‘Never Mess With Natalia’
The septuagenarian, head in Stage 7 of hair loss on the Norwood Scale, stood by the bar supping his gin-and-tonic, and merrily chatting with the bartenders and with two customers who were closer to him but with the coronavirus-dictated social distance. For his age, he was agile and loquacious. Sarcastically, he remarked as Natalia the late-shift bartender arrived, ‘Welcome, sparkling eyes.’
Looking into his eyes, she responded with a grin, and said, ‘Thanks.’ And she disappeared behind the bar counter to the staff room in the basement for change of dress, and to spruce up her face.
Born in Scarborough, the septuagenarian had sailed away from that English town when he was on the threshold of his adulthood, and has landed in Gothenburg.
What connected Scarborough and Gothenburg is the North Sea of Pacific Ocean.
Maritime activity and maritime paraphernalia occupied his life. He had worked at the city’s harbour until it ceased to be the lifeline for employment, and he retired with a private pension and public pension. With assured income, he hopped out to different eateries and cafes and pubs during the course of a week.
At this pub, which changed its owners and names quite frequently but kept its maritime memorabilia, on Vasagatan, he was one of those rarest of rare customers who generously tipped the bartenders.
Despite living for decades in Sweden, the Swedish language has failed to replace his mother tongue on his tongue saving for quotidian phrases. Nevertheless, he married and fathered and divorced and married as many times as any other Swede long before the social normalisation of cohabitation.
The chief bartender with glistening crown and goatee, an immigrant from Middle East who had failed to land in the USA, initiated the talk about the US presidential elections while changing the channels on the television. The septuagenarian gave his opinion to the audience around the bar counter about on who was going to win in the democratic country where a third party failed to take birth unlike many other democracies in the world. He predicted who would win between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He went on to talk about other issues: Why the social impact of coronavirus pandemic would continue further in Gothenburg and beyond; about male breasts and female facial hairs; commented on the loveliness of the dog of a customer and such. Finally, he warmly bade bye to the chief bartender who hurried home.
When Natalia stood behind the bar counter, he was immensely gladdened. But she was amused in the conversation with Linda her colleague about the evening’s progress.
‘Your breasts are growing smaller and smaller,’ he remarked looking at Natalia.
Linda noticed that too but she was aware Natalia used padded bra and she had forgotten to wear it today.
Natalia aired a volley of words in Swedish shifting her look between the septuagenarian and Linda. There was palpable anger in her voice.
‘What she says,’ the septuagenarian asked them. Natalia glared at him. Linda watched him sympathetically. He insisted to know what Natalia had said for she spoke volubly in chaste Swedish. His Swedish was insufficient to grasp what she had said.
‘Never mess with Natalia,’ Linda said. And tenderly, she suggested, ‘You should go home, Jo, your wife may be waiting.’
Natalia looked straight at the window. The autumn was dancing in the leaves. Vasagatan the avenue lined by linden trees, and paved for pedestrians and trams, cyclists and cars, has been one of the recreational and educational centres in addition to its fill of trees. ‘Outside’, she said without addressing neither Linda nor Jonathan, ‘it is more beautiful.’
‘Beauty is subjective,’ the septuagenarian Jonathan added. ‘See you next Friday.’
Natalia continued watching until she was interrupted by a customer who has been playing on the fruit machines, a euphemism for gambling machines. ‘Large, please.’