I collect stories. If I can’t find them, I make them based on what I observe. People are full of hidden, untold stories. I wait for them to spill these stories. I look for moments when they let their guards down, knowingly or unknowingly. On one such quest, I once ended up in a scruffy pub in one of the dingiest alleys of a city far away from my own. I saw a lone man, about 60-65 years of age with thick eyebrows and a mustache, slouched on a table in the corner, quietly nursing a glass of dark stout. With no immediate commitments pressing on me, I decided to spend some time enjoying my whiskey and steak, observing people, or just him, from a distance. In the dim lights, his face didn’t look entirely unfriendly. But he certainly was not the type who would enjoy engaging in inane conversations with strangers. Every time he was preparing to take a sip, the lines on his sunburnt face stretched a little in anticipation and created an interesting map of squiggly patterns on his temples. The place was unusually quiet for a Saturday evening except for the sound of upturned chairs being lifted off of the wooden tables and being set down upon the uneven floor with practiced haste. A bearded man behind the bar was trying to tune into a radio station. After wading through an intermittent series of jarring static and broken bits of human voices, he finally set the dial to rest. An old Jim Croce track traversed its way through a sea of stale booze smell and cigarette smoke and filled the room ‘…If I had a box just for wishes…..And dreams that had never come true….’.The man slouching before now sat up straight like someone who had been suddenly pricked by a needle. He grabbed the glass a little tighter as if it would fall on the floor if he didn’t hold on to it with all the strength he had in his time-weathered body. The veins on his calloused hands swelled with strain as he struggled to numb himself down into a calm meditative posture like he was in before. He was peering into nothingness, too cautious to reveal his innermost self, I assumed. But his face betrayed his resistance as it gradually turned softer. It seemed like every cell of his being was intent on absorbing the song to its core and the feelings it had brought forth, which he was trying so hard to fight back. After the music faded out, he sat the foam-stained tumbler down and looked around. His face had returned to his former hard-to-read self again. The moment of tenderness had passed. People were slowly trickling into the bar. The place was abuzz with all kinds of faces now- weary, anxious, and indifferent. The old man got up from his chair, tipped the server, and bummed a cigarette from a man on his way out. I watched him stagger out into the starless night. With every step, his life-worn shoulders grew resolute. I knew he had a story that he would never part with. And I have to be content with whatever little I could learn about him.
Picture: Florencia Viadana via Unsplash