Late summer afternoon in Hamburg. Weather a bit too cold, too windy for the season. Railway station overcrowded, as all of them are. As I had a log break till the next train to catch, I decided to kill time by having a glass of good beer. Across the street range restaurants, of cafés on the sidewalk. I found a free table and took a seat, strangely feeling embarrassed. I don’t know the language well. A man alone in a town that is not his own loses self-confidence, retires, becomes apathetic. Things of little importance suddenly become important.
Ordering a beer is not a big deal, but what if he puts me some other question, or if someone asks to sit at the same table. I will tell him it is occupied. How do I say it in German? I don’t know. Or do I? Certainly not at the moment. I will ask him if he speaks English. “What would your order Sir?” – the waiter turned up, interfering my thoughts. “A beer!” – I answered immediately. How in the world did he manage to turn up like that beside me? I hope he didn’t notice I am a foreigner. I will pay immediately, why waiting for him once again. A beggar approached me. He mumbled something. I gave him a sign that I didn’t understand. He left. He was all I needed.
“Your beer Sir!” This waiter is going to drive me mad! “How much do I owe you?” “Five marks, Sir!”- he said, with a huge smile on his face. I took my wallet convulsively and I paid. I didn’t notice that the beer was expensive. I noticed something else that I was sitting on the edge of the chair, in this ready-to-jump way. I took a sip. I slided back into the chair. The tension started releasing. Little by little, I became conscious of what was going around me. Facing the café, there was a bus stop. Lot of people waiting for bus to come. A gallery of faces, I thought. Most of them looked like foreigners.
A free table on the left. On the right, two thirty-year-old men and woman with child. In front of them a dozen of empty glasses, an ashtray full of stumps and a plate with two sausages and some French fries on. They were blind drunk, absorbed by their discussion, holding glasses full of beer. The young woman of her twenty-six, holding cigarette in her lips, was trying to cut sausages with a fork. Neglectful, dirty hair, wearing dirty jeans. Frameless spectacles made her look more serious. I was thinking, if only she washed and made herself beautiful, she would leave quite different impression. Still holding her cigarette, she was trying to make the little boy a piece of sausage. Five-year-old boy whined, he refused to eat. His little face was dirty, his blond hair was too.
He kept on wiping his hands against his little, worn-out trousers. Torn shirt, little shoes falling to pieces. Yet how little it would take him look tidy. Stumps and ashes pouring out of the ashtray, falling into the plate with sausages. The men themselves, being carried away arguing, shook their cigarettes more above the plate than into the ashtray. Mother listened intently to what they saying. In front of her, a half-drank glass of beer. God, I thought to myself, was that the future of this child. A drank men’s company.
The mother stood up suddenly, and went inside. The two others paid no attention to it. The child started crying. One of them turned, grabbed one sausage and gave it to the boy. “Gili, gili gili!” – he was acting the fool for the little boy. The boy now cried even louder. He dropped the sausage on the floor. Swaying, the man lifted it and gave it back to the boy, trying to put it in his mouth. The child turned its head away, choking on his tears. “Gili, gili, gili” – he tried to smile. He put the sausage back into the plate and looked at the boy in that drunken way. At that moment the mother come back and calmed the child. They ordered another round of beer. Suddenly, music came from the sidewalk. Two men played and sang, third walked from table to table asking for money. I gave them nothing. They were bad. I sank back into my thoughts.
The bus just wouldn’t come. There was a big crowd on the bus stop. Among those who were waiting for bus, I saw a Negress with three children. She was about thirty, good looking. Her clothes revealed refined taste. The children, two boys and a girl were about six, eight years old. Clean and smart. They were standing still, waiting. Then one of them saw the boy from the next table. The boy smiled at him. He smiled him back. The mother, being too interested in discussion, didn’t see her child standing up and leaving the table. They made a few steps towards him. They were standing now in front of each other and smiled.
At that moment mother from the next table saw the boy was missing, stood up, turned drunkenly, approached her boy, grabbed him by the hand and dragged him back to his chair. Then she turned towards the black children, took the cigarette out of her mouth in piercing voice accompanied by a broad gesture of the hand holding cigarette, shouted:“ FOREIGNERS GET OUT! OUT!” The frightened children ran back to their mother and found shelter in her loving, caring arms. She looked towards the table, than just turned her head with dignity.
I was shocked by the arrogance and violent reaction. All at once, I didn’t like this place. In fact I was disgusted. I stood up, leaving my beer unfinished, I was in the hurry. The train will arrive soon, too. I must buy a ticket. I didn’t know how to say that in German and I didn’t care. LET THEM MANAGE TO UNDERSTAND ME!
"Bosnapress" Frankfurt 1993