“CROOKED heaven bar” the signboard blinking like Christmas lights reads above my head and I almost chuckle to myself but for a couple of big black guys dishing out grim looks. I immediately swallow my laugh and step into the bar: a world of soft music, indistinct quietness and dim lights pouring from moody chandeliers. The air is musty like an old shelf stuffed with old books and the room isn’t any fuller than a library on weekend nights. I pick my way through and help myself onto an empty stool. The barman, bald and stout, is busy at the other end. Everything seems to be in retro trends; the music, lights, the clothes people have on and even the goddamn air passing through my lungs. I am beginning to feel I’d walked into a campaign for “Bring Back the 20s”.
The men have baggy shirts tuck into thigh tightening trousers that are extremely flamboyant from the knees downwards, with braces suspending these trousers several inches above their waists. Some have hats napping on their heads while the makeup on the women gives them the eerie look of the caricatures kindergarten kids sprawl on A4s, impudently calling them ‘art’. I cannot make out their kind of shoes either. They all walk in an uncanny manner; everybody, as if they do not have legs and that even if they do, they are not using them. It is as if they are just breezing this way and that, clinking glasses and mumbling things. It reminds me of how I’d felt after the accident. I’d unknowingly found myself at the other side of the road with no explanations as to how I’d got there. I’d felt loose, unleashed, as if something of precious value had left me; the same way I’m sure the power had left Jesus when a woman touched his garment.
Everything had taken a different turn too. The streets, with every step I took, had become deserted as my eyes clamored for bar signs, and the remaining few who loitered about eyed me entrancingly as if I was trespassing marked territory; as if I was Moses wearing sandals on holy ground while the only thing I’d felt like at the time was paper.
But I am shaking my head now, brushing the estrangedness off my findings. The dim lights are perhaps trying to play catch with my mind.
I look up abruptly and it is the barman, his bulgy eyes arresting mine as I ask myself if such questions, these days, are not usually movie clichéd. I raise my left hand, thereby showing him a pair of ring-less middle fingers.
“Ah! Then it is the girlfriend, aye?” he presses on, inclining his head like an agama lizard, grinning from ear to ear. I crease my brow and smirk. How pathetic!
“I’ll have a beer.” I return calmly, tossing a coin at him. The grin disappears and he eyes me, wiping his hand with a towel.
Two minutes gone by and I’m already two bottles away from being drunk. I am thinking of Ema as I scratch and feed my itchy eyes. A couple of skimpily dressed women are sitting at various corners, smiling and rubbing the chests of male clients. If those are prostitutes, I think to myself, then they are nowhere near the sassiness/refined ugliness of their present-day kind, and it would be wrong to think of them as feathers that fall from the same termite.
“Hey!” I snap my fingers at the bald barman. He broods over.
“What kind of a bar is this?”
“You didn’t read the sign before walking in? We sell drinks here. That’s why it’s called a bar.” He retorts as I somehow feel I didn’t ask the question correctly.
“What’s with the costumes and sinisterly soft music?”
“You must be new around these parts.” He says with a note of finality and provocative contention. He apparently does not need any confirmation from me. Taken aback, I make to say something at an instant but instead drink from my mug, licking a foamy mustache off my upper lip.
“I don’t think so mate,” I say, stifling a belch “if anyone’s new here, it is you.”
Then slowly and with little warning, his face becomes sullen like a cloud is drifting over his countenance, clarity picking form in his eyes. He studies me for a split-second, narrowing his eyes and then says:
“Or maybe you do not know you are new.”
He slides away in the same weird gait I’d noticed in everyone, even in myself. I am almost certain he just floated away; that his feet did not touch the ground. I do not understand what he meant by “maybe I do not know I’m new” and I do not know if I should take what he said seriously regardless of its unmistakable sarcasm but I can very well understand I do not want to be here anymore and as if to confirm it, Ema’s eyes seemingly flashes through my mind.
I rise from the stool and walk towards the exit, more than a dozen pair of eyes I’m sure, following me. I step into the daylight that isn’t getting any older and the now creepier-than-crispy harmattan breeze that provokes goose pimples to peek from my skin, ignoring the outburst of malicious snickers behind me. I begin to run.
To be continued……..