A break from the broken (1 image and a mundane tale)
The heavy heat of mid April Goa only served to make the blend of airs even more of a burden for an alien me. The slow rot of the produce market beside me; the exhaust fumes of the army of poorly maintained bikes and cars flowing all around; and of course the delightful scent wafting over from fish mongering women down the road. Wading through the melange, i could only avoid so many ‘cool bar’ signs before stopping for my 3rd sip before noon.
I ducked in, wiping the murky sweat off my brow with my short sleeves and was greeted by the bar tender. If it were my first time in a village bar i would’ve thought i’d mistakenly stumbled into someone’s house rather than one of many ‘locals’. She stood behind a makeshift counter wiping down glasses, with her mind clearly floating through the unfamiliar words blaring from the nearly pocket sized radio by the window. Behind her, Jesus, Mary, Xavier and her parents kept a watchful eye over her and her patrons.
I said hello, hoping she wouldn’t start rattling off anything in Konkani; instead she just stared at me, the mildest of smiles lurking in her sullen expression. I asked for a large kingfisher, and given my choice between premium or gold, opted for premium. She turned around and reached into the only thing that turned what was basically a back room into a bar. The little fridge by her right was fairly stocked with kingfishers (premium and gold for the connoiseurs), a couple of fosters that i can only imagine have been there for far too long, some soft drinks and a number of unmarked glass bottles filled with clear spirit. Fenny (mainly of the cashew variety) was what i figured it had to be. I threw a quick glance to the lines of bottles enticing passers-by in the window and saw that they were painted in dust, were mostly empty, and all had their seals broken. I made a mental note of the false advertising for the consumer protection board, and then balled up the note and threw it in my mental bin and chuckled to myself. She popped her head up while opening my bottle and i wiped the smirk off my face, avoiding looking crazy. Beer in hand and with my pick of all the empty seats, i resorted to the back of the bar, 20 whole feet from the entrane, and took that first delightful sip.
The world still rumbled on beyond the curtained door, an overhead fan struggled to make a difference to the still air that filled the room, and she went right back to her world. Puttering about in the near darkness, and cacophony of strangers, in her own little word and her everyday housedress, i couldn’t help but see her for a minute as my aunt we’d buried a week prior, the reason i was India at all. Having Jesus in tow didn’t hurt the illusion to be fair.
Just as i held back an urge to walk (maybe stumble) over and hug her, the mirage was shattered by a couple of men who stepped in. They each got a beer, and since the drink was so cheap in Goa, paid in coins. The scene complimented with the sound of coins bouncing off the wooden bar made me feel like a cowboy in the back of a saloon…not for long though. They sat down in front of me and proceeded to sip their drinks, face to face, in total silence.
A few minutes later a few more men breezed through, and with a few familiarites, handed the woman a half filled bottle of sprite each. She reached back into the little fridge and emerged with one of the many unmarked bottles and a funnel. One of the men checked his phone as she filled the bottles and put sunshine back in their days. A quick laugh shared later, two of the men left to carry on their day with a bit more wind underneath their wings, as one shuffled into the booth with the older patrons, sipping in silence again.