAR kept a low profile on the northern-most edge of the town square, until nightfall when it livened up for a few hours and then everybody went home. At a quarter to three in the afternoon, with the lunchtime trade gone, it returned to its quietest presence. The square was not host to many interesting shops or bars or cafes but because it was in the centre of town, many passed through and, especially tourists, stopped to have a look around. One good thing about the square was its volume; it was very quiet there so many tourists left the town to tell their friends how quiet it was and few returned. In the middle of the square was a poorly-sculpted statue of a man and a woman holding hands. No one understood why the statue was there. It simply stood there and glistened in dull bronze the light of the sun in bitesize portions of glimmer.
One gentleman, a foreigner to the country, sat inside the bar and eyed the head of his pint. The line between the head and the lager was crisp, it was definite, and it swayed like a mother’s arms when he lifted it up to take a sip. He wiped his mouth. There was another couple in the corner, staring at each other, holding hands over the table and speaking in a tongue not of his own nor of the country. Tourists.
The bartender—his chores done for the afternoon “rush”—studied the customer, who in turn studied his pint.
The customer was thin and middle-aged with soft wrinkles around his eyes and in the corners of his mouth and aging spots upon each. The bartender knew his name as Trevor Langley as he had seen it on the business card in his wallet when he paid. The bartender thought that it was a strange name and a name that he had never heard before. The bartender folded his arms. Langley pulled out a packet of cigarettes and went to light it before the bartender threw his arms in the air, waving them around and said—“No! No smoke! Outside! Outside!”
Langley nodded and took his pint—the head swaying—outside.
The sun was scattered in all directions by the thin grey cloud so that no shadows were cast off of any object. Nothing in the square had a shadow and the culprit was either the cloud or square. Langley was very aware of the date. It was his job to know, say and check the date many times a day and, since he was there on business, he was very aware of the date. It ran through his mind constantly. When he was absent-minded, he was not really absent-minded but was instead saying the date to himself over and over. Thirtieth of October. The thirtieth of October. The thirtieth of October. Thirtieth of October. The. Thirtieth. Of. October. It lingered in his consciousness like a mobile lingers over a cot.
He was lighting a cigarette when he noticed a man approaching the bar. In any other town square the man would blend in, would not be noticed, but Langley had never known such a quiet town square and paid this man special attention.
He was dressed smartly in a suit and tie, and wore a long brown woollen coat that looked freshly dry-cleaned. He got to the bar doorway but, rather than enter, rapped on the window and took a seat at one of the metal table and chairs by the entrance.
In sharp whispers the customer was talking to himself. Langley struggled to hear. Fortunately there was little other sound so the words could be made out; only, they weren’t words but one word repeated over and over—“Polizei … polizei … polizei! Polizei! … polizei! POLIZEI! POLIZEI! … Polizei … polizei!”
Why was this customer muttering about the police? He moved like a mouse, very quickly and always keenly aware of his surroundings. He ran his fingers through his hair and kept on muttering. The light from the clouds in the sky froze on each waxed bundle of strands, the black that caressed each shine. His straight bony nose forced out into the square.
The bartender ran out with an espresso and set it hurriedly in front of the rushed customer.
The customer waved his nose over the small white china cup and reach into his pocket, laying the contents out on the table.
Langley watched it all.
It was a cigar tin—the likes of which he hadn’t seen in years—and the customer handled it with shaking hands.
Langley was very careful not to be obvious with his observing. Many people do not like being watched and this customer was acting in such a way that gave the impression he was not playing with a full deck, despite his earlier sober approach. Langley slowed down on his cigarette.
The cigar tin was full of cigars, arranged neatly, perfect brown. The customer lit a cigar and puffed on it with a suffocating ferocity. Langley had never seen a man smoke a cigar like this gentleman was doing. It was a talent. He swallowed in the fumes as if they were nothing. As each breath was exhaled through the nostrils, another was inhaled through the mouth, the tip of the cigar burning brightly, a cloud of thick smoke encircling his skull. In roughly thirty seconds the entire cigar was gone, reduced to small discs of tapped ash, dark grey rims on a pale interior. No sooner was one out than another was lit. Between each being lit—with a match finally tossed on to the cobbles—he took a miniscule sip of his espresso. A very strange ritual, thought Langley, lighting another cigarette and, already, feeling a little sick off nicotine & smoke.
Six cigars later and the espresso was drained.
Incredible.
Langley took a sip of his beer and sat down, resigned to the interest this customer was offering him.
The customer, fresh out of espresso, stood up and stomped back to the window. He thumped hard—so hard that it might break—with a stern face then sat back down.
He went back to his shamanistic muterring about the police. “Polizei! polizei … polizei! Polizei! POLIZEI! polizei … polizei! POLIZEI!”
Two moments later another steaming espresso was placed before him; the empty cup retrieved.
While the customer repeated his smoking and sip act, Langley basked in the non-sunshine and felt the breeze billow across his chest. It was only forty-minutes until his train would leave the country. He checked the remainder of the pint and paced it, minute by minute.
Each espresso was allotted six cigars and the customer abided the routine faultlessly, having each down to the second. He must have a throat of iron, thought Langley. The muttering resumed after his second round was finished. “Polizei…” and so on.
The insane are all around, dressed like everyone else, terrified of the police, chain-smoking, habitual coffee-drinkers, on the edge of deciding whether they want to kill themselves or risk life at the hands of the law, on the grotty pavement of some quiet bar.
There wasn’t much time left. Langley stood up, paid one last look to the customer—boiled down to a mumble—and went in to pay for his beer.
The couple had gone. The bartender was tuning the radio.
“Just that beer, please,” said Trevor Langley.
He rang it up. Said the amount. Money changed hands.
“So,” Langley motioned to the window, “is he all right?”
The bartender—as if justifying a son who is a bit of a handful—rolled his eyes and revealed—“He comes here everyday.”
“Really?”
“Yes. He come everyday. Twelve cigars. Two espresso. I no charge him. He say he is on the … run, but he come here every day, like clockwork.”
“Are the police after him?”
“He will die from cigars before he get shot by the police.”
Langley left a tip and went back out into the square, which, as ever, was dozing. He breathed in the air. It was city air, thick like custard but new, not like his city but someone else’s, filled with someone else’s crazies, with someone else’s bars and caf├ęs. He did not have much time before his train left. He should get out of this country and back home. He was away on business. The police were coming.

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