Sure, grootman, you can grab a seat. Nobody ever sits next to me, so you’ll always find an empty chair around me. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the relationship I was meant to have with other people: they can be around me, but never next to me.

I see you want to order a drink. Well, you will have to be more resourceful than that here. You see, our warden over there is deaf in one ear. There are many theories as to how it actually happened, but trust me, none of them are worth giving an ear to. Anyway, let me order that drink for you. There is a technique for doing it here. You have to first wait for the old hag to look in your direction, then, once her eyes have landed on something near you, you have to both frantically wave at her and mouth out the words to your order.

Remember: never say your order out-loud. That just makes you look like an idiot, and you do not want that to happen on your first time here.

How do I know this is your first time here? Well, that’s easy. Firstly, I’m a regular in this place and I’ve never seen your face here before, but really, the sadness on your face said it all. Everyone who is a regular here knows that that’s not how we do things here, so you walking in here looking the way you did meant one of two things: you either forgot the decorum of the place, or you’re new here, and no one ever forgets the decorum of this place. That would just be blasphemous.

Anyway, here’s your drink, and since I took the liberty of ordering one for myself too, please allow me to pay for both of them. No, do not worry. It’s not a problem. Just think of it as a gift to welcome you to this hell.

I guess you’re also new in town, right? Trust me, if you’re from this town, you know it when someone’s new here. You people have an air of unabridged optimism that hangs around you like cheap perfume on a woman. It’s sad, actually, and we mostly hate being around you because of it. The thing is, we were also once wholly optimistic like you, but like the child who outgrew his childish behaviours once he grew up, we grew out of our optimism. These days, most of us just enjoy watching you newbies shed a few layers of this optimism after spending a few months here. It’s invigorating.

You laugh, but it’s true.

But don’t worry, your time is also coming, and when it does, you’ll remember this day with excitement. At least then, you’ll have the fortune of having been warned about its arrival and you’ll end up better off because of it.

Anyway, before we continue talking, do you mind if we move seats? There’s a table open near the back, but I have to warn you, it’s near the toilets.

Ah, you assent to my absurd request, how wonderful of you. That, unfortunately, also tells me that you’re not from around here. But don’t worry, you’ll soon learn how to shed such stupid behaviours too, just like how you’ll learn how to let go of that unabridged optimism I see in your eyes. Anyway, do you mind if I sit facing the door? I really like seeing people come and go to this place. I find it interesting how each person who walks in here leaves as a completely different person.

My name? There is no need for me to tell you that.

All you need to know about me, my good man, is that I have no intention of harming you, and that should be enough for now. To be honest, I have no interest in learning people’s names either, and this is why I have not asked you for yours. The thing is, once someone tells you their name, you are somehow obliged to remember it, and if you don’t, you are made to feel bad about it. So, to keep myself clear of this unnecessary burden, I stick to calling people grootman and sester… And as for those who do not fall into such categories, I do my best to keep myself from talking to them.

No, I don’t hate them. I don’t hate anyone, for that matter. That requires too much effort from my side, and I don’t have the energy for it. I just prefer not learning people’s names, and not talking to them is a great way of doing that.

Anyway, if you don’t mind me asking, grootman, what brings you to this hell-hole of a township?

Work? Lucky you.

Some of us have been trying to find a job here for years, but to no avail. Well, you must do something very important for you to find a job here. And whatever it is, I hope it shields you from the rot that has taken over this township. Unfortunately, some of us are unable to escape this slow rot I’m telling you about. We are forced to find ways to live with it, and drinking alcohol every day is one of them.

For some unknown reason, being intoxicated has kept many of us in this township alive. I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.

Growing up, most of us had to quickly learn that life in this township is nothing but a slow descent towards death. And whenever we find ourselves living beyond these four walls around us right now, we are forced to face this chilling truth about life in this township with sober minds, and not all of us are capable of doing that. The courage to face the truth about one’s slow demise is not something that most of us have, hence the need for liquid courage. We drink, not to get drunk, but in order for us to find a way to confront our eventual demise in this township with smiles on our faces, which is why we worry about people who walk into this place with a frown on their face.

I’m sorry, I must be frightening you with all this talk about death and the courage to face it, so let’s find something else to talk about.

Tell me, did you bring your family along with you?

No? That’s good.

Every man needs to be alone whenever they are dealing with new challenges in their lives. This gives them an opportunity to test their strength and see if they’re able to find a purpose for themselves. I’m also alone, but for entirely different reasons than yours. I’m alone because I learned quite early that being with people only puts you in the risk of being judged by them.

You laugh again, but it’s true: there’s no interaction between two humans that doesn’t begin with some form of judgement.

Firstly, the one person has to judge whether the other one is safe enough to approach. Then, after deeming them safe enough, the former has to judge whether the latter will be worth their time. The cycle then continues until, one day, death frees both of them from these ever-present but subtle judgements of each other. Yes, death. Death is the only thing that can free us from people’s judgements.

No, I am lying. It’s death and indifference. It just takes more courage to be ignorant of people’s judgements than it does to die, and most of us are not courageous.

Your drink is almost finished. Do you want me to order another one? No, I insist. You are new in town, so allow me to make your life a little easier before the wave of struggle comes crashing down on you. You’ll see, it is bound to happen to you at some point during your time here. Things in this township are tough, tougher than they are in most other townships. I know that, technically speaking, townships were not designed to make the lives of their inhabitants easy, but there is something about Jouberton that makes living here feel tougher than living in other townships.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, death and indifference. But then again, I think that that topic has run its course now. There is nothing more to say about the importance of avoiding people’s judgements. Besides, I have to leave soon.

Before I go, though, let me give you one last piece of advice.

Ah, our drinks are here. Before we continue talking, do you mind if we raise our glasses for a toast to life: may those who are struggling to find meaning in their lives find a way to create one, and may our deaths be quick and painless.

Speaking of quick and painless deaths, don’t you think that more people need to start thinking this way when it comes to death? Most of us spend so much time worrying about what happens after we die, we end up forgetting about the act of dying itself. Well, I don’t. I think about my death all the time. I always wonder how it is going to come, when, and why. I am not stupid enough to assume I will ever find the answer to any of those questions outside of actually dying, but that does not matter to me. I just cannot stop myself from wondering about it, which is why, to balance off the dread that comes with thinking about my death all the time, I learned to live in the moment. I even decreased my drinking in order for me to have better access to my senses whenever I need to.

Like we all know, alcohol blurs things. It waters down your experiences and you end up floating from one moment to the next without fully embracing their uniqueness. So, I now drink in moderation, and this is why I have to leave so early.

Oh, the advice I’m supposed to give. I’m sorry, the drinks are starting to play with my head, which is also why I need to leave, but I will soldier on for a few more minutes because this is important. My advice, my friend, is both simple and easy to follow: whatever you do, do not let the temporary joy you find in this place distract you from creating the purpose you need for your life out there. Not just here, too. There are many other places like this spread all over this small township of ours. They present themselves as depositories of joy for the damned and broken, and you are encouraged to drink from their fountains of ever flowing joy as much as you want.

These tiny, dirty drinking-holes specialise in distracting people with orgies of noise and alcohol that last until the early hours of the morning, and it is easy to get trapped in the joy they provide. So, whenever you visit such places, please choose carefully which joy to entertain there because some of our joys have a tendency of causing more harm than good.

Anyway, I think I should get going now. Don’t worry, you will not remain sitting here alone for a long time. Much like sadness, loneliness in a place like this is a sickness that is quickly dealt with. So, someone will definitely join you as soon as I walk out of the door, and you will probably forget that you even had this conversation with me before the night is done. But, because you helped me tame the raging loneliness that was eating at me before you arrived, I will order you another drink on my way out and the warden will bring it down for you. Lastly, if tomorrow you feel compelled to visit this place again, you will find me sitting in the same spot you found me today. Yes, I will be sitting alone again, but if you do come, maybe I will tell you the story about how we ended up calling the owner of this tavern our warden.

Trust me, you’re gonna love it.









Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash