Father Carpenter is a cafe hidden in a beautiful courtyard in Berlin’s Mitte. It serves delicious Australia style coffee and rivals a Melbourne brunch.
There is a large family sitting at a table with too many chairs. I notice the chairs, as ordinarily the waiting staff would make a fuss. The chairs and tables need to stay within the white lines marked out on the cobblestones. The café I work for, around the corner, won’t allow any deviation from the allocated four chairs to a table. We’re in trouble if even a chair leg sits outside the white lines. Additional guests just have to deal, or leave. Being rude – abrupt – was difficult to begin with; my hospitality training was evidently not universal. I’d tiptoe around the guests, always asking politely, apologising profusely. Until my boss said the fines would be docked from my salary.
I moved to Berlin, as all broke young Australians, who hope to make art, do at some point. The city is cheap, although getting more expensive. New York, London, Paris; the capitals that I’d imagined one day leaving for to showcase in small galleries in Brooklyn, Chelsea, or Saint-Germain-des-Près were now where you went once you had made it as an artist, not to make it.
We always spoke of moving to Berlin, Josh and I. Once we’d be among other artists, other young people, with political views, passionate dispositions and hopes it would all change, we would change. We would lie by the fireplace in our Carlton house and chain-smoke Lucky Strikes. We’d stare at our mouldy ceiling and talk about where we would live. I voted Mitte, Josh wanted Kreutzberg – east and west. I’m now in Mitte, living above a Curry Wurst shop in Torstraße. It’s a big apartment; we were lucky with rent. There are only the two of us in a two-bedroom apartment. We use the living room for studio space; it saves us money. Studio space is pricey.
Joanna is very dedicated. I met her through a friend of a friend. I was still sleeping on George’s couch when he told me about Joanna. He described her as a short, perky Norwegian artist, who worked at a bar to make ends meet. This description was accurate, although Joanna was far from what you pictured an artist to be. She had business plans, she had time frames, and she knew how much she spent on supplies and what she made in return. When we first moved in she placed a weekly calendar outside the living room door. Whereas other housemates might write down whose turn it is to clean the toilet or mop the floors, she scheduled in whose “studio time” it was. Our timetables hardly clash – bar and café work. Still, when there are set times where I know I can’t work, it means I make use of the time when I can. I probably owe Joanna a lot.
The family at the table discuss travel plans. Three girls: one off to Australia, one to Mexico, and the eldest lives here. Their parents will stay in Berlin for a while. They are now grandparents to one little girl, who perches on top of her mother’s lap eating food from her plate. They don’t look German. But they speak a mixture of German and English, with rivalling sentences floating over each other. The courtyard of Father Carpenter, with its red brick façade, casts shadows over the family. The youngest complains about wanting a better tan before heading to an Australian winter. She has long dark strands of hair that fall below her already bronzed shoulders. The father asks about her suitcase, a note of irritation in his voice and the mother describes what food is on the granddaughter’s plate in childlike German. The granddaughter smiles and places each item in her mouth, “Yes that’s a banana…and that’s a blueberry.”
A waitress brings over my long black. I shuffle the pieces of paper to one side of the table and pick up my camera to make room. I sip the coffee and look around. There’s exposed red brick, clashing with green trees and a clear blue sky. The colour combinations create an unfiltered vibrancy. I take hold of the camera sitting on my lap, wondering how best to capture the three colours in one frame. I turn the camera on but the memory card is full. I place the camera back down on the table and rummage through my brown leather bag sitting on the floor beside me. I’m sure I have another memory card in here.
Under a knitted jumper, bag of lollies, keys, and two notepads I find a little jewellery bag with two memory cards inside.
I take the 64 GB one and place it inside the camera. I turn the camera back on and snap a few photos of the courtyard. The end result is not all that good, there’s too much contrast. Flicking through the photos I come across old ones, I’m still in Melbourne; When was the last time I used this?
There are photos of our old house, the one with the mouldy ceiling. Photos of pot plants, shadows, a spider hanging from a silvery thread. There are photos of Josh sunning himself in the garden; his naked bottom protruding from overgrown grass. A bottle of Melbourne Bitter and a book next to him. There are about 30 photos from different angles. One of these made it to my exhibition at the Metro Gallery in Armadale.
I try to picture Josh’s face but can’t. It’s been two years. I open Instagram and look up his profile. He has new work up. Charcoal drawings of a girl I don’t recognise. She’s beautiful – and looks similar to the youngest of the three girls at the table next door. She also has long dark hair and dark eyes. Big eyebrows – but missing a mole. I scroll through his profile until I reach a photo of us. Two boys with scraggily blonde hair; one with facial hair and the other still trying, grinning at the camera. We’re sitting on our front porch smoking, Josh is wearing shorts and Birkenstocks and has his chest exposed. I’m barefoot, and wearing a white shirt that hangs over my jocks. We liked the unintended reverse clothing – we wanted everything to be unintentional back then.
I take a few more sips of my coffee and I notice she’s making eye contact with me – the youngest, the bronzed one. I smile at her and she smiles back. She also holds a camera around her neck. She’d be about 22. She turns away from me as a tall blonde girl approaches the table. She takes yet another chair and pulls it up to the table. They sit next to each other and the tall girl flings her arms around the youngest as soon as they’re properly seated. Oh yeah – she’s off to Australia.
The blonde girl has tears running down her face and although I can’t understand her, as they’re now speaking Spanish, I know it must be about missing.
Josh and I used to sign off all our text messages with “Missing x.” Well we did for the first few months – then it became clear he wasn’t coming. He’d even said he’d booked a ticket, he was only meant to stay an extra month in Melbourne and then join me. I stayed on George’s couch for four months hoping he would still come. I stopped replying “Missing x” when I moved in with Joanna. I stopped replying at all actually.
The two girls have stopped crying and I wonder how long it will take before daily texts become weekly and weekly become monthly. There are few I still talk to regularly – mostly mum.
The waitress walks over to their table and the girl looks up. She orders a long black and avocado on toast. It takes a long time for the table to order. The girl moves her head to peer past the waitress. I notice she’s looking for my gaze and I give it to her.
Unintended matching girlfriends.