January 16, 2009 by Allen George
“I love . . .”
It’s already past 12 when we start moving. There were no Lights to be seen today – only a group of cold Americans quaffing vodka behind a lighthouse shack, the warehouse where Iceland’s Range Rover surplus is stored, and a hall where “Viking feasts” are held. Inside the bus we are boisterous, laughing over the guide’s bitterness, swapping itineraries, and talking about the tours we’ve done. K. is indefatigable. “You guys want to head out for a drink after this? There’s this place I know, live music . . .” I consider this. My shoulders hurt, and I’m tired. One of the girls has clearly had more than her share of Grey Goose, and she stumbles down the aisle into Z’s seat. I cannot see her eyes. She moves suddenly, hits Z. square in the chin. It would be stupid to say no. I turn to K, nod, “Sure.”
Café Rosenberg is just off Laugavegur, down some street I can’t remember. I’m self-conscious the moment I enter, the only brown person in the room. It was a shock to come here, from the GTA, from the city I live in, to the homogeneity of Reykjavik. I feel like a curiosity. Some mornings I’ve caught startled looks, hurried glance-aways, and . . . and I want the owner’s thoughts. I want to know . . .
K. looks around. I put my hands in my pockets. Pull them out again.
“I don’t see the band,” she says. Sure enough there are instruments, but no players; the stage is empty. “Are they done?” I ask. She shrugs. “Seems a bit early,” and then, moving towards the bar, “let’s get a drink anyways”.
Getting a beer is not as simple as I expected. K. wants a Christmas beer, and the bartender has no idea what she’s asking for. I’m getting increasingly nervous as the guy to my right in the beat-up military-copy jacket stares us down. “Fine, I’ll get a Thule.” Satisfied, the bartender turns to me and waits. We need to move, get to a table . . . I point to a tap. “That one.” She nods, pours me an Erdinger.
“Where are you from?” K. looks at him and smiles. I pocket my credit card and smile as well. “Canada.” He laughs. OK. He turns to face me fully. “I bet I can guess where you’re from . . .” And my mouth goes dry. “You are from . . . Turkey?” “I . . . ah . . . no – Canada.” (Last refuge of the stunned – repeat yourself.) He shakes his head, shakes to clear it of this unwelcome irritation. “Wait . . . wait . . . you are from . . . you are from Saudi Arabia!” I turn to K. and she shrugs at me. My friend is persistent; he tries again – and again. Why is this guy naming Middle-Eastern countries? Then, “I got it – Dubai!” Suddenly I am tired. I do not want this conversation. I do not want to be standing here, in some bar in f–king Reykjavik, trying to convince some drunk Icelander that I am Canadian. I seize on his last words, spread my arms w – i – d – e, and smile brightly. “You are right – I used to live there!” My words leave him nodding; there is order again.
He leans in.
There are coffee stains on his teeth. His beer sweats slowly to the side, forgotten.
Breathes . . .
“I love all black people you know . . .”