Discourse at the Doom Hotel

(Note: The names have been changed but this is based on a true pub conversation, many moons ago).

David and I stared vacantly at a football game on TV that even a room full of wanna-be jocks had long abandoned. Our pub crawl was coming to an end.

"Can I sit here?" asked the man in the neck brace, nervously grabbing for a chair.

"Sure," I said.

"You born in Canada?," the stranger asked David. Glancing over at him, I reflected on what had been a strange evening.

"No," said David. I relayed his response, by shaking my head above the din of bar room noise.

"Yer ANC aren't ya?"

"ANC? The African National Congress? I supported their objectives, the goals and objectives, yes," David offered, somewhat surprised at the directness of the question.

"Ah, yer from.... oh what's the name of the country? It's on the border..." The stranger's recall was instantly blocked by a deluge of cruel images from his past.

The waitress switched the channel to news of the main political event of the day, and after some pause, I pointed at the screen and asked the stranger what he thought of "this."

"Well I voted for...oh, yer either from East LA, or...."

"No, no, Africa," David said, hoping to calm the stranger's nerves and avoid any trouble.

"That's what I said," the man quipped. "ANC, it's on the border."

I cut in, "He's from Zimbabwe, and he's lived here for 20 years. He's celebrating."

The man was in a bitter mood, but it wasn't clear why. The memories of his days in the Foreign Legion had seared his psyche and left him crippled inside. The recent accident and the unending pain of unrequited love, were forever etched in his memory. Rather than numbing his thoughts, a night of vodka and tonics combined with his medication only served to fray his nerves.

The stranger mumbled to me, "I left someone behind over there, someday I'll go see her."

Not wanting to pursue it, David caught the attention of the waitress. "Another couple of draft over here, please."

"A lot of people died in that war," the stranger continued.

"Yeah, maybe 80,000," David noted.

I was now feeling rather uneasy, the same feeling that always happens when I can't quite read somebody. Too bad the stranger had sat closest to David, I thought. I could barely make out his incoherent ramblings and he was really hung up on this Africa thing. Something felt spooky.

"You got a scar on yer forehead, a bullet maybe, when you were about yeah high, right?" The stranger motioned with his arm.

David, who had been trying to ignore the stranger=s presence, was jolted to attention. He put down his glass of beer, and leaned forward.

"Yes, when I was about yeah high," he answered. There was silence, and the stranger in the neck brace moved ever so slightly, turning his gaze back to the TV.

I'd had enough. I had never noticed any scar on David's forehead before, and now I wanted to know more.

"What's this all about, is it true?, I whispered.

"Yes, a scar, can't you see, right here, I've had it since childhood."

In the dim light, I noticed a faint mark, and pondered how the stranger could have detected such tiny detail.

"How did it happen?" I asked.

"A street fight," David said.

"A street fight, not a bullet." I was slightly relieved that the stranger was only partially psychic, but I remained perturbed.

"This guy's too much much, let's leave," I murmured under my breath.

The stranger cut in, "The ANC and the Zulus, they're crazy to fight each other, why, why don't they stop?, he exclaimed in a sudden outburst.

David nodded, "Yes, yes they have to stop, it's crazy."

"And you know who is behind it all?"

"Yes we know that, we know who it is," David concurred with the stranger.

Sophisticated political analysis of South African politics. It didn't add up for a drunken former mercenary, or whatever he is, I thought.

"Let's leave," I whispered.

"Let me first go to the washroom," David said as he stood up.

"Come to think of it, I have to go too." We left half empty beers on the table.

"This guy is too weird," I said as I relieved my bladder and perused the graffiti on the wall. Let's finish our beers and get out of here!"

David, whose main concern that night had been a devastating domestic political defeat for the forces of reason, paid little attention to my immediate concern.

"Where do we go from here? The people have spoken, but they have been misled by those who possess a very sinister agenda for this country. This is not why I came here 20 years ago! We must now engage in constructive dialogue, or we have no right to complain, when things get worse. Anyway, I have to go."

The two of us returned to finish off our drinks, and I noticed the stranger had gone.

"I guess the guy who was sitting here must have left, I said to the waitress.

"What guy?" she inquired.

"You know, the dude with the neck brace on."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied.

"Wait a minute, you served him for half an hour," he was sitting right there with the two of us!"

"I don't think so! I only served you two at this table."

"But.. but..."

"Let's go! Drink up guys, it's closing time," she protested.

As if the victim of a hoax, I turned to David, who was by now teetering from a night on the town.

"What's she trying to pull, she knows who I'm talking about, the guy who sat right there, he talked about Africa, tell her!"

"Come along my friend, we've had our fill tonight. Tomorrow is another day."


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