1. The 27th Birthday-
Back then, everything was fine. Good days have a way of burning themselves deep in our memory, and then itching like a bitch every time it hurts later. Later was a long way from us back then. Everything was as sweet as it would get bitter and bland later. Everything as beautiful as it would soon turn ugly. I was working as a waitress in a three-star hotel and Adam was in a band.
It was his 27th birthday and everyone was there. His roommate, his girlfriend, his best friend and me. I guess I was the best female-friend or something. So anyways, we were hanging out in GLORY; a glass of Whiskey in everybody’s hand, a smile on everyone’s face and The Doors on the speakers. I guess someone must’ve looked at us in a wrong way or something because it pretty much went all downhill from there.
“You know we’re going to make it this year,” Adam raised a toast at his best friend Akash, who was the lead singer of his band and in a fit of pure alcohol-fuelled faith, promised, “We’re going to get that deal with Sony!”
2. The Bad News-
We didn’t get that deal with Sony. Adam took it rather badly. We were in GLORY, talking about our collective misfortune, as Nirvana played in the background.
“This blows,” He spoke and lit a cigarette.
“This blows like a cheap whore.”
“This blows like a cheap whore with braces.”
“And Oral Herpes,” That managed to get a smile on both of our faces.
“What are we gonna do with our lives, man?” He asked and coughed.
“Whatever we do, we must not live them,” I finished my drink and signalled for another, “Because, I’ve heard that it’s fatal.”
“Yeah? Who told you?” He asked with droopy eyes.
“Some old guy,” I lit a cigarette.
“Was he a wise old guy?”
“He was smoking a pipe.”
“That says everything.”
“What does it say?”
“Oh shit,” I looked at the clock on the other side of the bar, and remarked, “I’ve gotta leave. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”
“Why are you leaving?” He asked, “Farhad is stopping by in an hour.”
“I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,” I got up, “Tell Farhad I had to leave.”
“Sure,” He moved his empty glass aside and rested his head on the wooden counter.
“Man,” I clenched his shoulder as I left, “We’re gonna get that T-Series deal.”
“Blow me, Akash,” He bid me farewell.
3. The Good News-
“It could’ve been worse,” was what Adam said when the T-Series deal fell through.
And then, it got worse.
I was in the kitchen making Maggi for the both of us.
“The rent,” I mentioned, “You haven’t paid the rent.”
“I shot my old lady,” He sang along with Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ playing in the background, “I shot her down!”
I took a look at the boiling water, and walking over to the speaker, pulled the plug. Then, looking at the red-eyed pothead, repeated, “You haven’t paid the rent.”
“Farhad,” he stood up, stumbling, “Never pull the plug on Hendrix. Never pull the plug on Hendrix, Farhad.”
“The rent, Adam.”
“There you go,” He put the plug back in the socket and shook his head to the guitar-riff. Then, casually scratching the back of his head, asked, “Hey Farhad, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Can you cover my half of the rent this month, man? I’m a little tight on cash right now.”
“I covered it last month.”
“And you owe me those thousand bucks you borrowed on my birthday.”
“And the ones that you borrowed on your birthday.”
“Pay you next month?”
“That’s what you said last month.”
“I know,” he lit a cigarette.
“You haven’t bought your own cigarette in the past year and a half.”
“You’re wrong there,” He pointed out, “What tells you I was buying them before that?”
“Okay,” I switched the stove off and flung the lighter at Adam, “I don’t know how your past roommate put up with your shit and I don’t want to know, but_”
I stopped my rant when I saw him coughing like a stork with an elephant stuck in its neck, down on all fours and facing the floor, the cigarette lying unattended by his side, and a puddle of blood forming wherever he coughed.
Gathering himself, he pulled himself back and leant against the kitchen wall. Picking up the cigarette, he took in a drag and blowing out smoke, said:
“We need to see a doctor.”
The doctor’s clinic was a minimal amount of wooden furniture mostly covered in books. In the centre of it was a table with three chairs where we were seated.
“Adam Alfonso D’Costa,” He read out his name from the biopsy report held in his hand and informed plainly, “You have lung cancer.”
Adam closed his eyes and leant back in his chair. Then, opening them and banging his fist on the table, laughed,
“Phew! I thought I had throat cancer.”
“This is equally bad,” The doctor gravely replied.
“Cancer is cancer,” I told him in hopes of cultivating a little sorrow in his discomfiting tone of joy.
“Fuck no,” Adam lit a cigarette, “Throat cancer looks way worse than lung cancer.”
“Excuse me,” The doctor pointed out, “You can’t smoke in here.”
“Please?” Adam took in a drag, and tilted his head, batting his eyes for mercy, “I have lung cancer.”
I was sitting in a chair, and Adam was on the sofa. We were in the living room. She was standing.
“Sit down, Eve,” obliged Adam.
“Don’t call me that,” She hated when he called her that.
“So, I have cancer,” He lit a cigarette, “How was your day?”
“Have you told your parents?” She was still standing.
“Why would I?”
“You should,” I weighed in.
“Lay down your umbilical noose, so, I can” He hummed Heart-shaped Box playing in the background, “climb right back.”
She walked over to the speakers and pulled the plug on Cobain. Then, walked over to him and leaning down, looked into his eyes, “You should tell your parents.”
“Eve,” It brought a freckle on her chin, when he said it, “You’ve known me longer than I’ve known anyone in this room.” He paused and looked around; then rephrased, “Okay, longer than anyone I’ve known in this city. Except, Akash. The point is, you know me. You know my parents. You know the history. I’m not going down that road. That is one terrifying road and I won’t dignify its terror by going down on it. The road doesn’t deserve me, Eve. Now, will you please sit down?”
“What’s the plan?” I asked, “Chemo?”
“Fuck no,” He stood up and plugged the speakers back on, “Chemo’s for the dying. But, don’t you see my fine Farhad? This is an opportunity to live!”
“What’s the plan?” She repeated my question.
“I’m going to join the twenty-seven club,” He pointed at speakers, and spread his arms out, as Cobain screamed his guts out, “Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Cobain. I’ll rock out with the big guys. What better way to die is there? I just have to do it before my twenty-eighth birthday. Three months to die, three months to live!”
I opened a bottle of Whisky.
She sat down.
4. The Night of the Execution-
The night Adam died, everyone was there, all of his debtors and friends and acquaintances and their mutual friends and mutual acquaintances. He died in GLORY. I was seated in my regular chair at the counter, stirring a margarita and staring at a distant conversation between Akash and Adam.
I had known him for quite a long time, longer than I had expected to know him for when I had first met him. What had followed wasn’t exactly good. Adam wasn’t very consistent when it came to good. Our good times were a daze, like half-forgotten moments of joy scattered in a field of grey. I finished my drink in one swig and let out a tired sigh.
“Will this one be the one?” Farhad took a seat beside me and ordered a drink.
“I hope not.”
“Maybe the hangover will set him straight tomorrow.”
“What hangover?” I ordered another margarita, “He’s been drinking for two months.”
“You’re telling me,” He emptied his glass, “He doesn’t use a bucket when he needs to vomit in hopes of choking on his own vomit like Hendrix did. The flat smells like the inside of an adult diaper.”
“I blame his roommate.”
“Hey, I try my best to keep his shit together.”
“Not you,” I clarified, “His past-roommate.”
“What about his past roommate?”
“Oh,” Kriti pulled a chair beside me, and took a seat, “Are we talking about the late-roommate?”
“We don’t talk about it,” Akash pulled the chair beside Farhad and took a seat.
“What did he do?” Farhad asked.
“He killed himself,” Akash ordered a drink and closing his eyes, rubbed them, “God, I need to change my circle.”
“What’s Adam doing?” I asked.
“Picking up a fight,” He pointed with his thumb without looking back.
“So,” He leant down on the counter and asked Kriti, “Late-shift at the restaurant?”
“Oh no,” Kriti lit a cigarette, “I got fired from the restaurant. I had to move out of my flat. I live on the outskirts now. Just takes me longer to get in the city, that’s all.”
“Yeah, the outskirts can be pretty rad too,” He nodded in the distance, “Away from all the noise.”
We heard a mortifying scream coming from behind us, followed by a cackling laugh. All of us turned around to see what was what.
Adam was laughing as a stout man double his size had pinned him down on the table. The man’s fist hung eagerly in the air and Adam’s smiling face invited it by smiling like an asshole. Just as his fist made its way to greet his face with a gracious punch, we saw a skinny guy get up from the floor. He removed a shard of broken glass from his left calf and jammed it into the stout man’s shoulder, rescuing Adam at the last moment. The stabbed guy shrieked in agony and turning around, punched the skinny guy in the nose. Adam slid off the table and picked up the mug of beer sitting there.
“Who’s the skinny guy?” I asked.
“Dealer of what?”
“Cocaine?” Adam took a seat beside Kriti and offered, “Cocaine, anyone?”
He placed the packet on the counter.
“Take that shit in the back, bitch,” The bartender flashed an irritated look at him.
“Gin,” He asked the bartender, “You don’t happen to have a credit card, do you? I have to draw a line.”
“You don’t have a card?”
“Why would I ask you if I did?”
“How do you plan on paying for this if you don’t have a card?”
“Don’t go changing the subject on me, Gin,” He cleared his throat, “You want the coke, you gotta give the card.”
“Hey Adam,” Gin leant in closer, “You wanna die? Die. Leave the rest of us to live, will you?” He snatched the packet of cocaine from Adam’s hand and placed it behind the counter, “You’ll get that back when you clear the tab.”
“Fine. I’m not into substance abuse anyway,” He took a giant swig of his beer and shook his mug for a refill.
“Why was the fat man beating you?”
“Beating me? He was trying at best.”
“Why was he trying?”
“I called him a fat piece of shit. Asked him if he could find his own dick without using Google Maps.”
“What’s this?” He finished his ongoing glass, “Mid-Semester test? Lay off me, Eve.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Eve, we are who we are. That’s what I’ve learned from this whole exercise. Our future’s fucked the moment we think about it. That explains our fucked presents, right? I mean, I feel so light-headed and free right now. What slaves are we to the whims of our pampered consciousness. What right do we have to forget that we’re human? That the mind is not a being. That’s the true revelation, isn’t it? To know the difference between our ostracised inside and our insidious outside.”
“Fuck are we talking about?” Kriti looked at both of our faces on both sides of her, then leaning on the counter, asked Farhad, “Where do you work again?”
“Lancer and Turbo,” Adam answered it for him.
“Larsen and Toubro,” Farhad corrected with an angry twitch in his nose.
“Close enough,” Adam shrugged.
“Tonight’s the night,” he said after a short period of quiet, “I can feel death in the room.”
“Good,” I yawned, “Because I’m not sure I can take any more of these.”
“Yeah,” Kriti agreed with me, “It takes me like an hour and a half to get in the city.”
“Oh, you lost the job at the restaurant?” asked Adam.
“Hey Adam,” The dealer put his arm around him and took a seat on the stool beside Adam, “You didn’t pay.”
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t,” He cleared his throat and wiped a stream of blood flowing out of his nose, “You just pointed to a random fucking stranger and told him to pay up. Then you fucking ducked when he tried to punch you, and I ended up fucking up my nose and to top it all of, I fell down on a fucking broken glass; fucked up my leg too.”
“Sorry man,” Adam put his arm around the dealer’s shoulders, “How’s the leg?”
“I tied my handkerchief around it to stop the bleeding,” He inspected the wound, “Must close up nicely till morning.”
“Good,” Adam signalled Gin, “A Whisky for this poor soul’s pain, please.” Then, looking at the dealer, he smiled, “On me.”
“Oh, thanks. You haven’t paid for the coke.”
“Of course I have.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“He’s not gonna,” Gin placed the whisky in front of him, “He doesn’t pay.”
“Fuck me senseless if he doesn’t!” He stood up and removing a pistol from the back of his pant, placed it on the counter, the barrel pointing at Adam, “Pay up, bitch or your brains splatter all over your girlfriend’s nice top.”
“Oh, I’m not his girlfriend,” Kriti shook her head, pointing at me, “She is.”
“I don’t fucking care, bitch,” He picked up the gun and pointed it straight at Adam’s Adam’s apple, “Tell me you didn’t shoot it up.”
“Calm the fuck down,” Gin clarified, “I’m holding onto the coke until he pays.”
“But you said he never pays!”
“That’s why I’m holding onto it. It’s my collateral.”
“It’s not his to give you for collateral,” The dealer cried in frenzy, “He didn’t pay for it!”
“He doesn’t pay,” Gin shrugged.
“How much is it?” The dealer inquired Gin, the gun still pointing at Adam, “His tab.”
“I need to check,” Gin removed a fat register from behind the counter and pointed the dealer to the outstanding amount.
“Fuck!” He gasped, “Man, the coke’s not gonna cover it.”
“It’ll cover like one fourth of what this bastard owes you.”
“Shoot him,” Gin walked away with dropped shoulders.
Adam shrugged, closed his eyes and spread his arms, “Do it.”
The rest of us continued staring into our half-empty glasses, mildly amused by the proceedings.
The frustrated dealer took a look at his drink, sipped some of it, then lit a cigarette, “Just pay up, man.”
“I haven’t got the cash,” Adam continued looking straight into his eyes, “Shoot me.”
The rest of the party stood around like eager spectators quaking in anticipation.
“Why did you buy it if you couldn’t pay?” He looked legitimately discomfited by the air in the bar that reeked of unexpected keenness as opposed to the expected fragrance of fear.
“So that you’d shoot me. Come on, we’re halfway there. finish the job, man. Do what you gotta do.”
“What?” He scratched his head with the hammer and circled his imaginary tail trying to follow the situation. Panic soon overcame his anger as he exhaled rampantly and pointed the gun at Gin. The air in the room quickly changed its smell and turned sour.
“Give me my coke,” The gun shivered in his hand as he screamed, “Just give me the goddamned packet!”
“Forget it. It’s my collateral.”
“It doesn’t even cover the tab.”
“It doesn’t even come close!” He shouted, “Just give me my coke back!”
“Stop chatting with the barkeep and shoot me,” Adam diverted his attention.
“How about this?” he pointed the gun at Kriti, “Cough up the cash or I blow your girlfriend’s brains out!”
“I told you I’m not his girlfriend,” Kriti shouted back, pointing at me, “She is!”
He pointed the barrel at my head, “Cough up the cash or I blow your girlfriend’s brains out!”
“Thanks, Kriti,” I muttered and ducked, trying to get out of the bullet’s predictable trajectory.
“I’ll pay,” Akash stood up, “Lower the gun, I’ll pay.”
“Fuck no,” Adam screamed at him, “You don’t get to do this. I don’t need your petty cash.”
“She does,” Akash pointed at me.
“She’s not even in the bullet trajectory,” Adam’s remark made the dealer reposition his shot.
“Thanks, Adam,” I looked into the barrel and wondered about it for a moment. Then, retracted my eyes from the thought of it.
“You've done what you’ve done,” Adam lit a cigarette, “And what you’ve done is enough.”
“Something up with you guys?” I asked. Moderation’s a bit tough with a gun pointed at your skull.
“Akash sold out to Bollywood, fucking pretender.”
“Akash sold out to Bollywood?” A shocked voice from the gathered crowd drew everyone’s attention. It was Ansh, the band’s drummer.
“I’m as shocked as you are, pal,” Adam empathised.
“Fuck you, Adam. I hope you die.”
“See?” Adam smiled with pride, “He’s my only well-wisher in the room.”
“Will you take a cheque?” Akash asked the dealer.
“Keep your money, slime,” Adam spit in his drink and drank it.
“I’ve had enough of your bullshit, Adam, we all have. Like Gin said, man, if you gotta die, die. Because you’re a pain in everyone’s ass right now. Look around, man. They hate you. I hate you. Your girlfriend hates you. Can you blame her. She has a gun pointed at her head, thanks to you. That’s what people get from hanging around you. You can’t keep your shit together, so you have to smear it on everyone’s face. Face it, man. You’re dead to us, no matter when you die. So, just shut the fuck up, okay?” Akash stood up and removed a cheque from his pocket. Removing a pen from his pocket, he drew two lines on one edge of it. Then, handed it to Gin, “Give the man his drugs, Gin.”
Gin looked at the cheque in shock, “That should almost cover it.” He took the packet from under the counter and placed it on the counter. The dealer grabbed it, slipped it into his pocket and exited the weird scene.
“Thanks, Akash,” I leant over the counter and nodded at him.
I turned back to curse Adam only to find an empty stool.
“This goes out to the piece of my heart that shall live forever,” I heard his voice speaking from behind me.
Adam stood with a Karaoke mic in his hand as the riff of A Piece of My Heart by Janis Joplin played on the speaker.
“This one’s for you, Eve,” He walked down the stage stairs as the music soared, but before he could sing a single word, his foot slipped, and following gravity’s advice, the rest of his body descended to the ground, his head hit the floor, his neck made a crunching sound as it snapped and that was the end of it.