Zandvoort had something going for it, especially when it rained. One drizzly Sunday a two-man band was singing Spanish songs in the little music pavilion on Raadhuisplein accompanied by a loud electronic drum machine. Thirty folding chairs had been set up in front of it, but no one was sitting on them. The few onlookers, all German tourists, concealed themselves among the stalls selling fish and confectionary. Zandvoort was a tourist resort, and in sunny tourist resorts you heard ‘playa’ music. Background music could do a lot, but not everything. It could not dispel the cold and greyness. Two cops were directing traffic away from Raadhuisplein, and even cyclists were ordered to dismount – here illusions were upheld with brute force.
Zandvoort itself had something artificial about it, just like Disney World, and Badal sometimes got the feeling he was surrounded by extras, all of whom simply pretended to actually live here. Even the tourists seemed to be playing their own walk-on roles for a fee.
That one time, he had been tempted to go back home. To prove to them he was sober. As he was trying to make up his mind on the platform in front of the ticket machine, he heard a dull thud behind him. A strapping lad with a thick pair of glasses and adolescent stubble lay sprawled on the ground. The two boys he was with looked at him, and then at their surroundings, as if they didn’t really belong together, or as if they were looking for help but didn’t see anyone who could.
Diagonally across from him were a couple in their thirties who spoke English – he white, she black. Of late, he had
developed the tendency of noticing black people. Up until now he had only come across one black person in Zandvoort – in a wheelchair. A handicapped black; if they were all extras, this was a real gem. And now here was this beautiful black woman, with the English man who did not react to the boy lying on the ground. He did not notice that the black woman had also ignored him. Whites were supposed to help whites.
Badal reluctantly walked over to the boy on the ground and asked him, first in bad German and then in English, whether something was wrong. He had taken his cell phone out of his jacket by the time the boy put his thick glasses back on the bridge of his nose and said: ‘No, no, everything’s okay, everything is okay.’
‘Are you sure?’ Badal asked.
‘Yes, yes, sure.’
Badal walked back to the ticket machine and surveyed the entire scene. It wasn’t until the boy scrambled to his feet and began wobbling his way up the stone flight of stairs to the station’s exit that the Englishman intervened.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ he said in German. The boy slumped down on the first step.
‘Have either of you got anything sweet on you?’ he asked his two friends, who were still in a daze. No, nothing sweet.
‘Go upstairs and score me something from the vending machine, chocolate or an ice cream, it doesn’t matter what.’
The Englishman walked back to his girlfriend and said: ‘Those half-baked kids come from Germany to smoke their brains out and fall flat on their arses.’
Smoke dope, thought Badal. If he gave up drinking, he could always smoke dope, couldn’t he? The very thought made him think twice about buying a ticket and he walked back up the stairs. Badal, you haven’t recovered by a long shot.
The Zandvoort station hall looked as though no work had been done on it since the Second World War. Tiles with chipped corners, a small kiosk to the right, the word ‘Wet’ taped to green doors on scraps of paper.
Had he only wanted to go home to prove he was sober? What he really wanted was to cook in his own kitchen, like he used to. Long ago. When he brought home thick ribs of meat, cut them into blocks the size of the palm of a hand, and then braised them at high heat. In the meantime he would dice a large onion and three or four cloves of garlic, if his wife was not at home. She claimed it upset her stomach when he used too much garlic, but if she hadn’t seen how many diced cloves he had tossed into the pan, she didn’t notice a thing. His secret was the mustard that he added before pouring the boiling water over the meat and simmering it for two hours: two heaped tablespoons of the hottest mustard he could find. That was four times the amount the recipe called for, but his son was crazy about his stewed meat. He could look through the window of his study and see him eat. Fathers love watching their children eat. It offers the kind of gratification no other moment can provide. Not even when you yourself eat, nor when you see strangers eating. That was the way evolution had arranged it, for a parent to be pleased at feeding its offspring.
He walked into an Italian restaurant right across from the Holland Casino. It was empty. There was a Turkish man behind the bar, who also doubled as cook and waiter. The radio was on, tuned to a station giving the football results, but the volume didn’t appear to have anything to do with his love of football. He was deaf. It was when he said in a loud voice ‘Excuse me, sir’ to the Turk standing right behind the bar, that he noticed it, because he just kept on drying glasses with a tea towel, without responding. Racist, was the first thought that popped into his head. Racism was allowed nowadays; anyone could be a racist, even the whites, whom he had always thought never harboured such base feelings, since they were above all that. They were no longer allowed to harbour them, because of their historic guilt over colonialism and slavery. A decade or two ago, racism was a disgraceful attitude for whites to assume. For blacks, for Surinamers, it was quite common. Hindus were supposed to be racist towards black Surinamers and vice versa. Of all racists, Turks were the worst, he thought. Atatürk might well have turned out just as bad as Hitler, were it not for that one redeeming feature of his: a weakness for wine. People who die of cirrhosis of the liver can’t be all that bad.
But racism had nothing to do with this Turk, it was deafness.
By Anil Ramdas
Translated by Scott Rollins
From Badal. Anil Ramdas (c) 2011. Published by De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam.
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Anil Ramdas was a writer, journalist, public figure and media commentator. Surinamese by birth, he spent most of his life in the Netherlands. He was a correspondent in India for NRC Handelsblad for several years. In 1994, he was awarded the E. du Perron Prize for his collective body of work. His only novel, the autobiographical Badal, was published in 2011.
Scott Rollins has been a cultural entrepreneur in music, literature and film for over forty years. Born in the US and based in the Netherlands since 1972, he has published three books of his own poetry and one spoken word album. His translations of Dutch poetry, fiction and nonfiction have been published in the US, UK and Canada, and he is particularly interested in literature from the Dutch Caribbean (Suriname and the former Netherlands Antilles).