The man waiting for his morning coffee is dark-haired and slender; his nostrils are lifted it seems, in an effort appear one or two inches higher. He is not happy. There is plenty of coffee, but no milk. His steaming cup rests on the metal grid, preventing others from using the machine. He faces the counter. He does not engage. One by one others form a line behind him, clutching their cups and whispering to one another. No one dares approach him and eventually, when new milk arrives, he pointedly pours out his full cup and presses the button to refill it afresh. “Enfin,” he exclaims.
At this small budget hotel in the centre of Berlin, apparently it is a morning for stereotypes.
A rotund family dressed in humorous Christmas Sweaters look for a place to sit. Bulbous boobs beam out under cover of smiling snowmen’s faces. The hall is crowded but Nan, Debs, Hayley and Ma find a table for four whilst the menfolk are left to their own devices. But the gaps between the tables aren’t made for English thighs and apologies abound as their bums bounce off others’ breakfasts.
“There’s nothing left” says Debs in dismay as she sits down heavily, “And Haaaayleeee… this glass of water is fizzy!”
“That’s all they had,” replies Hayley giving her sister a withering glance “Or there’s one with lemon in it.”
“No, I want it plain,” says Debs and sighs.
“There’s juice love,” says Ma.
“No,” she says lifting her jaw in noble defeat, “I’ll just have to go thirsty.”
Only one in the nearest vicinity takes no notice of the prevailing dissatisfaction. A stream of low urgency pours uninterrupted from her lips.
“The time has come,” she says, “they’ve lowered the threshold for the no fly list and I can’t travel in fear anymore. He’s only done voice-overs for presentations but I think I’m going to just go no-contact. Did you read? They’ve arrested Amnesty directors and they were only going for digital training. Training! We’re U.S. government and that’s almost worse in their eyes.” She paused to take a sip of juice, “our house–our lovely house in Ankara, we’ll keep it but we can’t go back. The car of course we’ll sell. We bought it used and paid 50,000 lira for it but he’ll take it back for 47,000. That’s 10,000 euro cash that we’ll keep hidden if we need to escape.”
She looks around nervously, catches sight of the English novel lying on the table in front of me and goes mute. I spoon up my fruit salad as if it is my sole preoccupation, but she silently slides out and the most interesting conversation is over.