It was still early hours, not Happy Hours though, and the bar was still and empty. Socrates led the pack, with a swagger that ill went with his sobriety, and a charm that was purely a figment of his imagination, but nevertheless an effective substitute for what he obviously lacked in looks. Nero was already apparently lost, a knack that manifests itself most conspicuously when the current population of the current world he happens to inhabit is below ten, looking around him with a frown that seemed to suggest that the place was full to overflowing, when in reality he was merely unable to make up his mind as to which table would be the most suitable. He presently flopped on to a chair around a corner table, with a thud and stubbornness that would brook no second opinion. Silencer, who had earned the sobriquet more for his ability to infect his company and environment alike with a deep and decisive melancholia rather than for an ability to quell riots and suchlike commotions which his multi-dimensional persona was completely devoid of, and the inscrutable Monster, aptly christened to justify his magnitude, followed suit, followed by Socrates, the leader.
The foursome studied one another for a space of a few seconds, as if they were strangers who had accidentally occupied the same table, guided by some unseen presence in a fateful moment of dark.
Reconciled to the situation, Socrates, with more than a hint of impatience, boomed, ‘What would you guys have?’ and, turning to a still bleary Nero, cooed, ‘Would you like to have some beer, Nero?’
‘Beer is what I wouldn’t like anything except’ Nero murmured, as if it were a literary gathering.
‘You shameless plagiarist! But I must appreciate your capacity to regurgitate such gems from Wodehouse, and aptly too at that!’
‘The chap himself was a plagiarist, an eclectic one, to boot,’ Nero countered, raising his voice a notch, ‘but I pardon him, for he makes even types like Soc laugh, making for humanness.’
‘You soulless fool’ Soc thundered, ‘laughing isn’t all that matters in this world.’
The barman, a lugubrious specimen, placed the glasses and the pitcher of draught on the table, having earlier been suitably directed by a gesture from Socrates.
‘Come on, Soc,’ enjoined Monster with his characteristic sense of probity. ‘You can’t make such fundamental judgments of character, just because you are buying us the bloody beer.’ He lit a cigarette, and passed it to Socrates, as a minor honor to the host, and not because he was busy on his shiny mobile. He then lit one for himself in an imperious manner, erasing the possible interpretation by anyone of his recent behaviour as deferential.
‘This place is so uninspiring’, pontificated Nero, now finding his form and warming to the situation. ‘Gets more monotonous by the visit,’ he added for emphasis, and looked about for concurrence or denial. He needed an argument, profound or puerile, to make him heady, the beer being unfailingly ineffectual.
The clink of glass gone horizontal made them jump, including Silencer who, in his gloomy stupor, had dreamily waved aside a particle of peril and realistically flattened his as-yet-undrunk-from glass. Nero, showing unusual agility, dodged his leg from the drip, as Monster watched the evolving pattern of the spreading liquid with geographical interest, while simultaneously gesticulating to Socrates, who was fuming at this dissipation, with an air of nonchalance to take it in his stride.
‘Damn!’ roared Socrates, ignoring Monster’s wisdom. ‘I pay for that, too, eh?’ he growled mockingly. Nero chose the moment to nimbly extricate the cigarette from Socrates’ hold, and pulled hard at it, enjoying the experience all the more, for he never in theory smoked, but the puffs he pinched and passively inhaled helped considerably increase the fag end of Socrates’ expenditure.
‘Put a sock in it!’ said Monster in irritation, and proceeded to trivialize Socrates’ lament by refilling his glass, Nero’s, and, as an afterthought, the host’s.
The barman put a fresh glass in front of Silencer who, his gloom having deepened, owing partly to the mishap but largely to the passage of time, now sat with his right palm cupping his left fist, as if in atonement and possibly denial.
The amber liquid flowed steady and fast, silence reigning for a while, and finally broken by Silencer. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said gingerly, adding quickly, ‘it’s not as if you guys wouldn’t have known or at least guessed, if you had been observant enough, which I now see you hadn’t.’ His eyes rested on Socrates with a plea to understand or to forgive, it was hard to say.
Socrates felt Nero’s and Monster’s eyes upon him, and almost sensed the catastrophic. For a moment, rage over the secrecy and the impending disclosure overtook shock. ‘What are you guys holding from me? Silencer, is it about Nims, you idiot?’ he banged the table, making the brimful glasses shed copious quantities before their rightful owners got a grip of the situation and stemmed the wasteful displacement, Monster unselfishly steadying Socrates’ glass as well.
‘Nims? What about her?’ chorused Nero and Monster, in relief at their acquittal and in indignation against poor Silencer whose glass stood fresh and empty in front of him.
Now it is Silencer’s turn to become subjected to the accusing glares of three pairs of eyes.
‘Silencer, out with it!’ bellowed the voices, at once threatening and deafening.
‘It’s bad, quite bad, but not as bad as it could have been, you understand,’ bleated Silencer. Now, his comrades inched towards him, the urge to cause injury or death, especially in Monster, nearly overriding their impatience to know the truth.
‘One more attempt at jabbering, Silencer,’ warned the trio, ‘and we will become your namesakes after performing the required ritual swiftly and gleefully.’
‘Well, Nims I thought had some feeling for me. I of course didn’t tell you guys. We, Nims and I, met a couple of times last week, when I excused myself reporting diarrhoea, a mild case of, if I remember right,’ sped on Silencer, now clearly oblivious to battery and assault, impending or instantaneous. ‘Both times I felt kinda guilty, wishing to come clean and make a clean breast of it and the rest, but something stopped me, you know, I don’t know what. Maybe it’s the way Nims acted, very funny, vague. A smile now, a faraway look next, as if she was in two minds about something. And, that was really it. But this morning when I met her, she was all clear. I don’t know how, she didn’t tell me, not that it would have mattered. She had realized that she was, oh well is a lesbo. For sure. She had of course, poor girl, wanted to be absolutely certain, before she could commit herself to Soc, or me perhaps. Now there is no doubt whatsoever. As if to seal the issue, she had brought her girl friend, Bims who, it transpired, had all along known the real Nims, as it were. Nice pair, Nims and Bims, at least by the sound of it. Better you than me, that’s what you might have said, Soc, what?’ Silencer was breathless.
‘Apologies anyway, Soc,’ added Silencer. Socrates shrugged in reply. Just as Monster opened his mouth to say something in meaningful conclusion, they heard a pitiful croak. Nero, looking deathly pale, muttered, ‘did you say Bims, Silencer?’