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OP-ED: One more for the road

  • Published at 04:11 am May 23rd, 2021
Empty-Streets-Dhaka-Covid-19-Mehedi Hasan
Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The significance of a birthday lies in the fact that it can bring the past and present in the same room

It’s quarter to three. I’m sitting in a dimly lit bar. A bar between everywhere and nowhere. A bar that is outside the percepts of both space and time. A bar where the drinks are automatically filled, and you just have to start thinking about a song before it starts to get played on an old 1950s jukebox. 

“But wait, that’s wrong,” you say. “You already said that it’s quarter to three, and not to nitpick, but if a place were outside the percepts of time, would a 1950s jukebox really be making the scene there?”

“A sharp eye,” is what I would say. But things aren’t so basic that time can’t exist in a place devoid of time. Even the most basic explanations of Einstein’s theory of relativity have explored the relative nature of what we call time. And since we human beings approach things in a temporal sense, it would only make sense that we would perceive eternity to move forward in a linear fashion as well. As for the jukebox, well, this is eternity as perceived by me. So, write me a long one for committing the mighty sin of anachronism when faced with my own existential nightmare. 

The glass is filled with one drink after the other. The ashtray has somehow managed to stay clean throughout this time. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at any of these things, as I am face to face with death himself. 

What is a birthday anyway? The general consensus is that it is day when you celebrate being born. But why should we do this? Why is an individual birth so important that we have to go out of our way and celebrate it? And why should that individual birth be important if the very foundations of life are built upon pain?

These are the questions I used to ask myself a couple of years back. When everyone would go to sleep and all the lights from the neighbourhood would wither away, I would open the fridge for a bottle of coke, slowly bring out a pack of Dunhills, and smoke the night away. Death would accompany me from 12 on the dot. After all, birthdays are also a reminder that our time on this Earth is coming to an end. And who better to give that reminder than the one who was coming to collect himself? 

There would be other people with him, of course. One would be from the past, and in this case, there would be just one. Birthdays are a major milestone in one’s life, and it is a time when both the past and present come into a kind of twisted, focused view. I know that I have singled out other times in one’s life when this happens, but the significance of a birthday lies in the fact that it can bring in both the past and present into the same room. 

And while the figure from the past is always the same, with its many holes and many regrets, you can change the figure from the future with just a simple breath from your nostrils. 

One can do nothing about the past, but one can do everything about the future. It follows the rule of the butterfly effect. Even if one chooses to sleep early or just listen to a different song, the future can irrevocably be changed. But with every move, the future becomes the past, and the scope within which one can project one’s future shrinks as well. After all, we are the legacy of the decisions we make. 

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

This quote always gets to me. This quote always haunts me. This affected me to the point that I stopped caring about the future, and focused on the past instead. I would look at the scars of my past self and lament my lot. “We are the children of a cruel fate,” I would say. “Death, you bastard, why don’t you take me now anyway?”

Death would do nothing but stare, stare through his big hollow eyes. And through the triangular gap in his face, it actually looked like he was laughing. 

Well, these were my birthdays till 2019. But things don’t stay the same forever. This day, I’m no longer meeting death in a dark room. I’m meeting him in a bar. And while I was initially sad to meet him, after spending some time with him, I actually found it alright. I should correct that. I was overjoyed. 

I guess that’s why birthdays were made. The initial birthdays of one’s childhood are to get one accustomed to himself and the world. The later ones are there for one to see both his failures and successes, and to chart a way so that one doesn’t need to be afraid of death, but can greet him like an old friend. 

I always treated death as a merchant of salvation through self-destruction, and I had my reasons for that. But now that my past self has realized why he had to go through all that, and my future self is a lot more visible than a shaky apparition, death is changing as well. From a skeleton, he is transforming into the kinder death, the one that was depicted in Sandman by Neil Gaiman. And if I can greet this death with a layer of snow on top of me each year, I think I will be pretty alright. 

It’s a tough road ahead. So, I think I’ll have one final drink, to the tunes of the Ol’ Blue Eyes. Then, I think I’m going to catch some sleep. I have a big road ahead of me, after all. 

“It’s quarter to three
There’s no one in the place
Except you and me
So, set ’em up, Joe
I got a little story you oughta know

We’re drinkin’, my friend
To the end of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road”

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and an intern at the Dhaka Tribune.