Diablada by Æsa Strand Viðarsdóttir
The heat is unbearable. Even here, in refuge from the sun with the propelling fan above his head, he still feels like he is suffocating. Out there, in the blazing sun, people are dancing, the women’s skirts twirling like multi-coloured tornados in rhythm with the maddening music. Everyone is laughing and singing, seemingly completely unbothered by the heat. It is not natural, they are hardly even sweating! His own thin cotton shirt clings to his back; the damp crotch of the khaki trousers keeps chafing his groin. Even his feet are sweating, the leather straps of the sandals rubbing his skin raw. Ugh, it is revolting. If this is how it is in spring, how will he ever survive the summer?
“Your drink, señor.”
He mumbles something that can be interpreted as gratitude, not even bothering to look up since he can tell by the voice that it is the old hag from behind the counter. The two pretty young waitresses are standing by the window, watching the parade go by; and the even prettier young boy that busses the tables is in the kitchen, singing as he washes the dishes.
He picks up his beer, enjoying the cool perspiring glass against his sweaty palm. His mouth feels parched; the first hit of the bitter liquid on his tongue is like salvation. He never used to drink this much before he moved here. Now he can hardly start his day without a cool pint, and then they just keep piling up as the day progresses, until he is drunk enough that he stops caring whether he is getting anything done or not.
That is not really true. After all, he did quit his job and move here for a reason. That reason being the annoyingly persistent words, and plots and whole universes in his head that he decided he had to put on paper, or he would surely lose his mind. Well, it has been three weeks, and he is much closer to insanity than immortality as a writer, that is for sure.
He stares gloomily at the notebook in front of him and taps the pen restlessly on the table. “This is where it all began,” is written on top of the left-hand page. The rest of it is blank. On the right-hand page it says, “A word is dead when it is said.” There is more to that quote but he can’t remember the rest. Dickinson, he thinks. Sounds like her anyway. Whoever wrote it, it feels fitting. Every time he writes a word down, whatever thought came with it, seems to evaporate. He has killed at least a dozen plot ideas just by daring to try and actually write them.
It is useless. This whole idea was absurd. If he could not write at home, why on earth did he think he would fair any better here? At least at home he can breathe. He can walk in the rain to clear his head or have drinks with friends when he needs the distraction. Here it is just him, and this heat that is boiling his brain until he can hardly remember his own name, let alone anything else. This was supposed to be an adventure, a chance for him to discover himself, discover the writer within. So far, all he has found is a miserable drunk who misses his small flat with the smell of freshly brewed tea on Sunday mornings and the sound of rain tapping the window sill.
The cheerful noise magnifies as the door is opened, and a laughing couple tumbles in, out of breath and eyes shining. He watches them as they make their way to the counter and order drinks, still so possessed by the music that their hips keep swinging from side to side, seemingly of their own accord. The man has his arm around the girl’s waist. She is leaning her head on his shoulder. They look happy and so in love, their eyes seeing nothing but each other.
He grimaces and sips his beer. They are not the kind of characters he is looking for. Too damn happy, everyone would want to kill them within the first few pages. Misery, that is what people want. Makes them feel better about themselves. Superior. Like, sure, they might be fat, ugly and lonely, but at least no one is trying to kill them. And, yes, they might have a life as exciting as burnt toast, but, on the bright side, their boyfriend didn’t leave them for a blond bimbo with an enormous chest. The point is, ordinary, happy people are boring, and no one wants to read about the ordinary, happy boring things they do in their ordinary, happy boring lives. That is one of the main reasons why he decided to move here: everyone he knows back home is so incredibly dull. He might as well hope to get inspired by staring at a blank wall. Completely useless.
The people here were supposed to be exotic. Exciting. Inspiring. Mostly he is finding them annoyingly cheerful and barely capable of carrying on a conversation in English. He hadn’t realized he was practically entering a third world country; he thought those were all supposed to be in Africa or something. Although, considering the barbaric culture of North Americans, he probably should have guessed.
The pretty, young busboy suddenly passes his table, joining the girls at the window. He is slight and slim with dark eyes and ridiculously long eyelashes. Back home he would be a given, but who knows how things are over here? For all he knows, it is all a game of hide and seek, emphasis on hide. What if they are not even allowed to exist in this backward country? He probably should have researched that before he came here. All he knows is that everyone seems annoyingly religious. Bloody Catholics. You would think with their obsession with dresses and altar boys they would be a bit more open minded.
Not knowing the rules has made him quite apprehensive when it comes to seeking company. Now take that boy, for instance. Just the sort he would usually go for. Back home he would have had his chances pinned down by now. It would only have been a question of which approach to take. Here it feels not as much a gamble as it does a bloody Russian roulette. For all he knows, he might get arrested for even trying. Also, if things went badly, it would mean he would have to find himself another café to frequent and, frankly, he’d rather not. This one is close to his flat, and both the beer and the coffee are almost decent, even if the food has, on occasions, given him the runs.
There is also the fact that the boy is way out of his league. He would be the first to admit that he is no David Beckham, not even back home where half of the male population resembles the back-end of a mangy dog. These last few weeks have done nothing to improve his appearance; the beer has taken up residence on his stomach, and his freckled face is red and peeling from the sun. He has the advantage of being blond, in this sea of dark hair, and that at least earns him some attention. Unfortunately, most of that attention has been from the wrong side of the gender pool. And, admittedly, once from a burly bloke who might or might not have been Hulk’s younger brother. Not quite what he was looking for. Though, to be honest, if that had been now rather than three weeks ago, he might just have taken the man up on his offer. That is how lonely he feels.
The boy suddenly laughs and shakes his head, then turns away from the window to get back to work. It happens a bit too fast; he can tell he has been caught staring when the boy raises one eyebrow in a perfect bow – the little bastard – and then saunters over, hips swinging way too casually to be a coincidence.
“More to drink, señor?” he asks, smiling with pearly white teeth and a glint in his eye that would have earned him either a smack in the face or a late night invitation back home, depending on the recipient.
“Uhm…” Sweat is pouring down his back. He looks at his glass and tries to figure out if he has finished his beer or not. He does not seem able to focus enough to actually tell. “Uhm,” he repeats then quickly adds, “Yes. Thank you,” and flashes the boy his brightest smile. It probably looks more like the grin of a madman.
“I will bring it to you. And maybe some nuts, yes?”
This time it is definitely an invitation. Really, it cannot be anything else. Really. It must be, it just must. No one smirks like that unless they mean business. And by business he means the men’s room in about five minutes. Right? Right. But…what if he is wrong?
Damn the Pope and the whole Catholic Church!
He watches the boy walk to the counter and tries his best to keep his gaze from travelling below the waist, just in case. It is anything but easy; the trousers are obscenely snug. He averts his eyes when the boy heads back with the beer, carrying a small bowl of macadamia nuts in his other hand.
“You need anything else, señor, you call,” the boy purrs as he places both items on the table in front of him. “I am here for you. Ok?”
“Yes. Yes, thank you. I, I… Yes. You are very kind.”
He clears his throat and tries for another smile, this one even more awkward than the one before. The boy smiles back, wide and happy, like it is his dream come true to serve sweaty and slightly overweight foreign wannabe writers in this quite possibly cockroach-infested café. Then the boy turns on his heel and heads whistling back to the kitchen, leaving confusion and high hopes in his wake.
He helps himself to a fistful of salty nuts, swallowing them down with a gulp of ice-cold beer. A drop of sweat slips off the tip of his nose and lands with a plop on the table. In the street outside the last drunken dancers of the parade twirl by, singing what sounds suspiciously like an off-key version of Gloria Gaynor’s ode to survival.