My previous encounter with alcohol had failed to convince me that its virtues were make-believe. I’d come out injured and scarred, after participating in a scuffle which was really about rival sports teams, a woman, alcohol, raw brutality, expected sex and foul language more than anything else. The lesson I was meant to learn got lost in the chaos and noise, so I went right back to the same bar a few weeks later. Unwisely, I went alone, devoid of the company of Wise Men.
In those days I had a penchant for saying hi to associates in the most superficial manner and then proceeding to sit by myself. While I was alone, my eyes fixed on a muted television set showing reruns of international football friendly matches. My ears wallowed in music from I-don’t-know-where.
Developments soon turned against me. Angela - of all people - materialized from amidst the lively crowd, sat across the table from me and started humming, preening and making all sorts of little feminine gesticulations while looking at me fixedly.
I smiled; “Are you going to say hi or should I?”
She laughed icily and said, “I’m waiting for my boyfriend, so don’t feel like you have to talk to me, coz I’ll just sit here and be gone once he shows up. We’re goin' Westie.”
“Have fun,” I said, and tried to ignore her.
But our eyes kept meeting. Inevitably, I saw that she had a black eye. She saw that I had seen – my expression must have betrayed my feelings towards the eyesore – and she willed me not to mention it.
“How’s GalPal?” I asked, out of curiosity - I can’t really say I was changing the topic.
Angela shrugged, looked at me and said, “Forget her, Negroid, she ain’t your type.” It was hard not to take offence, but I think my eyes darkened and I kept very quiet, to avoid calling her Mrs. Matchmaker when she was so obviously drunk and impervious to sarcastic rejoinders. I didn’t even say “eye patch,” no. Still, I didn’t have to stew in my own angry juices too long; the cold Guinness before me civilized my outlook in short order, and my stare roamed to and fro around the bar in the name of avoiding having to recognize Angela’s presence.
Soon enough, Angela’s boyfriend showed up to take her away. Foolishly, I had expected that Angela would simply leave with him and I would immediately recover from the effects of being in her evil presence. That was not to be, for said boyfriend looked at me and, at the instant of recognition, snapped out of his semi-consciously dull stare, jumping straight into a livid rage.
He signaled over his shoulder at three guys I hadn’t noticed, and they all approached my table and took a seat, each giving me questioning looks. One even offered a handshake; he had a stylish Mohawk on his head and we bumped fists. Angela’s boyfriend, Lucas, then introduced me formally to his entourage: “This one of the guys who piga’d me last time I was goin’ digz!” And right then, the questioning looks of his friends turned to menacing airs. Lucas made a show of his clenched jaws, which made Angela start drama routines as she demanded to know whether or not they were going to Westie after all. No answer was forthcoming from the businesslike expressions all around her. Exasperated, she snapped, “I’ll be in the car!” and stormed out, heads turning in her wake.
There was a brief silence at our table as we stared after Angela stomping away in stilettos. Eyes all over the bar converged on our table as drunken youths sought a hint as to what made the lady so unhappy, but all there was to see there were some guys looking at one other badly and not fighting - or even talking. Mama Drama, they decided, leaving us well alone.
But Lucas had an agenda. He jumbled out a self indulgent rant about how me and another Wise Man ganged up on him, and pummeled his brains out at a time when all he wanted was to go home to his girlfriend and sleep (with her? Before, while or after assaulting her? He didn’t say). He conveniently left out the preceding part about how he ran away from the gang-fight like a chicken, was too slow about his running, ran out of stamina anyway, stood panting and unsteady in the knees in front of a church gate, and was eventually felled with a single backhanded bitch-slap across his face from a guy shorter and thinner than he is. Lucas also forgot to clarify that I didn’t touch him (because when I chased and caught up with him, I recognized him and left him alone), but my fellow Wise Man had been too ideologically zealous to embrace peace when his opportunity came to shape destiny. I suspected that these clarifications about who hit or didn’t hit the other weren’t welcome right then, so I kept quiet, hoping to defuse the situation somehow - but there wasn’t any way out.
I wasn’t required to say much, luckily, because as soon as Lucas finished his controversial tear-jerker about our alleged unjust predations upon his person, he started worrying us all because he was “outraged" that he has just found me "canoodling with his girlfriend to add insult to injury.” Lucas’ buddy, whose Mohawk looked atrocious, now that I had been given time to reconsider it, fixed me a mean look and demanded to know why I wasn’t saying anything. I avoided stating politely that I ordinarily do not argue heated exchanges with people who smell like a backstreet brewery whose ingredients include some jet fuel. No, I just kept quiet.
“You think you’re hard!” Mohawk charged. I said nothing. Lucas got worked up and started heavy breathing, a potent demonstration of rage. “If you’re so tough, why don’t we step outside right now?”
I shook my head.
“Why not?!” shouted Mohawk above the music and the bar-crowd’s noise.
I raised my bottle and wiggled it, to demonstrate that I was too busy drinking to consider stepping outside to prove my toughness as a meaningful distraction. An erstwhile quiet henchman of Lucas’ then came up with a bright idea, which I didn’t appreciate at all: “And when you finish? Can we step outside?
I shrugged casually, trying to convey “Yeah, whatever, bring it, I don’t even care, I’ll still pulverize y’all.”
The point is, all five of us round that table were simply seated there looking keenly at the level of alcohol in a dark bottle. I was no fool. I knew that my best strategy was to take a sip an hour, because the bar was crowded with people and not one of them was friendly enough or strong enough or even familiar enough to recruit to my cause. I sighed and looked around; where would my help come from?! With divine insight, I discerned what The Psalmist was going through when he lamented, “I am surrounded by my enemies!”