A Treatise on Shelling Beans

A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski Read Free Book Online

Book: A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski Read Free Book Online
Authors: Wiesław Myśliwski
never were able to open up to one another. We never went to the informal
, even though we’d known each other for years. He had a store in the city, he sold souvenirs … What sort? I couldn’t tell you, I was never there. The one thing I can say is that in the letters he wrote me he’d always make fun of those souvenirs. He’d say that he himself would never in a million years buy the kinds of things he sold. And that if souvenirs like those were supposed to help you remember, it was better not to remember at all.
    The first time I met him we were abroad. One evening a group of men and women came into the place where I played in the band. It was a Monday, and on Mondays there were usually free tables. Other days you’d have to make a reservation ahead of time. Though we’d still play every evening, even if there was only one table occupied.
    They took two tables close to the little stage. I might not have noticed them, but I heard them speaking Polish. They were acting in a deliberately nonchalant way, as if they were trying to draw attention to themselves. They talked loudly from one table to the other, and I heard that they were part of a bus tour. They spent a long time looking through the menu and equally loudly discussing the prices. At the more expensive items they’d say, look how much this is! Wait a minute, how much is that in Polish money? Good grief! Back home you could live for a month on that. Not to mention if you ate in a cheap cafeteria. But being at a place like this in a foreign country, it’ll be a tale to tell. Instead of just endless castles, cathedrals, museums, scenic views. Come on, let’s order the most expensive thing. What if we don’t like it? At that price we’ll have to. And maybe some vodka too. Why? We have our own. Well, at least one shot each to kick off. I mean, we’re going to need glasses anyway, right? We have our ownglasses as well. But what if someone sees? What’s there to see? Vodka looks the same wherever you are.
    They called the waiter, and each of them in turn ordered by pointing at the menu. And it was all the costliest items, the waiter bent double under the weight of all the prices. There was something impetuous in that scramble for the most expensive dishes, and at the same time it was disarming. But I had no intention of talking to them. I avoided those kinds of meetings.
    There was a break. When the next set was about to start, one of the Polish group – Mr. Robert, as it later transpired – got up from his table. He came up to the band and started saying something in a mixture of words, but no one could understand him. I couldn’t decide whether to let on or not. He was trying to request a tango and he was asking how much a request like that would be. They understood the tango part, but not the bit about how much it would cost. Whether I liked it or not I spoke up, I said we’d play a tango, and it wouldn’t cost anything.
    “You speak Polish?” He immediately held out his hand. “Robert’s the name.”
    But I already had the mouthpiece between my lips so I didn’t reciprocate. We started up the tango. He went to each of their two tables in turn and said something, pointing at me. The people at both tables began watching me with a smile. He asked one of the women to dance. He didn’t lead her into the middle of the dance floor; instead they danced as close as possible to the band, as if he didn’t want to lose sight of me. He held her close, the way you do in a tango, and he kept smiling at me over her head as if we were good friends. I was mad at myself, I knew he wouldn’t leave me alone.
    And he didn’t. During the next break he dragged me over to his table, just for a minute, so he could at least exchange a word or two with a fellow countryman. I didn’t let myself get drawn into any toasts to lucky meetings. All the same, from both tables they showered me with questions and I regretted giving myself away when he was trying to ask for

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