Bar Paradise

Lucia Munaro
Bar Paradise
A customer came in when it was just past noon, or perhaps it was already one o’clock, Tiziana thought. Hard to tell with all that water. Outside it was raining heavily. It’d been like this for days. It started when it was still night, and the rain had continued nonstop for hours.
The light was grayish and undefined, the sky a mass loaded down with water and nothing else. The passing of time also remained undefined, and Tiziana had no desire to measure it. Nothing offered her a clue, not the shadow of the big sycamore tree on the road that would play with the cobblestones, where they had arranged the tables and plastic chairs in the courtyard of the bar, not the heat of the sun, not the angle of the rays that would usually reach the window and then move, climbing up the embroidery of the curtain and onto the nearby wall.
On another day, without all that water, the restaurant would have been a swarm of people at this time of day. They would have been sitting at the tables outdoors and on the veranda, having a coffee, drink or snack. With the spa, its pools, the park and the water features just around the corner, Tiziana’s bar was strategically located and did good business.
Today, though, she could count the customers who had come in that morning on the fingers of one hand. The usual customers, who never failed to stop by for a coffee before going to work, had become familiar figures, the guardians of her little world.
From behind the counter, Tiziana appeared like a head and shoulders with long black hair, and a body that you could tell was strong. She moved from her position little, as if cocooned or a queen bee living back there, protected by a TV screen on the wall that was perpetually in operation, continually projecting images: vacuous dreams with unreal characters, stories that had been contrived for the sole purpose of isolating her from the world out there, so she would keep playing her role, remaining the untouchable queen of that little kingdom.
The new customer came in from outside, though, she’d seen her enter and shake her umbrella before closing it immediately upon finding herself under the shelter of the porch. Even the sporty raincoat she was wearing had already soaked through, although the woman hadn’t walked in the rain much and had parked her car nearby, on a narrow street almost at the side of the bar. She had a touch of youthful enthusiasm though she was not so very young, and an unusual way of being, as if distracted. A placid smile, which one could have defined as bucolic, stretched across her otherwise anonymous face, inviting trust.
She just wanted a coffee, black with no sugar. She told Tiziana that she was waiting for someone. She asked something about the name of the street where the bar was, and immediately returned to the porch entrance to look out at the road. Restless, she went outside at times, unmindful of all that rain, just raising the hood of her raincoat and peering towards the direction from which the person she was waiting for would’ve arrived by car, and then went back under the porch to shake off the water. It was raining cats and dogs. She spoke on the phone with someone a couple of times, then came over to the bar and chatted with Tiziana for a bit.
She was expecting someone who was using a navigator to get here, she explained; in fact it had prolonged the route so he would arrive later than expected. She asked Tiziana if she knew a restaurant nearby where they could eat something, once the person for whom she was waiting arrived. It seemed strange to Tiziana that they had decided to meet here, in a place that neither of them seemed to know well or actually even at all. However, she told her about a pizzeria a few hundred meters from the bar: the managers were friends of hers and even if at a certain time the kitchen would close, it was worth trying, she said, otherwise no, she didn’t know of any other places. In the vicinity, yes, there were certainly some others, but whether they were open at that time she wasn’t sure.
Then the conversation drifted to the opportunities presented by new technologies, by gadgets such as navigators that slowly replace actual perceptions with virtual ones generated by algorithms, gadgets that are designed to simplify life but maybe make it rather more complex instead. Both found themselves to be skeptical. Tiziana was thus able to speak of Lorenzo, her husband, who used gadgets like that for work on a daily basis.
Lorenzo was her husband, and whenever she’d come home in the evening and he wasn’t away on one of his frequent trips, it was a celebration. She didn’t say it, but she knew that it was a love story.
Even if it was really the loneliness of those other days – when he left her to sleep alone at their home – that allowed Tiziana to live during the day in her golden cocoon, behind the counter of Bar Paradise. She had formed a circle of friends, of beloved patrons, of neighbors, like the guys of the pizzeria who occasionally brought her pizza slices or other treats from their kitchen. And they were like the gifts that you bring to a queen.
She began to talk with the stranger, almost unwittingly, about her dream: to earn enough at Bar Paradise to start a family, a son by Lorenzo was what she wanted most. That was a dream that both had put aside for now. They wanted to have financial stability first because she would have to give up work, at least for a while, if they would have a child. And those weeks of rain, with few customers and an empty bar that generated sadness, wasn’t something they she needed right now. The rent was high and Tiziana had already thought of taking over another bar, one that was more modest and affordable a few kilometers from there, she then told the customer, while she was listening attentively, every now and then peering at her phone, which she held tightly in one hand.
But it would not have been like Bar Paradise. There in her little kingdom, customers were characters in a story that she never would have written, but that she lived day by day, framed by the counter. This Tiziana did not say, she simply complained about the rain that kept customers away. It was the woman who thought about it. And the woman also imagined that loyal patrons would come back to greet Tiziana in the evening after work, before returning home, like soldiers loyal to their queen.
Then, with a smile, the customer waved hurriedly at Tiziana and returned to the road and finally, there were two headlamps approaching, illuminated, winking at her. She awkwardly closed her umbrella in the middle of the road and, wet with streams of water that fell from the folds of the raincoat, climbed into the car and bent down to greet the man at the wheel.
The couple returned for coffee after lunch. They didn’t stay for long, but while they were sitting on the veranda Tiziana had time to notice the almost playful intimacy between them.
Even outside, when after a short while the two finally said goodbye, the woman somehow pulled an absurd straw hat made to shelter one from the sun from a bag that was in his car and put it on her head, laughing. Perhaps it was just to show the other, but she absent-mindedly forgot it on her head, oblivious to the driving rain that hadn’t stopped falling. The two hugged each other several times, and the woman seemed to detach from him with great difficulty; it was only for a moment, though, that her usual smile retreated, and then they were both climbing into their respective cars to drive away in different directions.
Tiziana meanwhile looked outside to look for a crack at the very least in the thick mass of clouds, which continued to be gray and oppressive, but the persistent rain showed no sign of a lull, and the sky promised only more water.
Who knows for how long and for how many more days.

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