The Best Bar in the World
The Best Bar in the World
The story - the first chapter - is a serious-humorous account of three young manual workers from the North of England who decide to escape from their lot. It is a time of the Vietnam War and the Swinging Sixties, both of which seems to have passed the young men`s notice. They leave England in a jeep to look for fortune somewhere in the world and their ignorance and lack of understanding carries them ever forwards as they blunder around and on to India.0
Action / Adventure
Michael Scott (United Kingdom)
She, the barmaid, didn`t seem to understand much, although if understanding could be put on a weighing scale, clever, heavy weights here, dumb, light weights there, a lifetime of ignorance and stupidity would have shot the three of them immediately to the ceiling. They would get a better view of the bar from there of course, and especially of her blouse. She was a poster, a statue, a painting; dark, dangerous and unknowable. Where had they been for God`s sake all these years? They caught each other’s mutual vacant, desperate glances. Why had they wasted all their lives before coming here?
Mick tried out a clumsy, sort of, maybe, approximate Italian-sounding phrase. He`d read a handful of such words in his cycling magazines but had absolutely no idea of either the context or the pronunciation. It had been the same when they had blundered into the centre of Milan a few hours earlier. Mick, who was driving at the time, jammed the jeep to a halt outside a bicycle shop and started jabbering in a mixture of Yorkshire English and something that he thought had a few sounds of English bicycle magazine Italian thrown in. Before the shocked cliental had time to recover, Mick had departed, shouting at his complaining companions that it wasn`t his fault if the natives were absolute barbarians. Now in the bar and following an immediate silence, Dave added a couple of wayward phrases that he thought, somehow, had a French flavour to them.
“It`s like being in a foreign country,” he said to his friends in disgust at the vacant response.
But then Graham simply said, “three beers, luv,” his teeth showing his lasciviousness as much as his previous days of neglect and they were served straightaway. And finally, after these few days on the road, mostly lost, usually going the long way when the shorter one would be staring mockingly in their faces, they had finally arrived in Paradise – and now, here in the bar, was the Goddess of Sex and Desire at its very gates.
They had made it. They had triumphed. Well, sort of. They were in Italy at least, weren`t they? Where? Well, y`know, here. We don`t bloody know. Somewhere. And never mind, where next? The glasses of beer stood spilling with foam as if they too overflowed with their sense of success. For a moment they stared at the overflowing glasses, increasing their thirst and their desire to quench that thirst before snatching at them and gulping them down. Triumph indeed, triumph enough for anyone sometimes.
“We pass this way but once, but what if we pass twice, would we remember the first time?” Dave beamed his sense of wit at the goddess who had thrust the beers on the high counter before them. She scowled and he guessed that she had more on her mind to consider than his more-or-less-or-much less-than-more philosophy. What did she think about bars, though?
Before them, about them, in the tiny hotel rooms at the end of wayward corridors above them, came only bustle, noise, clamour, and activity. People wandered to and fro, in and out, up and down. Giggling, calling, their laughter and shouts merging with complaints, cries, congratulations. Colour and clamour became smell and taste and touch, and in turn, these became clamour once again. The goddess and her colleagues at the other side of the counter whizzed around as unceasing as ice-skaters, never pausing, never collecting themselves or recollecting their thoughts even as they served. Perspiration seeped and clung to everyone, giving an air of glowing harassment. Gave everyone, customer or provider, a beating, pulsing, draining, wondrous life.
She paused a moment before them, wanting to speak, as if she had found some need in all this melee that could only be fulfilled by communicating with these odd-looking foreigners. The perspiration had soaked her well-formed, well-filled blouse and dark patches had formed under her arms and they gazed like stricken canaries at the lines where desire and passion met and merged into pale flesh and flowing material.
“Inglese?” she called and shrugged her bare shoulders indifferently at her compatriot who had now climbed into a vast coffee-making machine that stood in glorious isolation at the centre of the massive, circular bar.
“ Da Transylvania forza?” he laughed.
Hadn`t that other barmaid said something similar? Dave blurted out to his two companions and the goddess equally.
Graham slowly and reluctantly dragged his eyes away from the feast of flesh and longing hovering before him and shifted on the high bar stool before disdainfully looking at Mick. The barmaid disappeared.
“Since we were in England – home,” Dave added trying to give the word some meaning.
Graham turned, trying to locate his gaze onto the barmaid again but she had merged into the noise and clamour.
“Go back to sleep.”
He paused and ran his finger down the condensation that clung like thawing frost to his almost empty glass. He grabbed at the glass.
“Bloody hell, I`m gonna live here.”
He grinned at Dave dopily, then yawned long and hard, his face etched with weariness. “Stop worryin`. Worryin` won`t get you anywhere – it didn`t get us here, did it?” he added with one of his not-quite-so smiles.
Of course it was winter when they conspired. The bar back in England had been at its brightest then and it was quite easy to please the bank that traded under Sweat, Blood and Tears.
“Shouldn`t we be doing something?”
“Something. Something more…” Dave swung around and faced his friends.
The long avenues of unskilled jobs that lined their minds seemed to lie in wait just outside the bar: It`s fine, the reflected images would say, take your time, no rush at all, finish your beer, have a good laugh, we`ll wait out here for you. And when you`re middle-aged and a little fat, a little bald and even more confused, we`ll still be here, don`t you worry at all…
“Stop worryin`. Worryin` won`t get you anywhere, “ Graham repeated; “does it my luv.”
He said this last phrase to the Goddess of Love who had risen unbidden before them. She splashed another three beers down on the counter and smiled at her compatriot who had by now untangled himself from the giant coffee maker. He moved quickly but with some innate grace, some indefinable elegance. They felt even scruffier, wearier, older. Her teeth glinted as they reflected the bar lights. She was a toothpaste advert. and they the unfortunate sods who hadn`t bought the correct brand. Her deep, heavy lips had only one purpose in this big, bad, beautiful world, which was to drive these foreigners into madness and despair. They would become three old men, they were three old men, slobbering and shuffling along and repeating over and over to their bored but forbearing old-peoples` home minders that they once had in some wayward bar of the world looked upon the lips of Paradise, that they had once stumbled upon the entrance to heaven itself.
Dave slipped and nearly fell from his high bar stool. “You know that…you know…” he slurped stupidly.
“Go back to sleep.”
He insisted. “Why we`re here.”
“Cos we`re here,” shouted Graham in rhythm with the waves of noise that ebbed and flowed and beat about them. “What the soldiers sang in the First War.”
They raised their voices and sang. Although the sounds wouldn`t ordinarily be classed as song:
“We`re here because we`re here!”
And at the last moment, before Dave`s eyes bulged too much, Graham managed to stop him from collapsing onto the floor.
“He`s tired,” said Graham to anyone who might be interested. No one was.
“Naw”, Mick protested, the booze giving him energy and authority but the authority only serving to make him look witless.
“Naw,” he slurped. “What Dave said… what the other barmaid said...”
“In England,” he emphasised as if the word had a meaning he couldn`t quite locate.
Graham suddenly looked startled, innocent. His blue eyes appealing, flickering, waiting for justice to be done.
Mick smiled stupidly at him. He gestured to where Dave lay crumpled across the bar counter. Graham leaned down to Dave to listen closer to the soft sounds of snoring.
Mick grinned. “The dopey bastard.”
“Yes, that`s it”, they laughed . “That`s what she said.”
Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1
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