The first step on the way to the easy life is astonishingly simple. Entering the night club is no problem. Dressed in Ruth’s fancy gown, her raven-black hair teased to impossible, her eyebrows plucked and enhanced by a thick line of kohl, Nathalie mingles naturally with the other working girls. They are early. The night life has not started yet. They are escorted to a table for two with a champagne bottle in the cooler ready to be opened and enjoyed. The pianist, slightly bald on top, clad in a tired tuxedo, plays evergreens to put the guests in the mood. She watches the couples wriggling about the floor. They are practicing two kinds of dancing: either cheek-to-cheek or with the men’s noses shoved deep into the ladies’ cleavage, clinging tight together: more screwing love than dancing. The waiter fills their glasses with the bubbly and wishes them a pleasant evening.
“Cheerio!” She drinks up. With the champagne tickling her nostrils her future is clearing up.
Elijah lifts his glass, puts it down, hails the waiter and orders a coke.
“Don’t underestimate coke.” He explains acknowledging her astonished glance.
“One can even get hooked on it. A friend of mine gets withdrawal syndromes when deprived of it. He strongly recommended me to bring a luggage full of coke as one can get it only in establishments for foreigners where it is ruinously dear. Do you like coke?”
“I don’t know. I have never tried it.”
“Then do it now! It’s never too late for a new experience.”
He pours his coke into her water glass. Its taste reminds her of coughs-drops. She tries not to spit it out.
“Do you like it?” He asks eagerly as if their relationship depended on it.
“Í don’t know. It’s much too sweet.”
“Of course it is! It should be served ice cold. This one is lukewarm. Wait! I shall see to it!”
He orders ice cubes and another bottle of coke, packs her glass with ice and pours the drink over it. She still does not like it but, this time, it is drinkable.
“Shall we dance?” She proposes.
“Sorry, I haven’t learnt it”.
“Then it’s high time I teach you.”
She takes his hand and brings him onto the dance floor.
“You are out of luck. Tango is above my head.” He protests about to return to the table.
“NO! Give it a try! I insist! I tried the coke, right? It’s on you to return the favour.”
“I warn you! You don’t know what you are asking for! I am an absolute anti-talent! I’d only tread on your feet! “
“I’ll risk it.”
“You have been warned! You’ll risk life and limb!” He says darkly.
He hangs limp in her arms, all soft and sluggish, botching up her honest effort to make a dancing couple out of them. She is tempted to give up, go back to their table and watch the night life like an incidental visitor from another planet not becoming a part of it.
“Are you mad at me?” He tightens his grip, becoming suddenly alive.
“I surrender, Nathalie. You win!”
His tango would shame a professional dancer. With eyes shut she lets herself be led about the dance floor, delighting in his every move.
“My mother taught me to dance,” he answers her mute question.
“Before the October Revolution in 1917 she dreamt to be a prima ballerina. Fate decided against it. She earned her living as a dancer for hire in a night club after she had escaped from the Reds to Paris.”
The tango is over. He leads her to their table. The night club is now crowded. Most men are black, the girls white, young, plump and heavily made-up, with their teased peroxide hair falling down on their offered tits, their bums wiggling in their scant miniskirts.
“Shall we call it a day? We have to be early at the airport.” Elijah proposes and she gets up willingly.
He opens the door of their room and lets her in.
“What a dump! I’m sorry!” He watches with distaste the brothel style of their room.
“Not your fault, Elijah, let’s make the best out of it. May I use the bathroom first? I am dying for a shower.”
“By all means, do!”
When she comes back everything is set for rest. The bed is open, a spare blanket and a pillow are spread on the sofa and the light is tuned down.
“The bathroom is yours, Elijah!”
“Let me first to compliment you! You are gorgeous!”
“Thanks.” She slips hastily under the blanket. When Elijah comes back she pretends to be fast asleep. There is no reason to feel awkward for spending the night in the same room with him but for some unknown reason it is. Little does it help that he is discretion personified and she can hardly hear him breath. The silence of the room is occasionally disrupted by the brawl of the drunken couples in the corridor, the provocative giggle of the girls, the crack of a breaking bottle, frenetic bangs of two bodies coupling on the floor too greedy to wait for the bed. No, she will never fall asleep in this hubbub. To top it, she is tense with the anxiety caused by the morning flight. Her eyes are stingy, her skin is taut, her head is burning with headache, and her mouth is sand-dry with thirst. She gets up to fetch some water.
“Can’t you sleep? Is there anything I can do?” He whispers.
“A drink of water would be welcome.”
He opens the refrigerator, takes out a bottle of Evian, pours it out and hands her the glass.
“Here you are. Enjoy!”
He is fully dressed as if changing for the night would be a breach of good manners, thus stressing that there is nothing inappropriate in sharing a room that is nothing but a waiting room for two passengers of a delayed flight.
“Thanks!” She gulps the water down in one thirsty sip.
“Do you think you can get asleep now or shall I keep you company?” He stands by the bed uncertain what to do.
She pats the edge of the bed, inviting him to sit down.
He does it as if landing on a minefield, his arms on his hips, his eyes fixing the wall above her head. The silence stretches out like a spent chewing gum.
“Tell me a story,” she asks to ease the tension.
“I doubt I’d be any good at it.”
“Everybody can tell stories. Just say one word, then another, they will become a sentence and one sentence after another makes a story.” She encourages him.
“OK. Let me try. Though promise me you interrupt me when you get bored.”
“I will. It’s worth the risk.”
“Is there a special story you’d like to hear? It would make my task easier.”
“There is, indeed. Tell me a cat story and you can’t get wrong.”
“A cat story…let me see. Very well, so it goes. Once upon a time, there was a cat called Baby. A happy cat loved as much as only a cat can be and even more. He lived with two exceptional humans Audrey and Bob who found him injured on a highway, took him to the vet, paid for his surgery and adopted him when no one claimed his ownership. One can truly tell this cat hit a jackpot of love which he gave them hundredfold back. There has never been such an accomplished cat for now and for ever in the whole world. Together with his black and white shiny fur and gleaming green eyes Baby was a great socialite and star performer making Audrey and Bob beaming with pride. You had to see him bobbing up and down to realize that there can’t be a more accomplished dancer than Baby was, executing gracious pirouettes on his trim hind legs, bowing and cow-towing to the admiring public, above all to the ladies as Baby was a ladies’ cat with strong preferences for his one and only Audrey. This was not only to thank her for the shrimps she rewarded him with generously after each performance that were the second passion of his life after Audrey, but first of all with his dance he hailed Audrey for being the most accomplished among all the other humans. I am certain you will fall in love with him on our visit to Florida, where Baby has one of his three homes to all of which you’ll be introduced one by one in Naples and…”
Elijah’s voice fades into a whisper while Nathalie’s lids are getting heavy and heavier. She falls asleep.
When she opens her eyes in the morning she can’t believe she slept all the night through notwithstanding all that squalor and the imminent danger of her escapade.