Ryan wandered around listlessly in the pub. It was late, and the music had been turned up- as was the norm, but for Ryan, it was being drowned by the constant ringing in his ears- the kind one experiences when there is a loud gunshot next to one’s ear. He didn’t know why he was there. His friends weren’t available, nor was he in the most upbeat of moods. He had just randomly decided to get up from his bed, throw on the first cleanly laundered shirt he could find, and get into a cab. It was only after the cabbie asked where he’d like to be dropped that Ryan said the first destination that popped into his mind, which was preoccupied by nothing.
He used to frequent this pub a lot, coming in with many a friend, and staying till it closed for the night. For the average Joe, it was just another pub, but for Ryan, it was something more. He never knew why he had such an affinity for this place. It wasn't the best value for money, nor was it the closest watering hole to his home. However, he still tipped the most here, frequented this place the most, and always tried to drag his friends here- even though they constantly rebelled against repeatedly going to the same place. This was the one place, for which Ryan’s love for trying out new places made an exception. It just somehow felt familiar; he felt safe here.
Ryan was here alone today, but the rest of the world didn’t know that. There was the usual set of patrons - the couples, the after-party-ers, they guy-gangs, the group that danced the Bhangra irrespective of the music genre being played, and the odd family who had brought their kid along. The hostess asked where he’d like to be seated and he opted for the bar. The questions stood out this night- they were sharper. He had to think before he answered. They felt intrusive. Even when the bartender asked what he’d like to order, he felt angry. Shouldn’t the bartender know? He’d been a one-brand guy for such a long time. Ryan opened a tab and started walking. He didn’t feel like being polite to the bartender, and he realized that he wasn’t a big enough prick to be rude to someone just for the heck of it. The smoking area seemed like a good option. He could stand at his own table and the music was softer there.
Ryan chose a corner overlooking the parking lot. It was still, and there were very few cars left. He checked his watch and it was almost midnight. He had completely lost track of time. He lit up a cigarette gazing into the horizon, his mind kept coming up with questions that he could never answer, and a new question popped up every other second, the former slipping quietly back under the rug of his burdened mind from where it had slyly appeared. If he were a third person looking at his life, he’d have thought it wasn’t bad at all. He had a good career going for himself, his family loved him, he had a large circle of friends- and he knew who the real ones were, the ladies seemed to like him, and he was financially comfortable too. But he recurrently felt empty. He frequently felt lost. His thoughts were slippery and the smoking room door, which was frequently used, letting loud music in whenever it opened, wasn’t helping either. He had always had plans- he was a planner. He meticulously switched out the pieces of his grand puzzle whenever things in his life changed, but somewhere along the way things had changed too much, and he wasn’t able to keep up. The pieces of his puzzle were scattered, and some had gone missing. His ability to envision the future had started oscillating between being able to clearly see ten years into the future, and having a horrendous case of cataract.
Ryan had always had immense self-belief- his confidence stemmed from it; some could even go far enough to call him cocky, but he didn't mind. For him, it was his strength. And he still had it. But a sinking feeling had started to set in, a feeling that made him feel that he was slipping too quickly into the unknown, and he didn’t know if he would be able to keep walking in the face of good fortune and adversity alike, like he had always been able to. It scared him to hell and back. He wondered if perhaps this was the reason he had randomly come to this specific pub this night, but it had betrayed him. He didn't feel comforted. A man tapped Ryan on his shoulder; he wanted to borrow his lighter. Ryan lit the man’s smoke and passed a smile. It was involuntary, like his answers used to be, when the hostess and the bartender asked him their regular questions. Maybe he was regaining his spirit then? Ryan wanted to uplift his mood. He scanned the pub through the glass pane, beyond which sat those who weren't caught in the jaws of the filthy habit of smoking, but he couldn't find any single ladies. He smirked to himself. His mind was cruel enough to remind him that even if there were, he wouldn't have done anything about it. He was too prudish in this regard- he felt pick up lines were not the mark of a gentleman. The lumpy rug gave way again.
Why was he struggling so hard to make everything perfect? Isn't the end the same for everyone? He’d always held the opinion that it is necessary to be content in order to be happy, and that only those who weren't materialistic could be content to begin with. He believed this thought to be fact. But he still ran after everything; he always had want, he never tried to suppress greed from rearing his ugly head into his thoughts. In fact he nurtured it, he planned till he could feed it, and that made it uglier still. He wished he had more will power, like those people who decide to forget their better halves after bad break-ups, and don't indulge in drunk-dialing, or trying to start conversations from nothing, just to get away from those bleak times of loneliness. He’d always respected that lot. Ryan wanted it all- he wanted the struggle, it would make him humble; the big city, he’d have new experiences whenever he had free time; the support, he’d have an easier time starting off; the ladies, he was a hopeless romantic; the friends, for what is life without friends?; the money, he loved big cars, big houses, big businesses, and business class travel. But he knew he couldn't have it all, not so soon. That didn't stop him from trying though. He was like the lottery buyer, hoping against hope that it would work for him. Life, however, was more dependent on the probable and not the exceptions. The servers announced last call.
He brought his fifth pint from the bar back to his corner in the smoking area. The ashtray where he was stubbing his butts seemed much fuller than he remembered. He should start cutting back, he thought. The beer was a rip off, though he always thought that after his fourth pint at this pub, it never mellowed him down before he reached home and got into his bed. Ryan wondered whether he had made the right decisions along the way. He convinced himself that he had; he never really knew how to deal with uncertainty, even in hindsight. When did he become so uptight, he wondered. His friends were thinning, much like his hair. He never really used that annual gym membership he was so keen on, when he first enrolled. And he was more uncertain now, than he had ever been in his life. A couple stepped into the smoking area in the middle of their quarrel, the guy was trying to calm the girl down because she was hurling expletives at him at a volume that was making their flight as public as a Facebook relationship status update, and she was showing no signs of simmering down. The hushed apologies, and the “Sorry, honey, it won’t happen again” amused Ryan. He was happy that at least he wasn't THAT guy. The beer had started working, and he was regaining his spark again. Life is uncertain for everyone, and it is the ability to constantly push back, that decides how it’s going to pan out. He was a fighter. The couple was getting on his nerves now. It reminded him of his quarrels, and he didn't like to be reminded of them; he had a habit of glorifying his past. He always carried pieces of every heart he had intertwined with his, with him. Ryan coughed, thankfully. It brought him back into the smoking area from his flashback before it started. He didn't like to go down that road of thought; it always ended in a very dark place.
Ryan had had enough of this. He knew that all this thinking wouldn't help much. If only he could stop planning. He knew what he had to do the next day, and he knew that he was still ahead of the curve. He’d go big, or die trying (or just miraculously get in touch with his inner self and spirituality will salvage his soul.) He’d once seen a witty t-shirt inspired by poker. It read, “I don’t even fold laundry.” Now, if you were to ask a professional poker player, they’d tell you that that is one of the worst mindsets to have if you're in it to win it, but that’s the kind of belief and steely resolve that Ryan had. He’d hole an ace-king suited, and flop queen-jack-nine, turn an eight, and river a ten. All spades. The river had always been kind to him. It was like the powers that be always left him hints that read that if he tried hard enough and willed it long enough, it would always happen; after all, it had always happened in the past. Ryan had always had a fascination with the ace of spades in particular. It was the most badass paying card, even though it had the same value as the other aces it was somehow deemed special by all the playing card manufacturers. It was the biggest design, and often decided who gets the first turn. Ryan wanted to be the ace of spades. A smug smile was now plastered on his face and his fists were clenched and ready for action, he had always felt pride, whenever he was called a “smug bastard,” he always took it as an acknowledgement of his brimming confidence. It fueled his self-belief. He knew he’d find the right path along the way; he just had to keep walking long enough. The pint was empty, and the lights were now at their brightest. Ryan walked out of the smoking area and waved at his bartender for the check. His heart felt much lighter than when he had entered. The pub worked its magic after all.
The bartender beamed when he saw his tip.