September 12, 2008


I had started on my third bottle of stout. I liked Lion Stout because its alcohol percentage was high, and because its sour-bitter flavour left a after taste of marmite in my mouth. I had a sip from my glass and lit a cigarette. I was seated next to a window on the first floor overlooking the Galle Road. A light breeze blew smoke from the cigarette into my eyes. This was my favourite watering hole, where I spent a few hours every day after work. It was patronised by most tipplers from in and around Bambalapitiya. It was about 6.30 in the evening. I stared vacantly at the people down below who were hurrying to get back home.
“Is it alright if I sit here Putha” I turned around lazily to see an old gentleman pointing towards the seat next to me. “Sure uncle, no problem,” I said and turned back towards the window. I heard the old man tell the waiter to bring him a stout and five Bristols. As he poured his stout I looked at the old man. I had seen him before seated downstairs.
“I normally sit downstairs, today being a Friday and all that, not a bloody seat to be found in this blasted place” he said to me taking a sip from his glass. I was feeling a little high as I poured the last of the stout into my glass.
“By the way son, I’m Adrian, I’m sixty years, recently divorced and starting to enjoy my freedom again.” Sixty! He looked about seventy five, with his droopy watery eyes and wrinkled face.
“Well uncle, I’m twenty two, never been married, and I’ve just lost my girlfriend” I said with a wry smile, taking a puff from my cigarette! “That explains all these bottles on the table,” he said taking another sip from his glass. “Son, do you want to tell me about her?” he asked, looking at me. I ordered another stout and poured half of it into my glass.
“Uncle it happened like this; I was twenty then and there was a library that I used visit regularly; that’s where I met Fathima. She was a Muslim and the same age as me.”
“Was she pretty?” Adrian asked me. “Yes she was,” I said taking out my purse to show him a photograph of her. “Well, as I was telling you, we used to meet at this library, and I also used to speak to her from time to time on the phone. One day her mother got wind of what was going on. She had been listening over the extension while both of us were speaking. That was the end of Fathima coming to the library. After that the only way I could contact her was to send her a letter from time to time through a friend. She was virtually under house arrest. About four or five months went by, I had started working and used to call her on the phone at night from office. That’s when she suggested that I come over to her place in the night. The risk far outweighed the fact that we would be together after all these months.”
“I went to her house at 11.30 one night. Fathima was on the balcony. She quickly came down and opened the gate for me. Taking my hand, she led me into the house. It was pitch dark and my heart beat was synchronized to the tick tock of the clock in the hall. I held onto her hand like a child holding on to it’s mother. She led me through the maze of furniture into the study. It had a table and chair and a bed next to the window. It was a big house. Her parents and two sisters slept upstairs. I spent the night with Fathima in the study. I left at four in the morning as her family woke up at 4.30am to say their prayers.”
I paused for a moment, to take a sip from my beer and have a drag from my cigarette. I was feeling quite drunk now.
“You lucky devil! buggers have all the fun!” Adrian said, patting me on the back. Everybody in the bar seemed to be in high spirits. Booze was flowing and the waiters were beaming. They had a lot to be happy about, as it was a Friday and pay day for most of the customers. They were sure to get good tips while making a bit on the side by over charging some of the unsuspecting customers. We ordered another round of stout.
“So continue Putha, tell me what happened!” Adrian said, shaking my hand. “Well, I started to go to her house twice a week. This continued for s few months. It has been said that all good things come to an end. We heard someone knocking on the study room door. There were bars on the window and no way of escape, the only place to hide was under the bed. Fathima had to open the door. Her mother looked under the bed, saw me and went racing upstairs like a bat out of hell to wake her husband. I could have left right then, but decided to stay and face the music because I really loved Fathima. Her parents came down and started yelling at us. When one of them paused to take a breath, the other would start. They sounded like two tractors with mechanical trouble. I tried to reason with them, but they would not listen. The fact that I was not a Muslim and what their relatives would say, weighed heavily against me. Fathima’s father went as far as to say that if she married me, he would kill himself. I decided that now was the time to make my exit. If I didn’t leave now, I knew I wouldn’t live to fight another day, what with her father screaming blue murder and her mother wailing like a banshee. To cut a long story short, Fathima’s father emotionally blackmailed her into thinking that he would commit suicide and that is why you find me here today with all these bottles around me.”
“Well son, according to Murphy’s Law, if something has to happen, it will happen. It all comes down to fate. See how I had to put up with an old battle axe for the past twenty years. She is the spitting image of that cartoon character Andy Capps wife. Always nag! nag! nag! One day I came home after a small drink; the battle axe started up like a broken down record about my drinking. I told her Therese! I am drunk and you are ugly! Tomorrow I will be sober, but you will still be ugly!”
“Ha! Adrian! Looks like you subscribe to the Reader’s Digest,” I said taking a swig from my glass. “Well Putha don’t tell anybody!” Adrian said, winking at me. Adrian was drunk as well and kept rambling on about his former wife. “You know Putha, the ideal marriage would be between a deaf man and a blind woman. The woman can’t see what mischief her husband gets up to and the wife can nag the whole day and he wouldn’t hear a thing. You should have seen my mother-in-law; He seemed to be speaking to himself; She was a sight for sore eyes. When she came to visit, she and her daughter would get together and nag me. One day my mother-in-law told me, “Adrian! if you were my husband I would put arsenic in your tea!.” “Mother dearest, if you were my wife, I would drink it !” was my reply to her. That put a stop to her insults.
“ Looks like your mother-in-law also reads the Reader’s Digest,” I said with a grin. “Women! You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them! Drinking is not going to solve your problems! Drink if you must, to enjoy yourself, not to drown your sorrows! No woman is worth all this pain! Son, it’s getting late now, don’t you think we should leave?” Adrian said gulping down the last of his stout. We paid our bills and left.
I woke up the next morning with a massive hangover. I couldn’t remember how I had got home. I did not go to work. As I lay there on my bed, these words wafted through my head;

Oh lissome lass, remember that,

I loved you with all my heart;

You turned me head over heels with your smile,

And then you broke my heart.

In an alcoholic stupor,

Through a haze of cigarette smoke;

Your face appeared, and then you spoke,

Oh Lord! Is this a joke?

I’m bewitched by your eyes;

Haunted by your smile;

My eyes are wet, I love you yet!

Alcohol won’t help me forget!

I put my pillow over my head and went back to sleep.

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