The place smells damp. That hot damp that hits you in the face as you come in, and gets into your hair and your clothes and doesn’t get off your skin for hours.
Sun’s down, but it’s too early for any students or happy petite bourgeois. Just the bar tender, the regulars, and me. Wine’s overpriced. Sour. Not as bad as the pint at the last place.
A dishevelled woman wanders up to the counter beside me. Too big for her blouse, fly-away hair, shade of lipstick that clashes with her tanned skin, smeared over too-thin lips. Is she drunk, or foreign? Ah, drunk and foreign.
Take a tall seat by the fire. Start to write, more to avoid the stares than anything else.
Slow, old, pickled men beside me, the words the mumble unconsidered for all they are chewed over. Gummed.
“Pacific islanders…mass exodus…What’s that all about…you reckon?” quoth the first.
“Britain’s getting’ smaller,” respondeth the second. “Erodin’ inta tha sea…”
The first murmurs inarticulately, bald head bobbing in the over-large collar of his mint-green vinyl coat. He creaks to standing, shuffles to the toilet, slowly, slowly. Socks and sandals.
I steal a surreptitious glance at the second. Grizzled, lead grey hair tied back loosely, week’s beard growth still retaining darker strands amongst the mass. Soiled t-shirt, the complimentary beer swag variety, hangs loose on him. He doesn’t see me, staring into his pint.
Two fat Americans enter, too old to be students, late 30’s, maybe. They talk shit about whiskey at the bar, revealing their ignorance even as they try to outdo one another.
My attention is drawn to the far corner – two middle-aged women cackle over a shared jest. American again, by the accent. Different from our new compatriots, who sound as if they’re from the South. No, through the cackles, they actually sound like me. Why so certain they’re American, then? The way they carry themselves, the content of their conversation. The self-satisfied disrepair of their bodies.
Our friends at the bar have switched to electronics, bullshitting about hardware specs. Once again, it’s clear they aren’t even fooling one another.
I drain off the last of the glass and leave, headed to the next stop in this dreary march.