By Kerstin Hall
I have my drink. The Rat is not busy. The bartender and some of the waiters are in on my little game. They have advised that I come back tomorrow – it’s their 21st birthday celebration or something – and they expect people to get hammered. I’m not entirely sure I want to deal with that level of drunkenness, but it could make things interesting.
This is not easy for me. It took a lot of guts for me to leave home, walk here, get a Smirnoff, sit down and be on my own on a Tuesday night.
This is a little experiment. What happens when a girl sits alone at a bar?
To be honest, it’s not nearly as bad as I anticipated. I nearly backed out of this. But now I have my vodka and my dark corner and my questions and I know I can do this. I will only leave if I feel seriously threatened, that’s my rule. I must last at least an hour.
I am on the top floor and I have a clear view of the whole room. The room also has a clear view of me.
It’s actually kind of… nice.
The tables by the windows are full. Three sets of students and one of elderly men. The older people are white-haired and engrossed in a conversation, nodding periodically. The younger ones smoke and speak more lethargically, gesturing lazily with their cigarettes.
A guy with a green shirt comes up the stairs. He looks at me, hesitates, breaks eye contact, and sits at the table in front of mine. Chicken. I guess I have that kind of face. The notebook probably doesn’t help.
Green Shirt divides his attention between his phone and the cricket match projected on the wall to my right.
Gross. A cockroach just scuttled past my foot.
Oh, the bro-speak is strong with this one. He is blonde, round-faced, dressed in a sports shirt. He mauls his comrade’s palm in a handshake and leaps onto a stool. I imagine he plays some kind of contact sport.
I wonder what would happen if I stopped writing. I’ll just try to look thoughtful for a while.
“And it was like, woah, shit!” Bro is undoubtedly the loudest person here.
Green Shirt drums his foot against the ground. He is glued to his phone; it dyes the skin of his face neon blue. Nervous. Waiting for someone. He glances furtively towards the stairs.
Another newcomer. Although I am terrible at judging ages, this boy seems very young. With affected cockiness, he heads over to a table of equally fresh faces. Either first years are smaller than I remember, or the students of a local highschool are taking chances. It’s in the way he walks; his shoulders breathe insecurity. A bit starry-eyed, like, ‘look, I’m in a bar and I might get caught any time now!’
Poor Green Shirt. I think he is being stood up. The waitress gives him a pitying look and tries to make conversation.
High School Boy approaches the bar, grinning anxiously. And then performs a U-turn. Lol.
High School Boy tries again. Victory! A lager!
Not a single person has approached me. I could sit somewhere else, but I don’t think it will make a difference. Besides, I’m making friends with Scuttley the Cockroach.
A raucous burst of laughter erupts from the balcony, as Bro reaches the punchline of what must have been a hilarious joke.
Oh fuck. Scuttley has cousins. Legs up. No, this is uncomfortable in a dress. Cross-legged it is. I am now the hippie in the corner.
Outside the windows, beyond Bro and Co, I can see the trees. The leaves are golden and copper in the streetlamp glow. They look frozen against the surrounding darkness– crystalline and fragile. There is no breeze.
“Voila!” reads the building across the street. But what was the revelation?
I had questions prepared. For anyone, really. I wanted to test anonymity, inebriation and intimacy. I wanted to ask unaskable things.
Green Shirt takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes with his palms. He looks tired. We two are the only ones alone here. He shifts in his seat, reflexively checks his phone.
I cannot see Scuttley or his extended family. This worries me.
Do all guys do that elbow-lean-on-the-bar thing? At this point in time, I can see three of them exhibiting exactly the same pose. It doesn’t even look very comfortable.
Time has been passing quickly.
A waitress strides by with three green salads. The Rat is a strange place for anyone attempting to be health conscious. The salad-eaters are in the corner and I cannot see them because there is a wall in the way. But I imagine them to be fit and female.
Green Shirt hunches his shoulders, turns from the room. The waiter collects my empty bottle, business-like, bored. My legs are going numb from sitting cross-legged.
Moths flutter around the projector. Their wings tap-tap-tap as they bludgeon themselves senseless.
Newcomers, a group of five. For a change, there are girls and guys. Until now, everything has been predominantly male and white. The new group stays close together, sticking to the swarm. They select a table beside the stairs and flit to the bar and back.
Green Shirt lights up morosely.
Dammit. My drink is gone.
Should I get another? Yeah. It does not feel like I have been here very long.
Green Shirt’s pizza arrives.
I came here for people’s stories. But all I can see is the surface. Maybe that’s enough. If you watch carefully, I think you can see details that make up the lives of other human beings.
Green Shirt drums endlessly against the ground, his leg never tires.
The air is heavy with cigarette smoke. I will have to wash my hair, but the smell will cling.
Green Shirt gets some steak and chips. Eating gives him something to do. He cannot pretend to send text messages forever. The Irish are massacred by the South Africans on the wall to my right. Waiters twirl the floor, invisible automatons.
It has been over an hour.
“Sweet nothing, sweet nothing, you’re giving me such sweet nothing.” The speaker is right above my head, but the music is not loud.
Green Shirt looks at me. Looks at his phone.
I will finish my drink and go. I doubt anything is going to change in the hour following this one.
“Oh my fuck, bru!”
The best defense for a girl in a bar is a notebook and a moving pen.
The waitress collects Green Shirt’s empty plates. His leg jitters.
I am down to the dregs. This is the last chance.
But the only ones to join me are the cockroaches.
I drain my glass and leave Green Shirt to his phone.