The night was young, almost too young for the kind of excitement I craved. But I found the perfect dark corner booth left of the bar and adjacent to the low bar-stage. The music stops abruptly as I get comfortable and a burly man comes on to announce a young new act named, Ena. She is young, but not that young. Strands of loose hair danced across her eyes as she got comfortable on the lone stool under the spotlight. She tuned her guitar slightly and allowed a spell of silence to still the air before breathing “Take me home where I belong, I can’t take it anymore” into the room.
Ena’s voice is raw, softly distinct and nearly stripped of all emotion, except for how she dragged the vowels of each last syllable with a tired wail. She sang of a tortured heart, of innocence lost at childhood and crying blood at the foot of heaven’s door for someone — anyone — to come take her far away from here. It’s broody, and hard to make sense of by the heartbeat, but the melody was beguiling. She closed the song amidst claps and loud whistles from the small audience. I watched her get off the stage and waited for the small gaggle of newly converted fans who wanted selfies to disperse before making my way to the edge of the stage to introduce myself.
The waiter had barely set down the tray before Ena caught her glass mid-air and left it there. She caught my eyes and held them there too, saying “Cheers” with the same soft airiness of her singing voice. I waited for the serviceman to place my drink on the table and return from where he came, before asking “What are we celebrating?” Ena seemed to ponder on it for a moment before replying, “Well it depends.” Her hand raised the drink it held a little higher before lowering to her lips. She nodded briskly, almost like a salute and took a loud gulp of the whiskey — without my approval of her enthusiasm — anyway.
“It depends on what?”
“It depends on why you’re here.”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“You should,” she said, setting her drink on the table. “They say every decision you make is just one of many you have made in many lives you have lived”
I almost chuckled, “You talk like your music.”
“I live like my music”
I smiled, “But does that not mean we’re never truly in control then? That I may have just wound up here as part of a grand plan I was merely physically aware of”
“Maybe”, she said, taking another stinging swig from her glass of whiskey. “Maybe consciousness is a myth and we’re all living the same lifetimes in a never-ending loop”.
I remained silent, pretending to think about her last words even though my mind came up blank every time I searched for meaning.
“It opens your mind a little too much doesn’t it?” she smirked.
I was not sure if I agreed, but I couldn’t bring myself to argue, so I accepted my lack of an inner eye and asked another question instead.
“So why are you here?”
“Same reason as you”, she shrugged. “To live.”
I chuckled a little too loudly, “For someone who makes sad music, you sure sound like a very optimistic person”
“Well, I’ve learned that you never really die when you die, you just wake up the next day”
I gave her a look. “Are you going to tell me the story, or do I have to beg?”
A smile pulled itself across her face, for the first time since we exchanged names. “The first time I died was by a lover’s arms. We found young love behind dusty library shelves and made love to the smell of old books. But I was a chubby teenager who wouldn’t stop growing in his boyish arms. One day, I became too bloated to hold in the air, so he set me on the floor gently and left me there. It took me three years, but when I finally got off the ground, that chubby teenager had died. I stopped eating altogether, shed all of my extra skin and spent hours in front of the mirror admiring my almost-slender-but-not-quite frame. And when I did eat, I’d shove my hand into the far end of my mouth until everything came out the same way it went. I stayed alive for three more years until I found myself in an emergency room. They said my heart stopped beating for twenty seconds. When I got back home, I broke all my mirrors, put all of my diet pills in a little box and set everything on fire. It’s been three more years since. These days, I’m in a constant state of dying; wilting quietly and rapidly falling apart. But I know my next death will be a big escape to a place beyond here. Until then…” She stopped short and raised her glass with another nod-salute before emptying its remaining contents into the back of her throat. We both fell into silence, paying un-invested attention to a terrible new singer on the stage.
The night is still young. Almost too young for the kind of conversation we just had, so I signaled to the waiter for another round of drinks and asked him to bring the bottle with him.
The lyric quote Ena sang in the first paragraph was originally written and composed by a young Norwegian singer called Aurora for a song titled, ‘Runaway’.