Kelvin wasn’t sure about this place. He had been sent to some trying situations in the past. No conflict in that god forsaken continent was ever fair or played by the rules. Corruption was rife and ideologues were only as good as the tinpot dictators paying them. But this city…?
It was batshit crazy!
Still, this was the first night that he had been given a break from all the insanity, and he had done what any other red blooded soldier with a little leave was doing- dressing up to hit the town. Find somewhere that served cold beer and hot women and stay there until either one or the other decided it was time to leave.
The man that stepped through the door looked so out of place it was pitiful. He held himself with the kind of self- conscious rigidity that marked him as military, even if the regimental blazer wasn’t a dead giveaway. Tall, erect, proud. What was unusual was that he was alone. These creatures usually traveled in packs but the other guys had hit some sex club along the strip and he had bailed to find somewhere with a little more decorum.
Paying for titties just wasn’t his scene.
Sure, the other guys had ragged the fuck out of him. It was all they ever did. Juvenile. They were still young, dumb and full of the nasty. He couldn’t blame them after the shit they had gone through. Humor was sometimes the only way to deal with what was a shitty situation. He was different. He took his job very seriously, and he knew what was said about him when his back was turned.
Not that it would ever get thrown into his face. To be fair, he had the begrudging respect of the unit. He had saved more than one of their asses and on more than one occasion. Staunch. That was a good word to describe him.
A glance about the bar found that it was pretty much empty. Good. A quiet beer was all he wanted. Maybe catch whatever ball game was being shown on the big screen, chew a few words with the bar man. A hand drifts to retrieve his wallet from the inside pocket of his blazer as he steps up to the bar.
A glance at the taps on display, the enameled symbols of the brews on offer were none that he recognized.
“Whatever is local and on draught, man” Kelvin finally says, deep tones reverberate and mark him by the thick accent as a foreigner, throwing a few of the brightly colored and unfamiliar notes onto the bar. A bright smile then which split his face with a white gleam and changed his whole demeanor in an instant, transforming the stoic African.
“And keep them coming.”
The bar man angles a glance to the unfamiliar customer, looking him up and down in a manner that was unashamedly curious. He was well over the obligatory six feet, broad shoulders and well groomed. His style looked like it had been trimmed only that day and he was dark, even by most standards, the man’s flesh was so dark it seemed a black hole for light.
Dressed in a smart jacket of olive green, a brightly colored insignia upon his breast pocket, a starched pristine white shirt with a formal tie folded into a tidy Windsor knot and dark grey dress pants that looked like pressed to oblivion, with creases down each leg so sharp, they could cut. He held himself with distinction, the man didn’t look like he could relax even if he tried.
“Coming right up” answers the bar tender and makes to fill a straight pint glass with the golden foaming lager that was the local favorite. A glance up occasionally before his curiosity gets the better of him and he asks “New around here, buddy?”
It was the classic opener that would either be accepted or politely rebuffed, telling the worker if the guy wanted just a beer or was open for a chat.
“Yeah man” came the deep drawl in response. “Just arrived with the peace keepers.”
Suddenly it all seemed to make sense with the bar man and with a smile and a nod, the beer was placed upon a cheap cardboard coaster advertising the same brew before the soldier. As those bills came sliding towards him, the keep raises his hands, palms out and seems unwilling to accept.
“Put your money away brother. It’s not welcome here” before giving a wink and a smile to ensure those words would not be misinterpreted. Frankly, he was glad to see that someone like this stiff fellow was here.
Kelvin did misinterpret for just a second before he glanced up to see the smile on the barman’s face. Recognition that this was a citizen that was doing a good turn for a soldier brought another gleam of a smile.
“Thanks man- I appreciate it” Kelvin replies tucking the bills back into his wallet and secreting the wallet back into his blazer. “Any chance of watching the game?” as he reaches for the glass that was doing a fine job in sweating condensation and still remained frosted about its base. It was a warm night.
“Sure” replies the bar man and before he reaches for the remote control that would burst that huge screen behind the bar into life, a hand is offered over the counter. “Harry” the worker announces.
The tall African was in the midst of taking that first delicious mouthful that would slake thirst, cool a fevered brow and was sorely needed after the day he had. The glass is quickly replaced upon the counter and the soldier reaches to take that offered greeting, a huge hand dwarfing that of the barkeep.
“Kelvin” replies the soldier with another broad grin. “Hey man- that’s a decent brew” wanting to talk about the beer instead of what he suspected was going to be a rather cringe worthy “Thank you for your service” moment. It was- and Harry did not follow up with what he was intending, just shook the man’s hand and turned to flick on the TV.
“Local brewery. They make a few decent ales but I much prefer their lager. You like?”
The TV bursts into life in the middle of a beer ad. The sudden noise is clanging, the volume too loud as Harry adjusts it with a slide of a thumb and creates what should be a background ambiance to the conversation.
“Nice and clean” agrees Kelvin before his attention is dragged to the TV.
Harry had flicked through the sports channel until, with a bellow and a shout, Kelvin had held up a hand for him to halt when he saw, as luck would have it, the familiar pale orange and recognizable “Vodaphone” insignia of the Kaizer Chiefs home strip. And just minutes into the second half, they were already a two goals ahead of Bloemfontein Celtic.
This filled Kelvin with such joy, that he wore a broad grin for the next 40 minutes, got through another pint of lager and spoke rapturously of the Chiefs performance that year and how it was likely they were going to romp the league and probably take the cup too.
Kelvin explained that it was his local team, from his home town of Soweto and he could not believe that they showed any football, let alone something as obscure as the South African Conference. Another pint of lager.
Well lubricated by the beer and the salubrious conversation that Harry provided, Kelvin finally started to relax.
“I’ll try the IPA next Harry, my brother.”
More conversation, ranging from the frankly mystifying politics of Consequence and the interrelation of the city in the global statehood of Hellifyno.
“Man- it sounds as bad and as corrupt as my home!”
More beer. A couple of rounds of shots in which Harry did partake. A lengthy discussion regarding Tyra Banks Vs Rihanna.
“No contest man! Ri-Ri every goddamn time! That woman is FIIIINE”
The bar was empty, and so the conversation ranged over every topic from dragons.
“What’s with all the goddamn lizards?”
To the FaE Incursion, the yellow plague and the green madness.
“Ohhhhhh- I was thinking people here were all a little loco for real!”
All of it accompanied by the great, booming, bellowing laughter of the dark skinned giant who consumed beer after beer, tequila shot after shot.
Hours pass. Kelvin was sans jacket, sans tie and with that formal white shirt unbuttoned to the waist. He and Harry had been having a rare old time. Kelvin was leaning up against the bar for support and even Harry was slumped against it and both men were laughing at some shared joke, drunk as lords. Kelvin’s head was thrown back as he guffaws and the jukebox blares through the auto pick until an old soul classic comes on and suddenly kelvin is completely animated again.
“Man- I LOVE this song!” he bellows in that over inclusive and unintentionally loud manner of intoxicated people everywhere, pushing himself up from the bar to stand upright, although there is a marked sway of his form. “My mama used to play this band all the time. Come on brother, sing it with me!”
Remarkably, Kelvin seemed to have the coordination to do a rather flashy spin and snap fingers like he was some Soul great from the 60’s on a stage. Man- he had practiced and copied it enough times when he was a kid, and when a finger snaps out to point at Harry who was grinning drunkenly and nodding to the beat, Kelvin belts out in a rich baritone.
“I know you gonna leave me- But I refuse to let you go!”
This was bringing back happy memories for the man, of his mother dressed in a pale yellow two piece and black trim, sling back shoes with viciously pointed toe, her hair straightened and tonged into a bouffant. That woman wore the soul girl look decades after the trend had died out and it suited. She looked fine.
Even his grandmother would come out of the kitchen and despite bemoaning the fact that there was plenty of African acts to choose from, would slump down into that saggy old armchair and wear a grin that was a facsimile of the one Kelvin wore now.
Mother and Son would dance together because even at 12, Kelvin towered over the tiny lady and they would groove,man, before she headed out to work in one of the many underground drinking establishments in the run down township.
That was before the troubles. Before the violence. Before a woman in yellow was gunned down, with many others, in a revenge attack from Mfengu to Zulu leaving a bereft adolescent boy to be raised by an elderly woman who was never the same.
None of that apparent now as the drunk man with shirt swinging open, bellowed out the Temptations classic.
“If I have to beg and plead for your sympathy- I don’t mind ‘cause you mean that much to me.”
Harry raised his voice too at the familiar chorus and both drunkenly completed the first magical cantrip of “Ain’t too proud to beg.” Anyone walking past the Blue Moon Tavern that night would think there was a riotous party happening in the bar, rather than just two very smashed men who had been strangers just a few hours before.
But there was no one passing. No foot traffic attracted by the jocularity. The streets were deserted and the only place that was open for six blocks was this place. This did not concern either of them, and as Harry harmonized with the African and reached for the Patrone for another round of shots, it felt for just a few minutes, like Hell hadn’t broken loose and the city of Consequence was once more functioning.
By the time Kelvin fell out of the bar, the sun was coming up, bleaching the sky from indigo to salmon pink and smoky blue. His jacket is hooked upon one finger and slung over one shoulder and looking around for a cab that just wasn’t ever going to be there.
He never did find his tie.