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One Dark Evening in Brussels

Published : Saturday, 4 September, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 388
Ziauddin Choudhury

This was not a planned outing for an evening of entertainment in Brussels. It was drizzling and I was standing in front of Bozar, an art deco building known for jazz and dance by a street called in Rue Ravenstein, downtown Brussels. I was told about the place by my Hotel Concierge when I was asking him about night life in Brussels after the day's work was done. The concierge had given me some names one of which was the place where I was standing. I was wondering if I should go inside or walk further along the street to see what else was there. And then the man with a strange appearance appeared from nowhere.

He was wearing a black beret, a zebra striped jacket, with a face that seemed to be partly scarred and he had one eye that appeared to be of stone. He whispered to me, Monsieur, do you want a really nice night club? I nodded my head without realizing what I was doing. The man said, please follow me. I don't know whether I was mesmerized, but I started to follow the strange man.

I had not visited Brussels before, and I had no idea that the city better known for the head quarters of European Union (then European Economic Union) and international banking and business than as an entertainment capital, would land me in such a place. But as a twenty-something young man seeking adventure in European capitals,I found out that the apparently bureaucratic city that has a spartan look at daytime also had a vibrant night life full of music and dance downtown not far from where I was staying. And there I was following a strange man with a weird appearance in a street that was famous for night clubs.

After a few blocks I passed by another night club with a strange name-Madame Moustache. I was told by the hotel concierge about the club also. I thought the strange man in zebra striped jacket was alluding to this club, so I stopped. The man turned back to me and said, no, no, c'est ne pas las place (no, this is not the place). And then he turned to an alley on the right and signaled me to follow him. Again, I followed him and found myself in front of a small house from where music was playing.

The house not very brightly lit.  There were some blue lights in the ceiling which gave the place an eerie vibe.  There was a burly African guarding the entrance who opened the door as soon as he saw us. My companion nodded to him while stuffing a bill in his palm.

As soon as we entered the house a largely built woman with an equally large hat in her head gave a peck on my companion's cheek. He then whispered something to her, who looked at me with a broad grin showing a set of teeth half of which were golden. At the other of the room there were two people playing softly on a piano and a saxophone. There were tables laid out a few of which were occupied by men and women. The women were dressed in period costumes that seemed to belong to another century. The men were drinking from carafes of wine and speaking softly with their female companions.

The large woman who I assumed to be the hostess of the club guided me to an empty table and asked me in a voice that befitted more a man than a woman, "Asseyez- vous, s'ilvous plait" (please sit down).  I was hesitating as I wanted to find out from my companion if this was the right place he was mentioning. But when I looked for him, he was gone! I wanted to ask the hostess where my companion had gone, the hostess was gone too!

I sat down rather helpless hoping that my strange companion would reappear. He did not. Instead, a woman, rather a youngish girl in a floral dress with a hat decorated with flowers appeared with a carafe of wine in a tray. She put it down on the table and sat beside me. She poured the wine in two glasses and offered me one while taking the other herself. I found this astounding! The waitress (which I presumed she was) was sitting beside me and drinking herself! What sort of night club was this?

The more I saw around me, the more I thought that I was perhaps in a trap. The stone-eyed stranger was nothing but a crook, and he had lured me into a shady place to rob me. By that time soft music had stopped, and the stage was taken by a band of jazz musicians. The place had become raucous, and some people had gotten up from their tables and started dancing.

That time I observed something weird. Some of the men looked very weird. Their faces were scarred, and some had strange looks in their eyes. I thought they had tiny light bulbs in their sockets. The women had long hairs that flowed over their backs. And most strangely I could see in the blue lights that their back bones reflected lights.

I was convinced that I was in a really weird place and probably very dangerous. I looked at my flowery companion, who I saw was holding on to the wine glass but was not sipping from it. I was desperately thinking of a way to run out of this place and looking for an opportunity. Suddenly the music stopped and found an opportunity to excuse myself from my attendant by telling her that I needed to visit the bathroom. She pointed me toward it which fortunately was near the exit. I ran through the exit.

But I was not in luck. As I stepped out I found the stone-eyed man at the entrance as though he was waiting for me. He asked why I was leaving, and if I did not like the place? I replied I liked the place but I remembered I had to attend a meeting with my people later that evening in my hotel.

I was getting late. I would come back next day, I said pleadingly. But the stone-eyed would have nothing of it. He grabbed me by my arm that felt like made of steel, and asked the African bouncer to help me. Together they dragged me into the club and dumped me into a chair before a giggling gaggle of flowery dressed women.

This would have been the end of the story with me getting robbed and leaving the shady night club in a semi-drugged state (because I was forced to imbibe a copious amount of wine at my cost). But that is not how this story ended.

I left the club much after midnight after I had disgorged my wallet of its contents. Somehow I was able to find my way back to the hotel, where I collapsed in my bed immediately after reaching my room. I woke up quite groggy next day. Fortunately, it was Sunday. We had no official engagement that day. I thought I should have a word with that Concierge.

I looked for my wallet. It was in the pocket of my jacket. It was still there although there was no money. I remembered I had emptied it previous night. But then I found out to my horror that my passport was missing. Foolishly I used to carry my passport with me instead of leaving it in a safety box in the hotel. Did I leave it in that spooky place last night? I ran downstairs to the Concierge to find out if he could tell me about that weird night club, without telling him about my foolish adventure.

The writer is a former civil servant residing in Washington, USA

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