Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The fat and the thin ladies

We did not have much money and no possibility to cook. So we often ate at the “mensa” that was under the student flats on the Weesperstraat in Amsterdam. Mensa (the Latin word for table) is the German and Dutch term for a student cafeteria.

It was the mid-1970s, a noisy and boisterous period. All the students had a developed social conscience. There were lots of heated discussions going on about war and poverty and things like that.
There was a coffee corner in the mensa where you could drink cheap coffee and tea out of plastic cups. It also had a small television set that was on all the time, but nobody ever seemed to be watching it. The students had their own televisions in their rooms.

Every now and then I saw two ladies sitting in the coffee corner who were out of place. Their clothes did not fit them and their shoes were too big.
One of the ladies was short and fat, the other was a bit taller and thin. They were referred to as "de Dikke en de Dunne"- the fat and the thin. Which is also the Dutch translation for Laurel and Hardy. 
They were homeless and as it was a cold winter they came in for the warmth. They sat with a gloomy, vacant look on their faces. The fat lady used to mutter a lot. The thin lady just sat there staring and never spoke.

One evening at 6 o’clock there was a ten minute religious television broadcast. It was only folky type music with someone strumming on a guitar. The fat lady brightened up, she started to smile. It was a nice smile. She was obviously enjoying the programme. Her hearing must have been good as the noise of the heated conversations almost drowned the music.

A girl stood up, walked to the television, flipped the channel and went back to her seat. That wiped the smile off the fat lady's face. The smile was replaced by an expression of shock. 
She started to mutter: “why did she have to do that, I was enjoying the music, it was so nice”. Her muttering became louder and louder.
The girl who had flipped the channel turned to her and said, “Madam, it is our television set and we do not want to watch your programme”. It was a statement that did not require an answer and she immediately turned back to continue her heated discussion with her student friends. 
The fat lady stared at her back sadly. Then she dropped her head and stared at the floor for a bit, her eyes watering; humiliated, again. 
She said something to the thin lady, they got up and left. 

I never saw them after that. Who knows, perhaps they came on the days that I was not there.