By Ahmed Latif
The evening fluttered with a delicate coquettishness and the air grew saturated with the stale smell of worn-out luck. The probability that I’d find what I was looking for was constantly dwindling. I decided to leave and bid the silky silent night goodbye. But I wanted to wait. Something inside me wanted to wait. Maybe it was in a final effort to fulfill some tired cliché of seeing someone meaningful in the periphery, as they seem to like it there. The only thing that caught my eye wasn’t an epiphany or a cliché, it was all too real: an empty coatrack. Once again, seems like I was the last to leave. Apparently I have a talent for making stylish establishments a lot less stylish, and a lot less crowded.
I tried to cheer myself up but there was no use talking to me. I told myself that I enjoyed being alone, but what use was another lie when you have an ocean of them ready to drown you?
I grabbed my coat off the barstool, lit my cigarette, and was about to leave for the rainy streets of yet another cold and unforgiving night in this conglomerate of human misery called the city. But who was I kidding, misery doesn’t restrict itself to the confines of our urban prisons, or even this not-so-fine establishment. It moves as it pleases then always spends the night right behind my left lung, all warm and snuggly. And when the misery is gone, I am not sure what that will be like but I guess I’ll be left with nothing but an unfortunate — and an all too foreseeable — vacancy.
I decided not to leave just yet; probably because I was scared that the sound of my leather shoes against the bitter cobblestones of the old town would be my only company. That is unless of course you count the petulant seagulls that seem to follow my decrepit corpse much like amateur vultures. Lately, I had been as intriguing as the possibility of a boxing glove made of rusted nails to the face.
Instead of being mindful and tired of the little things that comprise the façade of happiness, I have become trapped in hating them. Seems I believe in so little that I don’t believe in my own happiness anymore. And what was once a cold exterior has become just another jaded corrupted core. Now I can tell you that all that was due to the lonely nights and broken hearts. Actually, it was a bizarre sense of nonfulfillment and apathy that seems to detach me from everything and everyone; leaving me alone and strangely acquiescent. Some kind of authorial remove but without the writing talent, only righteous apathy and intellectual gamesmanship. And so I am left with a half-melted soul nonchalantly hoping for a resolution. Yet even the hope is stingingly ironic. It was also all too possible that I forgot how to hope the way other people do. That is assuming I still wanted hope. Seems my pessimism would never let me be sincere again, what a shame. Hope, now there’s a cup that has a few too many lipstick marks, even for me.
It takes hope for me to realize that I am fine drowning in an assortment of poisoned beverages and dancing with puffs of smoke to the soulful sounds made by a desperate alcoholic posing as an adequately talented saxophonist. Don’t get me wrong, I love company but I guess for now I have to do with having sharp, crisp, and of course witty dialogue, with myself in less than reputable establishments. Establishments that tend to be dimly lit, not due to stylish sensibilities but to hide the lacklustre, if not grotesque, appearance. I took my seat back on the bar and I flirted with another smoke. It filled my lungs with warmth. It filled my head with bad ideas. It filled my idle hands with something less … dangerous. Mostly it filled the vacancy, albeit with a momentary mirage of something that might be tangible, possibly even meaningful.
In the end I wouldn’t call it a vacancy if it was already filled, now would I? Truth is, there’s no happy ending here, because I won’t allow it or I can’t imagine it, not sure which.
Huh imagination? Mine was a fickle realm of sundry and loathsome delusions that taunted me in every fathomable fashion. My imagination wasn't just fashionable, it was an eclectic collection of a thousand stories exuding profound emotions I do not claim to understand. Yet, it always left me with nothing but that sweet and rancorous residue of creativity: sarcasm.
“If you’re looking for love in this place, then you might be using your loneliness as a disguise for being a hopeless romantic.” She said as she sat three barstools away but it felt like we were side by side since there was no else there, not even a bartender. See what I mean about less than reputable?
I turned to her but she didn’t face me. I said “I am not a romantic. As a matter of fact, I am the archetypal anti-romantic.”
She lit herself a cigarette and inhaled so sincerely you’d think she smoked as a luxury. She said with smoke escaping from her red lips, “How romantic of you.”
I was perturbed. “How is that romantic?”
She still didn’t look at me. “Vehemently not believing in romance but desperately believing in love. That is so romantic.”
I turned away from her as the mirage began to fade and the vacancy re-emerged. “You don’t believe in love?” A puff of slender joy left my lungs. “Never mind, don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.” There it goes again, another exodus of warmth. Then I questioned her tauntingly. “So why are you here then?”
She finally turned to me. “For the bar nuts.” She slid a wooden bowl of despicable salted sadness down the bar. It didn’t reach me, stopped a stool short.
I turned back to her and let the wit fly. “How romantic of you.”
She scoffed delicately, noticeably glad that the conversation continued. “Romance. It’s just an excuse for the rich to enjoy their lives and the stupid to hope.”
“Don’t you mean the poor?”
“Not all the poor are stupid, some are just useless.”
I looked at her lipstick stained cigarette, it must be lucky. “Guess that makes me poor, stupid, and useless.”
She turned away again as if playing a game which I have no interest in playing. She mocked me. “Now that’s a winning combination.”
I faced the bar again. “I don’t believe in winning.”
She rotated on the stool to face me. “But you believe in love? Isn’t that a happy coincidence?”
Staring at the empty shelves behind the bar I said “I don’t believe in happiness.”
She stood up and grabbed her coat from the stool next to her. “What use is love when you don’t believe in happiness? Aren’t you a bottle of something mysterious.” She walked over to me, leaned in and grabbed some bar nuts. “So what do you believe in?”
I stood up, put on my coat as my second cigarette sat firmly between my lips. “I believe in the bright moon over the harbour.”
She laughed sensually, clearly exhausted not having done that in some time.
We walked towards the door. She was a step behind rather than ahead. Once outside, we began to walk our separate ways. Without turning she said “Well, I believe in vacant hearts.”
I kept walking away without looking back, “Is that right?”
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