Once, instead of going to school, my friend Saskia and I hitchhiked to Amsterdam. It was a sparkling April day and we got a lift straightaway.
In Amsterdam there were daffodils and tulips everywhere and we felt like dancing in the streets. We first had coffee on a terrace and then went to de Bijenkorf department store. We looked at the clothes and tried on lots of things for fun.
Then we were hungry and wished some rich men would take us out to lunch. We wandered along the Zeedijk and went into a bar. There were no rich men in sight. It was full of sailors, most of them half drunk. Some were in uniform. I hated any kind of uniform and wanted to leave, but Saskia whispered “Wait.” She was smiling at a handsome man sitting at the bar.
“Would you two ladies like a nice drink?” He offered Saskia his stool and pulled another one closer for me. Saskia asked for a lager and I a tomato-juice.
“You don’t want some vodka in that?” I had never tried that. Why not?
“OK, thank you.” They put Worcester-sauce and chilli in it. I loved it. On the stool besides me sat a very attractive man with a sad face. He had lined up four glasses of jenever and a pint of lager and drank from them in turn. When there was only one full jenever left he got the bartender to refill the other three. He only needed to raise his hand and the waiter came with the bottle. By the time the third glass was filled he had emptied the fourth, so the barman could keep pouring. The economy of it was beautiful, like some ritualistic dance. I had only seen my father drink with such determination. The man who had bought us our drinks noticed me watching.
“That is Max, he drinks and he thinks when he is on leave.”
“Does the drinking help the thinking?” I smiled at Max. He didn’t smileback.
“I only think so I can drink.” He poured the third jenever down his gullet and the pas de deux started again.
“How long can he do that for?” I asked the other man.
“Until he falls of his perch. Another hour maybe.”
“Why do you drink like that?”
“Why not?” He looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and turned away. He grabbed my shoulder.
“Tell me that, will you? Why Godverdomme not. Anyway what is it of your business.” I shook his hand of my shoulder.
“Absolutely none. And I think alcoholics are boring, so I’ll leave you to it.” He grabbed me again and turned my head round. He held my face between his hands and kissed me. His mouth tasted of jenever. There was a mixture of mockery, sadness and anger in his eyes. He stopped the kiss, finished his jenever and stood up. He took my hand and led me to a door at the back. I hadn’t realised it was a hotel. We went to his room. I could easily have said no but I didn’t. He undressed me and then himself.
Here we go again I thought. My body didn’t want to. I was very dry and he hurt me a lot.
“I thought you liked me?” he said while thrusting and pushing. “Why are you so dry?” He came very quickly and I put my clothes back on and went downstairs.
Saskia was still flirting with her sailor. I caught her eyes and gestured to the exit. She nodded. Once outside she asked what happened.
“I am sorry to drag you away but I did something stupid. I went to bed with that guy. Don’t ask me why. Because he drinks like my father? Because he was sad? But now I am bloody sad as well.”
Saskia didn’t say anything. We bought some chips and decided to take the train back.
On the train I told Saskia how when I was a child I wanted to marry someone really, really sad, like my father, so that I could look after him and make him happy. When I saw a blind man stumble and fall over in the street, I knew that was it. I was going to marry a blind man. Then I read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” and I knew he had to be black. So, I was going to marry a black blind man and make up for all his misery. We laughed.
“What would you do if the guy didn’t want to marry you?”
“I am afraid he wouldn’t have a choice. Like all do-gooders I would be relentless in the pursuit of his happiness.”