Presence

View from the top of Es Baluard Palma de Mallorca

‘I learned Dutch in a week,’ said Patricia whilst sipping on a pink straw dipped in liquor. ‘It is such an easy language, but it hurts my articulatory muscles when I start speaking it.’

Begonia Séu was taken aback by this statement. Dutch was one of her two mother tongues, next to French. Why did her friend dislike Dutch? And surely it wasn’t some primitive language that can be learned in a week? She decided, like most therapists do, to remain silent and remember how, earlier that day, she had descended the steps near the museum of contemporary art, Es Baluard in Palma de Mallorca. Those paintings never ceased to amaze her, even though she was forced to admit that some of them could have been created by someone like Patricia.

‘Begonia, wake up,’ Patricia yelled, seeing her dear friend dozing off into deep sleep.

Square Es Baluard

It wasn’t her friend who managed to pull her out of her comfortable daytime nap, though, but her black-and-white dachshund. This dog was named after a state in the U.S., but Begonia had forgotten her real name. Was it Georgia? No, that didn’t sound right.

‘Can’t you just sit and listen to me?’ asked Patricia. ‘All day you have been free from your heinous therapy sessions, doing God knows what, probably nothing, and now you don’t even have the guts to listen to what your dear friend has to say.’

The visitors of Bar Cuba, who were without exception not skilled in the English language, did not need an interpreter to see that a familiar scene was about to unfold. Back in their home country, these people had seen one too many scenes of uncomfortable cussing slip past, and they imagined that things were about to get nasty.

‘Dutch in a week,’ mumbled Begonia, whilst whipping her delicious golden hairdo. A Cuban woman who sat in the corner lurked sideways and a sinister smile appeared on her lips. She was also in on the secret that Begonia could not fathom to understand.

‘I heard you, misses Séu, lonely heart,’ said Patricia. ‘Who devised your surname? Did you change it?’

Bar Cuba

Begonia's name was inspired by Palma's cathedral La Seu, but nevertheless her friend’s vicious contralto slightly unsettled her. She decided to respond tactfully: ‘So you learned my language in a week?’

‘What does that have to do with anything?’

The visitors of Bar Cuba, who frequented this kind of bar that was in the War a secret place of sorts all right, stood up and looked towards Patricia, seemingly a wart in an otherwise impeccable interior. Or was the audience too ruthless to someone who originated from an island quite close to their own country?

‘Don’t change the subject,’ said Begonia. ‘What I don’t understand is why we don’t speak Dutch right at this moment.’

‘You know that; people’ll think we’re German.’

Begonia’s grandmother was of German descent and she’d always thought this hatred to a group that had really known nothing during a certain War was undeserved. ‘Patricia, answer me. Do you really think I am primitive just because I speak Dutch?’

‘Well, for starters, nobody speaks it.’

While Patricia uttered these words, a certain ghost appeared out of the standing crowd, who said: ‘But I speak Dutch.’

‘I told you,’ Begonia said, caressing her beloved dog Pennsylvania, which was also rather asleep than awake at this particular moment. Or was she called Dakota? She really had no idea anymore. Her name could very well have been Carolina or Alabama for all she knew.

Patricia mumbled and finally admitted: ‘My sister is in big trouble.’

Street in Santa Catalina

Now we’re in business, Begonia thought. ‘What is the matter with your sister, Patricia?’ she asked in Dutch, a language in which this line oddly adopted a ‘hand metaphor’.

Patricia did understand that she said something about a hand, but could not figure out what she had meant precisely. ‘No, she hasn’t broken any of her limbs, Begonia,’ she answered in perfect British English.

‘I wasn’t talking about that. You really know your Dutch, I reckon.’

‘Yes, I do. I learned it in a week.’

Begonia sighed at such immense stupidity. Even her Slovakian cleaning lady knew better Dutch than her friend. She decided to quit nagging and concluded: ‘So what is amiss with your Deborah?’

‘Debra, you mean?’ Patricia commanded the waiter to bring another shot of alcohol and added: ‘Debra has lost all of her money. Or her husband’s money. Either one, I am not quite sure.’

‘Come on, don’t lie to me, Patricia. We all know that money disappears in her hands.’

This was a Dutchism that Patricia had evidently picked up during her presumably very intensive week-long Dutch course. ‘Yes, you are quite right, she really has something with her hands and money.’

» » Episode 2 - Shirley Temple