She walks into the Greenhouse Café. Smoke swirls and reggae music thumps. The low tables are decorated with jeweled mosaics, sparkling ruby and rich emerald. 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, girls from Honduras with their heads pressed together, sleek Indians wearing expensive watches. At the back of the coffeehouse, at the “special” counter, a dread-locked 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 as bartenders and servers rush back and forth. The blond girl 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.
A young American woman sits at the counter, busying her hands with extra wide Rizlas and a gram of Silver Haze. She pulls the buds apart carefully, respectfully, amazed at the shimmering crystals that stick to her fingers, staining them with the potent smell of heady, legal weed. Her small pile complete, she pulls out a pouch of tobacco and begins to lay a strip of it in the crease of white, translucent paper which is as soft and delicate as the pages of a Bible. On top of this, she scatters the Silver Haze, and when it is evenly distributed, she begins to roll the joint between her fingers, pressing down on the thicker parts, easing the flat edge of the paper under her fingers and rolling the rest up into a perfect baseball joint. She 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 she lights it up.
She watches the bartender as she smokes. The girl has long dark hair, curly like a million corkscrews. She looks and sounds Israeli. She is tall and slim, with olive colored skin. The girl 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 person 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. The bartender 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 the American sits at the bar, she continues to watch. She ignores the man’s questions, but pays close attention to the girl's answers. The girl's voice is soft and lilting, her body 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, her calves shapely and strong. The American woman can see that she is not interested in what the loud man is saying, and is only talking to him because he sits where the glasses need to be hung. When they are all hanging in their proper places, the bartender returns to the middle of the bar, checking on customers and refilling mugs of beer.
When she gets to where the young American woman is smoking the joint, she stops. She crosses her ankles and drops her head to the side, jutting one hip out slightly. Her lips are pressed together slightly, and she seems shy. The American woman manages to drag her eyes up from the counter top. It is hard to meet the Israeli girl's gaze. The American has come here for the last three days, and is also shy. She doesn’t want the Israeli girl to know that she comes just to watch her. She doesn't want to be another one of those guys. When the Israeli asks her if she needs anything, she just gives her a tight smile, shakes her head no. The bartender moves on.
But the American can’t stop watching. She’s an artist, so she pulls out a pen. There is a stack of coasters lying on the bar, and she takes one off the top of the pile and begins to draw on it. Occasionally, she looks up and sees the bartender 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.
The American watches discreetly, wondering if that feeling she got yesterday was just one-sided. Maybe it was all in her head. But the bartender seemed to notice her, too, and she wonders if this is because she was so quiet, so unassuming, so undemanding of the young woman's attention. The bartender seemed to watch her from the side of the bar when she wasn’t looking, and to turn away quickly when she was. The American woman is attractive, and has had both male and female lovers. They have all been beautiful in their own way, but this dark, lithe young woman is exquisite in a way that makes her heart and cunt thump. The American doesn’t dare to think that the bartender may have noticed her too, but she has a strange, lingering sense that she has.
The joint nearly finished, she puts it down on the edge of the ashtray and concentrates on the drawing. She sketches the bartender's black hair, hanging down to her waist. She draws her almond shaped eyes, taking care to make the lines long and even. She looks up and the bartender is watching, but then quickly looks away, pretending to dry a glass. The American returns to her drawing. In the sketch, her muse is lying on a couch, looking back at her, naked. She imagines the dark girls breasts, small and round, and sculpts them in the picture, nipples hard. The girl's belly is long and flat, her hips a rising curve. The American picks up the joint and takes one last puff. When she puts it down, the bartender is watching, standing at the corner of the bar, a glass in her hands. The American knows she cannot see the drawing, but she has captured her attention, nonetheless.
When she finishes, she sketches an elaborate, stoned design around the edge of the circular coaster. She looks down at the image she has created, and sees the girl staring back at her. Her dark eyes smolder, and her hair has fallen over one shoulder. She is stunning, erotic, and unmistakably the girl behind the bar. The American covers the drawing with one hand, raises the other, and asks for the bill. The Israeli girl nods and then turns her back to collect the check. The American woman watches as she writes down what she has ordered: one cup of black tea, two Amstels, and a piece of marble cake. The girl's jeans are tight, but not too tight, and she balances first on one foot, and then the other, stretching out the backs of her legs. Then she turns around and walks towards the American, bill in hand, hips swaying slightly. She has no idea how beautiful she is.
Her eyes go to the covered coaster, and then quickly lift again. The American knows she has been watching, and is curious to see the drawing. She keeps the coaster covered with her hand. The bartender presses her lips together and meets the American's eyes.
“Was everything okay?” she asks in accented English, suddenly seeming very shy.
“Yes, it was perfect,” the American says, drawing the bill towards herself.
“Do you need anything else?” asks the bartender, attentive and polite.
“No,” says the American, suddenly brave. The bartender's shy demeanor has given her confidence. She smiles and looks straight into the girl's eyes. Something passes between them, and the bartender's dark eyes flicker before she quickly looks down. Then she looks up again, smiles and walks away. The American's heart is pounding. She wonders if the girl's is, too.
She counts out twelve Euros, and slides them across the counter on top of the bill. Then she takes out a handful of heavy change, and counts our a further five Euros. Across the bar, the bartender is chatting with a pony-tailed man, but her eyes shoot towards the American as stands up to go. The American puts the coins on top of the coaster very deliberately, and catches the girl's eye. She smiles at the girl. The girl's eyes go to the coaster and the tip, and then return to her face, lingering. The American pulls on her jacket and wraps a scarf around her neck. As she walks out the door, the bartender is walking towards the coaster.