The night of the handshake

Good Friday started with the sort of hangover which only ever comes from stopping drinking before midnight, the type that is somehow worse than those experienced after you’ve been up until four o’clock in the morning and you awaken on the sofa wearing yesterday’s suit.  If this was how Christ felt after taking a chalice of wine at the Last Supper, I thought, then crucifixion was probably a welcome relief.

In a bid to resurrect my health I took a long walk by the sea after getting a hair cut which only succeeded in helping me look around six weeks younger.  It was the warmest day of the year to that point, and everybody and their dog seemed to be out enjoying the sun – even those without dogs.  I was walking with a hungover gait which I expected was giving the impression to passers-by that I was suffering from some serious ailment.  Near the war memorial, I was quickly overtaken by a couple who were wearing matching green lycra running gear.  They were the kind of outfits that I imagined were probably not so much an expression of their love for one another, but more like an obligation which comes from a his and hers Christmas gift given by a friend.  They had likely told loved ones that as a new couple who enjoy doing every waking thing together, they would accept presents which they could use together, such as a certificate for a day at a spa, or a pair of concert tickets, never expecting that they would be forced into taking up running as a hobby.

Nearer the centre of town, people were lined along the walls looking across the water towards the ferry terminal pier, where a small fishing boat which had sunk the previous morning was being raised from the bay.  The symbolism of this happening over Easter wasn’t lost on anyone – or at least it wasn’t missed by people who think about such things like I spend my time doing.  Most others were more interested in details like who the boat belonged to, where it had come from, how it had sunk and whether anybody had been hurt.  That was all anyone had talked about in the barbershop, anyway.

The sunset at the end of a day of beautiful spring weather presented an opportunity for a lineup of a different variety on the seafront as swarms of people were jockeying for position for the best photograph.  Couples were posing for selfies in front of the setting sun, as though the sinking star was any other prop, like those cardboard figures with their faces cut out you find at an amusement park.  Just another object in the shadow of their affection.

It was Friday night, and although I had been happily lounging around in jeans during the day, I changed into a suit – without the jacket – in keeping with the carefully crafted appearance I had been putting together for four years.  The diminutive barmaid in Aulay’s looked at me curiously and asked if I had been working.  When I told her that I had been off for the day, and pointed out that I was dressed in casual wear, she laughed hysterically.

“But the only difference is that you’re wearing a sweater vest?”  She said in the manner of a question, before laughing again.

I had a tinge of trepidation when I arrived in Aulay’s that night following the events of twenty-four hours previous, when I accidentally befriended my brother’s pub enemy.  If we are to accept that the concept of having a pub enemy exists, and that such a nemesis is a figure who constantly seems to have a presence when something goes wrong, despite your best efforts to not acknowledge them, then my pub enemy would be the fresh-faced homosexual, the diminutive barmaid’s would be the top shelf where the malt whiskies are kept, and my brother’s pub enemy would be the Brexit Guy.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, my brother and I found ourselves in conversation at the bar with a pleasant and soft-spoken man who had blonde hair to match the tanned complexion of his skin.  My attention drifted when the subject turned to politics, though I was soon aware of my brother’s tone becoming animated in the way it does when he disagrees with something.  The soft-spoken man didn’t stick around for long after that, and it transpired that despite living in Colombia for half of the year, he was in favour of Brexit because it would curb the number of immigrants coming to Britain in search of work.  Every time we saw him in Aulay’s after that night he was referred to as the Brexit Guy, and we never talked to him.

I couldn’t be sure how I ended up speaking to him the night before Good Friday, but I presumed that it was a drunken accident, the way someone picks up the wrong jacket or drinks a rum and coke instead of a Jack Daniels.  Once again I found him to be pleasant and softly-spoken, though in the back of my mind there was a pang of gnawing (Catholic) guilt that if my brother could see the scene he would be disappointed by my interaction with his pub enemy.  When it reached the point where the Brexit Guy was offering to buy a Jameson for me, I had to come clean and remind him of the incident a year earlier before I could accept the whiskey and at the same time force the diminutive barmaid to confront her own pub enemy.

The Brexit Guy remembered the confrontation well and implied that he feels awkward every time he sees my brother and me at the bar.  This made me feel strangely powerful, that for the first time in my life I was intimidating another person, even if it had all been the work of my brother.  I imagined that the Brexit Guy viewed us as figures similar to the Kray twins, unlike most other people in Aulay’s who see us as something closer to the Chuckle Brothers.

I was able to accept a drink from the Brexit Guy when he confessed that he was very drunk on the night in question and was probably taking a contrary opinion to my brother’s because he enjoys winding other people up when he has had too much to drink.  I wasn’t sure how much I believed his story, but he seemed genuine and I, myself, have often considered the sporting merits of taking an opposing view to my brother, though have never had the guts to see it through.  On Good Friday the Brexit Guy again approached me at the bar, and we were chatting when he told me that he felt the need to apologise to my brother.  He called across to him and extended a hand, in place of an olive branch, which my brother shook.  Brexit Guy apologised for “being a dick” in that initial meeting, and my brother conceded that he had probably been a dick too.  It was an Easter miracle that I had brought these two pub enemies together.  Not quite the resurrection of Christ, but closer to the raising of a sunken fishing boat.

By the time Easter Sunday came around, many of the faces around town had been reddened by the weather, and some in Markie Dans had been reddened by a day spent drinking.  The bar was busy and had developed its own micro-climate.  There were people crammed into every corner of the room, like the way that when you open just about any kitchen cupboard in the country there is a stash of novelty Cadbury’s mugs which have been gathered over the years, decorated in the style of chocolate bar wrappers such as Double Decker, Wispa or Caramel.  The mugs are only ever used in emergency situations, the occasions where the number of guests overwhelms the stock of proper cups.  I had recently looked in my dad’s cupboard and seen no fewer than seven mugs, which allowing for breakages probably amounted to around three Easter’s in our home.

Under the bar lights, a group of young ladies were organising themselves into formation for a pub selfie.  Following much direction the girls were ready for their moment, and after a pause one of them broke from the pack and approached me.  She had long brunette hair which was tied up into a tail, while on her back she was carrying a grey bag which was the size of a tortoise shell.  I wondered if she had noticed my youthful haircut, or whether she was going to comment on my black checked shirt, but instead, with a European accent, she asked me if I could take a photograph of the group.

When I returned the phone to the brunette with the bag I was waiting for the critique of my lack of focus and disappointing flash when I asked the girl where she was from.  “I’m over here from Germany,” she said. “Bavaria. Most people sound exhausted when I tell them I’m German.” I couldn’t really understand why this would be people’s response.  Underwhelmed I could see; disappointed even.  But exhaustion implied that the energy had been sucked from the very beings of those who had asked the same question I had, and that just seemed a bit of an over-reaction.  I assured her that I wasn’t exhausted to learn that she is German and, on the contrary, quite liked her accent.

“You think my accent sounds German?”  Asked the Bavarian brunette with the bag, her tone laced with something between disappointment and exhaustion.  She went on to explain that she is studying American English and had been listening to her American friends in class in the hope of using their dialect to disguise her German accent.  I told her that I couldn’t hear any American in her voice, and finding the expressions of the girl to be increasingly like the James Joyce novel Ulysses – too difficult to read – I eventually gave up trying.

There was a full moon sitting resplendent in the sky over the bay as I was walking home in the early hours of the morning, the largest substitute for company I could see anywhere.  I was thinking about the miraculous events of Easter weekend as I rounded the North Pier, the historic happenings in Jerusalem and the handshake between pub enemies in Aulay’s, and I accepted that it was always going to be too much to make a German girl smile.  I realised that it was probably for the best when I began to consider the his and hers gifts we might have one day received, and that I could have ended up wearing a bag as large as a tortoise shell.


2 thoughts on “The night of the handshake

  1. I love the idea of a pub enemy! Mine is probably the bloke who chucks me and my friends out at closing time because that’s the point at which I always fall down the step on the way out that’s been there forever but which I always forget about. Probably due to the gin imbibed. Actually – does this mean my nemesis is in fact the step?

    Liked by 1 person

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