The year winds down. I’m sitting in a small bar, high above the city. I catch a glimpse of it, in the distance, washed through the grey light of a winter’s day. I grunt to myself as I realise the windows in this place don’t need a wash. Someone has put in an effort. There’s not much light out there today, though; it is diluted by a featureless layer of cloud. What little illumination washes it into the bar through the windows is soon swallowed up. I sit further back. In the deeper shadow, drinking a cup of caf. Watching the world pass. Watching the people.
My comm unit, predictably, stays blank. Black screen faceup on a wooden table in front of me. I’m making a conscious choice, today, not to scroll through the latest updates to the news and social feeds.
I’m jealous, sometimes, of the way that lives around me seem so easy. The happy family over in the light. The two guys canoodling in a corner. The old timer sitting on a stool up against the bar itself. They all look like they have their lives together. Like they are content with their lot. How do people do this? Was there a lesson I missed? The couple laugh at something intimate, then lean back to smile and capture a still of themselves, before uploading it to the social feed. I look away.
My memory tugs, pulling at a time when I, too, had something akin to the balance of the others in here. My memory is reminding me of me the lie; I didn’t miss a lesson, I forgot it. I push that memory down. Hope isn’t what I need, at the moment. What I need right now is to clenched my jaw and be willingness to face other uncomfortable truths. The last months of the departing year were given over to personal triage. Stopping the bleeding. Now I need to recover. Get steady again.
I take a draw on the bitter, steaming, cup of caf. I pause and nudge at my small table. This place may be a simple one, but at least they take their furniture seriously.
A cold draft washes through the room as the door swings open and shut. A handsome man walks in, and straight up to the bar. Shoulders back. Chin up. He orders a drink and smiles at the barmaid. She’s cute. She smiles. She’s really cute when she smiles. I wish I was that man.
But I’m not.
He wears an expensive jacket. Mine is cheap. I picked mine up in a sale, and wear it with the collar turned up against the season’s bitter winds. Function over form, that’s the way I prefer to live. My jacket does its job; no flair, not drawing attention to a lie I can’t live up to.
The handsome man turns away with his drink, heading for an empty table, and I see that maybe he is not as good looking as I thought. My mind is playing tricks on me. My jealousy. My assumption that others somehow have it better than me. How much of me is made up of this false guesswork and these wrong beliefs? Is it just that the man had a happy smile? Was the barmaid just responding to the touch of human kindness?
I don’t know. But I think I want to find out.
I want to change they way I’ve been living, and find something new in this metropolitan mess I call home.
And so, the year winds down. In a few days the crowds will cheer. Time will pass, the calendar will reset, and another year will be done. The next day another one will start, and people will crawl up out of their beds, brains swollen in jagged hangover. Stepping, groggy, onto another turn of the wheel. It is a time to reflect. A time to plan. A time to think about our mistakes. But also, our futures.
I get another caf from the bar, keeping half an eye on my stuff as I do. I may not be in the centre of the city, down in the valley below, but I’m still in the metro area. I transfer credits over and smile at the cute barmaid, she smiles back. I decide to make an effort, and ask her what she’s up to for new year. We swap small talk, as I try to avoid leaning in anything sticky. Another barmaid comes over, joins the chat. She’s also cute. There’s a reason I come here. She tells the first to let me have my caf for free. It’s a nice touch, and I thank her. There’s a lesson, right there, remember to be decent to each other. Talk to each other.
I go back to my table and back to my thoughts. I started the year as a failure, I can’t hide from that. My credit balance says I still am. I started the year in a living in a deteriorating hab-unit in city-central, working a job that was imploding on me, not entirely sure what had happened the night before. I shared the unit with two women – each with our own sleep pod – sharing the rental burden together. They didn’t much like me back then, and hated me within a few more months. I don’t miss them. They weren’t nice people. That’s for another day, though.
By midway through the year I would be living in a different part of the city, working a new job, wearing a new haircut. Wearing a new scar on my face, too. When I looked in the mirror, back then, I could still see the boring ‘professional’ look in my face. The side parting that recalled the old career, but also the puffy skin of my face and the vivid pink of re-stitched flesh. The alcohol was going to start doing some serious damage soon, I figured.
The suits in the city can have their damn lifestyle, I don’t want it any more. I wish I still had the credits, though. Sometimes I wish I could jump in a speeder, hammer the pedal to the floor, and get out of this place. Head for the hills. For the horizon. Pretend something better is out there.
But that’s the joke. No matter where we are, a lot of what we have is down to us. We can’t escape our problems, if the problem is ourselves. So I stay. I wait. I think. Full winter is still a way off. It will get greyer, and the world will freeze up. Then it will thaw. There’s probably a metaphor in there, somewhere.
As you party this season, in the glow of family, friendship and company, letting your belly swell with overpriced drink, take a moment to think of me and those like me. As you let the giddy rush of intoxication overtake you, feel the future appraoch and hope leap, remember us. Reflect on the contrast, as we wait alone in our hab-units, in the gloom of the night. But alos, look out for the braver of us, those who did venture out, hiding in the dark corners of this city’s many, many bars. Maybe, if you want to affect the change we all want to see in life, reach out and say hello.
And if you are one of us, fractured like me, lost and trying to find direction? Well, as the least I can do, you’ll be in my thoughts for a time.