First it had been music, now it was theatre. After initially feeling annoyed, Diane had ended up giving in to this strong artistic pulse that kept on coming from below her feet. It seemed that whatever way you tried to lock it down, life kept on pushing through. People still needed each other, needed to get together and share … drinks, creativity, physical contact… She could feel it seeping through the floorboards when Rose was asleep and she was alone with her thoughts. She would sit on the floor, directly next to the crib, and roll the cat’s felt ball for him to catch. The game never lasted very long as it usually is the case with cats but, even after he had moved on to another toy, she would just sit there and feel the human vibe coming strong up her spine. It was like sitting on a volcano.
The concerts had become plays on Sundays. Diane had listened to them practice their lines. She’d heard some slapstick, some Shakespeare and even Kushner’s “Angel in America”. Tonight it would be a “Streetcar Named Desire”. What a weird and beautiful mix of styles she thought, a beautiful mess, just like the one she was in.
Diane had become a little bolder lately. What was nice about the bar is that it had this “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but in a good way. Nobody seemed to speak to you if you didn’t invite them to do so. It was a mutual and tacit respect of everyone’s need for anonymity. One thing was sure: they were all breaking the law here so it was the best place for her to get a breather while still keeping a low profile.
A few weeks ago, following Yolli’s encouragements, Diane had started wrapping up Rose in a warm blanket and taking her downstairs so she could have a drink. She hadn’t done if very often, today would be the fourth time if she wasn’t mistaking. Yolli had put an old pram, which she had bought second hand, in the back room of the bar. Diane would bring Rose downstairs when she was asleep, put her in the pram then let herself in discretely into the bar. Yolli had also put an armchair just next to the alcove. From there, Diane could see everything but could barely be seen. She was also only separated from Rose by a curtain so, as soon as she would cry, she could go to her immediately.
Today, Diane badly needed to see people and to get out of the apartment. She put on her shoes, wrapped up Rose gently and carried her downstairs. It was only when she found herself finally seated in the armchair with Rose sleeping next door that she realised how tired she actually was. She prayed heaven the little girl would sleep for at least an hour, enough to allow her to unwind and maybe see the beginning of the show.
Diane thought of her family back home in Macedonia. If only they could see her now. She had left for Belgium to do her PhD then have this amazing career as a doctor. Here she was now hiding in an illegal bar with a kidnapped baby behind a curtain. How she was ever going to get out of this she didn’t know.
Though she was looking directly at the stage and its few props bathed in a warm yellow light, Diane’s eyes were scanning the room rapidly. Most people had yet to come but she nevertheless recognised a few regulars. At the bar, Mike was cleaning glasses and seemed lost in his thoughts. He felt Diane’s gaze, looked at her then nodded calmly. With a quick gesture, he grabbed a bottle of red wine from the shelf behind him and filled a balloon glass almost up to its rim. He knew that Diane didn’t like to be noticed so she wouldn’t be ordering anything. For this reason, he gave her a second helping at the same time as he served her the first one.
Mike put down the glass on the small table beside her and Diane thanked him with a discreet smile. She looked at his strong silhouette as he made his way back behind the bar and saw from the corner of her eye a man who she recognised as another regular. The raw animal vibe that came from him reached out to her in spite of herself. She felt his gaze burn through her though she tried to ignore him as best as she could. An imperceptible chill ran up her back and her arms. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to cry or run to him.
She took a deep breath and focused her mind on the sounds coming from the alcove behind her. Rose seemed to still be fast asleep. Diane let go of a deep sigh, drank a sip of wine and relaxed a little. She slid more deeply into the armchair and closed her eyes. For just a few minutes she thought… for just a few minutes being nowhere…disappearing into thin air she thought. For just a few minutes not feeling any more fear. Being free, being me she thought.