You know about her from this article.
She might appear lost. The holes in her one-week worn blouse suggesting negligence; remissness; having given up. She orders another red wine. Wjintje, as the Flemish dialect goes. We obey; the glass appears next to the two already standing in front of her.
I have piety for her. The superiority that accompanies every person’s eyes when meeting her figure, her state, has reached me as well.
But I try to shake it off when finding a place next to her. Not literally, since even if she is a very big, swollen woman, she gives me the idea that she can be knocked down from my simple breath; a sentence sounding like an order; a critique.
And I sit by her side, as she loves the sight of the pedestrians walking in front of her.
It has been a couple of beautiful months in Belgium: sunny, warm. We have been talking about how pleasant the weather is. Such small talk, chatting about the weather.
But then suddenly, she will affirm it; she does not show, but she is aware of it. That she needs help.
I nod. I just do that, after years I’ve known her and understanding that what she says is true, but also a promise she will never keep.
And then, she would say:
«Summer is nice» and she often accompanies this sentence with a small wave of her puffed hand «But then the winter comes back».
And I nod again, this time to myself.
I worked for a very long time in an Irish pub. I still go there frequently: my boyfriend is the successful manager. Yes, I could sense your thoughts at the second line, you might have thought I like my Guinness too much. That is the nature of Irish pubs, besides being the best place for a crispy fish&chips when not in English-speaking countries: that is, of alcohol being served at 10 in the morning.
There is, in fact, a middle-aged woman whom I met when working there. She is the most regular customer: that means, she is an alcoholic. Red wine, to be precise. Her total consumption would usually be 12 glasses per day, equal to 3 bottles (Belgian doses are quite generous): despite that, she would never order a full bottle. She would sip her glasses throughout the day. Most of the time staring at nothing. Occasionally in the morning, when still fresh, she would glance at a local free copy of the daily paper. But I wouldn’t be sure she is aware who the current president of her country is.
I do not blame her. I have my obsessions. My addictions. Different, maybe, to the ones of S. By the way, her real name is known to us. I remember at the beginning when I started working at the pub, we used to call her the Red Wine Lady, even if she had been around the place way longer than us, even if she had a name, a surname, a whole life before we started earning our money out of people like her. So that is why we started calling by her real name eventually. But I would not reveal it here: that is respect, I guess.
Anyways, there is something I would never understand about S, among many. I know that her parents do not live in her city: she has to travel and reach them in the countryside, usually driven by her sister or some other relative which I hope takes care of her. And on that occasions, she has to change the street where she walks everyday to take her cigarettes and reach her provider of alcohol – either the pub, some cafes, the supermarket, it’s a free country; she changes the landscapes that she scrutinizes when deciding what to eat for lunch – I know her well, she loves walnuts, chicken, and mayonnaise; she sleeps, showers, dresses in a different place. She is someone else, even for just a little while, just a couple of days.
But that is not enough. That would not distract her, convince about the possibility of embracing her other self, quitting her bad habits.
And eventually, when she comes back, she would enter the pub, slowly approaching the bar, but ordering from us quickly, since she’s been missing for too many hours, her red wine.
“I’ll have a stout, or do you have any porter by any chance?”
The waitress took off her sight from the menu.
“No sorry, no porters”
“All right, which stouts you have?”
“Guinness, Dark Albert, le Cocq Extra, Duck Rabbit”
“Get me a Cocq Extra then” said the guy after a little pause.
“And for the lady?” “For me just a Fanta please” and the young woman caressed her swollen belly before the waitress could even think on how lame it was to have soft drinks at 11 at night in a pub.