The man walked into the pub. It was just an ordinary day and he had no reason to think otherwise. To be called ‘the man’ rather than by his own name was rather extraordinary, however. Not that he felt himself to be part of a story as an anonymous man. He felt real. He wanted a drink. Felt it in his undeniably long unquenched thirst. The person he was with wanted a drink, too, the man somehow knew. And a few crisps wouldn’t go amiss. A foregone conclusion that they’d share a single packet with their drinks. He walked to the bar and asked for two cans of lager and, of course, a packet of crisps. Except he garbled ‘lager’ and it came out as some other word closer to another word for a secret or private language.
“Cans?” queried the pub landlord. “What do you mean, cans?”
The man was stumped. He had not expected such a reply. It seemed very important, indeed life and death, to receive cans of lager that they could pour for themselves into empty glasses. The precision dismantling of each tab with a ‘sizzz – sizzz’ was something almost ritualistic. Something that they had already done and here they were - purely to fulfil having already done it. So watching lager being served in any other way was like an act that would likely cause the world to end.
Another man – during all these singular thoughts from the man already thinking them – had by now arrived at the bar, not the now missing person whom the first man had originally been accompanying, but someone else altogether, someone utterly new, someone with a badge indicating he was a lover of - if not an expert on - real ale. A CAMRA member, in fact. He already had his own clean empty glass, with a design on it from some beer festival. In fact, given the absolute truth, this was not a pub at all but a beer festival in a church hall. The first man had assumed it was a pub because there were all these people – mainly other men – standing around gripping straight glasses swilling with all manner of room-temperature strains of brown, tan and near-black.
Our first man wanted a dimpled glass anyway. One with a handle. Life and death. The world would stop spinning if he was forced to drink from a straight glass.
“What’s CAMRA mean?” he asked the other man, while inspecting his badge.
“It’s a word meaning a room you can’t get out of. You must have heard of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play IN CAMRA?”
At that point, the person who had arrived with the first man was suddenly aware of his own existence in a room full of others he did not recognise and who stared at him upon him suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere where nobody had stood beforehand.
He wanted to know what possibilities there were. What choices he had. What he could do. He assumed he must know who he was but if he’d thought hard about it he would have realised he had no idea who he was at all. Who am I? A question he did not even begin to ask.
But what could he do? That was a question he felt potentially able to ask. In the jargon, what could he accomplish – going forward?
“Can...?” he began to ask with a deceptive feeling of filling out his existence with a full body. “Can...?” he began to repeat. But he never finished his empty question even on the second attempt as he vanished as fast as he had appeared. With a singular double-sizzz.
Someone else altogether, someone utterly new, mischievously blew up an empty crisp bag and popped it. The room, meanwhile, remained at room temperature.