In a Bar in Iceland: 21st Jan 2020
In our class today, we did something different. Instead of the students writing individually from a prompt, we worked on a group exercise.
We imagined a place – a bar in a busy town in Iceland; a country none of us has ever been. We spent time on the details of the bar; décor but also its smell and feel.
Everyone was given a different character with a few details. We then wrote individually from each point of view about why they were in the bar the night of the shooting.
The group read each of their pieces out loud and amongst the laughter, it was clear that the collective piece impressed us all with its breadth and richness.
Here is a composite of what the group wrote:
Our winter in Iceland was long this year. It is already March and the weather is still cold. It snowed the whole day today.
I am alone at the bar. It is 10pm and already full. It’s always full but tonight is Ladies Night – which means free wine. But I don’t want wine. Last time I sat here I was with Tom. We drank whiskey. That was 9 months ago. He has another girlfriend now. I am told they are very happy. I order a whiskey.
‘Alone?’ a man asks. He has a nice face, blue eyes and red hair, but he is not my type. They never are. Every man I’ve met since Tom has made my heart sink. I look at the man standing in front of me waiting for my answer.
‘No,’ I say, finish my drink and walk out of the bar.
When I watched the news later, I worked out I must have left at about 10pm; before anything happened. All I know is the norðurljós* were beautiful. For a moment, as I watched the ribbon of colour, I forgot Tom.
Jtters is packed to capacity; a beehive of activity as the buzz of men and women flirting fills the air. The dress code is red. No bare face is seen; all are masked.
I push through the crowd to reach a couple waiting for glasses of red wine. The fire blazes on, and the windows are misted up, hot inside, so cold outside.
The man at the table swishes the wine in his glass and takes a long sip. ‘It was worth the wait,’ he says. He looks at the woman with him but slips something into my pocket. I look at him, confused, but I can’t see much beyond the masks they are both wearing.
I haven’t got time to think about it with the orders coming thick and fast. Delicious aromas from the kitchen fill the air: chicken, beef, fish, mutton. The head chef orchestrates his team to ensure the evening satisfies all. I busily do my bit, serving the customers with what they wish.
Couples start to dance to the live band, smooching, whispering together. I watch from a corner and wish that Erick was with me.
A tall man touches my shoulder and guides me towards the dancefloor. My manager scowls at me and I hesitate. The stranger ignores my reluctance. ‘Look at the note in your pocket,’ he says in a voice I can’t place but it sounds familiar.
‘This is the last night you will ever work in this bar,’ the note says. He draws me close and our hearts beat in a strangely synchronised way.
Maybe it’s the music, I don’t know, but I get lost in his sure embrace.
There is a loud bang and a commotion, and I am jerked back to the present moment. I find myself on the cold pavement outside the bar. As I fumble in my bag for my phone to call my cousin to pick me up, someone grabs me from behind. I’m not scared when I see it is the mystery man from earlier. His arm in mine, he walks me to a building and we take a lift to the 12th floor. Why aren’t you resisting, a voice in my head asks. A door opens, and he gently pushes me towards a bed. I sit and he turns off the lights. My heart skips a mighty beat. He offers me a glass of red wine, but I hesitate.
It is silent and dark. I can’t see anything except the faint glow of light from the balcony. I grope in the dark for a light. I flick a switch and in the sudden light see the room is full of roses. He moves towards me and slides his mask onto his head. And as if I had known all along, I see with relief, it is my sweet Erick.
So, no, I don’t remember much about the shooting. That night has other, personal meaning for me.
I should get dressed now; it’s nearly time for my shift. I don’t want to be late – not tonight. It’s one of those nights with a lot of ladies in the house and I love looking at the fine ones. I protect them, to make sure no dumb ass fool or drunken idiot can get past me, mean Mr Spinster. I don’t have this six-pack, over-sized body for no reason do I now?
Hi – my name is Spinster and I am the bouncer at Jtters bar. I love my job. I am there to keep the party flowing. Anyone who wants to stop the fun and break up the warm atmosphere inside, gets their butt kicked outside into the cold by me.
The smell of smoke and booze mixed together hits you full-face when you enter. We have a live band tonight and our resident drag queen as MC, Pol.
I watch the ladies arrive and, ja, ok, it’s Ladies Night but who says a man can’t enjoy it too?
With my arms folded, I watch the crowd dancing to the music, enjoying themselves. It’s going to be another night without problems.
Hey, what the heck is that? A woman on the street screamed, ‘Hey Big Ben, get your fat ass out here. You lousy piece of meat.’
I was confused; what was going on? It was all cool moments before.
‘Whoa, calm down, I will get Big Ben for you – just cool it,’ I said.
So, I go inside looking for this guy, shouting ‘Which one of you is Big Ben?’ My instincts told me I would be facing a really big guy so I was surprised when this short guy came forward. Maybe he is big in other places, I thought, but I wouldn’t want to know that now, would I? All I want is for this little Big Ben to go outside to his crazy lunatic of a woman.
I felt sorry for the guy when he looked up at me in his stupid red mask. He was shivering like he was butt naked in the cold. He's is afraid of his old lady, I thought. ‘Sorry dude. Your night of fun has just been terminated.’
I go back inside and try to reassure everyone, but the mood is spoiled, and everyone is in shock. I didn’t understand it at the time. I thought it was that lady had ruined the night with her shouting. I found out the rest of the story later, but I knew nothing then. Just weird timing; I told the cops but they said it was a coincidence. You gotta remember, I was outside.
As I enter, my ears get pregnant with the alive and kicking band who are supposed to be waiting for me to do what I have been invited, and paid, to do.
The steam lifts off everyone in the bar’s blue light as they walk in and warm up. The usual slay queens sit by the fire holding court with tonight’s crop of ‘taste and pass’ men. They laugh, they hug and kiss and give out what they give best.
‘Hello everybody! Time is up! Are you ready to start what has brought us all here? Alright? I am here to inspire you people with what I do best. Now grab your partner and give them a deep passionate kiss. Tell them what you feel at this particular moment. Remember though, to check your balance – and your wallets. Don’t forget, we are all here with different missions.'
‘Now is the time to introduce to you our first band led by four funky guys and one slay queen. She is a very jumpy chick who only closes her mouth when she sleeps!’
The crowd scream and the band starts. They dance as if they are trying to break their legs. Some climb on tables, others take off their shirts and throw them in the air. Others grab their lovers and hold them tight, fearful they will lose them to snatchers.
‘Whoa! Wow! Wow!’ I shout but they don’t need any encouragement. ‘Let’s shake what belongs to you. Everybody dance or you’re gonna lose it if you don’t. Dance before you get stolen!’
‘Our second band is ready to come on but before they do, I want to see a gleaming smile on your faces.’ They smile like crazies, and when I tell them who the band is, they scream even more than they had before. ‘Bring it on! Bring it on!’ they chant.
The band plays, the crowd dances, and I do my thing. It’s like this most Fridays, but it always feels special to me.
‘Everybody enjoy yourself,’ I say, as I finish my set. ‘Drink until you can’t drink anymore. Today is a special day to you my beloved people. Drinks are free – food too. No bills today but you’re gonna be charged tomorrow. Enjoy your partner, enjoy the band – and enjoy me too!’
As usual, at Jtters, on a Friday night, the crowd go wild. I love this crowd, this place I think as I come off stage, my dress glittering in the lights.
Bored and lonely after work, the loud music coming from Jtters pulls me towards it. Why not go there and see what is happening? I have seen the hot girls streaming in there, especially on Fridays.
They give me a fancy dress mask; everyone is wearing them. I walk straight to the bar and order a double tequila and lemon. I take my drink to the pool table, the darkest corner where I can safely watch the hot girls from behind my mask without being noticed. I see three sexy ladies laughing together. I want to be part of their fun. I call the waiter and ask her what they are drinking. ‘Malibu,’ she says. ‘Bring a bottle,’ I order. Armed with the bottle, I head over to the girls. I sit next to the tall one with black curls. ‘Roxanna,’ she introduces herself. I tell her my name is Carlos. I feel like a Carlos sitting there with those girls.
As we chatted, I moved closer to Roxanna. ‘This is actually going to happen,’ I thought. Just then, a loud bang broke the cosy spell. Roxanna jumped into my lap, ‘I’m scared,’ she said. I could feel her shaking. I felt afraid too. I had never heard a gunshot before, except in films. An off-duty cop stood up. He introduced himself and said that everything would be ok and that he was in control. Roxanna stopped shaking, got off my lap and moved away from me. She watched the cop from then on. She hardly noticed later when I left.
As soon as I push through the door, the familiar welcome of smoke and alcohol fills me with pleasure. I find my usual seat in the corner, not an officer tonight, but just Gunnar, here, like everyone else, to relax.
Within a second a waitress asks me what I would like. As I wait for my drink, I watch the parade of beautiful ladies and remember Friday is Ladies Night.
My drink arrives and so does a gorgeous lady who sits down beside me. As we talk, I think how well the evening is going and how it might end up back at my place or hers. I don’t tell her about my work; it always complicates things.
Then, a gunshot splits the air. The waitress who had served me moments before, rushes outside, screaming. I lose her in the crowds as they rush for the door. I hear someone say the MC has been shot. I call my friend at the station and go back inside. I speak to the crowd to keep things calm. Someone pointed to the shooter, a woman, calming sitting on a sofa still holding the gun.
Other people crowd around the victim, trying to stop the bleeding, but it looks like it is too late.
The bar is soon surrounded by flashing lights and police officers.
‘Hey, Gunnar, I can see where you get your fun now,’ said Arni, my friend.
‘Yeah – I was but my night got fucked up. Here is our client.’ I pointed to the shooter, still sitting in shock.
Witnesses are lined up for questioning, and the bar is closed. My night off is over, and not with the company I had imagined.
It’s the inevitability of this place I hate; Friday night for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday morning, I promise myself not to go again, that next week will be different. But here I am again, my promises like this ice under my feet – mush.
What drags me back here? It certainly isn’t the watered-down beer. Maybe its Pol, for some reason she makes me feel at home, or safe at least. Even she is not what she seems though. A beautiful woman whose naked self reveals his trickery.
I had sobered up fast that night. I left her apartment like a champion hurdler. I swear I should have got a gold medal for the speed of that exit. But she has been sweet to me ever since; she didn’t hold a grudge. She adds shots to my beer or brings me food she says is going spare. She once told me she feels sorry for me but that can’t be true. It’s the other way around, right?
I always get here by 6 – straight from work. I lose track of time by – well I don’t know – but by the time it gets really busy.
I see the new face as soon as she walks in. I don’t know how I know but it’s like a beam saying ‘outta place’ is shining on her. Danger arcs out of her eyes.
Everything becomes slow-mo. Really – I even wonder if Pol has slipped something extra strong into my drink. I feel weird and I can’t take my eyes of that chick. I see her pull out the gun but it’s like I know it is going to happen. It feels like watching a re-run or a movie I have seen before.
There is a silent flash and then a freeze-frame moment. The shot sounds and everything speeds up, crazy fast like a blur. Until now.
I look down at my boots and the dark, sticky pools around them. A spill from the still shape in the overly sparkling dress over there. Too still.
The cops will get to me in turn, but meanwhile, I run back through the story. I vow to myself next Friday I will be far from here, and with Pol now gone, I will never come to this bar again.
Creative writing class from Langata Women's Prison, Kenya