Opinion

Danny Wallace and the curious case of the public burper

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Danny Wallace
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My friend Daniel has just been through a terrible ordeal and seems quite shocked when I see him.

“It was unbelievable,” he says. “Just a dark window into a terrible, private world.”

He had been sitting in a restaurant having lunch when it happened.

“There were two people at the table next to me,” he says. “A man and a woman.”

“A man and a woman,” I repeat, making sure he knows I am taking this seriously.

“And they seemed completely normal. They were talking about business things.”

I think this means flipcharts and Venn diagrams and so on, but I don’t press him.

“And then the man’s phone rang, but he didn’t want to take the call in the restaurant, because there was a waiter being noisy with plates.”

“Noisy with plates,” I repeat, like a detective inspector keeping note of the crucial details, just in case one of them becomes important later on.

“And he politely said he would take it outside, and the woman nodded and off he went.”

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I lean forward. So does Daniel. So far this is absolutely gripping.

“So the man is outside, in front of the window, and he’s pacing up and down and making his call, right? He’s waving one of his arms about and is very engrossed.”

“Right,” I say, confirming I have understood this and, as a detective inspector, can even picture it.

“But the woman keeps her eye on him,” he says. “She never takes her eye off him.”

Interesting. A businesswoman worried about a rival bid? A jealous lover?

“And then,” says Daniel. “The first burp.”

I analyse his words quickly. My DI skills tingle. He said “the first”, because there were more.

“Just a little one,” he says. “But very distinguishable. And quickly followed by another.”

“Two burps?” I say. I knew it!

“Clear as day,” says Daniel. “Two burps, while she just stared at that man outside the window.”

“Never taking her eyes off him?”

“Not once,” he confirms. “But those were just introductory burps. Gateway burps. She unleashed a series, Dan. A torrent.”

I sit back in my chair, stunned at the crime.

“It was just paf-paf-paf-paf,” he says. “Little throaty ones, one after the other, and building ever up!”

“What was she eating?” I ask. “Did she have some fizzy pop?”

He waves that away, like my search for a motive is unimportant.

“She never took her eyes off him,” he repeats. “It was eerie. I’ve never seen someone so focused on a task.”

But I know exactly why she was so intent on expelling these gases. Are burps gases? It doesn’t matter.

“She couldn’t do them in front of the guy!” I declare. “Imagine if they both just sat there burping at each other. It was a business meeting! No business meeting should be two people relentlessly burping! She had to get them out in one concentrated effort, and hang the consequences! I admire her!”

“But the witnesses, Dan!” he says. “There were witnesses everywhere!”

“Well, who are you going to tell?” I say, before realising he’s telling a national magazine columnist. “What I mean is, maybe everything was resting on that meeting, and just one errant burp might spell disaster!”

Daniel has to understand that as a self-appointed detective, I understand that each of us has our private and public self. The only mistake this brave woman made was in focusing so hard on her companion she forgot her private self was still very much in the public domain. Each burp was a little bubble of her soul escaping the constraints society puts on us all. Each one an air pocket of hope that we might find a way to be ourselves in this world of flipcharts and Venn diagrams. Every individual burp just a muted intestinal scream croaked out and birthed into the air by a woman just trying to do her best to close a deal that might allow her a life of less burpy food and perhaps pressés instead of pop.

“And then she simply stopped,” says Daniel. “And I heard the door open, and in walked the man, and he sat down and they carried on like nothing had happened.”

It is this moment that disturbs Daniel the most. Because he knew. And she knew he must know. Two strangers sharing a devastating secret. Well, two strangers and now us. And then, Daniel says, they simply asked for the bill and left.

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He throws his hands in the air and shakes his head.

“And what else?” I ask, feeling like there’s still more to the story, more truth to be uncovered by Wallace of the Met. “Did they tip?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think so?”

I tap my lip a couple of times.

“I think it’s because the waiter was so noisy with those plates,” I say.

I would make a great detective inspector.

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