The Coffeelicious
Published in

The Coffeelicious

Image: Zuzana Kubatova

Truth In A Lie

The bar was empty as I sat at the bar table. A big man appeared before me, almost as if he had apparated on the spot, with an expectant expression on his face.

“What is the best scotch you have? Single malt,” I said.

“Yamazaki,” he almost grunted. “It’s Japanese.”

I nodded. “One large. No ice. Water. Chilled.”

With deft motions of a man practiced in the art of mixing drinks, he placed a glass before me and poured directly from the bottle.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked.

“Umm…my book just got published.”

“Wow. Congratulations.”

I shrugged as he poured water from a chilled jug. I raised one hand to stop him at my preferred level.

“So how does it feel to be a published writer?” he asked, the jug of water disappearing below the bar-table.

I shrugged again, looking everywhere but at him. “Not very different.”

I picked up my glass, shook it thoughtfully and kept it back down.

“Well…it feels lighter, you could say. Like a stinger stuck to your ass for years has come off.”

The bar-tender looked at me keenly, and I broke eye contact again looking around the parlour. It was empty.

“Slow day, huh?” I asked.

It was his turn to shrug.

I picked up my glass again and he said, “So what’s your story?”

“Just swords and sorcery, dragons and fights. That sort of thing,” I said.

“No. Not that. Your story.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen a lot of people in my time behind this counter, and I can usually tell when a person has a story behind him.”

“Everybody has a story behind them.” I smiled, quoting my favourite quote:

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

“Yeah, that. And what’s yours?”

I don’t know why he was interested. Maybe he was just bored. There was no one else there anyway. I placed the glass back down. My hands were cold. I felt strangely conscious.

“What do you want to know?”

“Why, when, how did you become a writer? What made you do it?”

Why, when, how and what. Yup, he’d covered the entire spectrum of questions. I thought about it and started with when. It was the easiest.

“I guess, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I opened the first book I ever read I didn’t think of it as reading. Not consciously. I just wanted to know what happened next, that’s all. Burning curiosity, you know.”

He nodded as if he knew.

“There was this one book that changed it all. It was one of the early ones I had read. That book introduced me to the concept of an author. Before, it was always the stories that interested me, never the person writing them. I always imagined them as old, bald people, scribbling something in some corner of the world. But this guy, Christopher Paolini, was only 16 when he started writing his book. And he got it published when he was 22 and was a huge success. That was the moment I guess. It was an eye opener for me. I imagined him as a 16 year old kid, sitting somewhere under the blue sky thinking up and writing his stories down. That idea appealed to me. A lot.”

I paused for breath realising I was talking too much. But I was excited, and the bar-tender was listening to each word.

“I didn’t know a thing about writing, though. I was young, naive and wrote poetry. Bah…not even good poetry.”

“Can I read any of your poems?”

“No,” I said, flatly.

I picked up my glass again. It was wet with condensation. The bar-tender’s hand slipped below the table like a snake and he whipped out a coaster from his under the table magic compartment.

“All I wanted to be was a writer — spend my days with a book in one hand, and a pen in another. But my parents had other ideas. Bless them. They wanted me to have a good education and get a job and make something out of myself. I somehow wound up studying to become an Engineer.”

The bar-tender raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

“The only thing that kept me going through engineering were books. Four years is a long time to live through, but looking back now I feel it went by so fast. It’s all a blur to me now. Must be because I was such a Hippie.”

The bar-tender’s eyebrow rose so high it all but disappeared.

I laughed.

“Yeah, those were the days. I was a pure stoner. But aside from my Hippie-like ways, I never stopped reading. There is a sense of peace I feel while reading a book. Reading a story. The knowledge that there is someone out there who thinks the same, has the same questions, makes mistakes is a great comfort. In the entire world, I was not the only one. I felt a sense of belonging, something I’ve never felt anywhere else. With anyone else.”

I paused, stirring my glass thoughtfully.

“I guess that’s why I became a stoner. It was never about getting high — not that I didn’t enjoy that aspect — but it was all about being a part of something bigger that myself. Belonging in that circle.”

I placed the glass on the coaster and wiped my hands on my already stained jeans.

“You still haven’t told me how you became a writer. Or why,” said the bar-tender.

“Why indeed? I became a writer, or rather, I started writing something that was not poetry, for one reason. It’s a simple reason, and it goes all the way back to the start of mankind: to impress a girl.”

The bar-tender nodded, as if impressing a girl was the most natural thing to do.

“Robin William says this line in one of his movies. It fits perfectly:

So avoid using the word very, because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason boys — to woo women — and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do.”

The bar-tender began to laugh.

“That was what got me into it. But that isn’t what kept me going. Girls come and go. Love is like the sun, it rises and it sets.”

“Amen.”

I raised my glass to him.

“I found I liked writing. Spending a lot of time hunched over a table, making stuff up. Sometimes, it can be like magic.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“You should try it.”

“Nah,” the bar-tender shook his head. “I’d suck.”

“So did I. Not that I’m any good now, but back when I started, oh boy…I was horrible. Everything I wrote was a big pile of poop. The stinky kind. But I stuck to it, I enjoyed it…and slowly and steadily, I taught myself. I got better at it. Or at least, I like to think I did.”

“Well, your book is now published. You must have definitely got better.”

“Actually,” I said, almost embarrassed, “I made that up.”

Anyone who plays poker would have been proud of the expression on the bar-tender’s face.

I continued, almost apologetically, wanting to explain myself, “I just wanted to feel like a published writer for a little while.”

“So you’re a liar?” he said folding his hands. And if you’ve ever seen a big guy standing in front of you with his hands folded like that, you’d be compelled to confess too.

“I apologise for the deceit. That was never my intention. But telling you this story made me realise why I started on this journey. It was never about being published. It was plain and simple love.”

“Whatever,” he grunted, moving away. Then he stopped. “It’s best you pay for your drink and leave fast, mister. Drink up.”

“Er…” was all I managed to say. I pulled out a note, sure it would cover the cost of the drink, and placed it under the coaster. The glass with a peg of Yamazaki with cold water was perspiring, but the liquid inside was untouched.

“I stopped drinking a long time ago. You can have it, as a thanks for listening to my story.” I got off the stool. “And keep the change.”

I turned around to leave when he said, “Wait.”

I stopped.

“What else did you lie about?”

I smiled, quoting another favourite quote:

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth — Albert Camus.”

I left, without looking back, smiling to myself. The bar-tender had done much more than listen to my story. The night was young, and I walked, whistling my way home.

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Akshay Gajria

Akshay Gajria

Storyteller | Author | Writing Coach | Tech Enthusiast | Read more at akshaygajria.com