It's Saturday night and we're in Slim Jim's Liquor Store, a bar near Angel Tube, London. He's blond, fashionable and handsome, but makes a slightly desperate impression. That is, desperate to get laid, not to get married. In Dutch we'd call him a 'skirt hunter'. Apparently his ammunition is cheap: he takes aim at every skirt that flutters in his direction. At first, he started talking to my friend, but when her boyfriend marked his territory by wrapping his arm around her shoulders, it was my turn.
“What do you think?” I play his game along. I'm not gonna let him score, but I am gonna let him hit on me. What else do people go to a bar for?
“I can tell you're not from England. I'd say you're Eastern European, Polish perhaps. I'm not sure.”
So that's what all my efforts to conceal my origin have done for me: I seem even further off. Knowingly, I darted within the range of his rifle, but did not expect to step into a trap.
“I'm Dutch.” I jerk my leg which is caught in the hunting trap, but the metal tears my tights and punctures my skin. I'm stuck.
“I love the Netherlands!” Of course he does. I bet he's gonna mention Amsterdam now. Cheap ammunition. “I've been to Amsterdam numerous times! A great city! I used to have a girlfriend that lived there.”
I can't believe he just said that. Now that the trap has pinned me down to the earth, he doesn't even wish to waste his bullets on me, and starts firing crap at me! And me, I have to listen to it because I'm bloody stuck.
Even though he's a complete ninkumpoop, I wish I were him. Born British.
Even though he chooses to stay in this conversation, he's the hunter, he's free to go when it doesn't please him any more. He's here naturally, and therefore freely. He belongs here. I, on the other hand, made the choice to be here. I'm an immigrant and I can be held responsible for my presence. But the trap question, the one I can't answer, is: what am I doing here, in this place where I don't belong?Blood is running down my ankle and is soaking my shoe.
“So you used to go to Amsterdam a lot, then?” I ask.
Skirt Hunter nods. “And people always started to speak Dutch to me in bars.”
“I know what you mean.” I grin. “Up here, they always start talking English to me too.”
For the first time, he directs his eyes away from my skirt, and looks at my face. Did he really think I would eat out of his hand because the metal mouth of my background has caught my ankle and tied me to the roots of the tree called Holland? Did he not expect the captured kitten to sneer?
“I took it as a compliment, though,” he says.
“And why is that?”
“Because I think Dutch people are very attractive. And if they think I'm one of them, that means they think I share their beauty.”
He hasn't had time to lower his gaze yet, and I use this extraordinary opportunity to say nothing but give him an intensely surprised look.
“They are!” Skirt Hunter exclaims. He feels he has to make a point now, I can tell. “It's like, everyone knows the Italians are sexy, they are openly showing off. Everyone knows the French are beautiful in a catwalk way, and they are showing off with that. And everyone knows the Scandinavians are hot and blond, even if you've never been there. But the Dutch, they are not that stereotypical, not everyone knows about it and they aren't bragging about it either. You have to look at them and then you see it. And it's, like, stunning. It's an inner beauty, but radiating, do you know what I mean?”
I think he means he's talking shit out of the back of his neck and he knows it. He thought I was Polish because of my poor pronunciation, and he's trying to get into my knickers by telling me everyone from my country is easy and I should be too. I smile and say nothing.
“It's not easy to pin down why the Dutch are so attractive, and that makes them only sexier. And they are so casual about it, too. Not proud or arrogant or anything. But they all have this specific thing about them, which is just, intense, you know. Beauty. I take it as a compliment when they think I'm one of them.”
I can't bare listening to this any longer. I wasn't gonna let him succeed in his attempt to seduce me, but that doesn't make it any less humiliating that he's throwing shit at me! He's working hard to save his face by blabbing on about the inner beauty of the Dutch, but who is he trying to fool? He knows I'm not buying it, his eyes are desperately looking for a next victim, but his voice is imprisoned by my silence.
“Actually,” I say, and pause. “I think I agree with you. The Dutch are incredibly sexy. In fact, almost everyone I've slept with is Dutch.”
Liberating laughter follows. Tonight I'm a free foreigner. Tomorrow I'll have to face my demons again.