The bar at the end of the street I’m staying at in Brussels this week is called “Au laboureur.” That's French for “peasant” or “yokel.” Behind the glass windows I saw people behind foamy brown brews on bare tables. Locals, clearly. Unpretentious, pleasantly imperfect. Perfect, it seemed, for a tasty ale before sleeping. I walked in and ordered a Leffe blonde. It wasn’t crowded. One party looked like a group of volunteers having a project meeting. Another was just three friends chatting. Two or three men were standing at the bar. Another was outside, stacking chairs for the night. I found a table to the side of the room, close to a man and a woman with violin cases next to their table. I sat down on the bench that was fixed to the wall. After staring at the curiosities that decorated the walls for a while, I pulled out my book and tried to read. A young man came standing next to me. He looked down at my book, wandered away a bit, returned. He had a drink or two too many. He wasn’t looking at me but stared ahead and made strange faces. He murmured french words too soft for me to understand. I tried to ignore him, but then he touched my neck. He said something like “you’re eating your book, you.” And I thought I heard “dégage.” That means “get out of here,” I found out later. Like this, I couldn’t read. Aggression is often a deficit of love, so I laid down my book, took a good sip from my pint and said: please, have a seat. Bartender, please, poor my new friend a ‘pintje.’ He hesitated a moment, but then sat down. I said: Hi, my name’s Mark. What’s your name? He said he was Guillaume, so I said I would call him Bill then. I told him that I was from Grenoble and was visiting Brussels for business and that tonight I thought I’d better enjoy a nice beer than linger lonely in my apartment. I asked him how he was doing. Why is that any of your business?, he responded. I said that it wasn’t but that I liked to know. For a moment, he rocked on his chair uncomfortably. His eyes showed internal struggle. Then he calmed, sighed, looked me in the eye and said: I’m single, since yesterday, for god’s sake. She was formidable…Then we talked, about love, life and lumberjacks….
That's how it could have gone. In reality, after I laid down my book I finished my beer, took my coat and left. If it happens again, though, I will have a strategy.