“Boss,the guy at the bar is making trouble.”
I looked up from the roster. Dario nodded towards the white-haired, red-faced man leaning on the bar with one elbow, clutching his wine glass. The man glanced erratically around the room then unsteadily focused on Manuela behind the bar. She had moved to the far corner by the coffee machine and was stiffly staring ahead. Her hands kept polishing the rim of a wine glass, round and round, and her eyes seemed shiny.
I sighed and got up. He owned a clothes shop in the neighbourhood, a confusion of colourful velvet, beads and mirrors. If it weren’t right on the main tourist thoroughfare, he would have been bust long ago. As it was, it still seemed to support his drinking habit. He seemed worse than usual tonight.
I walked over to the bar.
“Are you ok, Manuela?” I asked the waitress.
“He said very mean things to me.”
“Don’t mind him. I’ll sort it out. Has he paid?”
Manuela shot the man a glance and slightly shook her head. “A Montepulciano.”
Dario was behind me. He was short but fast, clever and a good talker. One of my best waiters. But sometimes I wish I had at least one guy with broad shoulders on the team, I thought.
“Dario, please go to the door and see that Table 5 is free of glasses and things,” I said.
There was a faint red splash at the wall next to Table 7 where the last drunk and disorderly customer had thrown a glass on the way out. A wine bar was still an exotic concept to some of our Dublin customers who downed the wine as if it were pints of beer.
I rounded the column in front of the bar and faced the man, careful not to stand between him and the exit. He was a good head taller than me, and quite bulky. The cheap red turtleneck sweater he wore under his black leather jacket stretched over his gut.
“Sir, you are being disrespectful to my staff, and I think you had enough for today. I would like you to pay and leave.”
The man swayed slightly as he turned towards me, still clutching the wine glass.
“I would like you to please pay and leave.”
Always be clear in your message when talking to the drunk and unpredictable. I was once again surprised at how calm and clear I sounded.
The man stared down at me, slightly bobbing and breathing heavily. His small watery eyes were globs of green jelly. Thin red and blue lines burst in starshapes on his bloated cheeks.
“‘ve paid ‘lready.”
“No, you haven’t. I would like you to please pay and leave.”
He leaned forward and hissed: “Yerra bitch yeknow that.”
“I would like you to please pay and leave right now.”
I pointed at the door. My arm felt as heavy as if I was wearing a cloak. If you project your voice towards the people in the back row, they can hear you from the stage without you shouting. The man was hunched over the bar and did not look at me.
“Sir, I want you to pay and leave, right now.”
Enunciate. Enunciate. Don’t shout.
He turned his head, and mumbled something. I met his gaze firmly. The noise levels hadn’t changed, so there was hope the other guests had not been disturbed yet. Keep your back straight, and your message clear.
“I want you to pay and leave, right now.”
I swept my hand sideways in a half-circle towards the door.
The man pushed himself off the bar and made a staggering step towards me. There were still two or three arm’s lengths between us. I kept his gaze and did not move. He fumbled in the inside of his jacket, pulled out a wallet and folded it open. He looked at it unsteadily, than up at me as he pulled out a note.
“Here’s yamoney yacunt.”
A ten-euro-note made a twirl right in front of my nose before sailing to the ground.
“I want you to leave now,” I said without taking my eyes off him, turning ever so slightly towards the entrance.
We had moved to the final scene. From the corner of my eye, I saw Dario opening the door. The man started to sway towards it, still glancing back at me. I followed, keeping a steady distance between us. Two more metres to the pavement bathed in orange light. Dario was out of the way behind the glass pane. I was almost at the door. I stepped forward to grab the handle and push it closed, when the man swivelled around and spat. I felt a light spray on my cheeks, and the door closed right before me.
I turned around and glanced quickly around the room. The murmur from the three tables at the far end was steady. The lovers at Table 9 were giggling over their tiramisu. Nobody was looking towards the door. I bent down stiffly to pick up the note, put it next to the till where Manuela looked at me with big round eyes, and went through to the washing-up kitchen. The damp heat enveloped me like a blanket. I splashed some water on my face, wiped it with a paper towel and rubbed my hands vigorously under the tap. Then I sank onto an upturned crate, and cried.