Lights, music and smoke mingle against the ceiling of the club. In the back of the room, on a small stage, the singer goes along with a Gershwin slow song, followed by a double bass and a couple of horns.
It’s late, and customers are few – all middle-aged men, all alone. They have a glass in theyr hands and sit at the back tables, near the corners or behind the columns. My table, instead, is right in the middle of the room. I come here when I can, and I’m not going to hide.
The girl waiting the tables wears a heart-chest that makes her look like a ballerina, one of those that were so fashionable at the time of the TV in black and white. She realizes that my beer is over and approaches me to ask if I’ve had enough for tonight.
“Want to sit down?”, I ask.
“Tell you what”, she says. “Order another pitcher and pay me a vodka martini. I’ll be back after the round of the tables”.
I order two vodka martinis and she walks away. I do not even look at her as she walks from behind, because she’s very attractive and I’m not getting excited. It is the very first time, however, she accepts to drink something with me at the end of the night.
When she’s back, the band is done and the singer left the scene. Other customers are paying their bills and they look around for their coats.
“How are the tips?”, I ask her to break the ice.
“Good – but they’re no longer the same”. She smiles.
“The conjuncture applied to nightclubs”, I say. But she doesn’t understand, then I’ll explain: “The crisis, I mean, is also felt here”.
She takes a sip of the vodka martini from a couple of straws cut into a half. “You didn’t go in the private room with any girl, tonight”, she says.
The club has some private rooms where you can stay with the girls serving at the tables or with the dancers of the eleven o’clock performance for a small personal show, payng a double beverage.
“Oh yes? And what do you know?”
“I’m watching you”, she says, “You’ve been here all the time smoking and watching the stage.”
“I admit”, I say. “But you disappearted at least twice.”
“Seven”, she says.
“Yeah, seven. What are you doing? You’re counting that?
“You’re counting that too, as it seems”.
“I do a lot of things in here, to waste my time. I could list the songs played by the band or tell you where and when the singer fence. I also know what he drank – that guy over there, the one in the suit. He is cranking it up”.
“Because he looks a little bit looser. And I could tell you how many times your colleagues retired in the private rooms and for some of them I can even tell you the guy they went with”.
“Uh”, she says. She brings the straws to her mouth, once again.
“What’s up? Did you think I did it because it makes me nervous?”
“Counting the times that you go in the private room with some guy. Do you think I do this because it bothers me?”
“Well, no. But it would have been nice from you, woudn’t be?”
She smiles, and I smile too.
“Look”, she says, “My boss doesn’t care by this time if I stop for a drink with a customer but I can’t stay too loong, do you understand?”
“Unless you pay for a private room”.
I say no with my head. “But I can wait. We could go for a drink when you get off”.
“One thing or another I’ll stay here for another couple of hours”, she says.
“Never mind”, I say, “I can wait”. My insomnia is a powerful fellow in theese situations.
She looks at the straws for a few seconds.
“Listen”, she says, “Out there I have a normal life: a boyfriend, a mother who thinks that I spend my nights studying, a bunch of good friends. What I do in here, well, it has to remain in here”.
Suddenly I do realize how young she is and how easily she ask me to understand that there is no room for me in her own world, out of this place.
“What if I tell you that I‘m counting the times that go into the private room because I’m in love with you?”, I say.
“I wouldn’t believe”.
She points at the first guy, the one in a suit, drinking too much. “That one – he’s actually in love with me. Because you’re right: he’s a loser. Not you: you come here for another reason, though I didn’t figured out yet what it is”. She puts away the straws and downs in one shot the rest of her vodka martini. “I must go”.
“Don’t forget the tip!”, She says when she’s far away.
She swings among the empty tables and I think of how many lies we must say to keep ourselves alive. So many that we can’t get any difference between a dream and a night spent into a gloomy place, counting the women coming back and forth from the private rooms.
– Agostino Di Febo –