Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Lady of the night

Before I met Roberta (this is a fictional name; if I used her real one, Candy, you wouldn’t believe in this story) I had a much different opinion on the workers of the night. I thought them to be all very cynical, arrogant even, and that they only treated with respect and kindness those with money in their pockets. My brief encounter with Roberta on a summer evening, and our eventual intercourse later on, was sufficient to prove myself terribly wrong. I am grateful to her for that.

Roberta and I met for the first time in a rather unusual place for this kind of introduction. I was coming back home from a late shift and she was at the station reading “Madame Bovary” while the bus repeatedly failed to arrive.

“Oh, I’m used to it,” she said. “It’s always like that on Fridays. Who can blame them, right? It’s Friday.”

That sweet and stoical way of talking didn’t give me any clue on what I was about to learn. Instead it made me fight my own need to ride alone with my earphones on and engage in a conversation for a change. In my defense she had already closed her book and seemed interested in whatever I had to say.

“So,” I made sure to disappoint her. “Do you always take this bus?”

“Yes — yes, every time I go to work.”

Her constant smile, white but natural, wide but just enough, was captivating. It seemed like no matter what I had to say she wouldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t used to that. At the time it didn’t strike me it could be part of her job.

“This time of the day?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied. “One’s gotta do what one’s gotta do, right?”

Assuming from that she was a nurse the conversation went on just beautifully. She was always introducing new topics and making me feel comfortable; I just answered as plainly as I could trying not to look uncomfortable. I hadn’t had a chat with a stranger on a bus stop in years, probably since high school, so I had no idea of what would be polite to say and to what extent my touching her once we were inside the vehicle would be convenient. Her pushing me towards an empty seat when it arrived pretty much settled the matter and encouraged me to ask where I could find her later on for a cup of coffee.

“The Pinewood House,” she said promptly. “I’ll be there from now till six in the morning. You can come at any time and I’ll make some arrangements to be with you.”

I had no idea what the place was. By the name of it — and her profession — I assumed it was a retirement house. For that reason I decided to check in only later that night, to make sure the elderly would be already in bed and Roberta would be totally free.

When I searched the address on the internet nothing on the business came up. It must be new, I thought, that’s why I never heard of it. Or maybe this kind of place never got my attention before. In any case I put some cologne on and left to see my new friend. I could already picture her at the nursing room and shivered with the thought that she would want to introduce me to the other night-shifters. I have never been good with public appearances.

To my surprise when I got to the address I had in hands the place looked nothing like a resting house. It was surrounded by pubs and nightclubs, some of them of terrible taste, and its external decoration reminded me of Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. The Pinewood House sign was minimalistic and dim-lighted, which led me to think it was closed and I would never see Roberta again. I checked again on my phone and there was no other business with the same name in the city. I felt miserable again, and looked around deciding where I would end up my night in. Alone.

But then out of the dark porch came a flashlight followed by a person wearing a police cap. It took me a few seconds to recognize her.

“I thought you were not coming anymore,” Roberta grinned. “Come on in; let me show you the place.”

She was not a nurse after all. The Pinewood House was a furniture store during the day, and my friend took care of it during the night. Roberta was the watchman, a night guard who reads Flaubert at the bus stop and talks to strangers in a pleasant way. I was really surprised.