The Pub-Tab Fella

 

[part four of The Road to Economic Triage and Mercenary Sexuality]

I’ve been on the road for an hour. The windscreen is smeared with dead insects, which act like a magnifier for the early morning sun, and to make matters worse I’m getting sleepy. Turning on the air-con to give myself a cold-snap, I wake up a bit, but that doesn’t last long and I contemplate pulling over for a proper nap. But ‘no!’ there’s the slow-down signs of a town, which signal the approach of what I’m hoping will be a ‘place of coffee’. Out here they’re regarded as ‘coffee-getting places’ for the tourists and travellers ’cause they don’t normally lower themselves to the serious business of employing goths dressed-up as baristas behind gleaming monstrosities of steam and milk.

As I cruise along the abandoned grey strip, the town looks dead, despite the fact that it’s already 8:15am. Everything is shut—everything except the bakery that is, where the friendly Asian guy works. And there he is, looking like he just got out of school and just got out of bed but, as always, cheerful as ever. And there’s his mate hanging around outside waiting for a chance for them to have a smoke. The whole thing reminding me of what it was like to be eighteen and sorting out the tedious early-morning or late-night stuff of the sheep or the cattle or the shop or whatever it was —for dad—who’s got eyes in the back of his head (even from a distance) and will be sorting the more serious side of things at a saner hour—like his dad used to do to him—which is quite a cool and young-son-thing to do even though you complained about it at the time and sometimes even suggested that dad was a bit slack.

So here we are, ordering a coffee. Uh-oh! I’m twenty cents short. The boy explains that the shop up the road has eftpos. So now we’re at the ‘other shop’ getting the eftpos deal where you have to spend ten bucks first. And this guy—who’s quite a bit older—has more of the pub-tab look about him: ‘heart of the town’ fella with an old mate already tipping out his trials and tribulations to him while I wait. Then his mate leaves, we do the eftpos-deal, and (as I’m about to leave) I ask him a question.

‘Can I ask you a question?’

‘Sure?’

‘I’m a preacher, so it’s a preacher’s kind of question.’

‘No problem mate.’

‘If it’s true that our deepest longings will never be fulfilled in this world, is it fair to conclude that we were made for another world?

There’s a long pause and then he says, ‘I gotta tell you something mate … I’ve never told anyone this … I’ve been an alcoholic. But I’m getting back — to — ‘

He hangs his head, looks at the floor and stays looking at the floor.

‘It’s Ok mate…’

‘I can’t believe you asked me that question,’ he says, with his head still down. ‘My dad passed away just recently … and I’ve made a mess.’

‘Do you call out to the Man Upstairs?’

‘I do mate,’ he says, continuing to look at the floor. ‘But I’m a bad fella. I’ve done bad stuff. I’m not religious you have to understand. But yeah I pray.’

‘The Lord’s Prayer is a good one.’
‘Yeah I do that one mate, but I’m a bad man.’

‘Well I think you belong to the Man Upstairs.’

‘No mate—not me,’ he says still holding his head down.

‘Yeah—you came out of his heart.’

Finally he lifts his head, tears filling his eyes. And he looks at me, and looks at me.

A customer walks into his shop, we talk some more and then, on my way to the door he calls out, tells me his name and shakes my hand. I’m overwhelmed as I walk back for my coffee, which is so ready that the young guy has come looking for me.

I pay for the coffee, walk out onto the footpath, find a table, open my laptop and turn to chapter nineteen of my novel-in-progress where the main character is reflecting on a tragedy …

‘But then it’s like you overhear this snicker in the dark and you think, “Gotcha you bastard! All this bangin’ on about the random, meaningless accidents of life (like these horrors)—as if we’ve all been doing nothing more than stumbling around in a blacked-out room—is no accident! Whatever you are, you have a vested interest in keeping this impersonal. But it is personal and it’s evil! God and devil stuff!” ‘

‘Then it takes a different tack and it’s like this other voice, saying, “You know all that hope and love darling, well it’s shit and that’s all it ever will be.” How like the whispered lies of a molester. Telling you that because his kind of shit exists in the universe, because there are gas chambers, then every bit of hope is a lie – “so why not hop into my little Black Box with me?” Despair, it seems, has a persona and an agenda and I’m wanting to laugh, to mock the devil I suppose, for succeeding in making me into a total, belligerent fan of a personal faith. How could I ever have dismissed all this as simply the crazy music of nature? No, this is an unmasking and thanks to it, I’m taking life personally and I’m being drawn into a personal, crucifixion/resurrection kind of faith—and I love it.’

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