I had assumed that Pinter, Brecht and Gorky
And their host of playwrights were precisely that:
Players walking the boards saying whatever comes to mind;
Words spouted with no rhyme or reason;
Their meanings in the mind of the receiver –
But only when and if heard at all.
One cloudy afternoon I went to Ye Olde Tearoom.
There the “lower depths” of language exchange resided;
But, to me, it was a world of silence, peace and a peaceful read.
Sitting by the window better to see – I need full light now
What with ageing eyes and little cataracts.
Little did I know that this was theatre and not for reading.
“What, then, is the breed of that dog, then?”
He asked an empty room with his back to me.
I say empty room because when he entered
I slid down my chair to make myself as small as nature allowed.
“That is a nice mirror, that is,” he repeated
And quickly added, “It threatens rain – but it is still hot.”
Two entered – man and wife maybe, he very capacious
Of space and she occupying so little, which was fortuitous,
Because he needed most of the bench for his posterior.
“Russian I would say,” boomed the little woman.
“You are right,” squealed her very large husband.
“Russian I would say. That dog is Russian.”
I did not even ask how they knew the question asked
Of an empty room before they had even arrived.
This was a new world and I shut my book
And sat back to listen – to hear this play for ears.
A very old woman came in with dignity and lack of speed.
She sat and smiled at the walls and said nothing.
“A man. A friend of ours. From our church.
Died in an accident on the road when he was running.”
Silence met her declaration as she looked around.
“The service was so beautiful. I will have tea please.
And a cake if you have one. I just love cakes.
My sister nibbles all day. I eat only occasionally.”
I was mesmerised by these seemingly disjointed utterances –
Each emanating from a different corner of the coffeehouse.
A teenage student came in and shouted very loudly
“I am taking up an apprenticeship at Bristol Zoo.”
And the tea drinkers looked and one actually smiled.
“Well done,” I said and realised that they all looked at me.
“Russian, I would say,” repeated the very first speaker
Leaning over to his left to see into the hidden backroom.
And as I strained to look, there, in the doorway
Strode an oblivious Borzoi dragging an elderly lady behind.
The miniscule woman with the voice stroked the sleek body.
Her husband giggled and the dragged old lady looked around.
She reached the door and took in the whole tearoom.
“Do svidaniya. Do svidaniya.” She waved as the Borzoi
Stared up at her patiently as if used to her slow ways.
“My gentleman is wishing you goodbye in his mother tongue.
Ya russkaya sobaka, in answer to your question.”
She turned to go as we all stared after her.
“Brexit was wrong,” said the teenager angrily glowering around.
“My russkaya sobaka agrees with you young lady.
We Brits are no good with languages – we can hardly speak our own.”
And the very large man intoned in his high pitched voice,
“It has been raining hard in Barking today. Very hard.”
All this said as I looked from one to the other confusedly.
“My gentleman wishes to go home,” said the frail Borzoi owner.
“He is tired and needs his siesta. So, do svidaniya. Do svidaniya.”
The Barking couple paid their bill and left as the slow lady
Intoned to herself, “A wonderful service.
Fancy anyone wanting to live in China'”
And she left slowly, tending her steps one by one.
The very first speaker looked at me and I shrank further down.
“Really nice mirror that. Really nice. And the breakfast is good.
I shall put my coat on because it looks like rain.
I shall be hot. But there we are. That’s the way things are.
I will go now. I know the landlord and his wife.”
He said the last over his shoulder as he walked out.
The teenager smiled at me as if she understood.
It is not her world either – that is why she will be in the zoo
Whilst I will remain wondering about these conversations
And never again going to plays by Brecht, Pinter or Gorky.
All I need do for entertainment is sit of an afternoon
In Ye Olde Tea Rooms and listen to folks talking.
“It is the day when they let them all out, you know,”
Said an invisible being for the tea room was now empty.
“It is the day when they let them all out, you know.
Part of Prime Minister May’s equality drive – the Corbynista!”
I looked and in the mirror I thought that I saw a little pale face
“Probably mine” I thought as I speedily departed and left empty space.
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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi