‘The world shames, cowers.
Nobody is protected.
I cry at night, screaming for life
And an end to it all.’
The crowd clicks, and I sigh. As if this smog wasn’t enough, you could hear amateur poets flouting their emotions every half hour. I’d really doubted that this place would have held its integrity since last time I was here. Still, you could hardly expect less after the past ten years… at least the music is still good.
I lie back comfortably in my chair, relaxing to the smoothest jazz in the city. I let myself laugh a little. It turns heads for a glance, but they’re more interested in the poetry. To each their own, I guess.
The smoke from half a dozen rosy red flames in nearby patrons' hands mingle in the rafters, eventually losing steam and falling, dejected, back down to the sleek, refined wooden tables that’ve slotted into place since I left town. The décor around the walls is as modern as anybody needs, and I’d say nobody here needs more than music and rhyme to listen to if they want to be content.
A cough slides gently across my ears, and I turn my head to see what it is. It’s a redhead, not transfixed on the poetry, motioning to sit at the bench opposite me. Sure, I motion back; I got nothing to lose. She smirks and drapes herself across the seat, leaning up against the window.
‘You don’t strike me as the kind of guy that hangs around Jazz clubs.’
I smirk back, looking around at the smoke-ridden room again.
‘You’re right, I thought I’d given them up when I left town. Turns out, I had to come back.’
‘What drew you back here?’
I blink. She’s inquisitive. I like that.
‘Drew me? Who said anything drew me back?’
She looks out at the low-lit streets through the windows, and I follow her gaze. Out there in the rain, people are bustling past to get somewhere. To get anywhere, it looks like. People struggling through the tempest, marching forward with what looks like direction but is, in fact, the aimless wandering of the lost. She turns her head back, and sighs at me.
‘Something always draws you back. It does that to everyone, it’s an addiction. Come on,’ she leans towards me, angling for a bite, ‘so what drew you back?’
I sit silent for a minute, and she leans further forward. After a while, I answer.
‘The atmosphere. It’s too crowded outside.’
She laughs, sits up a touch and looks straight into my eyes.
‘And yet you find a smoky, crowded Jazz club an escape from fresh air? Weird sense of humour you’ve got there.’
She fumbles around in her coat, looking for something. I take a minute to look at her while she’s busy. She’s got a sleek and tender jawline, perfectly matching the beret sitting itself on her head, and lustrous sapphire eyes. Before I get the chance to look below her shoulders she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.
‘No, thanks. Gave it up years ago.’
Again she laughs, and her sapphires twinkle.
‘Let me guess. About the same time as you gave up visiting places like this?’
I laugh a little, and smirk.
‘Takes one to know one, I guess. That get-up ain’t one that’s popular ‘round here.’
This time, she smirks. Her teeth glint in the dim club’s lamps.
‘Yeah, I’ve been out of town a while too. Figured, what’s the point in staying in one place all my life? I need to see the world.’
‘So… what drew you back?’
Recognising her earlier comment, she laughs and sits back up against the window.
‘Same as you, I guess. I just couldn’t find anything to match the intimacy and passion of this place. It’s strange, isn’t it; as soon as you think you’re rid of it, you need it the most.’
I nod, and check my watch. Time’s been marching on since we started talking.
‘It’s been fun chatting with you, lady, but I need to get home. Make sure everything’s fine.’
She nods, and I turn to leave.
She stops me with her hand on my shoulder. I turn back to see her sapphires twinkle again, and she winks.
‘It’s not ‘lady,’ for the future. It’s Sylvia. See you around.’
‘I’m sure I will.’
For the last time that night, I hear her laughter chime over the club’s musicians. Smirking, I open the door and step through into the street.
Feeling the storm cover my skin, I realise just how much my hands were itching for that all-too familiar habit. I press those fingers tight; tell myself I don’t need it. The rain tips over my hat and coat, and traces my fingers as if to say I’m wrong. I start pacing down the street through the dissipating crowd, lost in thought. When I reach the corner, I look back at the dingy neon sign that reads, ‘Club Deluge’ and I try to shut off my longing for a smoke. I gave ‘em up all those years ago for a reason.
But then again, I did come back to the club.
* * *
Walking down the corridor to my apartment, she’s the only thing I can’t get out of my head; even as I unlock the door, her eyes are lit up like the club’s neon nameplate in my mind. I nearly drop my keys.
I shake her out of my thoughts, and step into my home. That old familiar smell wafts its way round me, inviting me in with a touch of good times and alcohol. I nearly trip on the carpet as I drift through the door, and as I close my link with the outside world I shrug off my overcoat and collapse onto the bed. Feels better like this, laying aside my thoughts and feelings and just taking time to relax.
The radio’s quietly musing to itself in the background. Can’t say I blame it. Everything seems to want to keep itself busy these days, especially those upmarket types that rush by in the streets. Must be nice, having a job that needs you.
The light coming in from the night glazes the room in a frosty blue haze. I laugh. Funny, how nature seems to know exactly how you feel. The street below, which I can just about see through the murky excuse for a window, still bustles under the onlooking stars. Funnier still how a world can carry on without a care, despite what happens.
I guess this is what I came back for; a quiet life among the busy.