Thursday, July 12, 2007

We were having drinks on the terrace of a café on the right bank of the Amstel facing the Magere Brug, the Skinny Bridge, named for two emaciated sisters who used to row back and forth continually across the canal to visit each other in the days when bridges were few in Amsterdam. The kindly elderly gentleman at the next table had a story to tell and insisted on sharing it with us.

He had come from the Dutch Antilles to visit the home country, and he and his brother had gone for a walk along the Amstel and the canals, and dropped into a cigar store to buy a lottery ticket. The owner, a misshapen gloomy old man, told them he had sold all his tickets, but he had kept a handful for himself in a hat, and if they had their hearts set on this gamble, he pulled one out for them. Or of they preferred, they could pick one out of the hat. They chose the one in his hand, paid their two euros, went home, eventually went to sleep, woke up the next morning and went for a walk along the Amstel and the canals, bought a newspaper and sat down at a terrace table, unfolded the paper and learned that they had won a million euros. Thinking it over, they thought that they really owed something to that sad old man who had sold them the ticket, and walked over the Skinny Bridge to the store prepared to present him with fifty euros.

When they made clear the object of their visit, he began to scream and roar and thrash and stamp and curse and hobbled out the door and down the bicycle path alongside the canal, and disappeared. They waited for twenty minutes, but he did not come back,, and for all they know he is still stamping alongside the Amstel and the canals sputtering out his rage against God or Fate or visitors from the Dutch Antilles.