Poor Mario. All he wanted was a bit of happy companionship on his birthday. And for awhile, he found it with the chatty American couple.
Mario splashed into his seat, having invited himself to our table, and our cigarettes. His right eye was purple and swollen, his ears resembled cauliflowers, and his knuckles bore thick calluses. His quick and easy smile revealed a mouth full of small yellow chiclets dispersed spatiously, if not randomly, along his gum line. His complexion was dark, but his accent was all ochre.
"Todays is me birfday, but me misses wouldn't come out drinkin' wif me. I am a member, down at The Stag. See, here's me membership card. Here, you hold onto that for me. I get us some free drinks down at The Stag, cuz I'm a member. Where's is youse guys from anyways? Youse from America?! For reals?! Hey, can you say this for me 'Welcome to this presentation of the NBA on ESPN!' Do you know LeBron Johnson?"
Yeah, I met LeBron once, when he came over to my house to unclog my toilet. They don't get much money, so all those NBA guys have regular jobs in the off season. And they all wear women's knickers, too.
"For reals?! Yeah, I can understand that. That's why me Mum came here from El Salvador. To give me a chance at a better life."
And are you taking advantage of that?
"Hehehhehhehheeheeh! I like youse guys. Let's go downto the Stag. I get free birfday drinks, cuz I'm like a member. They all know me there. I am there all the time. I'm like a VIP. Hey, can yuse say this for me 'Welcome to this presentation of the NBA on ESPN!'"
He smiled his stunted smile, and it seemed a very natural thing to do, to go down to the Stag with him, get some free VIP drinks, but it all went so bad so very quickly, what with the raised voice, demands to see the manager, denials of recognition, no sir, I do not know you, you need to show the text message we sent you. Come back when your phone is charged, and then arguments about the content of their computer and isn't my birfday in your system.
Kevin and I began backing away towards the door. We eased onto the sidewalk and exchanged glances.
We sprinted across the street and ducked down into driveway that ended in a deadend alley, contemplated ducking into an open door at the back of a restaurant, but decided we had been quick and stealthy. We leaned against a brick wall, catching our breath and wondering if we had ever been ditched like that and been too drunk to notice. Mario strolled casually around the corner.
"What is youse guys doing back here? I was gettin' us me free birfday drinks and den youse was runnin' down the street. And now heres you is, in dis alley."
He stepped behind the dumpster to piss. Kevin and I exchanged glances.