Short Story – The Bar

BY TAWANDA CHIPATO The bar. A place to see and be seen. Bulawayo bars are something else. Even as you get to the door, invariably covered by a black cloth that has definitely seen better days, you are given a stern warning by the fat lady sitting outside, selling everything from chicken heads to

amacimbi, that, yes, you are about to cross over from the world of the misguided teetotaller to that of the serious drunkard. A world totally divorced from the sober world outside. Once you step into this world there is no turning back. Only drunkenness, or a severe beating from a drunken counterpart, is enough to make you leave this world, albeit reluctantly. Once you enter this world, forget about paying the childrens school fees. Forget about buying that TV that you have been promising yourself and your family, for this is a world where financial constraint is frowned upon. Normal reasoning is not tolerated here. Once that door is open and your eardrums are suddenly punished by the sounds of loud Kwaito music blaring from a thousand loudspeakers, you know there is no turning back. Once the mean-looking, muscle-bound, black-as-coal bouncer has finished a body search on you, that any seasoned police officer would be proud of, you know you are in.

This is a world where you thrive. As you saunter towards the main bar, you are greeted by a chorus of How are you, friend? from friend and foe alike. You ignore them all, for you have one mission and there will be no talk until that vital mission has been accomplished. At the bar you nonchalantly flick the barman a couple notes and say the words youve been dying to say since leaving home  One Castle, please  with a sigh of relief. The barman looks at you, at the clothes you are wearing, how expensive your watch is, whether or not you have a cell-phone, trying to gauge your potential for buying beer. If he deems you worthy, a very wide plastic smile is on offer, accompanied by a very cold beer. If he finds you lacking in any way or form, a cool uthini, my bro will suffice.

After taking one long swig of the sweet nectar, you know that mission number one has been accomplished to the satisfaction of both body and soul. You then arrogantly turn around and survey this new world. This is a kingdom where anyone and everyone can be king, at least for a day. In this world, your value is not determined by the number of oil wells, gold mines or diamond mines that you own. It is determined by the number of pints you buy for your friends and acquaintances. That guy, he buys a lot of beer is the usual refrain among the perpetually broke, as the king for that particular day walks in. In this world, your might is not determined by the number of nukes you have hidden under your bed in your grand old palace, or by how large your army of gullible and blindly loyal young men is. Your might is determined by how many beers you can drink before falling on your face. That guy is strong, he can finish a whole crate on his own are the words of awe and reverence spoken whenever the undisputed king of the drinkers walks in. Yes siree, this is another world and you are really glad to be part of it.

A quick survey having pinpointed no one you know, you walk over to the nearest person sitting on his own. How are you, my friend? you say as you take the seat beside him uninvited. Satisfied that you now have a close friend and ally, in this place where one-night friendships are the norm, you carry out a more detailed survey of this confusing world. A kaleidoscope of characters awaits your eyes, each with a different reason for having made an entrance into this world. The dreadlocked guy and unofficial drug lord of this kingdom stands by the door and tells everyone as they enter I have some very good marijuana. At the slightest indication of interest, Mr Dreadlocks goes into his sales pitch, animatedly telling the would-be customer how good his product is, where he got it from (invariably Malawi) and how high it will get him. Occasionally Mr Dreadlocks leaves the bar with a red-eyed customer and they come back ten or so minutes later giggling together like two silly schoolgirls.

The pot-bellied forty-something, surrounded by girls young enough to be his daughters, catches your eye. He is buying beer as if the Almighty himself has officially declared tomorrow non-existent. The girls laugh at everything he says, but their combined laughter has an air of competition about it. They all know that, when everything has been said and done, only one of them will be going home with him tonight. The younger, less affluent, patrons of the bar are fully aware of this. They bide their time and, when that time comes, they will pounce. The older, more seasoned whores, look on with envy. They remember their heyday, when they could get any man they wanted, just by clicking their fingers. One old whore in particular, wearing a dress that reveals as much as it is desperately trying to conceal, is doing her best to attract Mr Potbellys attention. She walks past him countless times, provocatively swinging her enormous backside, but Mr Potbelly does not notice. Tonight he has fresh meat on his mind, not biltong. You point this out to your now bothersome not-quite-a-best-friend and you both laugh at this spectacle.

A group of teenagers noisily stagger into the bar, wearing all the latest fashions from America, and you dismissively tell your friend amaSalad. Your friend readily agrees and, looking at you with pleading eyes, almost desperately says Can I have one beer, my friend, Im now broke. You wearily get out of your seat and reluctantly make your way to the bar to get the beer. The barman is all smiles and niceness now, and so is your friend when you give him his beer. You then realize that Mr Potbelly has been deserted by his bevy of beauties, who are now being fondled familiarly by the group of teenagers. One of these begins puking opaque beer onto the carpet, much to the embarrassment of his drinking buddies, and he is soon ejected from the bar, somewhat roughly, by the hefty bouncer. Mr Potbelly has since found comfort in the arms of the whore with the big buttocks and the skimpy dress. Such is life, you think, as you stagger to the bar to buy another much needed beer. As you take out the money, you realize that the hefty bundle of notes has dwindled to almost nothing. When you go back to your seat, your now drunk friend looks at you with incredulous eyes. Where is my beer? he says in a thoroughly shocked voice. I dont have any more money, this is my last beer, you say as you drunkenly take a seat. Your friend gets up in disgust and miraculously meanders his way out of the bar. You follow him half an hour later and somehow find your way home.

The next day, you dont remember anything at all from the previous night. The headache that threatens to split your head in two is reminder enough that it was a heavy night. You overzealously promise yourself that you will never go back to the bar again, but you know that It’s just the hangover talking. You know that when the bar starts calling, you will listen and you will obey.

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