He sat sprawled on one of the small, squishy sofas that were arranged with meticulous disorder about the corner of the nightclub. It was not a very expensive nightclub. The leather skins of the sofas were of a shade that is kindly called ‘shocking’ pink. Apart from the dance floor- where neon lights of all colours flashed, spun and rippled - the room was illuminated by a faint white glow that gave the pink a somewhat morbid tinge.
Looking at the crowd, one would be tempted to call the place truly constitutional. It seemed to believe strongly in the fallacy of discrimination. The man in question was not the sort that any establishment would boast of. The heavy stubble that might have been attractive on more chiselled faces, the puffy features that might have seen more chiselled days, the crumpled lurid shirt……
None of it was startling, but when noticed, gave off a vaguely repulsive aura.
He wiped his mouth with his hand and held a bottle up against the light, to ensure that its contents had been emptied. Then he stood up. And staggering, like the eternally caricatured but sometimes pitiabe drunkard that he was, he made his way to the bar.
He wondered why he had chosen to come to a disco. Sure, he loved dancing but he knew he was in no mood to dance right then. The music pounded against his head like a vengeful fist, and the psychedelic lights made him feel slightly dizzy.
He’d probably thought that a crowd would cheer him up.
Yes, that must’ve been it....
He’d always liked crowds, from his brash adolescent school days, through his smooth, charismatic stage days, upto now. New people- and lots of them- gave him a kick. Provided that he was noticed, of course. He didn’t have to be the centre of attraction, but he had to be noticed. Goddammit, he was a creature made of living flesh and blood, how could he NOT be noticed?!
It struck him that he’d never really grown out of his childhood.
Ah well. You can’t all be mature, can you?
Fresh and youthful, they’d called him. With a voice like falling snowflakes. He’d smiled at that one.
He found that he had reached the bar. The young bartender eyed him warily.
If the bugger was drunk to just the right degree, he’d stay longer, he’d pay for more. But trouble was to be avoided at all costs. A disco had been shut down only a few weeks ago. Some issue about a girl… the usual… sad case, if you came to think about it.
All of a sudden, a curious expression came over the older man’s face. Something was different. What was it? The song. They were playing some song. He knew it; the melody ran in his blood! But it sounded unfamiliar; it wasn’t how he knew it.
‘What… what song… when…’
The alcohol induced slur did nothing to help the incoherence of his phrasing.
The bartender grew a trifle anxious. ‘Pardon? You… you want to know the name of the song?’
‘I know this song, this is my song!’ (Said with a ripple of childlike laughter, that in this context was almost grotesque.)
After a moment’s awkwardness, the bartender seemed to have a minor epiphany. Smiling and more relaxed, he asked- ‘Oh, you mean this song is… was special to you? Of course, this is a remixed version... obviously.’
‘This is MY song. Why is it like this, what the hell have they done to it?’ There was now a touch of hysteria in the voice.
The bartender, disconcerted again, was silent.
‘It isn’t supposed to be like this’, the man persisted. ‘Do they even know I’m here? How, how DARE they do this to my song in front of me?’
He was on the verge of shouting. One might have thought he was pulling a prank. It seemed straight out of some cheap, hackneyed melodrama. The people nearby gave him all sorts of glances, some abhorrent, some amused, a few apprehensive. A couple of other bartenders and some other waiters hurried towards the scene of brewing chaos.
‘What’s the problem, sir? I must ask you to be calm, or you’ll upset the others.’
‘Up…upset who? I’M upset. You should be worried about ME! But no one ever has been. It’s alright, qu-quite alright. Just... just ask them not to destroy my song, please….’
The childish note, once again. Why was it so disturbing? Did a gruff voice and a midlife crisis HAVEto imply gravity?
The song had changed by now, but he hadn’t noticed. He wouldn’t, either. The old tune was stuck him his head, with no plans of leaving.
‘Sir, if you don’t just walk away calmly, we’re going to have to ask you to leave. We can’t afford to let this kind of behaviour persist in our club.’ These being the first aggressively spoken words in the conversation.
The man leaned on the counter. ‘Let me tell you a little… (after a pause)…. secret. From an older, wise---wiser man. Enjoy your life now. Don’t stand behind the counter. Get out, and fucking DANCE. Sing. Before life hits you like… like a… like a pile of shtale shit.’
He reached out and grabbed the first bartender’s sleeve.
A gleam of intense annoyance sparked in the latter’s eyes. His mouth quivered, and for a few seconds, he wondered what course of action to take. But before he came to a decision, the man had let go and was walking away.
The bartender followed the other's steps, watchful of any possible trouble. He wasn’t trembling with loathing, or anger, or anything of that sort. He’d had this sort of experience before. He just had to be cautious, as his profession demanded.
But without warning, a wave of some unidentifiable emotion swept over him. What was it, pity? He couldn’t be sure. But for a moment, that man had looked so old, so tired. Strange, what a slight stoop of the shoulders can convey. What was the issue about the song anyway?
As these thoughts hovered in the bartender’s head with the transience of his very own disco lights, the one-time singer walked towards the exit. He was unconsciously humming the tune of the only hit record he’d ever made.
The lights flashed for a moment on his bald spot. Then he was out.