She could be fifteen or thirty-five, it’s hard to tell. Her hair is two-tone – blonde above, black below, and a little greasy. Standing up in her aubergine-coloured velvet tracksuit as we enter the bar, it is obvious she needs to lose a little weight. Her smile is sweet and kind, but her eyes hide something. The bar smells of smoke, as if the windows (which are all there, eagerly awaiting) haven’t been opened since 1976. In fact, bar the enormous flat screen TV in the corner blaring E!, nothing much has changed in this bar since then, with it’s stained carpet (each one, I’m sure with a story to tell) and fake leather chairs.
It’s early Friday afternoon and the place is desserted. She fetches us two wonderfully cold beers from behind the bar. It’s a typical small town South African bar – an enormous bottle of brandy half-full (she says the farmers come and drink five litres in a night) amongst multi-coloured bottles of too-sweet-headache-inducing-shots, the essential array of foreign notes stuck to the walls and a couple of ‘bar joke gimmicky things’ strewn about the place.
She plonks herself next to us, at our table, and first explains what’s going on with the Playboy-Bunny-Types on the TV, my inquisitive soul asks questions, encouraging her tales. Her family bought this hotel four months ago and she lives here, alone. They visit at weekends sometimes. She is essentially a small-town girl, who has had flashes of city life. They didn’t agree with her, you can tell, but she doesn’t elaborate. Her loneliness spills over our table in a sweet stream of strangely naïve but street-smart stories of her life. This girl has seen things she wishes she hadn’t.
The boys who manage the golf club arrive and they greet her by name, in a brotherly fashion they tease her. There is no question that they will join our conversation. They get their drinks, and do. It’s friendly, it’s small town, and it’s Friday afternoon. Then the local mechanic and his sullen wife with their two children (!) arrive. The children have a pack of cards and they sit at the next table and play Rummy. He turns his back on his wife, talking to the golfing boys as she sips on her alchopop. The Jukebox is cranked up to a volume where conversation becomes difficult.
We’re hungry so we leave them to it. The Friday afternoon sun shines on the dusty main road outside as we leave, loud music following us down the street.
Her eyes are haunting me still.