Mondays by the sea

Jürgen Flenker
05.04.2016
 
Mondays by the sea
On a Monday in summer, I met God on his bicycle. It was on a levee near Cuxhaven, and God seemed to be in a rush, since he was bearing down hard on the pedals and his calf muscles shone round and powerful in the sun. His hair, as expected, was snow white and the blue cloak that he wore in spite of the heat fluttered like a headsail in the wind that blew from south by southwest. I called to him in passing with a “Where are you going?” and he looked up to give me a mild, suntanned smile, and for a few seconds we were contemporaries, God and I. Then with his hand he signalled to me that he was in too much of a rush to stop and chat. He bent back over the handlebars, dug into the pedals and leaned into the wind.
“Well, I’m sure he has his reasons,” I thought in silence and followed him with my eyes until he, a small white-blue point in the distance, vanished at an imaginary horizon exactly where the levee and a parallel-running road appeared to meet.
Then I let my eyes wander over the flat land. On the steep slope of the levee, sheep and lambs were grazing in small groups on the coastal grass, famous for its high salt content. Between them could be seen the sea buckthorn, shy and speckled orange. Above, the seagulls effortlessly cut through the small strip between sea and sky. High above, dispersed cloud formations provided scattered skirmishes, crashing noiselessly into one another, only to dissolve and shortly after gather into new formations to go at it again. The battle seemed to be rather apathetic though and ended in a tie.
Evening was falling anyway and it was time to visit the village pub. This pub had recently been renamed “Günni’s Drinks” and had in addition to the apostrophe in the name a few more novelties. Besides beer and clear drinks, it also served cocktails, an innovation that was met with much distrust. Personally, I can live with these changes. Naturally there were a few sceptics who spoke of our coastal culture being watered down with cheap imitations of current trends. These were big words which our Günni let run off his back with his usual laid back attitude. The only important thing in the end is enough room to nurse a beer and enjoy good conversation, and that had never been lacking. With this in mind, I steered for the counter, now called the bar, knocked as a sign of greeting on the reflecting stainless steel top and looked around. What I saw was a still life with half-empty glasses. Behind the counter at the tap and as silent as ever, Günni; in front from left to right: old Jansen, again with beer foam hanging in his handlebar moustache; Thea Henrich with freshly dyed blond hair; Roloff, a pale cosmetic salesman with his suitcase of samples clamped between his legs; and finally Thies Samland who, because he couldn’t hear very well any more, always leaned his gaunt face as far as possible over the counter making him look just a bit like a ship’s figurehead.
As soon as I began to tell about my encounter with God, I noticed on their faces that something was not quite right. Questioning, I looked around.
That’s how I found out that old Lüders had passed. With that we drank three or four glasses to him, which seemed to be appropriate considering that he had made it to 98. He had been sick for a long time, mentioned Thea, and so unnaturally thin and dried out – the last words she pronounced with special stress and with a slight nod in my direction. I got the hint and ordered another round in honour of old Lüders.
“Wat she say?” asked Thies Samland, with his hand cupping behind his ear.
“Sick,” yelled Thea in his ear, and Samland nodded gravely before polishing off his shot of corn.
“And that’s how it goes,” added the cosmetic salesman Roloff, after he had finished his glass. It remained in the dark whether he was talking about human existence or about his drink.
Old Jansen remained silent about this topic, which he also did about most every subject. But he drank, which in this case was a statement in itself.
So passed the time for a while. Our Günni poured the drinks, the old Jansen drowned his moustache, Thea drowned her sorrows in beer, for it was known that once upon a time when her hair was still naturally blond, she had had a fling with the deceased. The cosmetic salesman Roloff examined with glassy eyes his precisely manicured fingernails and Thies Samland nodded from time to time with his head, always prepared that someone might say something important that would require his commentary.
Finally it became dark, and the rest of the day dribbled out of the orange-coloured sun slowly into the sea. I had almost forgotten my run-in with God as I was taking my jacket off the hook but when I looked outside through the crown glass windows of Günni’s Drinks I thought I saw the figure with the flapping blue cape again. Hazily, the figure glided over the levee on his bicycle, and on the baggage carrier I fancied I saw a thin, dried up figure, one hand high in the air; impossible to tell if the hand was waving or simply trying to keep balanced.
I looked once more to the group at the counter, but apparently no one else had seen what I had. “The ways of God,” I thought to myself, and as I stepped outside, the sheep were still grazing on the levee undisturbed and all the stars remained unchanged in their places.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
 
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