The Little Translator 1:
As far as the Little Translator could remember, he had begun his little celebration at the Red Lion on Henry Street. He had dropped in there around eight o’clock, and was still feeling pretty flushed, smart and smug all round about his first foray into what he was now seeing was the sometimes tricky-tricky world of professional translation.
As he sat there, though, he found he was beginning to need the can. Again. He had already been twice in the flat after a couple of bottles of Carlsberg as he was getting ready, and even after only a quarter of an hour since the last time he was in dire need. In fact, he was beginning to lose count of the times he had visited the Red Lion’s little back room in the hour or so he had been there – four, or maybe five. The dreaded “20-minute syndrome”. How annoying. Once it starts, every twenty minutes for hours on end. Doesn’t matter if you jettison all loads and call a halt, even. Nobody seems to know why, although a medical student the Little Translator had known at university wrote his thesis on it. With a fair amount of hands-on research, he had said.
So, since about halfway through beer number 2, the Little Translator had spent an inordinate amount of time in his alcove writhing nervously from hip to hip, waiting as far as possible until all those who had been there before he came in had left, to spare him the embarrassment of rushing to the toilet in front of them for the third time or more. Naturally, however, some of these people insisted on hanging around and sipping their drinks and chatting to each other in the bar for quite some time – as well they might – and so he occasionally needed a little cover, a decoy, you might say. The best and most convincing method, he found, was to stride purposefully along towards the cigarette machine near the back, rattling coins nonchalantly in his hand like he was going to buy a packet, and duck round in to the WC next to it when he thought nobody was looking.
He threw back the remaining half quickly, rather too quickly in fact, and rushed off to do the business for the last time before exiting to paint Wordtown red. He was in his best Levis, with the rather natty red Ralph Lauren shirt he had bought that very afternoon in anticipation of the treacherous Fred’s transfer. Despite his WC problems he was still feeling pretty pleased with himself.
It was not long before the Little Translator found himself walking past the door to the Wordtown Waldorf. He hesitated, remembering the embarrassing incident with the barman the day before, but it was only momentary. He had redeemed himself now, had he not? Plus, the drink was beginning to kick in nicely. “The world’s your oyster, Little Translator”, he exhorted himself. “Walk in like you owned the joint. A nice glasssh of mulled wine, perhaps”.
It was the same chap on duty at the other end of the bar, he noticed. Just as he was installing himself somewhat unsteadily on one of the weird designer stools, the type you need a doctorate to figure out how to use, the barman strode rapidly across and threw himself forward with both hands on the bar.
“Man, am I glad to see you!” - he cried.
The Little Translator was gratified although somewhat perplexed at this greeting considering the coldness of their previous encounter, but he could only assume that his general demeanour and dress this evening were conveying quite a different impression from the vulnerability of the day before.
“Right on there”, replied the Little Translator gaily, although he just stopped himself from adding “daddy-o”, which would probably have been way over the top and spoiled it. “It’s great to see you too, ma main man. I was wondering if I could have a look at your wine lisht. I’ve been toiling all day on a hellishly fiendisssh and fiendissshly hellisssh text, you shee, and …”
The Little Translator hadn’t heard the soft thump on the carpeted floor behind him. He stopped short as he became aware that, after a brief glance of irritated non-comprehension in his direction, the barman’s gaze was not directed at him at all, but over his right shoulder instead:
“Traffic’s terrible, guv’”, said a voice to his rear. “Bumper to bumper down the whole of Gardiner Street. Couldn’t get here any earlier, sorry ‘bout that. How many barrels did you want, then?”
The Little Translator shifted around on his stool with some difficulty to see a bald-headed, squat bloke with a black Guinness shirt straightening himself up after depositing a keg on the floor.
“That’s OK, what a relief”, smiled the barman. “We’re down to one barrel, and the evening’s just starting. Better make it another two just in case”.
The smile disappeared as he rediscovered the Little Translator in the middle of all this. His eyebrows were raised, lips tightly together, and head on one side. “Ah – the Grand Master of Prose is with us again, I see. And what’s it to be tonight?” he asked.
The Little Translator started. “A Rio-ha please, yesh, Rio-ha”.
“R-what?” asked the man, sniffing rather more audibly than necessary.
“Rio-ha”, countered the Little Translator. “Spanissh. There’sh a bottle on the shelf behind you there. Rio-HA. Rrrrio-HA. The R ish rolled at the beginning of a word, when it’ss double R, before or after an N, and ….” – his rather glazed eyes jerked momentarily skywards for inspiration, but in vain …. “, er, somewhere elssh I can’t remember just now. “Rrr, rrr, rrr”, he repeated a few times earnestly, trilling those Rs for all he was worth like he’d been taught at University. Truth be told, it was more like a pigeon cooing in a distant wood, or perhaps a broken food blender, but he was doing his level best.
The man picked up the Rioja bottle. “Ah, Rioja”, he said, in suspiciously shit-hot Spanish, with a gloriously rolled R and a neat hawking sound on the J. “Sí hombre, me vas a enseñar tú cómo se pronuncia Rioja, si mi madre es de Logroño.”. He walked off in search of a corkscrew, muttering something the Little Translator couldn’t hear. “Pringao ...”
“Pearlssh before schwine”, breathed the Little Translator as Carlos – for it was he – moved away. “They learn two or three sentencessh at night ssschool and they think they’re bleedin’ Cervantesssh …
After four Rio-has served by the increasingly sullen barman – well, to be more accurate, three drunk and one accidentally spilled between increasingly more brazen visits to the smallest room – a kind of loneliness had set in, and the Little Translator fell out into the inky night in a vague search for some Female Company. On Dawson Street he saw a bar he had never heard of before. “The Mound”, he read on the sign outside the bar, focusing his eyes. “Maybe I’ll find sshom women in here”.
Well yes, there had certainly been any amount of women in The Mound. There were two girls serving at the bar, there was a small dance floor with four women dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and in fact all around there were tables full of women.
The Little Translator leaned on the bar. Rather gingerly, too, since it seemed to be moving around a great deal. Looking about the place, he could swear he was the only bloke in the bar. “Great”, he thought a little fizzledly, “no chance of the competition muscling in on the act, even. I’ve got the lot to myself.”
Only a few feet away, at the nearest table, in fact, a group of women were staring at him. He smiled what he hoped was a rather engaging smile, and gave a huge and rather naughty wink to one of them as he turned to order a wine. “Ah, the night is young”, the Little Translator could remember thinking.
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