Happy Hour: Tørst

Words by Stephen Lehane Smith

Pictures by James Blake

Published on April 2, 2014

‘I would not worry,’ Andreas says, ‘this is a good city to fall in love.’ The restaurant heaves with suits smelling of cigarettes and sweat, businessmen hunched over glasses of beer at the counter, twenty-somethings behind us singing slurs and smacking their hands on the table. I have a clear view of the fish tanks at the front of the restaurant. A galaxy of writhing browns and creams, punctuated with flickers of lunar grey. Outside, the falling rain collects under a streetlight.

I let the last of my beer swirl down my throat.
‘Where you from?’ I ask Andreas.
‘I am from Norway. It is near Sweden.’
‘I know.’
‘You know Norway?’
‘Course I do.’
He shakes his head. ‘Nobody knows.’
The waitress brings out our meals. Four bowls swimming with colours ripped straight from Attack of the
Chloropeople!

‘Arigatou,’ I say. The waitress blushes.
Is there a Lonely Planet entry for dazzling? I make a note to scrounge out my copy from amongst my dirty washing and check.
Andreas looks at his meal. Then at me. ‘What do you call this?’
‘Octopus salad.’
Let me mention the mole connecting his nose and face. A rusting cauliflower. A bad joke. Undulating as he struggles his chopsticks around a sliver of cucumber, face shrivelled in concentration. You should get that checked out, I want to say. It sounds like a bad line, but it’s the best my unthreading head can come up with. There’s a backlog of things I should to tell you about. What brought me here? Bad luck, mostly. I should tell you more, but my head is made up of jetlag and longing. I am as ugly as I get. I shouldn’t be allowed to speak in this condition.
We’re mired somewhere in our second minute of silence when Andreas finally spears his piece of cucumber. I catch him watching me spirit a clump of fish and rice to my mouth.
‘You know it so well,’ he says.
I flick my eyes to his mole.
‘Should really get that checked out.’
He laughs and nods again and again, then enfolds his face in a handkerchief. We eat the rest of our meal in silence and I have no clear thoughts, or if I know my thoughts perhaps it is that I don’t want to know them. Ten minutes later, as Andreas pushes the last of the soy-soaked rice around a bowl, the man sitting next to him leans over and says something in Japanese. He holds out an open packet of cigarettes towards Andreas.
‘Please take one,’ the woman with him says.
‘No, no, no. I have my own please.’
Before Andreas can refuse again, I pick two cigarettes from the packet.
‘I cannot accept,’ he says to me. I drop my head. I draw in breath. Put another few drinks in me and I’ll be fine with this tagalong. The man next to Andreas turns to bark at a passing waitress and the woman with him gives a thin sigh. Andreas shakes loose his packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and holds it up to me like it’s evidence.
‘It’s rude to refuse,’ I say. I put the two cigarettes in my pocket. I’ll throw them out later.
Sitting back, I let my head catch up. Andreas lights his third cigarette of the night. Now I call this living good. Caught up in lives that don’t even begin to understand you. The woman smiles and asks me if I’m on vacation.
‘You two on a date?’ I say.
She says something to the man and he laughs.
‘Yes,’ she says.
Eyeing Andreas, the man lights a cigarette and slumps deeper into his chair. I lose the empty feeling and begin to feel fine again. I catch the waitress as she walks past. ‘Whiskey and soda,’I say. I pick up the menu and point.
‘Four.’ I hold out four fingers.