Four guys made their way to the bar of Popo Café. Of the three pubs christened with the name, this one had the strongest claims of providing a riotous evening for its patrons. Bigger than the other two, it was the one in Michalska, off Mustek.
“Two beers please.”, requested the tall, bearded guy leading the four-men phalanx cutting through the crowd.
“What’s happening madarchod? Looks like the place is filling up tonight” remarked his friend from behind.
The bartender mechanically slapped the tap. He may have poured the beer in an artful instant when the pub opened for business earlier in the evening, but continuous service to the oceanic crowd fatigued him out. The tap spat out a jet of brownish gold into the pints, more froth than broth. Exasperated, he wiped the foam off with a knife to pour more beer into the mugs.
“What you having bro? I’ll buy this round, buy the next.” the bespectacled third enquired turning to the last man of the formation. They were ordering in twos.
“Okay sure... I can’t decide between beer or something stronger. What you plan on having?” countered the last one.
“Rum and coke.”
“Yuck, no rum. Not after surviving on Old Monk for so long bro…I’m done. Get me a gin and tonic.”
It was custom for most of the nightly establishments to insist on actual legal tender rather than ethereal digits, much to the chagrin of customers (especially foreign ones). The fellas tendered cash for their spirits.
“You’d think… a first-world country like this… people would take card payments. Fuck is with all these places resisting technology?”, grumbled the Old Monk survivor from behind.
“It’s to hide income dude...evade taxes. Most places here are run by the Russian Mafia… you know”, responded his bespectacled friend with encyclopaedic confidence.
Ushering themselves through the crowd of patrons queuing horizontally, vertically, and diagonally for their drinks, going under the stony arch into the tunnel-like bunker opening up with the tables and chairs, decorated with dinghy neon. The place must have been a bomb shelter once. Passing the table for two right by the entrance, the guy holding the gin and tonic noticed two girls sipping on some colourful cocktails. His vision vignetted upon the one sitting pretty in black.
“Chachcha, Saby, over here!”, a shout traversed the tunnel. Their two friends were seated at a table further inside, next to a second archway leading to more tables and a modest little space for the crowd to dance after adequate inebriation.
“Aur Chachcha?! How you liking the vibe? Mood’s there tonight”, baulked the clean-shaven, shorter of the two already seated.
“Bhai, ya. Looks like it’s happening tonight”, answered Chachcha, placing his black-syrupy beverage on the table, scanning the tables and the talking heads through his lenses.
“Lots of babes around”, remarked the tall one, wolfishly through his beard.
“Ya Nik, papa will show you how it’s done.”, grinned a gregarious Bhai.
They all sniggered. Juvenile stag energy circulating across the table.
“Aight, get guzzling. Cheers!” said Saby.
The stags were in a good mood; their table in fresh spirits. Bland banter with good humour proceeded. Tables were filling in all around, people arriving with manic, mirthful, and goofy expressions. It was the weekend. Where perhaps air sirens warning of bombing raids would have sounded, nondescript remixed music blared out of the speakers, hushing all conversations. It was for the best, providing people privacy from neighbouring tables given the intimate, lurid, or boring topics that would be broached in conversation. And, if your neighbour did hear an out-of-context sentence vomited out of your mouth, it would pass off as a memetic soundbite of a Saturday night. Absurd and humourous drunk talk.
The table scanned the pub.
“Come, come. Papa will show you how to pick up punani.”, Bhai snarked in-between chugs.
“Who will? You will madarchod?” retorted Nik.
“You remember last time we went…”
“Ei Saby, Bhai thinks he’s the man. I tell you guys I’m his papa and he is gandu”, Nik cut in.
Bland chuckles all around.
“Tables are filling up fast. Mood’s there tonight,” said Saby, contributing a truism.
“Come Chachcha! I’ll show you. How to do…with swag!”
“Arrey, let me get in the zone.” Chachcha gestured to his rum and coke.
The conversation diverged between the seated. Oscillating between their phones, gazing across the pub, and half-focused conversations, the stags stalled. A vague chunk of time elapsed with stalled conversations and contemplation. Everyone in the pub eager to enter the “zone”, did so one sip at a time.
“How’s your drink bro?”
“They do water this shit down. Bro, you’ve barely drunk your drink. Tumhara hamesha…then later you’ll have to chug the whole thing.”
Chachcha took a swig, gulping down half of the content.
“Yeh Chachcha ka style bro…Ya, but this is a cheap place. For college students and all. For the price we’re paying, expect dilution dude.”
“Y’all looking at the girl in black near the entrance?” enquired Saby, breaking the careful whispers and scoping stares of his comrades. Bhai and Nik broke out of their shared reverie.
“She’s hot bro!” Bhai acknowledged; eyebrows raised in sincerity.
“Ya, dude. I noticed her while walking in.”
“Oh ya. She is” affirmed Chachcha.
“Let’s go”, beckoned Bhai to Nik.
“In a bit.”
A long table housing a party of eight sat in between the girls and the stags. Two guys from the long table staggered towards the girls striking up a conversation.
“Okay, not now. Let those two idiots go away,” Bhai cautioned “…see Chachcha it’s all about confidence. You just go and click…papa will show.”
Nik was deep into staring at his phone. The table punctuated their conference. Oscillating between their phones, gazing across the pub, and half-focused conversations.
“They’re gone now, eh.” Nik gestured.
“Come let’s go. Let papa show you.”
“You’ll approach, huh? And show us.”, asked Chachcha.
“Oooh, yeaah! She’s a babe, huh?” grinned Nik.
“Who’ll handle the friend?” Saby questioned rhetorically.
Sheepish laughter broke out of the table.
“I will show you guys. Learn from papa.”
“I need to refill my beer,” said Nik.
“Fine. I will buy this round. You both want something…no? Okay.”
Bhai and Nik went off to the bar.
“Where’s your head at Chachcha?”
“All over the place bro. You tell me.”
“Mood’s there tonight. Vibes are there.”
“It’s the weekend.”, laughed bespectacled Chachcha “…those two are like that. They’ll talk big and think they are players. In the end, they won’t do jack shit.”
“Confidence is key, but the skill is locked”
“Ya. But the mood’s there tonight, huh? Aur Batao…”
Their two comrades appeared under the arch, careful not to pay the girls at the table any heed. Nik came through with his beer and sat. Bhai’s strut was hesitant, he looked at the girls’ table, then back at the boys. It takes but a moment to decide, and the swift pirouette he did to walk back towards the table at the entrance. The girls knowing what was up, looked up to play another round of the “game”. Part and parcel of the urban night scene. Nik too changed his course and went to join the table.
“Check it out, our boys managed to summon the confidence.”
Chachcha looked to his right, half-impressed.
Not more than three minutes passed before the adventuring duo returned to the table, with an air of achievement. The modest success of breaking the ice, dripping in pathos, provided the kick to keep their spirits buoyed.
“Papa showed you guys, huh? All with swag. Now the hook has been sunk. All set for my future moves.”
“They were cute, eh?”, beamed Nik.
“What happened? How come y’all back?”, Chachcha asked.
“4-dimensional chess?”, offered Saby.
“Papa’ll…that’s the trick… You know what I did? I was like “Oh hi, I’m Bhai and all. How you doing…” and came off saying enjoy your evening I’ll see you later. This way you get them in the zone for later, you know.”
“Aye, it’s Gospel.”, croaked Nik.
“It’s the secret of the set-up.”, concluded Bhai, “what about you both? You’re gonna go talk to some girls?”
“We will, we will.”, were the murmured mumbles.
“But the mood’s there tonight, huh?”, parroted Saby “After the clusterfuck lockdown. People celebrated in with that big feast on Charles Bridge. Flexing over the rest. Life is restarting.”
“To their credit. They have handled it quite well here. They need to too. The city is all dependent on the service sector, tourism and all no.”
“Ya, ya… they have to make up for the losses and we have to make up for time.”
“You think, we’ll resume physical classes this semester?”, asked Saby
“I hope bro. This online Zoom shit doesn’t work for me. It gets so boring.”, Bhai bemoaned.
“They’ll open. Maybe a month into the semester,” said Chachcha.
“The dorm has been dull. Once the new students and Erasmus come, it’ll be happening again.”, said Bhai.
“They handled it well here...”, continued Nik, “…back home, is still so many cases.”
“How about your family and friends though, they okay.”, asked Saby.
“Ya, they are okay, thankfully. What about you guys’ country? I hear is bad there, no?”
“Well, there are a lot of us. It’s okay though. I mean there were a lot of blue-collar workers who suffered when lockdown was announced.”
“Government has fucked up the handling!”, interjected a particularly partisan Bhai.
“Bro… any government couldn’t have handled it much better or much worse, our infrastructure, and population…”, countered Chachcha.
“These guys here handled it good though. Back there we are banging plates on the balcony, and your people are singing Bella Ciao from the balcony.”, concluded Bhai. “…and you see lockdown has made it so obvious no…people need to socialize…”
“Yes, is true.”, surmised a pensive Nik. “People are going crazy now, everybody wants to party.”
“It’s summer, bro. We have to!”, declared Bhai, “Ya, good we didn’t go back homes. Everyone who went back now can’t return. And they are all stuck in lockdowns. But Prague is partying!
The stags once again went into their routine. Cope. Oscillating between their phones, gazing across the pub, and half-focused conversations.
“Okay, I’m getting a refill. Rum and coke, Chachcha?”
Saby staggered passed the tables towards the bar. Amidst the crowd at the bar, he found himself standing next to the pretty girl in black. They both went to give their orders to the bartenders at the same time. She caught his gaze and he smiled.
“You know all of us have been wondering about you,” spoke Saby. “Everyone’s eyes on you.”
“Oh really? I didn’t know.”, giggled the girl, putting up a pretence of giving a damn.
“What do you do?”
“I am in my final year of high school.”
“Oh.”, registered Saby fazed. “What you plan on doing after school then?”, he continued, keeping the conversation going despite losing all incentive to do so. There was no need for rudeness after all.
“I wanna study psychology.”, she answered.
“What do you like about psychology?”
“Because all my friends are doing drugs, and I want to understand how to help them stop.”
“Ah, drugs aren’t that bad. It depends on how you…them…”
Her drinks were served. She left with a nod of the head as a courteous acknowledgement. There was no need for rudeness after all
“Did any of y’all ask her how old she was?”, Saby said sitting back down at the table.
The casual conversation at the table was interrupted…
“Why? What…huh?”, asked Bhai.
“I was just talking to her at the bar. She’s in high school.”
A collective sigh was let off at the table.
“You asked her, huh? She could be 18 though…”, Nik pulling out his vape, and puffing on it for support.
“Doesn’t matter. School is too weird.”, said Bhai.
“All this confusion…the drinking age here is fluid.” Chachcha surmised.
“They don’t ID kids unless absolutely necessary anyway.”, said Bhai.
Nik looked left towards the entrance, squinting and scrutinizing.
“Damn. You’re right. All these pubs allowing kids, hard to know who’s a what.”
The night was approaching twilight. The stags got up and moved around the pub. People were cramming themselves into the small space reserved for dancing after adequate inebriation. They were sufficiently qualified for the criterion. They were shouting and hooting. Conversing in corners, across tables, and across the room even. The music was thumping, but no one could tell what song it was.
The stags joined the amorphous crowd. Oscillating between their phones, gazing across the pub, and half-focused conversations. Added to the ritual were vague movements of bobbing and weaving to the beat. After having spent sufficient time soaking in the “vibes”, the herd departed.
“Mood’s there bruh!”, Bhai reiterated.
“Definitely!” validated Chachcha.
“We’ll sit there. Our old spot’s been taken”, Saby pointed to a desolate table at the other end of the room, opposite their original table.
“Sure whatever. What do you all wanna eat? Shawarma? Pizza?”, asked Bhai.
“We’ll pick up something while heading back, no?”, said Saby.
“Burger King’s near Mustek”, suggested Chachcha.
“Bro, I hate Burger King.”, barked Saby.
“Achcha koi nahi, we’ll find something on the way.”, diplomatized Bhai, “Where’s that gandu Nik?”
“Must be somewhere in the crowd.”
“Oh, I see him… There with those two aunties, back at our old table.”
Saby and Chachcha turned their gaze. Nik was engaged in an earnest conversation with two middle-aged women. They smiled and chatted vivaciously, patronizing the lone stag’s presence. He appeared just a little bit unsure as to what he was doing there.
Chachcha adjusted his spectacles, “Well…that’s a bit of an overcorrection.”