Back in the Café Buenos Aires yesterday for a spot of lunch and conversation, he was sitting at the large rectangular table at the back, where some recently published books and today’s newspapers were invitingly piled in the middle, as if they were free to all (‘Free’? No! ‘Free’ is always another fiction). Him? It was Macbeth, or Mackay, or one of those Scotsmen, although it was the copy of The Independent that caught his eye, and the leading article in it – “ABOUT THE LEAKS” – which prophesied the end of all our freedoms we have enjoyed on the internet up until now (‘Free’? No! ‘Free’ is always… etc).
Then in came a group of four ladies from the ‘Typing Pool’ (as he secretly called them; Heaven help him if they read this and found out!). Do you mind if we joined you, one of them asked, Not at all, We might be rather noisy, Screech away, he said resuming his reading and notebook writing. Then two more arrived, and suddenly they all went quiet. He looked up again, and it was clear that where he was sitting at the table would be in the way of the group of ‘My Maenads’ (another secret name he had for them) sitting together. He quickly moved to another seat further down the side of the table to make room, but when yet two more of the dezhurnye (the supervisors – that was one of their official titles – always women) arrived, he moved again, this time round the corner of the table. You will be in the street soon, one of them laughingly said, Yes, he replied joining in the joke.
Good humour all round, because he knew as well as anyone you never wanted to get on the wrong side of the ladies from the ‘Typing Pool’. It was a Cold War zone, but they were letting him listen in. He said I have just had my injection, the oldest woman was telling her story as was clearly her right being the senior person of the group of young and old women, and with an old-fashioned posh voice, He was trying to apologize I think, What injections do you have for being like that, Like what, A bit strange in the head, How, You know, Schizophenia, Something like that, My goodness, the older woman resumed, Friendly and full of drugs too.
He went to the ‘Typing Pool’ to find out these things, because these were the women supervisors of the Archiv (the Central Archive). It was what they called OPEN ACCESS, but it was the woman who were in charge because they controlled all access to the Catalogues for the Archiv – and low and behold if you upset them, ‘Closed for lunch!’… ‘Closed for ever!’ – since the Archiv was still officially part of the security ministry, and therefore remained off limits to foreigners. In fact off limits to everybody so that knowledge for him worked more like a game, and there were always surprising discoveries to be made, like the women around the table revealing their first names to each other in his presence. So there was Annie, the older posh woman who also wondered out loud what she would do when she retired in January, and Nat, and then another Natalie, and Maria who spoke with an Irish accent, and the others, and especially Ellen, or Ellena, or Ellenor, but not Eleanor, she said. All these discoveries, and the occasional tease, I hope we didn’t disturb your magnum opus, Annie said in an almost shy voice as if giving him a little present, as he squeezed around the table with his bags in order to reach the door of the café, Oh no, you only drove me round the bend.
More good humour all round, and he felt as though he could fall in love with them all, especially Ellena. But of course he knew to be careful, because they had ready names for people like him – ‘Bourgeois Wrecker’ for one. Later, that evening he took a taxi to the station in order to leave the city by train. His route passed the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, where the bright lights of the TV News Stations were blazing in front of the building. They always bring the celebrities here, his driver said, and there were police in flat caps and yellow reflecting jackets over thick padded jackets, stood in pairs and small groups on the pavements everywhere.