“Do you understand pain?”
“Would you like me to fix you a drink, Sir?”
“I need something deeper, something stronger, something much more potent. To….
“To chip away it all. To penetrate my being and make me feel normal…. his voice trailed.
“Would a drink fix that?”, the bartender asked him.
“For now, a drink should suffice”, he replied with a clouded mind.
“Whiskey?”, asked the bartender
“Two cubes of ice”, heavy was his response.
He watched as the aurum was filled into his glass. He watched as rocks of ice fell into it like boulders in a landslide. He could have sworn the glass cracked. He peered at it. It was all just smoke and mirrors in his mind.
The glass was passed oh so gently to him. He felt like a patient in an mental asylum being handed his pills. These were not pills. He was angry.
But he wasn’t 7:30. He chuckled loudly. He shouldn’t be talking to himself especially sitting in a bar that was full of people.
So, no! He wasn’t 7:30. And if someone asked him what 7:30 was.
7:30 – It’s the time they give out the meds at the men’s ward.
He was heading to an early grave unless the asylum decided to strap him in first.
Franz Kafka was almost prophetical when he said –
“One of the first signs of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die. This life appears unbearable, another unattainable. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die; one asks to be moved from the old cell, which one hates, to a new one, which one will only in time come to hate. In this there is also a residue of belief that during the move the master will chance to come along the corridor, look at the prisoner and say: “This man is not to be locked up again, He is to come with me.”
He had not even began to drink and his thoughts were pouring out through the cracks. He could almost smell the whiskey. It beckoned. But instinct forewarned him of things to come.
A young man, full of himself, smiling like a clown, appeared out of nowhere and sat right next to him and shook him out of his reverie.
Normally he would have told that young man to fuck off. But not today. He had enough of fights. Enough nasty words were exchanged and he had no intention to going through it all over again even if it was an rude uncouth stranger who was asking for it.
The young man had a twinkle in his eye and we knew that he was up to no good. Some could call it being judgemental. But weren’t we perceptive. Wasn’t it a curse we bore to be able to see things before it happened. That fine tuned sixth sense that constantly warned him of immediate danger. But sometimes even his perception would act like a bitch and abandon him right when he needed it the most. And he still hadn’t taken a swig of his infernal whisky.
“So how are you doing today, my friend?” came the inquisitive almost sneering like quick question from the young fool who had perched himself on the bar stool and was attempting to balance his drink and grab everyone’s attention in the room.
“We don’t like him. He needs to leave us alone”
But these were just thoughts and it wasn’t said aloud. Not that it would matter.
“I would like to be left alone. Please leave me alone” instead was his reply.
“Come on. I just called you friend, shouldn’t you treat me like a friend? Is that how you treat friends. No wonder you are sitting alone! Why are you sitting alone? Have all your friends left you? Where are your friends? Come have a drink with me. I have lovely company but she doesn’t want to talk to me……. Come…let me introduce her to you….”, he went on and on like a school kid reciting a poetry at the bequest of his proud parents asking the kid about his first day in school.
His eyes flared up. He turned around.
The young man’s wicked mischievous smile was the first to go. The young man’s fist clenched. He felt he was about to be beaten like a whipped dog.
No one touched him.
Sometimes in your life when you are young or old, you get this feeling that you want to go poking around for trouble and stir up things. And then you will come across this quiet bearded stranger in a bar that you should never talk to. You should leave him alone. It would be wise to continue with your tomfoolery and be on your merry fucking way of drinking and mirth which ideally should be miles away from someone like him.
Some people should be left alone.
They are a world of trouble.
Some people are like stars. They are not small or gentle. They are writhing and dying and burning.
They are not here to be pretty. One should learn from them
The man who had not yet begun to drink turned around and glared at this young fool. For now he was a nameless bearded stranger.
“I have asked you pretty nicely to leave me alone. I have been watching you. Don’t talk to me. Don’t interact with me. Take your drink and leave quietly. I am not someone you should even be talking to. Go now. Live your life. And don’t waste it talking to strangers who ideally should be left alone”
The young man was stunned. His mind seemed to be lost because he was sensing hostility and anger. The young man felt like an over smart fox who had suddenly come across an angry ferocious hungry tiger.
He reached into his pocket. Threw some money at the bar counter. Wads of cash. Enough to pay for a dozen people. But the voices in our bearded stranger were millions. You could possibly not pay for all of them. Hence that money seemed to have no weight nor bearing other than it caused the young man to take his drink and make a beeline for the door. He stumbled against the bouncer standing right in the middle of the floor. Spilled half his drink. Handed the glass to him. Moved away. Came back. Offered the bouncer few wads of cash.
And the young man was out of this place like a bat out of hell.
Was he terrified. Was he out to get more of his friends. Was he a figment of the bearded strangers imagination.
Our dear bearded stranger was still sitting there watching the bartender collect the cash and tabulate the tab of the young man. The bartender was smiling ear to ear.
Even whispered softly, “Idiots like him should come here more often. Love the tip. It is more than enough for the night”
The bartenders attention turned fondly towards the bearded stranger. Pointed a shot glass that was being wiped straight at him and said, “You my friend are always welcome to this place…….the next drink is on the house. Drink up!”
It wasn’t a victory march.
There were no trumpets.
It was cold and silent and he felt lonely and angry and hurt and devastated suddenly.
Such an uptight arsehole he was. He still hadn’t finished his drink.
What was his rule?
Never drink when you are angry or sad or hurt. It only makes things worse.
Had he just made things worse.
Love was not a victory march. It seemed like a broken harpsichord.
Oh you are going to muse about love now!
What right have you to talk about love. Who or by what authority should you even be talking about love.
What the fuck were you thinking.
He was angry all over again. He finished his drink. It burned his breath. His throat felt the sting but his mind was tumultuous and today it seemed paradoxical.
He felt like a fool. He had acted like a fool. He wanted to call her. He wanted her to call him. He wouldn’t call her. She wouldn’t call him. He wouldn’t call her because he was still angry over what happened. She wouldn’t call him because she was still hurting. He hurt her. She hurt him. The fight between them didn’t matter. He hurt her. That mattered.
To him, she had hurt him and now she didn’t matter.
Or did she?
Why was he thinking about her.
To be precise, why was he still thinking about her
Why spend so much time over someone who has hurt you. Enjoy your fucking drink. Look around. Everyone is enjoying themselves. Are they? Oh come on! Don’t be a killjoy! You are drinking here alone and there is no one keeping you company, why are you so offended with a little burst of voices in your head.
You don’t like the voices in your head keeping you company. Maybe you should have been admitted in a psych ward.
What time is it?
Nah! It was 9:00 pm. It wasn’t 7:30.
Look at the clock and let it go tick tock. Tickety Tock. Dickety Dock!
You need a whore!
Forget about her!
What good has love done to you! What good has love done for you.
All it got you was heartache and misery and pain. How stupid can one be. It is alright to be paradoxical but someone highly intelligent and perceptive as you should not be giving in to love. Keep it cold and calculating. Go on. Drink your drink. Let it wash away all this bullshit known as love.
Who knows, you may even stop talking to your pitiable self. Live a little dark stranger. Give in to lust. Find someone tonight and get on with it. It’s that easy, no?
The scent of an unfamiliar perfume lingered right into his boundary of convalescent thoughts.
The bearded stranger who had been having a conversation with himself all this while in his gutted mind looked up to see a young woman approaching him.
She was looking straight at him. Then she looked away. She appeared tipsy.
She felt like a drowning woman wading through quagmire. The wet sand seemed stuck at her pretty heels and it was dragging her down. The room was a pit of darkness, strobe lights, soft rock music and incandescent strangers.
She walked up to him. Paused for a second. Adjusted her off shoulder dress that ran right till her knees. Her knees seemed dark. He didn’t like it. It seemed she had worn that dress with so much disdain. Maybe she was waiting to get home to take it off and change into something more devastating.
But she was gorgeous to look at. Her eyes were all over the place. Every time her eyes met his, they spoke a million words that could not be put into sentences. Almost like Latin or a dead language.
She pulled the bar stool right next to this bearded stranger and smiled out aloud, “Thank you”
Before he could reply.
“Could you get me a drink?”, she asked.
He almost wanted to ask her if she was expecting to be paid. But he had been mean to enough people. And right now, he was not looking to pick a fight with another woman.
His drink arrived. This was the one which was on the house. The bartender smiled. Almost like a sign of things that were going to foreclose.
She asked him with impertinence again. “I need a drink. Will you buy me a drink?”
He turned around and asked her if she was talking to someone else, if she had mistaken him for someone else and then he broke into his rhetoric about leaving strangers alone and stars that are pretty and writhing…..
She didn’t seem interested. She ordered a drink. She didn’t pay for it. She didn’t even mention what drink she wanted. She just motioned at the bartender and the drink appeared.
Curiouser and curiouser.
He hadn’t seen her before near the bar area. She had walked away from the couple section but there was no one keeping her company. Maybe her date had gone to pee.
In that case, he didn’t want to incur the wrath of her date and get into another fight. Oh no, no! no! Leave her be. Ignore her. She will go away. What fucking drink does she want. I hope her date comes and gets her.
No one came.
She was still sitting there. She was drunk. Her elbows kept slipping off the bar. She almost knocked her glass down a couple of times. He didn’t give a damn what she was drinking.
“Why did you say Thank you”, he asked gruffly
“You can keep that macho bullshit for someone else. I am not scared of you. I came here to say Thank you but Fuck you!”, she replied
Woah! Things just escalated pretty quickly.
Who was she again. What was she doing here. What was all this about.
Take that stiff drink with a few cubes of ice.
“What was your Thank you for?”, his tone was much more polite and calmer.
Her gaze softened. “That asshole who was talking to you was my boyfriend”
He didn’t see that coming
“And why are you thanking me?”, he asked
“He kept pestering to come out with him for a drink. It was getting irritating to be home on a Saturday. All my friends had plans and I had a boyfriend who was nothing but a loser and a jerk and a fucking piece of shit”
“He told me that we were going to a nice place and I wanted to just sit and drink. He asked me to dress up and not embarrass him. We reached this place and he immediately started acting like he owned me. He came and sat right next to me and he kept throwing himself on me. I was pinned against the side of the wall and him and we were in this booth. He is my boyfriend but he was such an asshole.”
His mind retraced it all. The booths were meant for couples. They were dark for a reason. Anything goes in a place like this. Or does it?
“I am sorry to hear that. Are you okay?”, he asked
“Nah! Don’t worry about it. While I was pushing him away, my elbow jammed against his jaw and must have hit his lip and his nose. He jumped back. Abused profanities with me. Walked out of the booth and went and sat with another girl who was sitting alone. They spoke for sometime and then she paid and left. I guess he freaked her out.”
“No one did a damn thing?”, he asked.
“You were sitting at the bar, right? I guess you were too lost in your own world”, she muttered
“I am really sorry about what happened. Do you want to do something about it?”
She stared hard at him.
“No! I’ll handle it!”, she shot back.
“I can handle myself. I want to marry him. I love him. He is such a fucking jerk. He was so nice to me in the beginning. But now he just wants me to give him what he wants or else he throws a fit like a child.”
He heard her out quietly.
“Has he left?”
“I think he has gone someplace where the girls are more prettier and drunkier and would probably be impressed with the amount of money he can splash”
“Also, I was only teasing you when I asked you for a drink. He had paid our bill and there was more than enough money to cover my drinks too.”
That made sense. A lot of sense.
The ways of a rich spoilt kid with no manners and someone who didn’t know how to treat women right.
But this bearded stranger was a rich father’s son too. And he had just fought with the so called love of his life. Wouldn’t it be hypocritical of him to be kind and compassionate to her when he had also probably acted like a jerk with the only woman in his life.
But here he was talking to another stranger. A random conversation or so it seemed.
He wondered if he had treated his own girl right. He wondered how much he had hurt her too. What was the fight all about. Why did they fight. Why couldn’t she be reasonable. Why did he have to act reasonable when actually he was being impulsive. Wasn’t that a farce. What was he doing here.
“HELLOOOOOOOOO”, her voice snapped him back to reality.
“Is there anything I can do for you right now”, he asked.
She felt pushed away. “You could have just bought me a drink”, she groaned.
“What good it would have done?”, he asked.
“You seemed like a nice guy. You were the only guy in this room who stood up to him and frightened the living beezebus out of him. My gosh! I would have actually bought you a drink but I have a boyfriend so I cannot hence you need to buy me a drink”
What kind of logic was that he wondered.
Paradoxical was his state of mind earlier and here was a woman who completely contradictory.
He believed her. But he didn’t act. He didn’t want to do anything. She should get home safely.
“So why are you here, all alone and all by your handsome self?” she asked.
“I had a fight with my girlfriend and I stormed out”
“What are the fucking odds” she laughed out aloud.
“So did you also fight over sex?” she cackled suddenly gleefully enjoying her drink.
“I don’t want to talk about it”
“Did she find you too intense and all stoic”, “No girl likes a guy who doesn’t know how to have fun, lighten up a bit, come dance with me” and she put her right hand in his hand.
He pushed it away like a bag of scorpions.
This girl was drunk and crazy.
“I would love to have someone to dance with me. Come, dance with me”, she smiled
“No fucking way”
“You don’t know how to dance?????”. she slurred
“Are you even old enough to drink and be in this bar”, he retorted
That was a cheap shot. He shouldn’t have said something like that. Then he remembered. He usually said the first thing that came to his mind and that would always start a fight with her.
If he had only paused to think and not say half things he had said to his girlfriend, probably, just probably they wouldn’t have had so many fights.
She was quiet. She was pissed off. She ordered another drink. Gulped it down. Swaggered a bit. “All men are such bastards”
“Some men are bitches too”, he said quietly.
And she suddenly laughed. She howled. It was a weird horse kind of laugh on a beautiful woman who was drunk and yet sounded like a horse neighing.
He should definitely not tell her that.
He smiled. Keep the joke to yourself. Let her laugh at whatever made her laugh too.
“I’ll drop you home”, he drew near her and said.
“I want to dance” and with that she stumbled to the middle of the dance floor.
He picked her phone from the bar and called an Uber. From her Uber history, two places stood out, one seemed like her office and the other seemed like a residential area.
Locked it in. The Uber was on its way. He would get rid of her before they both did something they both would regret.
He grabbed her arm. Picked her purse. Checked the earlier table she was at and it was empty. Took her out of that place. She walked mumbling and rambling.
He put her in the Uber. Almost slammed the door. His heart shuddered.
He got into the Uber.
It drove to a destination. She slept soundly. Loud snores. She would wake up. Look out. Direct the driver and fall back. He was sitting there quietly all this while.
This wasn’t how he wished it turned out to be.
She woke up again. Directed the vehicle to a stop. He got out. She paid. The vehicle left.
She mumbled that she had to thank him again for dropping her home. She didn’t even know his name. He was afraid if someone spotted them all hell would break loose.
He asked her if she would be able to make it to the her house. She hugged him. Said thank you. She said she would call him later. She walked off into the night towards her home.
He watched and waited till he heard a door open and shut. A light flickered on in a flat above him. She was home. He had to leave this place. So much for being impulsive. He wasn’t looking for trouble.
He called an Uber and it drove him back to the bar.
He arrived much to the relief of the bartender.
“I thought you had left with her”, the bartender said aloud.
“I just dropped her home. She was in no state to walk and it was too late and I just wanted to make sure she reached her home safe and sound”
“But the ironic part was that she directed the Uber most throughout the way”
“Isn’t that interesting”, remarked the bartender.
“Saved everyone a lot of trouble”
“Would you have a drink with me?”, asked the bartender.
“Uh! Hmmmm Sure! Why not”
Also, thank you for not staring at my breasts like how most men do, said the bartender.
“I am sorry but I don’t think it is polite to stare unless…”, he replied
She smiled. She wasn’t able to make him out earlier but maybe just maybe she was beginning to figure him out.
“Cheers” – they clinked their glasses and drank.
She then went on to enquire with him as to how was the setup of the bar. He politely told her that it seemed like a good place. She dropped a megaton nuke on him when she sweetly told him that she owned the place.
His night was still young and wasn’t it enough for one night. Play along, his mind numbed him to it, see where it goes. Why is everyone out to have a drink or wants to have that bloody drink with me. Why!
He discreetly motioned her to one of the corner tables and told her about what happened between the woman and her boyfriend. The bartender said she would take care off it. She had seen a bit of it but didn’t intervene unless the woman motioned that she was in distress. She remarked vicariously that she saw the elbow being jammed into his nose & lips and she almost dropped a shot glass. Best day of my life she burst out.
Then she went on about how she always wanted to have a bar of her own and finally when she graduated out of college, she first worked in her uncle’s bar, learnt the ropes, picked up enough tricks of the trade, borrowed money from her daddy and set this place up. She seemed to be pleased with herself. Tonight she was bartending to get a feel of the customers who visited her place and her ears close to the ground.
Oh he believed her that she had more than her ears close to the ground. He wondered what was her interest in him.
She asked him where was he from. He vaguely answered her. She got the drift. She spoke about how she loved this bar of hers and how she also wanted to start a cafe with a small nook like library. They both were drinking and she was pouring out her heart to a complete stranger. He remained quiet for most of the conversation.
The bouncer approached them cautiously and her face changed and gone was the woman who was chattering and suddenly appeared the quiet, reserved businesslike woman underneath all that veneer.
It seemed like she had taken off one mask only to wear another and then she took it off again just to wear the old one back again.
She began to walk away from the table. Turned around and said, “I say this as a friend and take this as friendly advice, they both are married to each other, I thought you should know, you seem like a good guy. Take care of yourself”
He wasn’t looking to start something but the night seemed to burst into enough warnings.
Why was it always him. Why couldn’t the world just leave him alone.
He paid his tab. Walked quietly to the door. And was never to be seen again.
They still say that there was a bearded stranger with sharp piercing eyes who had visited that bar one night, all hell had broken loose of sorts, people were disjointed out place and time, some say they saw him walk above the ground as if his feet never touched the ground, others say he was a good man who was just another passerby, stories were conflicted over what was he doing there because everyone had seen him leave with that woman and then come back later. The bar did well. The bouncers whispered that there was a nameless dark bearded stranger who visits their bar under the pale moonlight and he was their patron saint towards unruly guests. Slowly that bar grew repute and turned out to be the city’s most popular go to bars.
You would be much of a child when these events transpired. No one has ever seen him in that bar ever again but word spread because they knew there was his telltale drink, his telltale corner and his penchant for poetry. He grew into a dark urban legend. Someone to keep the revellers in place. But no one ever saw him again.
They say he was a Prince. A Prince of Dark Lightning. And we all know what they say about Lightning.
Have you seen such a stranger. Maybe he was slowly writhing and dying and burning and maybe that was his last night before he faded completely into the night.
Or did he?