Marie and Margot

“There’s a Dutch singer named Ramses Shaffy,” I explain to the girls I run into after having an after-work beer with a colleague. “He’s kind of like a folk singer. Was popular in the seventies and got famous for his lavish lifestyle. Drank a lot of booze, did whatever he felt like. You know, that kind of guy. I recently saw a documentary film that was made about him. At one point they interviewed this man who — when he was a boy — had lived in the same street as Ramses, and he remembered how all the kids in the neighbourhood would play at the singer’s house because of the free-spirited vibe there. Everyone was welcome. Shaffy had an Egyptian father and a Russian mother, but he was adopted by Dutch parents. Something like that. I guess you could call him a true bohemian.”

One girl is listening to me, an intense look on her face. She obviously digs a good story or two. The other is still kicking an empty can of coke around, as she was when we met. Apparently this girl doesn’t care much for stories, at this time of day, or ever. Other than the sound of my voice and the sound of the can hitting the street, it’s completely silent. My after-work beer has somehow lasted till three, as it sometimes does during summer, and I’m guessing the same must have happened to these girls’ after-school beers. It’s a Friday night, so from my point of view, that’s perfectly fine.

They have a bit of a gothic style to them, these girls. They both have hair until their shoulders. The one who’s listening to me is blonde, with parts of her hair dyed brightly red, while the other one’s hair is completely black. It’s hard to tell whether that’s her real hair colour at this badly lit corner of the street, but I’m guessing she too had it dyed. Finishing the gothic thing they’re both wearing quite fashionable but dark clothes and leather boots. The girl who’s kicking the can is especially attractive, she’s thin but roundly shaped where she should be, though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind taking home either of them.

I continue my story. “The most touching scene in the documentary is at the end. Ramses is playing the piano and singing. It’s a song he wrote ages ago, about wandering through Amsterdam at night, something like that. He’s not in great shape at that point, being in his seventies and suffering from amnesia after having been beaten up for no reason – I don’t know, some stupid teenage boys getting at a drunken old man just because they can. So while playing his beautiful song, looking up at the ceiling, blankly, letting his fingers glide over the keys, playing the piano gently, consciously, with this great sense of years past, Ramses is moved to tears, and so am I, or at least I’m close. A tear is slowly gliding down his cheek, and that’s when the credits start rolling.”

The girl lets out a sigh.

I pause for a moment, as a good storyteller would at such an emotional high point in his tale, then continue, “Shortly after I saw this documentary, Shaffy was awarded a prize — luckily, he’s in a much better condition now — and to celebrate this, a box was released with remastered versions of all his records, on CD. Not owning any of his music, I decided this was my chance, so I bought the box. I brought it with me here and I’m listening to it every day. And a couple of days ago, believe it or not, I discovered a very special song. A song that might be quite important for us, right now, right here.”

“What’s important right now, is we go home,” the girl who’d so far been kicking the can says with a thick German accent. She squats down and wipes some sweat off her forehead. It’s long past midnight but it hasn’t cooled down at all.

“Let him finish the story,” the other girl says, commanding.

“The thing about this song is, it’s very different from most of Shaffy’s other songs. Most of them are quite dramatic and pompous, or at least artistic and poetic. But this song is more of a humorous kind of thing, at least that’s what it sounded like when I first heard it. Kicking off the song, Ramses sings about a girl called Marie. He paints her as this angelic being, a really sweet girl who he just loves to love. You can see her dancing around in a yellow dress – it’s springtime, and pink blossom is gently twirling down. But then he suddenly starts singing about another girl, called Margot, whom he refers to as, what do you call it, a ‘she-devil’. He loves her as much as Marie, but in a very different, darker way.

“Basically, they’re the two girls any man wants. A lovely at-home type of girl, who’s so crazy about you she’ll do everything you want, and a more adventurous one, who challenges you at every turn, both frustrating and surprising. They complement each other – you can just picture one of them being blonde and the other being a brunette, or having black hair.”

Again, I pause, then continue, hoping the girl will slowly begin to understand what I’m getting at. “At this point in the song, the listener assumes this Shaffy guy is, you know, being clever, secretly having two relationships at the same time. But then, suddenly, two high-pitched female voices start singing along — sounding delightful, in a horrible, out-of-date kind of way — and the song reveals its twist: Ramses actually lives together with these two girls, simultaneously, and the convenient thing is, they love each other as much as he loves them and they love him.”

“That’s wonderful,” the girl who’s been listening says. “So romantic, in a way. We love each other as well,” she mentions, pointing at the black-haired girl now sitting down on the sidewalk, picking up the can of coke and playing with it.

“My friend is a big fat liar,” she replies. “I love her like a sister. That is all, and that’s the truth.” She’s moving her head around like she’s had too much to drink and is now a little out of focus. I ignore her.

“The first couple of times I heard this song, I thought, what a weird song. It sounds happy, breezy, almost summer-like, and it’s impossible to take it seriously. But somehow, I found myself listening to it over and over again. And as time has passed, it’s grown on me, and I’ve started to really appreciate it.

“Sure, the melody is easy on the ears, with some brilliantly conceived harmony singing, where the three voices call their names rapidly after each other, Ramses singing only ‘and me’ – something I only discovered once listening on my iPod. And there’s some clever word play – they’re lying side, by side, by side in bed to keep each other warm, stuff like that, all in perfectly flowing Dutch rhyme words.

“But by now, I’m looking at the song from a different angle. In fact, I’m now regarding it as a message about how people should live their lives. Shaffy literally sings that if more people would live as he and his two girlfriends do, the world would be a much better place. People wouldn’t whine as much, they wouldn’t be searching for this certain something all the time. You know how people always want something they don’t understand and certainly can’t get? And you know what, I really think Ramses is right about this. Whatever way you look at it, the world really would be a better place if guys could be with two girls at the same time.”

“I’d like to hear that song, even if it’s in Dutch,” the blonde-and-red girl says as she kneels down next to her friend and kisses her on the cheek, then on the mouth, sucking on her friend’s tongue for a while, as I continue my monologue.

“I believe that most of all, the song is trying to say something to women. I mean, men are programmed to spread their genes to as many women as possible. They’re the hunters, they’re the ones who have to actively engage to ensure the survival of our species. When society forces us to be with one woman for the rest of our lives, that makes us biologically uneasy at first, and depressed and lonely in the end.

“I really think our thirst for, you know, female flesh, can be quenched by the magical combination of two girls: progressive and conservative. A left-wing girlfriend and a right-wing girlfriend. An angel and a she-devil. That’ll satisfy our appetites. It really will!

“The thing is that a scheme like this would be quite easy to devise. Most, if not all, heterosexual men would jump at the opportunity to get another partner. The real challenge is that these women have to get along with each other as well. As opposed to our pre-programmed need to spread our genes, women are, you know, programmed to catch the very best possible genes. They can only give birth to one child a time, so nature has given them the internal code to look for the very best genes they can find — and to certainly not share these genes with anyone else.

“So this is the big thing. To make the world a happy place, women will have to love their husband’s other wife, too, whether they feel like it or not. In the end, the message of this song is that women will have to adapt to improve this planet’s quality of life. And sure, Ramses wrote his song near the end of the seventies, when such topics may have been more common, but nonetheless its message is something we can learn something from even now.”

The girl on the sidewalk gently pushes her friend away and says, “I don’t get it. What should I learn from this?”

“It’s simple, really,” I opine. “In my view it’s not a matter of learning something in the classical sense, though. Rather, it’s something you should just try and do.”

They’re quiet for a while, until the blonde says, “What do you suggest?”

“I have an apartment nearby, rented by the company I work for. Both of you could join me there. We could try and see what it’s like, living life with two partners. The fact that you’re already on friendly terms will make it much easier. And you know, nobody’s obliged to do anything. We just try and see whether we like making the world a happy place. I admit that summer is not the season when we need the three of us to keep each other warm, as Shaffy sings, but you know, there are many other pleasant possibilities.”

“I’m so tired already,” the black-haired girl complains. “And I’m so sweaty,”

“That’s what the shower is for. The one in my apartment is rather large, the three of us could probably fit in at once. You’d feel refreshed right away. Afterwards we could dry each other off, then make some tea, talk some more, and who knows what else.”

“We could listen to the song you’ve been telling us about,” the blonde suggests.

“And after that, other things,” I insist.

The girls look at each other for a while, seemingly making up their minds, and finally decide they won’t be taking my offer. After I assure them I’m not offended in any way whatsoever — they look at me like I’m mad — we say goodbye. I stand there for a while, watching them walk across the Eschersheimer LandstraíŸe, until they’re not in view anymore. Then I notice the empty can of coke now lying on the ground, silently, not worrying about anything, finally not being kicked around anymore.

After contemplating the can for another moment, I walk to my apartment. It’s a bit further off than I recall, and in a sense I’m relieved that the girls are not following me, because by now the dark-haired one would probably be in a bush alongside the street, throwing up, or at least she’d be complaining like there’s no tomorrow – maybe requiring her friend and me to drag her along. Then again, she did have the nicest body, so all we’d need to do when we’d finally get there was undress her, put her under the shower, lay her down on the bed and start doing our thing, making use of any part of her body whenever the need would arise.

When I finally arrive at my place, I’m so drenched in sweat that when I take off my clothes they’re sticking to my body and smelling horribly. I sit down, have a glass of water and listen to, what else, that Ramses Shaffy song. And while absorbing the words one more time I realise that what’s truly the best part about this remarkable song is how easy he makes it all sound. That bastard.

(This is a short story I wrote in the summer of 2006, while working as a freelance translator at Nintendo of Europe, in Frankfurt, Germany.)