ONE DRINK TOO MANY
By Neel Anil Panicker
(PART NINE OF MY CONTINUING FICTION SERIES ” A FAIR AFFAIR”)
Aman Rai, the sole proprietor of One For Fun was a skeletal, beanstalk of a man desperately plodding at his forties with the only thing even remotely ominous about him being the fast disappearing strands of faded black hair on his near bald pate that jutted out at odd angles, the only note of defiance in an otherwise non-threatening personality that could at best be described as pliable and at worst as doormatish.
He conducted his business likewise; much like the way a servant hovers over his master__perpetually bent and serving__, forever at His Majesty’s Service, which in his case were his valued customers who trooped in without fail every single day and well into the night to pay obeisance to and as proof for their unflinching love for Lord Bacchus.
And they had reciprocated well_ his staff and customers alike, tolerating, accepting and even grudgingly liking and admiring the near unobtrusive presence of this quiet, almost spiritual looking man with a near slavish demeanor who seemed to exist as if only to take care of their interests, always serving them with great pleasure.
At first he chose to ignore it.
“I mean it came with the territory, didn’t it,” he reasoned. But this was different. The situation warranted that he take some action. I mean how long could one ignore the ever rising cacophony of decibel levels.
“Sir, he has already broken two glasses, please do something”, whispered Ganesh, his loyal staff of many years.
Aman extricated his head from the bundle of red and yellow excise papers that were spread out all across the square nondescript oblong wooden table much like an ever willing prostitute’s legs spreadeagled for the benefit of here client.
He hated it, the papers, that is . All this procedural stuff, the mandatory tax filings, the accounting of each and every single bill and expense was just not his thing. Taxes meant losses as money invariably went out; something which he detested like the plague.
He looked up from past the stoopy shoulders of the waiter who stood in front of him to where the noise was coming from. It was a smart thing, the high stool that is. Seated from his perch he could view clearly the ruckus that was unfolding barely five feet afar. He needn’t have looked anywhere but the corner far left, the table closest to the kitchen. The dim lights and the thick maze of smoke that formed concentric circles all around the bar ensured that he could only make out the bare silhouette of a man, with his hands and head slumped onto the table.
“What’s the matter with him? Why is he creating a ruckus?,”
he inquired from the waiter.
“I don’t know, Sir. He wants another drink and yet another drink and yet another drink. This is his fourth another drink and he still wants more. I told him that it is closing time and that he can come back tomorrow but he just is not listening … wants more … has already broken a few glasses… is very abusive also… “
The voice trailed off and lost traction. Its owner looked as if he was ready to put in his papers any moment, only in this case his towel that is.
“Ok, let me handle this”, said the man dismissing his assistant away, and with that he got up from behind his high stool and walked, albeit unwillingly, towards the table and the man who had precipitated the crisis this Sunday evening that was fast entering into its final lap.
“Sir, I am sorry but it is closing time, the bar is closed.”
The voice that stuttered and stammered through was a clear give away, steeped as it were in copious rings of apology.
It had its necessary impact. The body, slumped face down over the square table and with its mouth almost kissing the mouth of an emptied Officer’s Choice, first stirred and, then moved up towards the direction of the intruder.
“Who the fuck says that? “
The voice came out like a whiplash, and Aman, taken aback by its intensity, recoiled__his upper shoulders further drooping and now almost flailing at the arms.
Despite winter threatening to shatter through the stratosphere and consume one and all in its icy embrace, Aman found himself perspiring as beads of sweat began to trickle down his by now quivering body.
He somehow managed to clear his throat a speaker and replied, ” Sir, I am …”
“Cut the crap. Don’t you know who I am? I am Raghav, the great professor Raghav Acharya and I command you to get me my drink”.
There was a ring of authority laced with finality to that tone. Its intended effect was hard for anyone, especially, and more so, for someone as malleable as Aman to cast aside.
Looking into the heavily lined sixtyish something egg shaped face of the man peering out at him through expectant dog eared eyes drunk to the core, Aman thought he detected something more than steely determination.
It was a cry out in the wilderness; the cry of an animal; of one deeply wounded and hounded.
The man intrigued him and he felt a slight stirring in his heart.
He had made up his mind. Today nee tonight, in fact well past midnight and way past closing hours, Aman, the man who always prided himself on his strict adherence to set rules and regulations, had decided to bend the rules, albeit if only very slightly, and extend closing hours by another half an hour.
“Sir, I will be back with your drink in a moment, “.
The words tumbled out of his mouth like water off a fall, and this time without any hiccups, as Professor Acharya lifted his face to rub his eyes as he gaped at the fast disappearing frame of the diminutive man now winging his past towards the cash counter.
(TO BE CONTINUED)