by Mark Lavorato
House of Anansi, 2014
At closing time, the band announced the last dance, and Serafim wondered if they would return to his place again, like a modern couple living in sin.
They stepped outside and he helped her with her coat, one gentlemanly sleeve at a time. “That was a lovely evening,” he said.
Claire buttoned her jacket and flashed him a look of disbelief. “I hope you realize it’s just begun. Taxi!” She rushed to a slate-black cab and opened the door, slid along the bench, and patted the seat beside her. “Quick,” she said, lighting a cigarette. Then, to the driver, in English, “Can you take us to the Terminal, handsome?”
The Terminal Club was an experience Serafim was not quite prepared for. Hearing black people on the radio was one thing—or seeing them on record covers, as porters and bellhops, musicians, even as dancers—but having to drink a cocktail right beside them, share the same table, be the minority among them, was another entirely. Serafim was intimidated by their darkness, by the volume of their laughter, which he’d never heard before. He followed Claire into the club, keeping close as they walked deeper into the bare-bulbed electric light, where sweat, smoke, alcohol, and perfume washed over them in a raucous wave that almost knocked Serafim back. The music was more ardent and raw than in the other clubs, with newly arrived musicians pulling bronze trumpets and saxophones out of cases lined with purple velvet and shouldering their way closer to the stage. To Serafim, it was bedlam. Claire, on the other hand, fed on the chaos. She had begun to clap her hands to the rhythm, fighting to get her coat off and drape it over the back of a chair before hurrying onto the untreated wooden floor, her body already creasing to the song.
Serafim ordered a drink and sat stiffly and uneasily in the only free seat he could find, sipping his whisky too quickly. A waiter came by; he ordered another. Just then an older gentleman, his white bears a stark contrast to the shiny cinnamon of his skin, leaned in towards Serafim to compliment his “fine lady” and her sense of rhythm. “Yep,” he said in English, “a bona fide Oliver Twist she is, and a real Sheba too. Comes here often, in fact.” Serafim stalled, wondering what his meaning was exactly, and waited for the old man to expand. He did not. Instead, the man began a long stream of monologues, which Serafim tuned in to and out of as one would a radio for the remainder of the night, listening at first with great anticipation and interest, and later with a kind of distant attention.
The old man tapped Seraphim’s shoulder. “Boy,” he said, standing up, “I gotta iron my shoelaces.” After a moment of trying to figure out what he meant, it became clear to Serafim that the man was headed to the washroom, and since Serafim had to go himself, he followed. They exited the club and at once came up against a line of men urinating against one of the buildings in the alleyway. Serafim was inebriated enough to take it in stride, unzipping his pants in front of a brick wall and listening to the old man strike up a conversation with someone else.
Serafim stared up through the wires at the night sky. He felt a swimming pang of nostalgia, or, more precisely, of saudade, that untranslatable Portuguese concept, a sense of having lost things one might never have won in the first place. His existence in this new country was turning out to be more gritty and foreign than he’d ever imagined. As he looked up into the decidedly un-Portuguese night, this thought pleased him. Somewhere along the way his life had become adventurous, dangerous even.
He went back into the nightclub and found Claire sitting at the table he’d just left. She was watching the band from the edge of her seat, her spine arched as if the back of her chair were hot to the touch, jigging her legs to the beat of the song. It was clear to Serafim that all she really wanted in life was to jump to her feet and impel the world into evocative movement. In the same way that all Serafim wanted was to seek out evocative movement in this world and stop it, freeze it forever in a frame. Together, he contemplated, wobbly on his feet, they were going to make a great team.