It was Thursday. The Merseys, the local Beatles cover band of choice, hewed their instruments for our pleasure. There were so many students, you actually felt the dusty smell of books mix with the sweat and stale ale. Other sets of the Erasmus programme and its offshoots and siblings surged into the cellar to make it a vivid hotchpotch of accents.
I asked into the noise: “Rick. Is that short for…?”
“Richard, jap.” Rick nodded, sipping on his beer.
“Hm.” Small pause. “Just don´t call me Ringo, okay?”
“You are just too much of Lennon.”
“I am, aren’t I?” Rick sounded very pleased with that comment.
“Better. Way better.” We exchanged a smile.
Behind us someone bumped against a bench and almost fell. Then that someone started singing. I asked, “Shall we make that Rickinger?”
“That´s what everyone who understands my terrible viking mind calls me anyway.”
“Rickinger from the seafaring folk of Upper Franconia.”
Rick looked sideways, dreamily. “Oh, the raids on the river Main.”
“The days of yore”, I said, nodding.
“Those times when men were men.”
”And women were women.”
“And men raped women and then set their houses on fire.” He coughed.
“Ya. Tricky topic. So no Ringo?”
Rick chortled. “We will like each other.”
“Good that we are decided on that.” We then clinked our drinks together. “And Paul like… well, you know what I´m not going to call you.”
Rick soon introduced me to a tall Czech girl called Hana, who sat at one of the tables, her shoulders slumped and her eyes unnecessarily looking up at me. She seemed a little tense behind her smile, droopy even, and when Rick and I started to get into a talk with her, she was sarcastic. Her refusal to comment on things in more than one sentence teased us. She had a likeable girlish voice and a charming accent. And she had a surprising ringing laughter; but the moment we heard it was a strange one.
“Dis is actually de worst day in my whole life”, she said and then shot a fanfare of air from her mouth that made us set back.
“O-kay”, said Rick, shaking his head barely noticeably. “And why?”
“Naaa”, replied Hana and again smiled sadly.
That was mystical. And sure intriguing. What the reason for this strange behaviour was, we did not get out of her and possibly it was not our right to find out yet. Maybe it was just her kind of thing.
With the speakers crackling, the band knew exactly what they were doing. They accurately played the songs and they accurately pulled grimaces. You got the general feeling. After all, most tribute bands have this nerve-wrecking perfectionism about them, this fastidious one-to-one-copy feel, but here the music was breathing, developing, changing, and that made it special. Come Together turned into a hardrock piece, A Day in the Life saw the necks of the guitars strangled until they threw up a hurricane, and when they intoned Eleanor Rigby and I saw the natural and effortless smiles of Agnes and Giorgis, of Lucia, Urte and Pepe around me, I felt it rising inside of me: A wish never to wear a face I needed to keep in a drawer by the door, never to belong to those lonely people who came from nowhere and went to the same place. I wanted to abandon this depression of mine. I wanted to not find it sitting on my bed when I came back to Agnes Jones House, I didn´t want to creep next to it for the night, didn´t want to have it surround me in its foggy bubble.
Just that moment, the Merseys started into one of the early up-tempo numbers, possibly Ain´t She Sweet or Please Please Me, and our knees were bobbing again under the table-tops. Suddenly, Hana, who had been silent for some time, jumped up and started dancing, ecstatically. Woohoo, she screamed, and her trousers almost slid down. While she was whooping and exulting, she shook the frustration we saw but did not quite understand right out of her mind, whilst also effectively portraying us others as benchwarmers that had better get their fine pieces of arse off their chairs too.
“Come on!” she shouted at us. “Don´t be dat boring!” Her voice was demanding. “Now come on!” She had something. We better followed.
Rarely had the Cavern seen such artfully cadenced convulsions, such rummy step sequences. We moshed, we bounced, we waved about.
The Merseys made it through three banging sets. The condensed water was dripping from the ceiling by the end.
Only slowly, the group dispersed, out of breath and energy, dragging themselves home for some needed rest before Friday´s classes, until just Hana, Rick and I were left. Hana lived in Agnes Jones too and invited us to pop by for a cup of tea still.
Why not, we said, and little later appeared in a kitchen, two floors below mine and one above Lucia´s. There was a magnetic bad words puzzle on the fridge door. Rick cracked up reading one of the swinish sentences. “That´s so poetic.” The clock on the wall showed half past twelve. It was a good deal later, though.
“It´s dead”, laughed Hana. “Just decoration.”
Three cups of steaming tea in our hands, Hana brought us to her room. Countless maps and photos of shadows and shapes and landscapes covered the walls. It was entirely the same room as mine, the same small bed underneath a huge pin board, the same book rack at the bed´s head, the same grey-blue walls, the same tiny sink, the same wardrobe, the same half-opening window, the same desk, the same telephone, all squeezed onto a few square metres of fitted carpet, from top to bottom the exact doppelganger to mine; yet, distinctly Bohemian, artsy, filled up to the ceiling with memories and ideas.
I excused myself for a few minutes to throw my stuff into my room. Had a look at my mails. One from Sandra. Not very pleasant. Somewhat starting to miss me maybe. When I came back, Rick and Hana were already in the midst of a conversation.
“This is rather funny, you know. I am really a big Beatles fan”, said Rick as if it hadn´t been obvious, “but this was like the first time I visited the Cavern. Don´t even know why I didn´t make it before. I´ve been to the Jacarnada, ya, but the Cavern, first time. And then immediately I get to know such awesome people, you know. I mean, I already knew you, Paul, but this is somehow like the first time we really hang out with each other, innit? And Hana was here with me in Liverpool all those last months, but this is probably the first time I actually really talk with her, isn´t it? It´s strange somehow – you can live such a parallel life here without really meeting. And once you just stumble over… Or maybe that´s the same anywhere…”
Hana laughed out loud as she had done after telling us that this was the most god-awful day of her life. “Maybe”, she said, trying to control the sides of her mouth.
“Yeah, maybe”, Rick shrugged and sipped from his tea. His head shot forward and he almost spat the tea into Hana´s little room. “Ah, thithith… tongue burnt.” Rick bit on his lower lip and squinted his eyes before he recovered to say: “See, sometimes you need to wait a bit longer for the really good things.” And he sent a mischevious grin all across his face. “All stories have their moral.”
Hana asked, “And we are hot like de tea, right?”
Rick winked. “That´s what you said.”
And soon enough, tea turned Becherovka.