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Authors: Tim Parks

Tags: #Humour

Europa (32 page)

BOOK: Europa
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She has gone back to her husband
. The whole thing, my whole life, was a farce from beginning to end.

You must phone your daughter, I thought, standing up quite suddenly from my seat in the Meditation Room. One sits down for hours, I reflect, and then inexplicably one stands up, without having decided to stand up. My time in the Meditation Room was over. The coach would be somewhere round Geneva by now. You were very lucky last night, I thought. Last night could have gone a great deal worse than it did. I phoned from the foyer of the Parliament. She answered immediately. I apologized for not having phoned on her birthday. Not to worry. She spoke in her childish English, which is so endearing. We missed you at the party. Something terrible happened, I said. And I explained that Vikram Griffiths had killed himself. Vikram Griffiths, I repeated. He hanged himself. You remember he came to dinner once, ages back. There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. I watched a franc slip by. Our phone-calls can be measured in any currency, I thought. It was a very long silence and, afraid somehow I might not be believed, I started to say how awful it was and how it had put it quite out of my mind that it was her birthday. I had forgotten to call. Everybody had been so upset. There were so many practical arrangements to make. Especially seeing that the wife didn't want to come and handle it herself. They were divorcing, I explained. But now I realized that my daughter was speaking. I saw him last week, she said. She spoke in Italian. Her voice was choking with shock. Standing in the foyer of the European Parliament with its expensive polished woods and marbles, its news-stand, its messages of solidarity, I jammed the receiver to my ear. What? I often used to see him, she said. She could barely get the words out. Baby-sitting Stephanie. He used to drop by. With Dafydd. Or in the Tre Arche. She named a bar. I can't believe it, she said. There was another long pause. She was fighting back tears. He was so funny. He always cheered me up. Oh, I can't believe it, my daughter was weeping. This year's been such shit, Papá! O Papa! I ran out of money. Suzanne, I said, but the line had gone. My daughter had been seeing Vikram Griffiths, I thought, leaning against a pillar of the European Parliament. I couldn't believe it. There was only one reason why Vikram saw women. There is only one reason why I see women. Your daughter's very beautiful,
she
said. She bought her underwear for her eighteenth birthday. The kind of underwear she removed herself to take a shower last night. Razzled though she may very well be. Her tottie-tackle. I shook my head in bewilderment. Papa! Suzanne hadn't called to me like that since I left eighteen months ago. What shall I do, I asked myself, standing in the great foyer of the European Parliament? What shall I do, now I have decided not to go back on the coach with them, now I have decided not to return to my job? For I suddenly realized that I had decided not to return to my job. How do these decisions happen? I asked myself. I felt completely disorientated in the busy foyer of the European Parliament. I was leaving my job. Suzanne had been seeing Vikram Griffiths. Half philosophy hangs there, in the chemistry of decisions, I thought. 
She
had gone back to her husband. In understanding volition. What shall I do? Wait for some enzyme to shift? For a moment I was seized by anxiety. Could it be I'd left my bromazepam in the hotel? I opened my bag, then and there on the polished wood floor of the busy foyer. Where? My clothes spilled out. Underwear, crumpled shirts. In my washbag? Yes. But did I need any? Make a phone-call first, I told myself. Phone Georg. I bought another phonecard at the news-stand, but Georg was out. His wife was better, the mother said. Crisis over. Opera-tottie was out. My wife's phone was engaged now. Who was Suzanne calling to tell of her lover's death? No, his suicide. I did need a bromazepam. At least it might be possible for us to talk now, I reflect. At least my daughter is definitely
in
life, up to her eyeballs. At least we don't need to speak about
Black Spells Magic
and such-like silliness. Unscrewing the child-proof cap, I called the Welsh MEP's Yorkshire secretary-tottie. Had she seen the petition? I'd brought it earlier. She had. I was staying behind to look after the red tape, I said. Perhaps she knew of a better hotel, cheap, central, near the main police station, the town hall? The death had to be registered. She'd look one up, she said. Call back in half-an-hour. But there was something else, I said, swallowing the bromazepam. Immediately I took it, I regretted having taken it. It'll sound crazy, but I'd like to have a chat about the possibility of working for the Parliament. I find the whole thing so exciting. I waited. Perhaps, I don't know, perhaps we could eat together this evening. Seeing that I'm here. Amazingly, she said yes. Yorkshire-tottie and I like each other, I thought. We like each other. Sneaky-Niki would already be somewhere south of Geneva, I regretted taking the bromazepam.
She
would be safe and sound, watching a video perhaps. It wasn't impossible, Yorkshire-tottie said, to find work in the European Parliament. I liked her accent. Particularly if you spoke a few languages and were willing to accept lousy conditions. Nobody will give you a permanent contract here, she laughed. Forget that stuff. I liked her laugh. Not to mention the pay! A lot of MEPs' staff were taken on on an entirely temporary basis, she said, depending on how many people anybody needed at any one time. Your speech was very good, yesterday, she said. Very personal and professional at the same time, if you know what I mean. Owen noticed it. She meant the Honourable Owen Rhys. She laughed. Perhaps he could speak to somebody on the Petitions Committee. Perhaps you could spend the night with her, I thought. She was telling me to call back in half-an-hour for the name of the hotel. Perhaps the rest of your life. All invented, I thought, putting down the phone, and looking around the grand sweep of the foyer: the languages, the flags, the brave inscriptions, brave waterwords. Safe and sound on the way back to her husband, I thought. Beyond the glass and concrete, the flags flapped bravely in alphabetical order. Europe. As yesterday, the sky was a liquid drift of clouds and stabbing light, changing changing. Such a scandal. And a speck of dog was barking at the wind. One woman's worth another, I thought. One man.
Egalite.
 I wish I could speak to Georg now. I wish I could talk to Vikram. What had become of Dafydd? Of Welsh poetry? But tonight might be fun. Then it occurs to me I don't even know her name. You don't even know the name of the woman you are inventing, I told myself. Inventing your night with, your life with. I laughed. It's quite a privilege to laugh out loud on your own in a public place. Not Christine again, I hope. Not Christine.

BOOK: Europa
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