Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In between the smoke

It was well past midnight. In some other part of the world there was already daylight, but here they were still in the grip of night. There was a mild fog in the streets that led up to the bar. The car couldn't be driven too fast because of this, but no one seemed to mind. At a given hour at night, everything runs a little slow. The two men exited the vehicle and went through the small building's door. They found a secluded booth at the end of the room. Each took his place across from the other and no one spoke. Their names were Noah and Duke. Noah sat with his back to the rear wall and Duke sat across from him. Every time someone opened the door, Duke couldn't help but turn around to see what was happening. They both wore jeans that hadn't been washed in weeks and faces that hadn't been shaved in days. Noah lit up a cigar while his counterpart ordered some drinks. Every time he puffed on his cigar he could see Duke in between the smoke, bearing a twisted resemblance to some elusive memory. There was some music playing but the volume was too low to make out what it was; it was drowned in the monotonous drone of several conversations taking place in the room. And it was then, that this conversation began.

Noah: What time is it?
Duke: It's late...or early, depending on your point of view.
N
: Why do we come to places like these?

D: Because we can't go home. Besides, you're not likely to get any sleep anyhow. Drinking here beats watching the news while the sun comes up.
N
: Every time I come to these places, I look around and see everything that I don't want to become.

D
: What do you mean?

N
: These old, bitter men that have to drink just to cope with their existence. And then you have the yuppie crowd, and that speaks for itself.

D
: You know what you sound like?

N: What?
D
: Like a bitter, old man.

N: (laughs) Well, bitter? Yes. But old? I don't think so.
D
: You know how long it's been since we graduated high school?

N
: I do know. No need to say it out loud, thank you.

D: Doesn't seem like that long ago, does it?
N
: It never does.

D
: We were wearing those goddamn uniforms just the other day.

N
: (long pause) Don't you ever get the feeling that we could be doing more with our lives?

D
: Not necessarily, but I do get into a panic sometimes, thinking that there isn't enough time - like that clich
é dream where you're drowning.
N
: I get the feeling that God hates me.

D
: (laughs) He doesn't hate you. With all the shit going on in the world, I don't think you're on his priority list.

N
: That may be so, but I still feel...hmmm, how should I put this? Persecuted?

D
: Persecuted? Now that's a big word, pal.

Just then, the club next door began playing a sexy, FM pop hit and there were loud screams from the females. So loud in fact, that they could be heard through the wall. Noah and Duke could have sworn they heard a thousand bras snapping open.

D: You still talk to that girl you used to date?
N
: Not too much. I've been relegated to the position of a friend with privileges.

D
: Hey, when it comes to sex, everything is a privilege.

N
: I suppose you're right.

D
: I know I'm right.

N: Wait a minute, I'll be back.

All throughout the conversation, Noah had been anxious to take a leak, but he had refrained from doing so because he felt they were going to hit upon something important. When he couldn't hold it any longer, he ran to the toilet and when he got there, it felt like being reunited with a long lost lover. He sighed with joy and exclaimed a "Hooo!" as he relieved himself. When he returned to the table, he found Duke immersed in thought.

D: Returning to what we were speaking of earlier, I don't think you should give yourself such a hard time.
N
: What do you mean?

D
: What you said about not doing much with our lives. In your case, it doesn't seem to make sense that you'd say that.

N
: I know, but it's been a rough ride and I've hit so many fucking walls...

D
: So? Anything worth doing is going to be difficult.

N
: I agree, but I still feel...

D
: Persecuted? Let me tell you something, the definition of oneself shouldn't rest entirely on what you've done, but also on what you will do. It's always about the next
thing.
N
: And what is the next thing?

D: Fuck if I know. I refuse to be one of those people who wakes up and needs to know what's gonna happen. Shit, I'm just happy to wake up y'know?
N: That's an interesting point. But it's just that in the past couple of years I've taken a few hits. And when your face gets pounded with no mercy from time to time, you stop recognizing yourself in the mirror. Every day becomes a test and you keep looking over your shoulder for the next thing that's going to blow up on you.
D: I can understand that, but you also can't deny that those experiences have given you more vigor and resilience than any other asshole who's had it easy his entire life. Fuck, man! You're sitting across from me, having a drink and you're still breathing. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.

Noah was taken aback by Duke's sudden bout of inspiration. Such words are rarely spoken at bars, but tonight, they seemed appropriate.


N
: So what you're saying is that God doesn't hate me?

D
: For all I know, maybe he does hate you. But if that's the case, at least he's acknowledging you. Would you prefer that he was indifferent?

N
: Now that you mention that, I sometimes think there's a reason I never wanted any children. I guess I couldn't handle the burden of being asked questions I could never
answer for myself. So many things are still shrouded in mystery... so many things are still kept in the dark. (Long pause) I need answers.
D
: I'm sure you'll find the answers you're looking for eventually. Besides, time heals all wounds - as they say.

N: Yeah, but is there ever enough time?
D: I think so, yes.... (Whispering almost) I really think so.

After the two friends decided to leave, they exited through the same door they came in. Unbeknownst to our heroes, the sun had come up during their drinking session. Noah couldn't manage to start the car and after a few futile attempts, they realized it was hopeless. They didn't seem bothered by this and decided to walk.

They made their way down the avenues. The sun was burning hot. They were now pedestrians. They felt alive standing in that sunlight. It was Sunday morning in San Juan.

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