Alicia Keys is playing from the speaker in the corner. I’m enjoying it not just because I’m transported back to Saturday afternoons with Trevor Nelson on Radio 1, in my sunny yellow flat, the first flat I owned. My first self-created nest. But also because the music is…not loud…but insistently present. I have to listen to it. And at first I thought, oh, this is too loud, I can’t concentrate on something else, not if I’m lip-syncing lyrics so familiar my lips form them like a muscle memory. Then I – slowly, eventually – realise, this is a real rest. I can listen to the music.
I can have an artist’s date with this music, and the red wine, and play with my word-sketch, doodle with language, instead of what I was trying to do on the page opposite, which was to capital-J-Journal.
An artist’s date with connecting and sketching, which was where the sketching started – from sitting in a room waiting. Not from trying to write, trying to fit a plan, but because I literally had nothing else to do. I mean, that first sketch, in the clinic waiting room – I had plenty to do, that I could have been doing, wanted to do, would rather have been doing. But the waiting released me from it. I’ve missed that. There are no malaria tests in Denmark to sit around and wait for.
[Lip-sync break: The hero lies in you]
Denmark is too efficient for these moments of inertia to just come my way. Then again, why I am here now? Because on a Saturday afternoon the library was closed, the bakery and the other café I like were closing.
I came here, to the bar of the street food venue, because it’s a Saturday afternoon in Esbjerg, so not much else is open, and it’s nearly empty. So I’m here with the music, and a family enjoying their space on the other side of this urban-cosy bar. They’re so happy – somehow I can feel that they are free and easy, lightened by the space and the freedom that a nasal swab and an orange wristband have afforded them.
They have a lockdown baby. Maybe 6 months old? She gazes around like it’s the first time she’s seen a space this full of tables and chairs. Tables of different heights! Wooden dining tables attended by a mix of metal and leather-upholstered chairs. High tables and bar stools slung with more padded leather. This coffee table in front of me, with distressed paint in rust-orange, blue, and dark teal, framed by a chocolate brown chesterfield-type sofa and the bucket chair I’m nestled in, cocooned within.
[Lip-sync break with earnest facial accompaniments: I don’t wanna miss a thing]
Perhaps it’s this new family’s first time, since the relaxing of restrictions a week or so ago. They’re out for an afternoon date. Mum gets up, mask on, and dances with baby, who makes satisfied gurgles, points at me, we smile. Mum smiles at me too, disarmed by all of it, by being here, free to be out, and to dance where it’s not her living room. Dad laughs, takes a turn with baby on his shoulders, parading her, bouncing her as she delights in her elevated outlook. He’s forgotten his mask, but never mind: there’s only me, several tables away and on the other side of two pairs of heavy red pillars.
There’s no-one else, the bar is unstaffed for this quiet period, with a chalked sign sending customers to the other bar for drinks. Through there, in the converted cinema, the space is bigger, barn-like, although full character thanks to the new owner who, it seems, despite everything, is making this place a success. It was due to open the week after Denmark’s first lockdown was announced. We’ve never entered without sanitiser. Through there is where all the food is, where all the people are. In here is cosier still – more hyggeligt.
There’s a table set into a corner with benches lining the walls, and greenery offsetting the brick. An arc of lighting over the bar is made of empty Heineken bottles. From the low ceiling hang exposed filament bulbs that douse tables in their warm glow and reflect in the windows that give on to walkways through the building then to other windows offering a glimpse of Kongensgade, the solid world. Inside, candles on each table are ready to be lit when the light fades and the evening flickers into life.
Among the natural muted textures of brick and wood and aged metal and soft leather, there’s a burst of colour in the chaotic and gaudy neon-coloured collage art hanging on the raw concrete walls, celebrating Hollywood and the building’s cinematic past. There’s an Easy Rider and a Natural Born Killer watching me – my only company now that the baby-family have left, baby briefly making her protests – not quite crying, more like a cub’s growl, delicate and powerless.
I want to come back here when the evening flickers into life, when the bar is open, and people gather around it. I want to be among friends who fully know me, I want us to be crowded around one of these corner tables, with nowhere else to be, and nothing to be scared of, and certainly nothing to be polite about. I want us to raise our glasses, take the piss, explain nothing. I want to be fully myself. I want the night to be young.
[Tear-syncing: Nothing compares 2U (Sinead’s version)]
I want the night to be young again.
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