He spent his last £30 on a plate of oysters and a glass of champagne. He was a tall man, of fine and sophisticated manners. I observed him extracting every single penny from his wallet, thoroughly counting them and piling them up tidily on the corner of his table, as if they were a little fortune. Before leaving, he took his pen and scribbled a few words on the receipt. Then, he quietly closed his worn black leather bag and left the restaurant. The evening was damp and dark, and almost nothing could be seen through the fogged windows. Outside the night was slowly fading in an opaque and unreal light. I got closer to clear the table but, while I was tidying, I noticed that the bill was still there. On the back the handwriting said “There is beauty in life, and a deep sense of desperation. Fear is just an unnecessary perversion.”
I folded the slip quickly and put it in one of the pockets of my apron. I stared at my reflection on the wall mirror, perceiving a vague sense of disquiet.
I spent the last 45 minutes of my shift ruminating on those words, isolated in the incessant chatter of clients. When the closing time arrived I was invited to join the others in the kitchen to have a quick bite, but I wasn’t in the mood for eating and decided to get back home. A feeling of emptiness and melancholy was starting to seize me, making me irritable.
“He wasn’t writing to me. I didn’t even know the poor wretch” I thought, shaking my head. “So I’m afraid, and my life is a mess. What then? We all love dreaming. It’s just that it’s hard to carry on if you have to struggle every single day to make a living” I mumbled.
Then, coming from nowhere, a cat climbed down a few steps in front a house nearby and started rubbing against my legs, meowing softly.
“I’m sorry, pal. I can’t give you anything” I tried to reply uncomfortably. Finally giving up, the cat slipped into a bush and disappeared among the leaves. I kept walking for a while, in spite of the cold biting my cheeks and freezing the skin on my hands.
Suddenly I found myself near the station. The road was deserted and almost invisible. In the distance I could see a small take away van with the lights still on, where a stout, tall guy was tidying up before closing. Somehow I felt less lonely.
The station was under refurbishment and a modern and impersonal building had replaced the older, more familiar one. Outside, between piles of bricks and sand sacks, I managed to find the remains of an old stone wall. I climbed on it and stayed there for a while to observe the city by night. The dark had swallowed almost everything, and the silence was only interrupted by the occasional taxi circling around the block.
I recalled the afternoons of my childhood, with my legs dangling from a tree, talking about projects and adventures to live. I could almost feel the warm touch of the sun on my skin, coming from a distant past when the time was endless. Somewhere, under the frozen skin and the cheap coat, there was still a child who once dreamed to become a chef and live in Paris. I opened my wallet and found three 10 pound notes. I smiled. “Just enough for a decent hangover” I thought ironically. Another gust of wind suddenly raised and, touching my face, made me shiver. “Maybe next time. Tonight I need beauty.” Going back home, I left the money to a homeless who was sleeping on the curb along the road.
“Goodnight” I whispered, walking away from him.
The sky was full of stars.
- The house of broken dreams
- Valentina è pazza – flash fiction