He walks into the Greenhouse Café. Smoke swirls and reggae music thumps. The low tables are decorated with jeweled mosaics, sparkling ruby and rich emerald green. Hand-sculpted ashtrays adorn the tables, and visitors of every nationality seem to be present: Africans with colorful caps on their heads, tall Dutchmen who speak perfect English, fat Americans who talk too loudly, girls from Honduras with their heads pressed together, sleek Indians wearing expensive watches. At the back of the coffeehouse, at the “special” counter, a dreadlocked kid with a million piercings sells top quality weed and hash to the small crowd of people that press forward to view and smell his wares.
The counter of the bar is shaped like a snake, curving and unfolding as people laugh, drink, and roll spliffs on its shiny surface. Beneath the glass are trinkets of all sorts- coins from Thailand, tiny plastic cowboys, Chinese fortunes, sparkling rhinestones. The clink of glass is a constant reminder of the giggling, braided blonde girl who washes glasses behind the counter. She empties the last drops of golden lager out of heavy Amstel mugs, then turns them upside down and presses them onto the spigot of hot, soapy water that sprays up, washing them clean. One by one she washes them, then stacks them in a pyramid where they dry upside down, drops of water rolling down their sides, humidity fogging up the insides of the hot, curved glass.
The young man sits at the counter, busying his hands with extra wide Rizlas and a gram of Silver Haze. He pulls the buds apart carefully, respectfully, amazed at the shimmering crystals that stick to his fingers, staining them with the potent smell of heady, legalized weed. His small pile complete, he pulls out a pouch of tobacco, and begins to lay it in the white, translucent paper, as soft and delicate as the pages of a Bible. On top of this he scatters the Silver Haze, and when it is evenly distributed, he begins to roll the joint between his fingers, pressing down on the thicker parts, easing the flat edge of the paper under his fingers and rolling the rest up into a perfect baseball joint. He licks the sticky edge, seals it from top to bottom, and gives it a few good taps to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Then he lights it up.
He watches her as he smokes. She has long dark hair, curly like a million corkscrews. She looks Israeli, or Brazilian. She is tall and slim, with olive colored skin. She takes the clean glasses from the pyramid and hangs them upside down from the rack over the bar, pausing to dry them with the white towel at her side if they are dripping or foggy. On the other side of the bar, near where she works, an obnoxious man keeps asking her questions. “So how was your performance?” he says suavely, ensuring that every other guy at the bar will sense his familiarity with the girl, know that he is a regular and up to date on the events of her life. She is polite, but clearly not interested. “Oh, it was good, you know,” she says. “My ankle was hurt, so I only did two of the dances. But I came in first place on one of them, and did really well on the second.”
From where he sits at the bar, the young man continues to watch. He ignores the other man’s questions, but he pays attention to the girl’s answers. Her voice is soft and lilting, her body is so fluid. She seems to move to the reggae music without even realizing it, drying and hanging the glasses in time to the low, thumping beat. She lifts up on the tips of her toes occasionally, stretching the backs of her legs. He can see that she is not interested in what the other man is saying, is only stuck talking to him because he sits where the glasses need to be hung. When they are all hanging in their proper places, she returns to the middle of the bar, checking on customers and refilling mugs of beer. When she gets to where the young man sits, he drags his eyes up from the counter. He’s come here for the last three days now, and he is shy about getting caught. He doesn’t want her to know that he comes just to watch her, he doesn’t want her to feel like he’s just another one of those guys. When she asks him if he needs anything, he just gives her a tight smile, shakes his head, and lets her move on.
But he can’t stop watching. He’s an artist, so he pulls out a pen. There is a stack of coasters lying on the bar, and he takes one off the top of the pile and slides it towards him. He begins drawing. Occasionally, he looks up and sees her pouring another beer, changing the music to something low and sexy, standing up on her tiptoes to hang another glass. Guys hang over the edge of the bar to talk to her, ask her questions, tell her stupid jokes to make her laugh. She is polite, but disinterested. He watches discreetly, wondering if that feeling he got yesterday was just one-sided. Maybe it was all in his head. But she seemed to notice him, too, and he wonders if this is because he was so quiet, so unassuming, so undemanding of her attention. She seemed to watch him from the side of the bar when he wasn’t looking, and to turn away quickly when he was. He’s an attractive guy, and he has had a number of beautiful girlfriends, though he has managed to retain some sense of humility and respect around women. He doesn’t dare to think that she might have noticed him, but he has a strange, lingering sense that she has.
The joint nearly finished, he puts it down on the edge of the ashtray and concentrates on the drawing. He sketches her curly black hair, hanging down to her waist. He draws her almond shaped eyes, taking care to make the lines long and even. He looks up and she is watching. She quickly looks away, pretending to dry a glass. He returns to the drawing. She is lying on a couch, looking at him, naked. He imagines her breasts, small and round, and sculpts them in the picture, nipples hard. Her belly is long and flat, her hips a rising curve. He picks up the joint and takes one last puff. When he puts it down, she is watching, standing at the corner of the bar, a glass in her hands. He knows she cannot see what he is drawing, but he has captured her attention, nonetheless.
When he finishes, he sketches an elaborate, stoned design around the edge of the circular coaster. He looks back at the image he has created, and sees her staring back at him. Her dark eyes seem to smolder, and her hair has fallen over one shoulder. She is stunning, erotic, and unmistakably the girl behind the bar. He covers the drawing with one hand, raises the other, and asks for the bill. She nods and then turns her back to him, and he watches as she writes down what he has ordered: one cup of black tea, two Amstels, and a piece of marble cake. Her jeans are tight, but not too tight, and she balances back and forth on either toe, stretching out the backs of her legs. Then she turns around and walks towards him, bill in hand, hips swaying slightly. She has no idea how beautiful she is.
He sees her eyes go to the covered coaster, and then quickly look away. He knows she has been watching, and is curious to see what he has drawn. He keeps the coaster covered with his hand. She presses her lips together and looks back at him.
“Was everything okay?” she asks in accented English, and she suddenly seems very shy.
“Yes, it was perfect,” he says, drawing the bill towards him.
“Do you need anything else?” she asks, an attentive, polite bargirl.
“No,” he says, suddenly brave. Her shy demeanor has given him confidence. He smiles and looks straight into her eyes. Something passes between them, and her dark eyes flicker before she quickly looks down. Then she looks up again, smiles and walks away. His heart is pounding. He wonders if hers is, too.
He counts out twelve Euros, and slides them across the counter on top of the bill. Then he takes out a handful of heavy change, and counts our a further five Euros. Across the bar, she is chatting with a pony-tailed man, but her eyes shoot in his direction as he stands up to go. He puts the coins on top of the coaster very deliberately, and catches her eye. He smiles. Her eyes go to the coaster and the tip, and then return to his face, lingering. He pulls on his jacket and puts his hands in his pockets. As he is walking out the door, she is walking towards the coaster.
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