“Doesn’t it seem strange to you that we are going to a bar to meet our uncle?” asked Ananya while walking beside her brother. The deserted street gave the impression that it was much later in the night, giving Ranjit an ill feeling in his gut that strengthened with each step.
“I’m still trying to make peace with the fact that I agreed to go to a bar with my little sister,” he said. A streetlight flickered noisily as it winked at the two of them, giving the night some sound. Good upbringing had taught them not to drag their feet while walking, even while walking on a broken, dusty, pebble littered pavement.
“I’m not little.”
“But you’re my sister.”
“You can’t keep me under your thumb all your life, Ranjit. Mom and dad tried but failed miserably, and they can be really unreasonable and difficult at times. You lack their domineering attitude, so what makes you think you will succeed?” she said, making the street echo with her tense voice.
Ranjit was wary of turning towards Ananya. He knew it was something she was always on edge about, and he couldn’t blame her. A little faith in her wisdom and maturity was all she desired from her family.
“It’s not something I can control. Just like fathers are protective of their daughters, so are brothers for their sisters.”
“As if you could protect me,” muttered Ananya. This time it was she who was wary of turning towards her brother. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud, for she knew he meant well. But she also knew her words hurt his pride. An uneasy silence put its arms around their shoulders, without interfering with Ananya’s curly hair that flew like a cape.
When they reached their destination, Ananya wondered if the owners had gone overboard in matching the name with the décor. Astro Bar was a dark, silent establishment that looked to be out of business, and whose LED signboard barely made the letters visible. There was a seductive mystery about it, a promise of something enchanting, yet the silence around it was overbearing. A cold breeze chuckled at Ananya’s apprehension as she stood there, questioning again why had her uncle asked them to come there.
“Samrat taujji is sort of a celebrity here,” said Ranjit, opening the screeching metallic door. A puff of warm air rushed at her enthusiastically as she walked past her brother. A miasma of sweat, tobacco, and alcohol strolled around, but the aroma of supari flooded her nose with great zest. Ananya smiled curiously at the mismatch. The languid notes of saxophone and slow jazz soothed her. Her interest was piqued.
Ranjit, though, was keeping an eye out for gawkers, for he had seen a few heads turn when Ananya walked in. He cast intimidating glares in all directions, but his baby-face made it futile. He sighed as he approached the bar counter.
“I’m looking for Uncle Sam,” he announced with a nod.
“Ah, you guys must be his niece and nephew. He described you well!” said the barkeep amidst a clutter of empty glasses hitting his counter.
“What did he say?” asked Ranjit hesitantly.
“Babyface and baby doll. You will find your uncle there, chatting up that beauty.” The fact that the barkeep didn’t smile made it sound even disparaging.
“Uncle Sam?” asked Ananya. Ranjit smiled.
“He bears an eerie resemblance with the face on Uncle Sam posters of America. It’s a name popular with the ladies, that and his fluffy dancing hair. You barely have to breathe at his hair to send them aflutter. I’m told women cannot resist it. But then there’s also his debonair personality and his charismatic dancing,” said Ranjit as they walked to the table.
“I was beginning to wonder where the hell you were!” said Ranjit’s uncle, offering them a seat at the booth and ordering another round of drinks. Ranjit sat next to him while Ananya sat next to Uncle Sam’s lady friend. Despite the velvet cushioning behind and beneath, Ranjit shifted nervously in his seat, for his eyes met the woman’s sitting across the table. For a few moments, he forgot to breathe.
“Denise, this is my nephew,” said his uncle, jolting him out of his daze with a slap on the shoulder.
“Pleased to meet you,” said the lady, quickly swallowing the alcohol in her mouth and smiling. She was much older than him, but the way she carried herself appealed Ranjit. She wasn’t shackled by the chains of maintaining an outward appearance, despite obviously having been a head-turner in her prime. There was an absence of refinement and tailoring about her manner that enriched and legitimized her smile. It was the first time Ranjit found someone beautiful without being attracted towards her, and the thought kept amazing him over the next couple of rounds of drinks.
“How come I never knew people call you Uncle Sam?” asked Ananya.
“They do? Oh my god, yes, I can see the resemblance!” said Denise. Samrat tensed his eyes and pointed at her, mimicking the popular poster image. The ladies burst out laughing.
“Wow, you sure are a hypocrite, Denise!” The quartet turned towards the speaker to find a fuming moustached man glaring at them one at a time like a ravenous beast.
“What are you doing here, Mel? Did all the other bars run out of alcohol?” said Denise, drinking from her glass.
“Don’t try lecturing me when you’re out here drinking like a fish!” he bellowed. Samrat promptly got up.
“I appreciate you heating things up on a cold night, but what’s the matter?” he asked with a curt smile.
“Yes, watch out, for Uncle Sam has his eyes on me!” teased Denise. It cracked up Ananya.
He grabbed Samrat’s collar. “Wanna dance, Uncle Sam?”
“Never thought I’d be asked by a man, but I’ll have to refuse. I’m too good for you,” he said. Ranjit got up.
“Take it easy, big brother!” giggled Ananya. It reminded Ranjit of her previous comment.
Denise also got up now and pushed her guy gently. He eyed her in disgust before taking turns looking at the others again.
“So we have Uncle Sam and Big Brother here. That’s a combination for you! And who might you be? The Queen?” he barked, advancing towards Ananya. Ranjit wasted no time intercepting and pushing him off. He crossed his arms and eyed the new arrival with bloodshot eyes. Even his chubby face couldn’t dampen the evident rage. Mel backed away and joined Denise.
But his drunken outburst was far from over. He sent a punch flying at Samrat, hoping to make good contact with his jaw as a parting gift. He did make contact, but with Ranjit’s jaw. Samrat had slid to the floor performing a perfect split.
The crowd erupted in cheer. Ranjit wondered if they were mocking him or commending his uncle’s perfect pose. He glared angrily at Mel, who buckled under the effect and tottered, dragging Denise. She mouthed an apology before heading out.
Ranjit reached home an hour later. The memory of his latest misfortune was still ripe in his mind. He wondered if he should have had more alcohol to addle his brain. While taking off his pants for the night, he heard his phone buzz.
“I’m sorry for what happened tonight, and even sorrier for what I said earlier. I’m not sure about being a queen, but I sure do have the strongest knight!”
Ranjit was glad that he hadn’t drunk so much alcohol after all.