As evening begins to darken the courtyards and the shadows seep in from all sides, the oil lamps are lighted. This is Saturday night and our quarter is about to hide its ugly, workaday face and put on its party frock.
Gathering in the squalid bar beneath one of the grubby boarding houses in this fine city of ours, is as broad a collection of the denizens and demoiselles of the subterranean life as you could hope to meet. The labourers, washers up, casual workers and honest clerks down on their luck, sit cheek by jowl with the queers, thieves, pavement artists and their cronies. Here and there, a ruby in the dust, sits a gaudily dressed and painted tart plying her trade, and while dashing between tables, the little waitress passes out cheap brandy, cheaper wine and plates of greasy sausages. She flirts shamelessly tonight,the little bird, chattering cheerfully. Everyone is in holiday mood.
By ten o’clock, how happy we all are and already blind drunk! The benches, tables and rickety stools are moved back, and the accordion player is invited in from the street with the promise of shelter for the night, wine and food for his labours. He is a very old man, and life was never kind to him. The waitress puts a glass of brandy in his hand and pats his shoulder. He smiles up at her and wonders what she looks like. He commences his evening’s playing.
The dancers hurl themselves into the fray. The plain little kitchen maid is dragged in and in smiling becomes almost pretty. The music speeds up and round we whirl, girls scream and giggle, and a glass is broken - we are duly scolded by the grumbling proprietor and we promise to take more care - he retreats, mumbling to himself and we laugh, carrying on with our revels.
Midnight, we begin to fade and the singers have their hour - such sorrow! Lost loves and lonely lives, they wring tears from us all and we become maudlin, weeping into our wine, and calling out for more songs, wine and brandy! It’s Saturday night, tomorrow is Sunday, the only day off for most people.
Around two, many are nodding, some are snoring and most of the girls have slunk away either to their beds or the streets.The accordionist is eating his sausages. Sidonie begins to clear the tables. Her clear voice, with just the trace of a country accent reaches deep into my soul.
‘Move,you lump! Get to bed....I’m tired too, you know. No home to go to? Well, out you go anyway... You sir, accordion player, here, sleep here, by the fire; it’s warm...You still here, H....? OUT!
I raise my head, the cheap brandy beats a drum somewhere behind my eyes. She is standing, hands on hips by the bar, addressing a brutish man stretched out full length on one of the rough pine benches. In the guttering lamp light, she looks lovelier than ever.