A Little Piece of Life

Two hours to kill…

In a small city in Illinois. Very small. Rock Island.

It’s after five, and in the sea of closed office blocks, is an island, a small island.  A coffee shop.

This is probably as far away as I can get from everything I know, and everybody that knows me.

The word “dingy” wants to surface in my mind every now and then, but the place is clean and has an open glass front on the street.  I sit in one corner – non-smoking.  Another corner holds two chess players.  In the middle of the floor is a woman at a table, studying the newspaper, smoking and everything points to a very tough life.

Around six “regulars” sem to start to come in.  First an old white-bearded gentleman with a huge white scull cap and I realize I cannot decide between devout Jew and Muslim.

A suit takes the table next to mine – probably from the law firm I saw next door.  He looks a bit out of place.  He is busy with pen and paper.

Surprize! The woman who looks sixty and is probably only forty, speaks to the suit – do they now each other? But his reply is terse and short and she turns her attention again to the cigarette and the outside view.

Earlier the music was Jazz and Blues: Dizzy Gilespie.  Now it has deteriorated to a mild rythmic tortured grunting.  How can a country that spawned the Gershwins and other greats, give such performers a right to exist?  I’ll put it down to a question of personal taste.

The sun fades very slowly between these high buildings and I realize I am writing by the light of a feint yellow lamp that is peering over my shoulder.

If only I could see a five minute movie, a summary of each of these lives.  The two young guys running the place, like most mid-western youth, both are clean cut, open faced, with caps on.  One has long hair, neatly tied at the back.  What do they do when they are not here?  Maybe attending a college?  Maybe one of them owns the place and is always here?

And still the regulars contradict each other in appearance:  a regular guy, 40-50, office worker?, reads a paper, no family?  Opposite him, the table next to the woman, a young man with only a tank top vest on, tanned, a cleaner somewhere?  Oh no, the “rag” hanging from his belt is probably his shirt …   Another guy comes in for coffee – blue Stetson hat, cowboy boots, jeans and a denim vest – could almost be a cowboy businessman or a country singer, grey moustache and all.

As the light fades outside, a second dark hand on my paper helps me write and the fans hanging from the ceiling, causes nervous shadows to flit across the floor.

[*** Here I switched to writing in Afrikaans – you can read the original text below.]

Two more come in – he is wearing only a loose sweater with his jeans, leather thong around the neck with five beads – short blond hair – light goateeen rings through both ears and who knows where else!?  She is oriental and might be married to him.  They also know everybody.

It’s only the suit and me that have not greeted anybody.  He now has a long yellow legal pad and thoughtfully makes notes.

The woman, the young man with the tank top and a family deeper into the coffee shop are all smoking.  In a restaurant – this is how far we are from any big city.

The music changes to a more listenable swing  “…everyone was gay, at the start of the holiday…”  From when ‘gay’ meant something else.

With the sun not doing much outside, the ‘dingy’ lights inside now appear to be much brigther. Even the one quietly peering over my shoulder at what I am writing.

Agains the outside window is a box that is beaming its bright neon sign to the street:  “OPEN”.  In red with a blue frame.  You doubt in that regard.

Another regular – his shirt hangs over, just like his huge walrus moustache.

The suit starts filling in an order form that he tore from a small yellow catalog.  My eye catches a photo in the catalog:  more skin thank clothing – a man’s hand on another man’s butt…  I quickly glance around – I hope I am not in a gay bar …  so what, I can just say “not tonight” and then escape.  But I do not think so.

I think the suit is just ordering something kinky – the catalog disappears quickly into a white envelope and now I am curious: no, at least he is not wearing a wedding ring.

The music vists the Girl from Ipanema and I have to go.

For more than an hour I was allowed to sit inside a 1999 Norman Rockwell painting, anonymous, in three dimensions, caught up in the warm colors and sounds …  it was ‘n slice of life …


Nog twee mense – hy met net ‘n los trui by sy denims, leer riempie en vyf krale om die nek – ligte kort hare – ligte bokbaartjie en oorringe aan altwee kante en wie weet waar nog!?  Sy is ‘n oosterling en seker maar met hom getroud.  Hulle is ook nie vreemd nie en ken almal.

Is nog net die suit en ek wat nog niemand gegroet het nie. Hy sit nou met ‘n lang geel legal pad en dink en maak notas.

Die vrou, die jong man met die tank top en ‘n familie dieper in die coffee shop sit en rook.  In ‘n eetplek – dis hoe ver ons van die naaste groot stad is.

Die musiek vanander na ‘n meer luisterbare swing.  “… everyone was gay, at the start of the holiday…”  Toe was gay nog iets anders.

Met die son wat buite nie meer veel doen nie, lyk die “dingy” ligte binne nou helderder.  Selfs die een wat oor my skouer stilweg kyk wat ek skryf.

Teen die buite venster hang ‘n kassie wat sy buis neon boodskap na buite straal: “OPEN”.  In rooi met ‘n blou raampie.  Jy hoef nooit te twyfel nie.

Nog ‘n regular – hemp hang uit, nes sy groot walrus snor.

Nou vul die suit ‘n bestelvormpie in wat hy uit ‘n klien geel katalogus geskeer het. My oog vang ‘n foto in die katalogus:  meer vleis as klere – ‘n man se hand op ‘n ander man se broek…  Ek kyk gou rond – ek hoop nie ek is in ‘n gay bar nie…  so what, ek kan maar net sê “not tonight” en dan ontsnap.  Maar ek dink nie so nie.

Ek dink die suit bestel maar net iets kinky – die katalogus is vinnig terug in ‘n wit koevert en ek is nuuskierig:  nee, hy het darem nie ‘n trouring aan nie.

Die musiek kuier nou by die Girl from Ipanema en ek moet ry.

Vir meer as ‘n uur kon ek binne ‘n 1999 Norman Rockwell prentjie sit, anonymous, in drie dimensies, vasgevang in warm kleure en klanke…  dit was ‘n stukkie lewe…

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