The Ship Builders
“Two-pints, madam,” he said at Edwina, as he leaned his thick body onto the bar, and wiggled his red-haired eyes-brows at her. He held up the peace sign with his right-hand fingers. “If you don’t mind, madam. And might I say, you look ravishing this evening, again.”
“Stuff it buddy,” Edwina said. But she grinned back over at him as she busily moved along working the bar guests. “But, thank you.”
“Lady killer, eh Os?” He said. He had sat down within the Snug section next to Os on a wooden chair with a curved backrest. I thought Os was an unusual name. And the tall, fit man with salt and pepper hair had an accent that was not British, but softer, as if he held on to his spoken words a beat slower at the end. “Strong as an Ox, my-man.”
“Ha, Uli, you know it mate,” Os said. He held up his thick fists. “Just check out these shoulders.”
Edwina returned with two-glasses stenciled with rugby team logos containing a wheat colored beer in a full-carbonation bloom.
“You boys need directions to a gay bar? I hear way up Central’s hopping tonight,” Edwina said. She smirked. “Want to open a tab, or close it out?”
Os and Uli, both pointed at Edwina. They loudly laughed, and smacked at the bar top like newly released hardened prisoners having a fresh pint for the first time in many years.
“Don’t be wanker, keep it open,” Os said. He grunted as he laughed. “I like you, lady, you’re all right.”
“Never know, but thank you,” Edwina said. “You might need a back-up plan?”
“Hey, mate,” Os said. He glanced over at me. “She always like this? Beating the man down.”
“Edwina?” I said. I nodded. Edwina smiled. “Yes, don’t poke that bear, it bites back. And pray, Jane’s not working, or, well, you’ll end up waking up on the middle of Beach Drive.”
“Thank you, Rob,” Edwina said. She pointed over at me. “See, a gentleman.”
“Bloody-hell,” Uli said. He sipped his beer. “Os, ya better be careful, ya might end up face-down, sensing a slight pressure.”
I stared down at the multi-colored carpeted floor, as I laughed I covered my mouth with my hand.
“What’re you all up to?” I said. I sipped my Guinness.
“With my mate, Uli,” Os said. He pointed behind him at Uli with his right hand thumb. He was permanently tanned, and had baked in wrinkles like an outdoors fisherman. “Out chasing girls, actually, I send Uli out as my bait, whatever he snags, I hope to play wingman.”
“It’s worked so far,” Uli said. He smiled.
“Let me ask a stupid question,” I said. I leaned forward. “Where’s home, home?”
They both nodded back over at me.
“South Africa,” Os said. He backed up. “Obviously, can’t get this handsome anywhere else.”
“Got it,” I said. “I almost guessed Australian, but it didn’t seem right.”
“I get that sometimes,” Uli said. “Girls dig it here.”
“That’s your new alibi,” Os said at Uli. He shoved my shoulder like I guessed a Cro-Magdon man might have teased at his prey. “You know, Rob, when Uli’s got one to play with, but would prefer to disappear, you know, after a little midnight entanglement, he’ll be an Aussie, his secret agent name, Rob.”
“What’s your story, mate?” Uli asked. He grinned, and he sipped his beer. “We build ships, some custom-stuff.”
“Nothing with guns,” Os said. He leaned down as if to fire a hand-held cannon. “But maybe, get me a hidden one, below decks, you know, drug pirates appear, it pops-up – bang!”
“I’m not as interesting,” I said. I chuckled. “I’m a fancy insurance broker, and I write from time-to-time, for fun.”
“I hate insurance,” Os said. “Sorry, mate, I hate it.”
Os gripped his beer glass, and he took in a good swig.
“Go easy big fella,” Edwina said. She looked over at me. “Another Guinness?”
“Sure,” I said. I nodded over at Edwina. I looked back over at Uli. “You all hanging out here for the winter?”
Os set down his beer, and then he gripped with his fingers the weathered bar edge.
“We are, permanent-resident-aliens,” Uli said. He leaned his long body forward. “But I’m working on my full-citizenship, we both are… I don’t want to get deported.”
“Yes,” Os said. He stood up straight. “I’ve been studying, George Washington was the first US president, John Adams was next, and now, Donald J. Trump has just been sworn in as the new president. And, I was not allowed to vote, yet.”
“And I just watched, La La Land,” Edwina said. But before she walked away. “It’s appropriate for these times, yellow-hair and a spray-tan man.”
Os leaned back, he appeared to closely study Edwina. He stared down over at Uli, and then back over at me.
“Go to my home,” Os said. He scowled. “I cannot build there anymore. I had to leave. You all have it easy here, Trump or whomever, they’ll not threaten to take your land, your property, bloody-hell.”
“Easy, brother,” Uli said. “Rob might not be as political.”
“Sorry, mate,” Os said. He stared over past me, and studied the people along the busy bar. “You all here, have to easy.”
“I’m fine, I actually learn a lot when I stop and listen to others,” I said. I sipped the Guinness. “But, I wonder about my country, I have stopped watching the news, they just play to a narrative these days. I’m not that gullible.”
Uli and Os both grunted back over at me.
“Did you have to serve? Here?” Os asked me. “We were Army, back home, longtime ago now, but, it changes you, for the better.”
“No,” I said. “I was lucky, I’ve many friends that do, and have, I have a great deal of respect for them. Besides, I’d have shot myself in the foot, or worse.”
“Killings a bad thing,” Uli said. “I did my job, but, I don’t understand it, to kill a human in a fight, yes, to protect others. But wild animals, or to torture them, and eat them, I don’t understand that.”
“Uli’s a full on vegan,” Os said. He rubbed his belly. “I’ve tried, I just can’t do it.”
“I feel great,” Uli said. “I don’t believe in hurting animals.”
“I just eat fish,” I said. “I have high-blood pressure in my family history, heart attacks, so I’m trying to avoid that, but, I have to admit it, I do feel a lot stronger these days.”
“They are poisoning themselves, it’s in the food,” Uli said. He crossed his arms. “Sorry, I’ll stop.”
Os tapped over at me.
“I should listen,” Os said. “I had a heart attack, but I lived to tell the tale, and all, right?”
Uli held up his glass, and nodded over at Edwina.
“When you can,” Uli said. He looked back over at me. “Hey mate, I don’t understand your American football.”
“Ya, ya,” Os said. He pointed at me. “They should try rugby, watch the All Blacks, New Zealand, best team in the world, they don’t wear those silly pads.”
“You mean the CTE?” I said. “Brain damage, it’s bad stuff.”
“Ya,” Uli said. He pointed at me. “Never hear of that from rugby.”
“It’s the helmets,” I said. “They use them as a battering ram.”
“Ya,” Uli said. “I think you’re right.”
“It’s about proper technique,” Os said. “They should learn proper technique, like I learnt in my day. I might not have a strong ticker, but my brain works just fine.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” Edwina said. She set two beers in front of Uli and Os. “Cheers.”
“Ah,” Os said. He turned toward Edwina. “I like her, she’s twisted, and she can sneak up on you like a cat.”
“You mentioned George Washington,” I said. “Want to know more about him?”
“Will it help me pass the test?” Os said.
“Maybe,” I said. I leaned back on the chair. “He was the first president, but what they forget to teach you was he walked away from power, he chose to give up his seat.”
“Really?” Uli said.
“Look it up,” I said. “He walked into the old Pennsylvania state house, Thomas Jefferson presided, John Adams stood on one-side, Washington stood on the other, after a brief statement by Thomas Jefferson, after Washington walked out, he was simply a common citizen, like me, and someday, like you.”
“He was a military man, we had Mandela he had his men,” Os said. He stared at me. “Mandela, ANC finally got what they wanted, it’s was a tough struggle when you grow up from the inside, you know, but he’s now long gone.”
“Washington was the first Commander and Chief,” I said. I nodded. “People forget here, the fight was initiated in part, by taxation, or, better, over-taxation. That fight went on for eight years, he almost never left his army, even in winter.”
“It’s a mess now, back in South Africa,” Uli said. “Needless killings.”
“I sold my assets, saw it coming, the taking of land, businesses,” Os said. He sighed. “I had to start-over, and I have, I’m lucky.”
“Well,” I said. “I’m starting all over, as well.”
We sat drinking our beers as the low-hum from the crowd within the dark bar area continued its cadence, occasionally pierced by a loud laugh, or from over in the dining section a scream from an unhappy baby.
“George Washington predicted much of what goes on here,” I said. I glanced at Uli and Os. “It’s not as obvious as seizing land by force, but it’s going on. I think it’s the permanent government class, greed, power, they view themselves as the smart kids. But, what they don’t see coming, will cost them.”
“I’m happy here,” Uli said. “I travel all over the world, I rarely go back to South Africa, but I’m always thankful when I land back here, and get back here for a pint.”
“Here, here,” Os said.
“I’m sorry how things are going back in South Africa,” I said.
“Yeah,” Uli said. “A lot of innocent people will be hurt.”
“Well,” Os said. “It’s on now, and it’ll be messy.”
“Mr. Orwell would have said,” I said. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ And here, our so called, career politicians these days are like a collection of pigs slurping at a leaking trough.”
I twisted on the leather seat, and we watched a young man making his best sales pitch to an interested middle-aged woman.
“She’s going to eat him alive,” Uli whispered.
“It’s not a fair fight,” I said. “It’s the low cut, those full-ears.”
“If I may, bountifully ears,” Os said. “I’m available to dine upon.”
“I was advised a long, long time ago,” I said. I nodded. “Never, ever, pick on someone that cannot defend themselves.”