Chicken Soup at the Bar

I still couldn’t see how this was a source of enjoyment for people: a hazy, stuffy room full of booze, loud music and a thousand strangers, where was the fun in that?  Irritated I placed the glass of Coke back on the bar table and started to scan the room. There was no sign of any of them, they ditched me – again. I sighed and pulled out my wallet getting ready to pay and leave. That exact moment my neighboring stool was occupied. Hosting a wild mane of hair and a huge grin she banged her hand on the table trying to get the bartender’s attention, he looked at her, smiled and nodded. She was alone, no sign of any girlfriends or a boyfriend. I couldn’t help but stare, there was something peculiar about her. To prove my point, the bartender walked up to her stool at that very minute and handed her a plate full of limes. “You’re going to get me in trouble for this one day,” he smiled at her as she picked up a slice, “how much trouble could you possibly get into?” She raised her eyebrow at him. He shook his head and walked away. She bit into the lime and made an awful face, then she picked another and did the same.

I didn’t realize how obviously I was staring until she turned to me and said “it’s ok, you won’t understand, don’t torture yourself,” and went back to the limes. Taken aback I instantly started rambling “oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to stare but I was just trying to place you, I think we’ve met before.” She gave a loud sarcastic laugh “you’re going to have to come up with something more original pal,”

That was embarrassing, I really wasn’t flirting I was pretty sure we’d met before but after that burn I wasn’t going to try to defend myself and make things worse, so I just looked away. She started laughing again “relax, I’m only kidding. You’re Diya’s friend, we met at Sarim’s house.” I vaguely remembered that day, my idiot friends had spiked my drink. “Yes! I remember, you were the only one sober and actually dancing,” I piped. She grinned nodding “yup, that was moi,” and did a little hair flip.

“Yo! you’re on in 5 minutes,” the bar tender shouted out to her from across the bar. She waved him off and turned to look at me again “So will your name come with another cheesy pick up line, or have you given up already?”

I don’t know why I laughed but I did before I replied “hey I’m not that guy, the name is Sam.”

“Wow another desi embracing a western name, tsk tsk how disappointing,” she shook her head playing with the lime carcasses. “I resent that, my name is Shameer and people have called me Sam since I was 2, what about you huh? I don’t remember your name being Umrao Jaan.”

“Anaya. No one is allowed to shorten it to Anne or Annie or any other slightly westernized name. I am who I am and my name defines it,” she said matter-of-factly. Her tone was like those staunch political figure supporters – all determined and firm. There was something about that presence that both irked and intrigued me, I could sense a story but did I really want to uncover it?

“ANAYA FOR GOD’S SAKE GET YOUR ARSE ON THAT STAGE!” The bar tender yelled in a thick British accent. She rolled her eyes, shrieked “alright” back at him and jumped up. “Well Sam, this was certainly bizarre yet oddly interesting,” she announced before disappearing into the crowd. My gaze was locked on her empty bar stool flabbergasted at the air of craziness she spread.

The room was suddenly applauding and hooting, people were pushing and shoving their way to the stage as the spotlight fixated itself on Anaya. So she sings and dances I thought, must be a groupie or wannabe superstar or something. But there was nothing but a single microphone and stool on that stage. My mind instantly thought If she starts reciting poetry I’ll throw the limes at her – how disappointing would that be.

“Ahh so most of you remember me,” she smiled “Tonight will be fun then. For all you first timers my name is Anaya Hassan and I am a storyteller. People prefer to use weird words like life coach and counselor but I think storyteller fits me more. My nephew likes to call me the ‘people fixer’ but my sister greatly disagrees – ‘if she fixed people, she’d fix someone up for herself.’ You all must be thinking why I’m doing this in a bar, why must you hear my pathetic story and subliminal techniques of motivation while you’re just trying to enjoy a nice neat whiskey. Well, funny thing there’s a story behind this too.  You see that surly, crew cut boy with the obvious abs and fabulous dishrag on his shoulder, that is Jared, owner of this great place and one of my best friends.”

“Stupid arse,” Jared whispered, I didn’t realize he was leaning on the table right in front of me, listening to her intently.

“He’s going to hate me for this but before he owned this place we used to drop by here in our collegiate lives every other week to sit around and judge people.” The crowd laughed and Jared smacked his head with his hand muttering ‘here we go.’

“I was yapping on and on about something or the other because it’s the only thing I’m remotely good at and he gets annoyed, slams his coke on the table and yells” (she tried to deepen her voice for effect) “‘why must I be the only one to bear your nonsensical theories and perceptions of the world? If you feel so strongly about these things and you believe your thought process is bloody exceptional, get up on that table and share them with the world.’ and guess what, I got a standing ovation that night. Thus began this tradition – or should I say my way of life. Once Jared bought the place , I was unstoppable because if you haven’t realized yet I drive him insane – it’s brilliant!” They made eye contact and Jared rolled his eyes before going back to wiping glasses with his ‘fabulous’ dishrag.

“It’s really great in today’s day and age to feel heard, understood because we really seem to be doing very little of that. I’m grateful that I’m able to do that as frequently as I do. If not through these talks then through my writing. Its the time of the texting mania, the communication technique that has no amalgamation of the emotions behind the words written which completely unhinges the context its written in. We’ve given people the permission to assume things – to assume how we’re feeling, to assume how we’re sounding and assumption my friends is the poison that ruins human interaction. My theory – the more you assume the less information you consume. For example, a couple of my friends at college and I got into this misunderstanding – Jared’s not a part of this story so don’t go hating on him – there was miscommunication and a lot of assumptions. Things were said, a lot unsaid all because we thought they said one thing and meant the opposite etc etc etc. This my friends is not healthy. The assumptions increased, the trust decreased, the gap quadrupled and a rock solid bond was reduced to dust. It doesn’t matter how I feel about them, they still don’t trust me the same way. It’s essential that you accept that no matter what you can never tell people how to live their lives, even parents’ today refrain from doing so, why? because we’ve become resentful. We start believing the people preaching are diminishing our individuality, they don’t understand us, they have some ulterior motives, they’re jealous – the reasons are innumerable.  But watching a friend making a stupid mistake silently is violating the friend code, so where do we stand? There are boundaries – there is asked for advice and uncalled for advice. The problem usually results from the latter, when we assume we know best and are the only person on the face of this planet who can  lead our friend in the right direction. People, you can never know what’s 100% right for a person because you are not standing there in those circumstances in that situation. But you know what you can always do? Be honest, share your experiences, talk but don’t impose. You never know your story could maybe even inspire someone somewhere. Please remember this, I cannot stress on this enough: friendship demands loyalty, it is built on trust and it remains in tact with acceptance. My best friend from college has an incredible heart, she is one of the few people who has upheld every friendship pillar exceptionally. Anyone in the world could come and tell her I said something about her or create a story about me or her and she would simply ask me about it to my face. She has faith that I would never lie to her and if the hearsay was true there had to be more to the story. She displayed true loyalty always – never discussing me with others – trust and acceptance – That’s saying something because trust me I’ve done some stupid things over the years! If you have to worry about your friendship faltering on a disagreement or on the basis of hearsay than my dears you were never friends. Fear of judgment and fear of abandonment are concepts foreign to friendship. It’s toxic if you start assuming scenarios and destroy whatever bond you have with your bare hands.”

“Let’s take another example everyone in this room would have had a crush on someone sometime in their lives – If you haven’t I’m sure your UFO will come to pick you up soon – we flirt, we drop hints sometimes they understand, reciprocate and we increase expectations and sometimes they don’t . Until you downright tell the person you like them, you’re assuming everything. Why live in that world? Why torture yourself like that? If you had the guts to like that person have the guts to admit it, what they do with that information is the same as in every other normal human conversation – their choice. If they reciprocate hooray you’ve won the lottery, struck gold even, but if they don’t at least you can stop wasting your time assuming and move on. Oh, another must remember point: never ever regret anything you do, you told him/her – super, that’s great; he/she listened to what you said and evaluated their response, totally acceptable; he/she did not feel the same way – no problem it happens you shall just remain friends; he/she begins to start treating you like you’re crap and like you’re totally beneath them – boo them, rise above and forget it – but don’t regret it because you got to see the real side to them, the one that was hiding behind that perfection portrait you’re brain had created. Just breathe, this too shall pass. That’s my mantra, because nothing my friends, good or bad lasts forever. You know what they say every song ends but that’s no reason to not enjoy the music.”

She paused for a second, her smile still in tact, looking down at her shoes gathering her thoughts. The crowd was patient, everyone was eager to hear what else she had to say. “You know all these years I tell people things that sometimes I need to hear or once needed to hear, I don’t want any of you to ever feel small or insignificant in front of those you love the most, nor do I recommend losing yourself in doing everything it takes to make other people happy. Despite what you have been made to believe you matter, you are important and you are not inferior. I’m an expressive person, not everyone is but that also means I’m super sensitive, minuscule things hurt me. There are people who know how much they mean to you and they exploit it. You do whatever it takes to make them feel special and cared for but they do absolutely nothing to make you feel the same way. On the contrary, they take you for granted, use you as a scapegoat, bicker and soon enough they develop an attitude with you. It’s soul crushing. Just like watching the guy/girl you like with the guy/girl they like and encouraging every fiber of your existence to be happy for him/her. The haunting feeling of rejection must not be allowed to linger, you must force yourself to remove yourself of that funk, it must be diminished. we’re constantly searching for perfection or at least our version of it, but sweetheart you don’t love someone till you know they have flaws, you accept it and you love them anyways. When you encourage or force someone to change you do not love them but your version of them. People have the ability to hurt you in ways you cannot fathom. Remember it’s the ones closest to you that hurt you the most because it is from them you expect it the least. When I think about pain I’ve been caused I remember a horrid sleepover, a betrayal from a friend, the disappointment in my parents eyes, a horribly awkward conversation on a staircase, the hallowed halls of my alma mater, the death of a friend and endless pointless arguments.”

The more she spoke the more mysterious she became. I wanted to hear these stories, I wanted to know more but not because I suddenly fell in love with this girl, but quite the opposite. The aura of ingenuity, trust and loyalty she radiated made me realize how desperate I was for a real friend like that. She was someone I knew I could befriend  and not regret. It felt as if the world had dealt her the crappiest cards on life’s poker table just like it had for me. But instead of demanding a reshuffle, she was enjoying the rest of the game.

“There are a few people in your lives who really effect your thinking, whose opinions matter to you, fortunately or unfortunately they have the greatest power to hurt you because they mean more to you than anyone else, therefore what they say to you really bothers you. Except my parents, everyone I’ve given a spot there has broken my heart into tiny pieces and I haven’t allowed many there for this very reason. I think what hurts is that they know they’re there yet they say things they know will upset you. When the little voice in your head says how would they know they upset you, tell it to go take a hike since it’s constantly going on about how you hurt someone saying that comment you said a few days ago. We all have that voice in our heads. If they choose to ignore it, they never cared about you in the first place. It’s time you stopped making excuses for them and gave your heart a break. These things are hard to hear, hard to accept but trust me remind yourselves of this, these are things I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve wasted too many tears on people who did not deserve them and I do not want any of you to sit around doing the same thing. Always hope for the best, but don’t expect the hope to be a seed germinating into your heart’s desire. Be realistic without losing sight of the good in the world, the positive possibilities. You can do what you put your mind to and you deserve whatever makes you happy. On that note I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes  ‘People get lost when they think of happiness as a destination. We’re always thinking that someday we’ll be happy, you know, we’ll get that car, or that job, or that person in our lives that will “fix” everything. But happiness is a mood, and it’s a condition, not a destination. It’s like being tired, or hungry… it’s not permanent. It comes and goes, and that’s okay. And I feel like if people thought of it that way, they’d find happiness a lot more often.’ Find your happiness, embrace the light before we become the generation engulfed by darkness – Just breathe, this too shall pass.”

She smiled at the end and gave a tiny bow, the crowd went wild. People were on their feet, jumping up and down, clapping as hard as they could, chanting things like ‘people fixer’ ‘Anaya the Amazing.’ She gave a flying kiss to the audience and become one with the darkness around her spotlight, nowhere to be seen. I waited for the crowd to thin but kept my eyes at the door ensuring I wouldn’t miss her if she tried to leave. I hoped I could ask Jared some questions but he wasn’t behind the counter anymore, there was another bar tender there – when did that happen? I called substitute bar tender and hesitantly asked “do you know where Anaya went?”

“She always  leaves from the back way after a talk,” he answered casually. “Do you know any way I could contact her?” I asked hopeful. “No, Jared would but he left in between the talk for some family thing.”

Damn it! There had to be some other way “She said she held these talks regularly, they’re tradition, do you know when the next talk is?”

“Anaya decides a day before and the regular customers who have membership cards get a heads up, its word of mouth or a game of chance for non members ,’ he smiled sensing my eagerness.

This mystique was edging me to find out more. It sounded like the world had let her down, really disappointed her and I understood that all too well. I was homesick and missed all my friends back home. She was real and a breath of fresh air. Her outlook on life was inspiring, the sort of energy I needed in my life right now especially in the weird phase I’m in. If only Sarim and Divya hadn’t broken up in such an uncivilized manner, it would’ve been a piece of cake meeting her through them. Sigh, fate I guess.

“Sign me up for membership too please, I’ll be looking forward to the next talk,” I handed him my ID all set to become a member of a bar – my mom would be ecstatic when word got back home.

This mystery will be solved, Anaya Hassan we will meet again and soon.

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