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Silence is one of the few things that can really make me crazy, so life out in the sticks was never easy. I should have had an inkling that something wasn’t quite right a long time ago, but I didn’t have a clue. It was only when I found out by chance that no one in my family has the same blood group as me that I got a bit suspicious. Suspicious? Yeah! Come on, I was 14 and had no idea what “phase” was.
Back then I was focused on other things. A cool moped, for instance. Better still, a car. Or winning the next match and climbing a place in the district league so that one day I might be sticking my own picture into this football sticker album I used to fill up so diligently.
In any case, I had my future mapped out pretty clearly: finish school, save up some money for a car, and in case the big break in my football career never comes, maybe the army. Those guys tended to have money in their pocket, a car with sports suspension and a girlfriend in the passenger seat. All things that I was lacking, which was why I had to do something about it – get myself a part-time job! It was nothing to get hung up over. In fact, I was even happy about it. At least it would mean being one of the first in my year to start work!
When I applied for a summer job at the village ice-cream shop, my mum just said,
“If that’s what you want to do, go ahead!”
And I did! I mean, who doesn’t think ice-cream is cool? I liked the idea of calling myself an Ice-Cream Chef. It sounded kind of contradictory, like a “crash landing” or the “compulsory options” we had to choose at school. What’s more, it meant getting one step closer to the dream of having my own car.
You would always see the same people outside the ice-cream shop. Except in the summer, when tourists would come to our village to get a break from the city. That’s something I could never understand. There’s never anything to do here! Just dark woods, lakes and tedium. If I was in their shoes I’d stay in the city. Or go to the coast. At least there are proper waves there.
Anyway, I knew what to expect at the ice-cream shop. On the first day of the holidays I turned up on time at 1 p.m. for my first shift. My new boss was waving to me as I came up the street. He was probably in his mid-forties and was sat in the sun in front of his café, drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarillo – attempting to look Italian. My clearest memory is of his thin moustache, precisely sculpted across the contours of his upper lip. It made him look like a henchman from a low-budget mafia film.
Behind him a queue of around 20 hungry-looking people were eyeing up the ice-cream counter. Two girls from the village were behind the counter, trying their best to manage the rush of zimmer-frame-wielding customers. My boss, Frank, proudly showed me around the shop, which of course I’d seen hundreds of times since my earliest childhood. In my rather nervous state I was punctuating his every sentence with some flattering remark. I remember how my voice suddenly sounded terribly high-pitched and I began to stutter. But it didn’t matter. “Francesco” wasn’t listening to me anyway. He continued to show me around in his patronising manner.
“And this is where the ice-cream goes,”
he added, reaching for one of the empty tubs.
“That’s great! W…w…wow!” I stammered.
He led me into the kitchen where a guy wearing a hair net and an oversized face mask was shifting buckets around. When he saw me he made a face as if I’d just invited Mark Zuckerberg to join Google+.
“Robert,” Francesco called out, “this is René. He’s working for me now. Show him the ropes!”
Robert turned around, without giving me the courtesy of a glance, and responded with an affirmative grunt. The boss had hardly left the room when Robert removed his face mask and looked me up and down. I was surprised to see his long beard that had been fixed with a yellow elastic band.
“So you’re the next one,” he said.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Wash the ice-cream tubs.”
Apparently Robert wasn’t the friendliest of colleagues. He was a couple of years older than me and looked quite different to most people in the village, with his baggies, beard and long hair. Every two minutes Robert’s work was interrupted by little bursts of rage that he underlined with selected terms from his swearing lexicon. I decided to not mention it and silently follow his instructions. Suddenly I started to wonder what was meant by “the next one,” and whether I really wanted to be him. I feared the next six weeks could be the worst of my life so far.
Fortunately it didn’t turn out to be so bad. The next day I took the early shift and Robert, to my relief, was in a much better mood. The fits of rage due to incorrectly skewered cocktail cherries, spilled liquids and other grave tragedies were not absent entirely, but he appeared satisfied with my work on the whole. The stream of orders from the previous day was now even accompanied by a welcome “please”. You still couldn’t really call it a conversation, but that would promptly change when the boss walked through the kitchen door shortly before noon.
He stroked his beard mischievously with his index finger and scurried to the back corner of the kitchen.
“Lads, come over here!”
He said in a conspirational whisper.
“I want to show you something.”
We followed him over to the dark corner of the kitchen. He waited a little longer to be sure he had our full attention. Then he stood up straight in front of us and began opening his shirt buttons from the bottom upwards.
Once more Robert’s words “the next one” replayed in my mind and I decided to use the next few seconds to consider my immediate options. But before I could decide what to do, a well-fed, hairy belly filled up my field of vision. And that wasn’t all…
“Take a look at this…”
His pinkish-red nipples were pierced with little metal bars and linked by a silver chain. The image of a pair of cocktail cherries immediately flashed through my head. Clearly pleased with our shocked faces he began to button up his shirt and left the kitchen chuckling to himself.
After staring at each other in disbelief for 20 seconds we fell about laughing!
“Perhaps the holidays won’t be so bad after all,” I thought, as we spent the remaining hours joking about our boss’s nipple piercings.
“Want a lift to work in the morning?” Asked Robert.
“Sure,” I said.
In the coming days Robert regularly came to pick me up. He drove a clapped-out red Ford Transit. There were so many empty bottles in the car, if you drove it into a lake there’s no way it would sink. We got on like a house on fire! Even though he sometimes insisted on calling me “Thorsten” at work and made fun of my career and car ambitions.
“Sports suspension? All we’ve got are cobbled streets around here!”
He mimicked the jolting movement of the sports suspension with a wide grin.
I decided to give my car plans some more thought…
TO BE CONTINUED…
Time leap! … read here what happened 10 years later.