I spent Sunday night in Paradise.
Urban sprawl provides one with anonymity, as if the masses surrounding you form a shield of invisibility. You are indistinguishable amongst the masses. You cannot be seen for who – or what – you truly are.
It was under this protective veil that I entered the Paradise Bar.
There is no measure of time in Paradise, for there are no windows with which to gauge the hour of day. It is eternal midnight within its dark walls. A few mismatched bar stools, a couple of small seating areas – this is the sum of Paradise. It is a place where troubled souls venture, in order to numb the pain within.
Across from me were two men engaged in debate. One of them, the older, wore the clerical collar of a priest; the other was cloaked in black. Their discussion, barely audible, had the sense of a lifelong debate between the two. I wondered why the priest found such pleasure in his whiskey… what horror he was trying to forget… and yet, he seemed hopeful. Ebullient, almost, clinging to idealism the way a drowning man might clutch a water-logged seat cushion.
His companion was of a different ilk; dark, beautiful, intense. Detachment was his defense… and yet, a glimpse of something else. An offhand remark; a rare smile, a bit of self-deprecation… and pain. I watched as the mask was dropped. Anguish wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace – anguish, and hope. I thought of Janus, the two-faced god, and wondered which of the faces would become master, and which would become the slave.
A movement caught my eye – a young man stepped into the room. His clothes were rumpled, there was stubble on his cheeks. He seemed lost – and utterly alone.
He slid onto a stool, and began the age-old ritual of self-medication. On his right, a lone man. He seemed almost an anachronism in the bar – his suit was pressed, he wore a silken tie, and a fedora sat by his side. Like the rest in Paradise, he, too, seemed invisible in the world. Why was he here? Why so alone?
Paradise’s bartender was a youthful chap; I assumed that he was a writer, as he kept a journal close by his side. When he was not recording his musings or serving customers, his attentions were solely devoted to the cocktail waitress. Secret glances passed between them; every opportunity for contact was fully exploited. I thought of the head-rush of new love, of how one’s senses become amplified, of the feeling of sated pleasure. I wondered how long that this would last for them. For some people, this passion is a fleeting escape from the harsh inequities of life; for others, it is the coming together of souls. What will it be for them?
A young woman sat next to the rumpled man. She was fresh and pretty; clad in a simple pink dress, the epitome of the girl next door… and yet, within her eyes, I could sense abject loneliness – and something else. It was her eyes. Yes. They seemed older than she. Perhaps only I noticed, for the man next to her certainly did not. He zeroed in on her; to him, she seemed like oxygen to a dying astronaut. I could see her measure him; her need for love was palpable. Perhaps this time love will find her, I thought. Perhaps this time, everything will be okay.
And so, I sat in my darkened corner Sunday night in Paradise, and watched the stories that surrounded me. The two men rose, and slipped into the night. The young woman and the man left together. The young lovers whispered in the flickering lights, while the man in the suit drank alone… and I knew that their journeys were about to begin.