Friday, 11 October 2019

Once Upon a Brunch

Once Upon a Brunch

One long afternoon, cotton clouds translated the blushing sun’s muttered spells as he descended towards a mustard dust horizon, sugar coating dewdrop jewelled bottles in glittered spangles.

These were racked up alongside revellers like a glass slippered castle; liquid of every hue and cry, every regret and sigh, and they had lured many seekers of answers to life’s loves and truths to a sick, sticky hangover the next morning.

Still, tomorrow morning’s gummy pillows were a lifetime away from now, and, in front of the gathered multitude, was a feast like no other. Every conceivable cuisine was represented from around the world, from the plainest breads, fruits and cheese to delicacies like lobsters, oysters and thick black caviar. Soups babbled quietly in huge cauldrons, delicately spiced curries and stews chuckled together in good humour, sweets and trifles whipped themselves to a frenzy and, best of all, thick chocolates, white, brown and bitter dark, gushed ceaseless from fountains into sweet rivers attended by striped trousered guardians.

And these small men and women were busy ferrying the banquet to tables surrounding rose petalled fragranced pools; murmuring quietly into the ears of the diners.

As the afternoon stretched its shadows, the throng became louder, noisier; some breaking off to dance long threaded congas, weaving haphazardly amongst tables where they were good-naturedly pushed off by the seated, like badly piloted paddle steamers. And the scurrying of the waiters became more frantic as four o clock approached and snapping fingers intensified…for as every child knows, four chimes break the spell.

All are shown the exit and those with any sense stumble straight to bed, some with each other and others quite, quite alone.

At one of the smaller tables, pushed back against a wall, shaded by a parasol and quite some distance from any pool, petalled or otherwise, sat two men. One was a giant. 

An ogre, bearded, with a vast, inverted rainbow smile and twinkling gemstone eyes. When he laughed, his armchair shook as though hit by twenty thunderbolts. When he spoke, his voice was so deep as to threaten to crumble any soft sandstone the hotel was carved from. He was dressed from head to foot in flowing golden and white robes – not quite a thobe, something altogether more magnificent. He was armed only with a huge wooden spoon hanging loosely from a leather thong that he wore around his thick, hairy neck. The spoon’s chunky handle was covered in ornate carvings of miniature African animals, ivory in colour, and he used the ladle to eat with, regardless of dish,“for it is all I need and it serves its purpose.”

Next to him, his opposite. Small with a long cactus spike of a nose and eyes close set together, his voice reedy, and as sour as a pint of unsweetened grapefruit juice, dressed in a loose T Shirt, jeans and sporting a pork pie hat with ‘kiss me quick’ scrawled upon it.

The one sipped water and consumed the mountain of foods heaped upon his various bestrewn plates, whilst the other threw back glass upon glass of blood pink Campari Bitters, often forgetting to dash the drink with the silvery lemonade at his left hand. He observed his giant companion eat, necked another drink down his throat and snapped his fingers.

“Why don’t you drink, anyway, Ahmed?” he complained, as his companion mopped gravy with a hunk of rough bread before placing it into the cavern that passed for his mouth.

Ahmed chewed thoughtfully, then waved his spoon. “Whilst it is not forbidden, of course,” he boomed, after a few movements, “I don’t like it.” And he laughed, delightedly at his answer, spraying bread due to the suddenness of his response. “I do beg your pardon, Felix,” he continued, pulling out a tissue and gently cleaning the small mess he had made from the table, for he was golden-hearted and considerate. “That was thoughtless of me.”

“Think nothing of it,” grumbled Felix, who wasn’t, then continued griping, “If you drank more, or even something, we might be invited to join the conga. I mean, look at the fun they’re having.” He indicated the dancing, stumbling line which was, even now, staggering its way back to complete another lap, whooping and hollering like a scream of enraged guillemots. “Those Irish sure know how to party. Every week here they are, shouting ‘it’s the craic’, having the best of it and every week the conga.”

“It’s true, Felix. I expect they’ll be sick soon. Then maybe I must help with clean up the mess, carrying them out to taxis and calling ambulance.” Ahmed scratched his beard, because he remembered a few occasions where he had done just that - but never with any sense of unwillingness. He was big. He would bear them.

Felix ignored him, scanning the linked people. “Look!” he snapped. “Disgraceful. That girl’s top is off and the man behind her is groping her boobs. Cupping a good handful. Disgusting. I should report them; that’s haram” He continued to stare, his head bobbing absently in time to the shaking bodies until he dragged his eyes away and returned to table, swallowing more bitters.

“Well, well,” grinned Ahmed, looking, then slapping Felix across the back, “he will drink from full cups tonight as well as this afternoon. For she is certainly gifted.” He threw back his head and laughed, “my friend, what harm is there, anyway?” He took his spoon and sliced it into a wobbling plate of blackberry jellies, balanced some carefully and manoeuvred them towards his mouth.

Felix watched him resentfully. Stupid spoon. Stupid friend. Lumbered with a giant and always on the periphery of the action, never the centre. Mercifully for him, four o clock had arrived; departure time. “Let’s go,” he snapped, rising very unsteadily and swaying slightly as he waited for Ahmed. As usual, the waiters were fussing over the giant, beaming with delight as he congratulated them for the magnificent service, the food, the company. Felix scowled and stalked off. “I need better friends than these,” he muttered, not sure if he’d been heard or not, then unceremoniously shoved a few revellers aside – one was clearly Irish, thin, tall and pissed, blinking at him stupidly.

Ahmed could see his friend was not happy; had not been happy for some time and Felix, for his part, continued to glower, whereupon his colossal companion helped him walk, supported him across the marbled foyer and poured him into his car.

So, the pages turn and soon another magical Friday, it is twelve thirty and the tables of every hotel across Kata are once again laden with more dishes than it is humanly possible to turn into five loaves and two fishes and wine enough to water every wedding guest.

Felix once more grouched his way to an offered table he was unsmilingly led to and sourly noted it had only two seats, as ever. “Even the small ones have recognised that I only need a trivial table, a table their size, they either know me, or sense that I have no friends, none,” he berated himself, and further than that wondered why they bothered. “We never have any fun. No conga for us.”

But where was Ahmed? They had been doing this for years and the giant was usually first in line; his appetites were legendary across Kata. Staff were always keen to greet him, eyes smiling, fist bumps and handshakes; enclosing their palms within his and he would affectionately drape a giant arm across shoulders whilst introducing ‘his good friend, Felix’.

“Abandoned, hah.” grumbled Felix, after a few minutes. He thought to send a message by phone, then snapped his fingers brusquely for the Campari bottle.

Before it could arrive, he was surprised by the tallish, thin young fellow from last week standing above him. Felix bristled a little, for, being small in stature, he could ill afford a scrap which was, he suddenly saw in a moment of blue-sky clarity, why Ahmed was useful to have around. Where was he? Why this day of all days?

But there was nought to fear. The young fellow offered a hand and introduced himself. “Hey, dude. My name’s Patrick, but call me Paddy, hell, everyone else does. I think I’ve seen you around, hey, for sure. It’s a good craic here, anyway.”

“Join you?”

“Sure. We’re all by the pool. We kept a seat for you.”

So Felix allowed himself to be ushered over by the beaming, dark haired boy and, before long, a chair had been pulled out for him, right bang in the centre; a good chair, a throne almost. Yes, surely a throne for now he was surrounded on all sides by young men, young women, all hanging on his every word. “My name’s Felix,” he’d announced, and there were gales of laughter, even at that utterance.

Youthful girls, new teaching staff, probably, were literally purring at him. “sure, I’m Sinead and this here’s Aiofe. We seen you here before, sure enough. Where’s your friend? He seems like a good laugh.”

“Ahmed? He’s not really a friend. Him and his stupid spoon. I’ve been trying to dump him for years but he keeps turning up. Doesn’t even drink. He’s one spoon short of a cutlery set, that one.”


“One spoon short of a cutlery set. Quite frankly I wish he’d fork off.”

And they laughed. Hesitantly at first, but after a few drinks, the stirrings became full gusts.

Flanked on either side by dark eyed, sultry beauties was he and even the sun, still in the Gods, shone upon him, spinning his every word into pure gold: why, he was an undiscovered raconteur, every thought a gemstone of the purest quality, a treasure chest of wisdom and wit. “Certainly,” he nodded, to one of the ladies near to him, “it was a dead parrot and it had ceased to be.”

Without Ahmed, the drinks kept coming, as was just and right; drinks of burnt amber, drinks of emerald green. And with each drink, each word was more precious than the last: “You have a woman’s purse! A woman’s purse! I’ll bet that purse has never been used as a lifeboat and had seven sailors tossing in it…” and when he spoke of the chair that when you sat down, it farted, he’d floored them. “Great! Super!”

Before long, Aoife had taken his sticky palm in hers, their faces swimming in and out of focus like playing with the tracking button on a VHS.

“What’s a VHS?” she’d asked.

“Well,” Felix slurred, softly, “it was a machine, a machine that recorded, everything, you put a tape into it, a tape into it and the box, snapped shut…”

“Ah, for sure,” Aoife purred, “you’ll be liking my box that snaps shut, sure enough,” and she’d put his arms to her waist, “let’s dance.”

Felix could scarcely believe it. Even now, these years later, he still finds it hard. For here and now, the conga began to weave its way through tables, round pools and, whilst he was not leading it, true, he was third or fourth.

One two three, kick. One two three kick.

His arms around Aoife’s waist. Oh, Aoife. And her scanty, flimsy top riding up, up with every kick, her warm, browned, bare back ever more visible, and no bra, he was sure of that. It’s the craic. He had to find the craic. So he pushed his hands upwards and cupped firmly.

She screamed.

There was a fuss, a rushing onslaught of people.

He first felt a fist. Then a boot to the head.

Later, there were two strong arms underneath his back, lifting and a voice he would ever remember. “Felix, my dear friend, I have erred, my dear, dear friend. I shall never forgive myself for arranging it.”

Maybe an ambulance. Then ice cool sheets. When he awoke, there was a spoon on the table beside hid bed. He recognised it instantly.

On long afternoons, when cotton clouds listen to the blushing sun’s muttered spells as he descends, it is true that often they frown upon a sad, small man, sitting long away in hotel after hotel, ticking each one off his list. Seeking, seeking, and never giving up.

Still sipping Campari, Felix sees the long snaking congas, which he might smile sardonically at, maybe even listfully, but always he waves them away with the carved spoon.

And then asks one question. Always the same question.

Until he strikes a long wavy line through the first entry on the paper. Yet, as one hotel is deleted from his list, the same name still reappears at the top, as if by magic...

...for this is, after all, a fairy story, isn’t it?

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