There’s a good diner in spit distance from my flat. I go there often, and always sit at the bar, with a book or a tablet.
The server is always the same — a very sweet and helpful man. My conversation with him is limited to weather chatter and food orders — a man with a book is not in seek of conversation, and he is smart enough to take the hint. But I can see he is a talkative guy, always bantering with colleagues and clients.
Tonight he is engaged in a loud, lively talk with another patron. I order him a sandwich. He accomplishes my order with the usual virtuosity, and then resumes his chat. He stops now and then to ask me if I need something (“Cutlery, if you please ! And mustard.”)
I have my book open in front of me, and mostly ignore them, but I infer from their conversation, by tone and bits of content, that the men are not just client and server, but also friends — or at least, acquaintances. Or are they ? Am I considering the prior information that this is Brazil and not France ?
“And then she was there by the door, knife in hand, yelling ‘I’ll kill you’ !”
I am snatched from my book to reality.
The phrase having been announced by the server as the punchline to a joke, both men are now laughing their heads off.
Against all my instincts, I decide to intervene : “I’m sorry, you’re telling a fictional story, I presume ?”
“But no !”, the patron protests. “This is about his women, the one he lives with.”
“I’m terribly sorry. I really don’t want to meddle. But I don’t think this is a matter for laughing. I think this is a very serious matter. Criminal matter.”
They suddenly look very serious. The patron says, still half in jest, “this is the woman besides whom you sleep every night. Aren’t you afraid to wake up missing any bits one day ?”
“I really think this is something to be taken seriously”, I insist. “What you’re describing has a name : domestic violence.”
They look at me even more seriously. But it’s the server who liquidates the matter : “I know. She is just crazy jealous ! I’ll tell you : I live with my father and she’s even jealous of the time I spend with him ! The other day she asked me ‘why don’t you screw him as well ?’, and I had to shut her up with a slap.”
Blank. Don’t say anything. Nod. Smile and nod ? No, just nod.
I promise : next time I let my interaction with the commoners stray from the weather and the roads, I will shut myself with a slap.