For the story so far click HERE
“They’re all thieves”, Johnny said, “ anyone of them would nip behind the bar and steal what they could get their hands on. Never leave the till unlocked and always make sure all spirits are safely returned to the top shelf. I wouldn’t put it past them to fill their glass for free.” Johnny had a very low opinion of his customers.
Shortly before eleven - last orders time in those days - he counted the takings and, depending on his mood, the number of customers still drinking and the day of the week, he either locked the doors and continued serving after hours or he would ring the bell and shoo everybody out. If he decided to stay open he advised me to stay too; by this time the customers were becoming more and more generous tippers and to give him his due, Johnny made sure I got all the tips left for me. People still used cash to pay and the later it was the less they counted their change.
Although it must have been totally obvious to the local police what went on behind closed doors in bars and drinking clubs in the seedy areas off Hampstead Lane, they never turned up while I was there. After hours the windows were shut and curtains drawn but the noise became louder. By now the air was thick with cigarette smoke, male dancers took off their jackets, and women, their faces flushed and perspiring, ola’d and opa'd and clapped their hands in time with the shrill sounds of Cypriot music. Tsifteteli is a free form dance which includes both male and female dancers, whereas women danced the Arabiye, heads thrown back, shoulders and chests shaking and bellies and hips swinging. It’s a very voluptuous dance, a sexy woman could get a whole room of men staring, whistling and clapping. But the best Arabiye I saw was danced by a man, a very tall North African, pale-skinned and quiet. I never saw him with any kind of companion, male or female, although he was friendly enough towards everybody. They called him "The Arab”. He drank only water; in spite of that Johnny always allowed him entry and treated him with respect. I was curious about him, tried to involve him in conversation, but he politely but firmly put me in my place.
There were other mysterious men who occasionally came up the stairs to the bar. Three brothers, two older ones and one younger, very tall, well, but soberly dressed in dark suits and crisp white shirts, not at all like the usual customers who were, at best, casually attired, appeared twice a month. They were English, spoke exclusively to Johnny, hung about for a bit, rarely accepted a drink but, if they did, it was on the house. The younger brother tried to flirt with me; he was telling me how he had had his heart broken and was afraid to become involved with another woman; but, somehow, he felt that I was different, he trusted me and knew that a girl like me wouldn’t let him down. Like his brothers, I found him vaguely threatening and was in no way inclined to take him up on his offer.
His brothers were aware of what he was doing; they called him back, much like you call a dog to heel, and my would-be suitor obeyed quickly, winking at me and mouthing ’sorry'. Negotiations with Johnny over, they left. Johnny, who was often rude to, and dismissive of, most of his customers, treated both “The Arab” and the three English brothers with respect. In fact, while they were around, particularly the three Englishmen, the bar quietened down considerably. Johnny never said what their business with him was, but, in hindsight, I’d go for protection racket as the most likely explanation.
Three months into my employment I had settled into the routine quite well. I felt relatively safe. Johnny never seriously bothered me and he made sure no drunken customer pestered me more than I could cope with. The reason I left was nothing to do with me personally; one night, on the way out, I witnessed a nasty and brutish attack by a man on a woman which made me feel sick to my stomach and caused me to run down the stairs and out the door as fast as my heels would allow. I didn’t even stop to pick up my coat.
to be continued. . . . .