Between a bar and a bus stop

Preeti hates bars.

In the movies they show bars as the place where after a few shots of vodka, or whatever alcoholic drink the actors glug down, a new hit single starts playing, and everyone breaks into a coordinated dance. The difference between reality and the movie world makes her laugh.

It’s not like she’s going to a bar, or that she’s even there as of now. But she passes one on her way back from work (she walks, and she likes it), and even in her baggy salwar-kurta, she can’t escape the more-than-obvious stares and catcalling. Those people really need a life.

That’s another thing that angers her. Everyone in that bar is the type she hates. Lazy and pathetic. Poor? Go and work, you lazy ass. They take out whatever they feel on single, hardworking women just because they can. Just because no one stops them.

There are days she just swears on her whole journey home, inhaling and swearing, inhaling and swearing, trying to let go of every molecule of frustration. It seems strange, and it is. Strangely therapeutic.

Today she has to go to her mother’s house, and unfortunately the closest bus stop is right outside a bar. Preeti really wants to avoid it, but waiting for an uncomfortable fifteen minutes seems better than walking to the next stop. So she stands there, checking her watch continuously, always on alert. She’s alone in the bus stop, but she can hear the music booming in the bar behind her.

After twenty minutes, the bus has not come, and she wonders what to do. She wants to ask someone, but no one is nearby. Well, no one but…

Reluctantly she turns around and steps into the bar. The smell hits her first, and much like she expected, she sees people sprawled around, making strange declarations in loud, drawling voices. She feels a spasm of irritation like an itch she can’t reach. Without making eye contact with anyone, she looks for the bartender, behind the usual bar-tending area.

“Excuse me!” She calls when she spots him. He’s a tall, balding man with a gentle looking face, and he’s serving another customer. It shakes her a little, because he seems like a professor or a kindly librarian, hardly a bartender. Appearances are deceptive, she thinks.

“Excuse me!” She says again, irked because he’s deep in conversation with the customer.

“Yes, madam?” Someone taps her shoulder, keeping his hand a little longer than necessary, “Do you want help?” The man behind her offers her a sleazy smile.

She immediately jerks away, “No, thank you. Excuse me!” She calls again, banging the table.

The bartender finally turns towards her, “Yes madam?” He’s sober, thank God. She turns to her side to see if the sleazy man is still there, but he’s wandered off.

“Do you know when the bus is coming? The one for MG road?” She asks.

“This one is no longer there, madam, from one week. Something about a strike, or …”

“Well is there another way of getting there?”

“I think there are two buses that you can take. Wait, I think one of the boys over there knows – ”

“Oh, no that’s okay, thank – ”

“No, no madam. They are from there only somewhere. Wait, I’ll ask them.” And he hurries off before she can stop him to another corner of the bar, and she knows it’s because there are too many customers waiting, and he can’t really explain the directions. She considers leaving because the last thing she wants to do is take directions from a drunk man.

“Haan, yes madam. There is one bus that will take you to TV Nagar and from there to MG Road, it will come in another ten minutes.”

“Achcha, okay thank you.”

“No-no problem,” He mumbles quickly before returning to deal with the throng of customers.

She quickly makes her way out, another ten minutes. Sigh.

As she makes herself comfortable on the bench, she hears a call, ‘Madam!”

She ignores it, but a man comes up and says, “You’re the one who wanted directions, right?”

He’s not as badly dressed as the others, she notes. A simple blue shirt and jeans, but he can’t be any different from them.

She ignores him again.

“Well, do you want a drink?” He holds up a bottle, “You look so tensed.”

She knows that she should act nonchalantly although his tone is really irking her. Only five more minutes.

“No,” She says.

“Arrey, but this will help you relaaax,” His stretches the ‘a’ and his lips turn to an easy grin.

“I said no. Just leave me alone.”

“It will help you like it helped me! I want to help you…”

She can’t help the feeling of disgust that hits her.

“Yes, yes, helped you so much. I know lazy people like you!”

All lazy and liabilities to the society. All bothering women, and society in general.

“You’re just another drunkard.”

The bus comes just then and thank God she gets on it when she does, because just as the doors close, the man, though slow in his movements, has smashed the bottle, anger contorting his face.

“You don’t know anything about me!”

She hears it as the bus glides away, and promises to not come back to this stop.

Drunkard.

***

He promises to have just a bit. He doesn’t drink much, but now that he’s here, why not? He can manage himself.

He made a face when he found out this was the place his friends wanted to meet,

“Really, guys?” He asked. It was a small place, probably filled with lazy, drunk people who didn’t know any better. But they assured him that it had the best atmosphere in town, and seedy though it seems, it does have some atmosphere, with loud music booming. Songs from movies he’s never even heard of, but it seems so authentic. And yes, filled with lazy, drunk people, but he needn’t interact with them, right?

He laughs at his friends who start speaking shit after a little while. It’s nice to meet these guys again. A real good break from work.

Work is actually going great, he’s rising in the company and he’s working his ass off as well, but sometimes it’s nice not to think about it. Especially the tiff he had with his manager this morning. He knows it will all die down, but it really got on his nerves. It replays in his head more than he’d like to admit.

He sees the way his friends hold the bottle like an old friend, and he leans forward to take just  a sip. The first bitter jolt makes him wonder why they even drink, but as he leans it higher to let more in, he can imagine alcohol traveling down in his throat, and internally massaging his tense muscles, and yet acting as a fuel and helping him join the fun with his friends.

They cheer when they see him drink and when he asks for a second bottle, he forgets that he meant to take only a sip. He barely drinks. He isn’t a rebel, though strong minded. He has a good job, is a first class debater and  says ‘hello’ to all the helpers he meets every day. But right now, he likes how the liquor makes him feel, and kisses the top of the bottle.

Alcohol makes things lose their pointiness. Everything kind of blurs, and whatever is in front is the largest. He loses perspective, and the argument with his manager hardly matters anymore. It won’t matter till tomorrow, and tomorrow is still so far away.

Right now, he sees a woman come inside and he notices how tense she is, and he doesn’t want her to feel that way because that’s how he felt until he drank. And look at how easy he is now. So, after the bartender comes and asks for directions for her sake, after she hurries back outside, he slips out to join her. To offer that drink that she really needs.

“Madam!” He calls to her back.

He staggers upto her and sees her stiff face, gazing forward, refusing eye contact. Alone on the bench, waiting for the bus. Maybe she needs company.

“You’re the one who wanted directions, right?” See? He knows her already.

She ignores him again.

“Well, do you want a drink?” He holds up the bottle, “You look so tensed.”

Just to let her know that he wants to help her.

“No,”

Aah, he knows that answer. It’s what he said too, initially.

“Arrey, but this will help you relaaax…”

“I said no. Just leave me alone.”

Why is she being so difficult? He tries to make his intentions clear. he doesn’t want to hurt her.

“It will help you like it helped me! I want to help you…”

She makes face, “Yes, yes, helped you so much. I know lazy people like you!”

The word lazy hits him. He’s not lazy. He’s nothing like the others in the bar. He’s worked so hard, even fought with his manager. He wants to help her, how dare she judge him? How dare she call him that? She doesn’t know anything about him and he intends to make that clear. All thoughts of helping her disappear, she doesn’t deserve it –

“You’re just another drunkard.”

The bus comes then. He sees it screech to a stop and she gets up, and quickly climbs in. He stares at her, anger building up inside him. He’s not a drunkard. He’s a good person, a productive person. And she thinks she knows him?

He smashes the bottle to the ground, frustrated.

“You don’t know anything about me!”

He’s not a drunkard.

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