My office mate at the research institute is bent over his books all day. He hardly says a word, always playing the concentrated, immersed scientist. Inventing one new theorem after the other (and proving them!) whereas I keep struggling with the elementary stuff. I secretly watch him scribbling incomprehensible mathematical formulas in his incredibly neat and small handwriting.
Every now and then I attempt to involve him in some insignificant chitchat:
“Such pleasant weather today.”
“Don’t feel like working at all.”
“I fucked your wife yesterday.”
He doesn’t even listen.
Oh God, now he grumbles again. Self-satisfied prick.
I try to get a grip on the article I am studying in vain for weeks now. I can’t concentrate and suspect my colleague of annoying me on purpose, aiming to make me feel inferior to His Highness of Intellect.
He is succeeding. In the evening, I drink too much and then I lie awake, mulling about the desperate failure I am.
The quasi-relaxed whistle again!
That does it.
I escape to the library.
Such a splendid idea of mine to hide a bottle here. I have my moments of brilliance, which bloody Einstein knows nothing about.
I remove one of the heavy monographs, the contents of which will forever remain out of my reach. Yes, the whiskey is still there. I take a quick gulp. Too hasty: I have a coughing fit.
Someone at the other end of the aisle. Damn! I panic and knock over the bottle. A large gulp of whiskey streams out, part of which lands on the monograph. I swipe it off with my sleeve and sneak off, the bottle hidden under my jacket.
The next morning I visit the library immediately, carrying a new bottle. I can’t survive an entire day without the occasional sip and this time I decided to treat myself with a top-end whiskey.
When I reach the aisle, I freeze.
My roommate is examining the monograph I know so well, the stain on the cover clearly visible.
“Are you acquainted with this work?” he asks, all talkative suddenly (it speaks!) “I have been consulting it the last few weeks. A brilliant study, I must say. And quite easy to grasp.”
He sniffs at the cover.
“Remarkable,” he says. “I noticed that someone’s been studying alcoholics instead. But I wonder who would consume such inferior, blended stuff.”
I show him the bottle.
“Clynelish 14 Year Old Highland Single Malt. Sorry. But then again, only real connoisseurs would recognize the typical perfume of high-quality whiskey.”
Stef Smulders is a Dutchman who moved to Italy in 2008 to start a bed-and-breakfast in the Oltrepo Pavese wine region south of Milan. In 2016 he published ‘Living in Italy: the Real Deal’, a collection of short stories about his life as an expat. Follow him on Facebook.