Petr Borkovec: At the bistro | Vltava

He has a bare head, a terrible mustache, a belly, a big gold chain and a leather jacket at the waist. A golden circle in the ear. Jožka Murka looks dangerous, without debate. He will be sixty, but I don’t know. Quite often we argue with my wife, who washes and cleans at the bistro. She thinks she is younger.

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Speaking of my wife and Jožka Murka: he goes to the bistro mainly because of her, either he likes her or he just trusts her, he knows she will be nice to him. And she is. And me too, even if I play it a little according to her. In fact, when Jožka Murka walks into the bistro and I see him, the first thing that always comes to mind is that I tell him it’s too late he should have come earlier. But I don’t really want him to leave early.

I don’t know, my first reaction is just to leave. But then they start acting like their wives. I think she’s doing the right thing. I’m stupid, I have prejudices, but I have a good wife, so I look at her. My wife always likes to see Jožka and says he is not at all, because he seems to be shy. And he can’t control himself – so what? That too is like a baby, he says.

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Jožka always has the same thing: a beer and a shot. He walks in and excuses himself at the door, asks if we’re not closing and says if you’re already closing, fire me. Or something like that. He always wants us to tell him that we want to get it over with somehow, and he’ll give up right away. And then he repeats several times that he is a gypsy – he always finds an excuse to say so right away.

And we always talk about the same thing first. About the bike. Jožka saw one day that I was riding an old bike and he offered – if I like old bikes – that he have one and give it to me. Or sold. Sometimes he said he was giving and sometimes he was selling. And since he comes to the bistro, he talks about everything he hasn’t brought me to the bike yet – and he apologizes to me. And I tell him nothing’s going on, and I open the beer and pour a shot of apples.

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Then we talk about the fact that Jožka could play gypsy music from cassettes in our bistro, because he has – as he says – a lot of cassettes after his mother with music recorded at gypsy parties. Jožka tells us how beautiful it would be and how exactly it would turn out. And my wife, especially her, encourages him, praises him and assures him that it would be beautiful and that the evening would turn out exactly as he says it is now. That one day it has to be done, not just to talk about it all the time, that Jožka has to order it once and make up for it, damn it!

And that’s exactly when Jožka pulls a CD out of his jacket and asks my wife if she can let it go, if it doesn’t matter. And he asks me for another shot and he’ll pay for the beer and the two shots, even if he wants something later, if it’s served to him. He never wants to pay all the expenses at once. My wife will take out the CD and start playing gypsy songs, more sad than happy. Jožka asks if he couldn’t be louder and immediately starts singing them with a CD and sometimes he translates what they are talking about for us. And he also explains.

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That’s what her son sings to his dead mother – says Jožek Murek – and that’s what a boy sings to a girl who slept with another, but she tells him that she didn’t really sleep with the other, that it just seems right to her that she apparently had to behave with restraint, because the apparent restlessness – says Jožka Murka, as the girl would say – sometimes makes more sense in a deeper plane than the arbitrary restraint, which is, after all, only and profoundly apparent. True restraint – explains Jožka through the bar – is associated with openness to the demands that reality imposes on us. This is true and profound sofrosine. It’s actually so much deeper sanity, sobriety or even humility that can sometimes feel like detachment and incontinence, says Jožka Murka, so my wife and I can understand what this Romani song is about.

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And my wife and I listen, but we don’t understand much, so we watch Jožka across the bar, watching him while he performs. And then I’ll ask her what number is the song about my dead mother that I’d like to hear again, because I like it.
“Six, I know exactly,” says Jožka.

So let’s play six and listen. And Jožka will do something he has never done before. As we listen and tears almost roll down our faces, Jožka Murka reaches into her pocket and pours a huge handful of rainbow candy onto the bar counter and smiles at me and nods for me to have some.

And he will unbox one himself.

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