Σάββατο, 1 Απριλίου 2017

THE VOLUNTEER 8: THE COUNTDOWN

“Cheers, Harry”, Kevin said while placing the beer glass on the paper coaster upon the well-polished wooden bar.
“Thank you Kev”, Harry said and took a generous sip.
It was Thursday evening and the bar was half empty. Two groups were sitting at the tables by the window and another two in the center. There was only Sebastian at the corner of the bar, Kevin’s best friend, who would stop by for catching up and for his rum. Harry would immediately relax by opening the door of the small bar, not only because he would gaze Branca, but mostly because it was a low profile place. He would drink his beer and wait for Branca to finish her shift without having to struggle with the volume of the music nor the indiscreet glances. The regular customers were more or less the same people who felt comfortable with low lighting and wooden tables with green chairs and stools, a small tribute to Kevin’s Irish roots. He liked him a lot because he didn’t talk much but he was always in a good mood with a warm smile. He had protruding ears, which he often made fun of, and an impressive beard. 
“How are things going?” he asked Harry while placing a glass of whiskey and two beers on the round tray. 
“Same old, except a few days off”, he told him while Branca grabbed the tray giving him a smile full of promises. 
“I didn’t see you come in, querido. Thanks Kevin, whenever you can will you prepare two tequilas for the company at table four?” Branca muttered and took the tray, sending Harry a small kiss. 
Kevin got down to business with the order and the washing of the glasses. 
“Great, so you had some time for yourself” he told him and started humming: “See you on Aldebaran, safe on the green desert sand”. 
Harry nodded. There must have fifteen days from his last return to the past, maybe more. Time had taken a different dimension and the days seemed identically the same. He had become restless and he found it hard to sleep at nights. The fact that his past was now clear had blocked him. He felt like a death row prisoner waiting for the day of his conviction and nothing had meaning anymore. His dive into the past had placed him in front of images and emotions he was trying so long to cope with and correctly place them inside him. He struggled with his petty nature for so long and he was not ready to go through it again. Each day that passed by without a flash back, Harry felt it was a brief victory but he knew it was temporary. That night would soon come to carry him away like a huge wave.
He finished his beer watching Branca doing her job. She wore that black pair of jeans that he liked. It stressed her petite curved body and he always found it difficult to take his eyes off her. She, of course, knew that and she would walk in her delicate way blowing the tuft of her hair messing with her eyes. He went down the stairs and switched on the toilet’s light. Kevin had told him that one day a man was almost killed at these stairs. Whenever he descended, the story of the unlucky guy who slipped and pulled it through with just a concussion would come to his mind. Α scent of bleach tickled his nose while he buckled up and was about to wash his hands. He looked at himself in the mirror and left the tap running. He looked old. He felt old. He wiped his hands and opened the door to go upstairs. And just like that, he was behind the wheel of his car in the alley behind that bar. He had returned to that dark New Year’s Eve, the night that changed himself and his life. What he feared was here and he had to face it for the second time and, maybe, do something about them this time.
He was out with his friends to celebrate the New Year at the bar where they usually met. It was raining all day long. He remembered that for him it was another year when he tried to forgive himself for his cowardice. One more year was leaving with him working for his father and one more year to get sick with himself a little bit more. They cheered, they wished each other the best, they laughed, and they flirted and heard the lightings and the thunder and the rain that would not stop. It was as if someone had opened the heavenly taps and had forgotten to close them. Around four in the morning they decided to call it a night. Some would continue elsewhere, others would follow some ethereal nocturnal females and others would go home. Harry had not decided his route yet. He got in the car, which he had found to park at the narrow street at the back door of the bar with great difficulty, next to the overflowing garbage bins. Black bags had been added next to the bins, forming a mass that looked like a volcano from afar. The rain fell relentlessly. The wipers couldn’t keep up with the drying of the windshield. He started the engine and waited for it to warm up a bit. He hadn’t drunk a lot, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to spend the first day of the new year next to an unknown female body or if he wanted to blur from alcohol going from bar to bar in town. He only heard the loud voice of the rain on the windows, which it almost whipped, and the rhythmic sound of the wiper. “Another new year… let’s see what it brings along”. He rubbed his frozen hands and he tightly gripped the steering wheel. He would decide at the intersection below, although he already knew that he would follow the desires of that tight- lipped brunette. He smiled at that thought. 

Reverse gear to leave from the narrow street. He immediately stood petrified. That strident sound and the simultaneous jerk of the car made his heart beat like crazy. For a few seconds, which seemed at least like three life times, his thoughts were blocked. It cannot be, there must have been something really wrong. It cannot be, that noise and that shake were not normal. What if…? But wouldn’t he have seen it coming out of the bar, he wondered. With so much rain that doesn’t leave room for visible details, probably not. His hands were shaking on the steering wheel and the sound of the rain confused him even more. Come on, what is it with these dark thoughts, it must have been one of the garbage bags by the bins swept away by the water. A voice deep inside him said that this was all gibberish, this was an eerie sound. He had to find the strength to get out of the car and face the truth. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

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