It was a cool Saturday evening. I was surrounded by people whose whitened smiles were brighter than their wit. They sipped wine and complimented it on its vintage; their tongues mined each sip for trace elements not yet discovered on the periodic table of pretension.
And I think I sense a hint of Himalayan mountain air, caught by blind Buddhist monks in the Hindu Kush, and then prayed over for a thousand years.
Definitely…and is that the lingering kiss of dandelion tears.
That’s what I was about to say. Definitely dandelion tears.
I sipped along but did not engage in their academic discussions about fermented grapes. To me a spade tasted like a spade.
I was Mr. Tall, Dark And Awkward in my cheap charcoal blazer and light blue shirt. A pair of constrictive skinny jeans were painted onto my lower torso. Some well-worn leather boots added a rugged feel to my look. Before leaving my apartment I decided a bow tie would perfect the persona I was going for: young, blasé, exquisitely bored.
I felt rather impressed with myself when I surveyed myself in my bedroom mirror. A few whiffs of my flatmate’s expensive cologne were pilfered to finish my get-up. Finally done with my camouflage, I looked and felt like the million dollars I did not have.
I called a taxi and headed to the party.
The host had commandeered the rooftop of a plush hotel to launch some lifestyle product or initiative. In those days there was always someone premiering a revolutionary idea.
At one event I drunk a vile glass of craft beer the brewer had named Bacchus. It tasted like ennui; my compatriots from the other side of the tracks thought it was ambrosial. At another gig, characterised by glitz and bad grammar, I was invited to join a new elitist online community which we were told, as usual, was not an elitist online community but a “movement” which would help to “connect people” and allow them to “share ideas.” All you had to do to become a member was mortgage your home to pay for a monthly subscription.
I was already one kidney down from financing my angst-ridden lifestyle so I passed on that one.
At another party I tried out a new app which would track my former girlfriend’s social media updates and recommend places in the city to shop, eat, party, and live my fearful half-life without bumping into her.
There was no shortage of new things, new projects, or new communities in the golden age of the trendpreneur. It was just a matter of time before someone found the formula to make new new and make a killing.
At least, I thought, until someone figured out how to make it vintage.
I sat in the back of my taxi looking at the perfectly manicured suburban neighbourhoods where many of the people who would be at the party lived.
I struggle to recall what I did to merit an invitation to that particular party. At the time I was trying really hard to extricate myself from time-consuming digital friendships with people I had never met. But, you know, when a friend of a friend of a frenemy sends you an email invitation with more exclamation marks than actual words your intellectual curiosity is piqued. You just have to make the time to see what new aspiration will descended from the lavish world of pretend to be sold to people with bad credit.
Your best life just started.
I could see the slogans already, whispered by androgynous voices on a big screen when the host finished his presentation.
I arrived at the hotel, and walked past the concierge, expecting to be stopped and questioned about where I was going in a blazer that would have been dated even when Margaret Thatcher was alive. But nobody stopped me. The beautiful woman behind the hotel’s concierge desk looked me up and down with a polite and welcoming smile.
“If you’re here for the launch it will be on the rooftop, sir. Press the button marked ‘R’.”
I thanked her and glided to the elevator.
The bow tie, I thought. Nobody stops a man in a bow tie.
I entered the elevator, pressed the button, and ascended to the party.
The rooftop: lines of soft, yellow fairy lights strung across the square on the top floor; a water fountain softy vomiting into a long, shallow pool; some metallic geometric installations fornicating with wood and glass. I did not understand their relevance in the universe’s grand scheme so I knew they were art.
The tiled mosaic floor was covered by small herds of insecurity-raising handsome men with trimmed beards and perfect pocket squares. Beautiful women with long, cocktail glass-thin legs dangled drinks in their hands. People stood in groups of three or four conversing and laughing.
My overdeveloped sense of self consciousness cut through existential bullshit: I don’t belong here; therefore, I am.
I made my way over to some acquaintances I sort of knew. I smiled as I approached, shook hands, and hovered at the edge of the conversation. I picked up that some new film was out but the book was better and I should read that instead. A young woman with a tan capable of setting off an epileptic fit stood next to me. She had just come from a holiday in a part of the world she described as “divine” and “just spiritual, you know, like, super spiritual.”
I snuck in a side look as she spoke to see if she sported a “Not all who wander are lost” tattoo.
To my disappointment she did not.
The genre-less music was played at a volume which incited the occasional off-tune head-bobbing but discouraged any form of rhythmic appendage movement I associated with dancing. It floated just above the undulating talk about relationships (which were mocked to cover up past hurts or praised to advertise somebody’s willingness to be someone’s next disappointment); detox diets (which, to me, seemed like ingesting green sludge for an indistinct period of time without a super power of some kind manifesting itself); and, more holidays in faraway places.
I hung around with my new almost-friends for a while longer before my baser instincts took over and I looked around for trays of finger food which usually floated around events like these. I saw two or three which were too far for me to reach without drawing attention to my pursuit.
I had to be polite in my hunger, I told myself.
I spied one a respectable distance away. I broke away from my orbit and pursued it. As I approached it started to walk away from me.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Just hold on.”
Death turned around, saw me, and stopped.
He was wearing an all-black ensemble. A white bow tie held up his head and under his tray two pairs of cufflinks winked at me. They were shaped like scythes. His light brown complexion was darkened in the evening light and not a hair was out of place on his head.
“Something to eat, sir?” He smiled and offered me his tray.
I looked at the assortment of food and tried to pick out something with a familiar ingredient. A hesitant silence followed.
Death’s smile did not waver as he looked at me.
“What do these taste like?” I pointed at what looked like a Picasso canvas rolled in on itself, sliced, and served with what I hoped to be celery.
We both laughed at that.
“What would you recommend then?” I asked.
We laughed at that again.
“Yeah, but I can’t stay hungry,” I said.
“Then how will you stay foolish?” he asked. I noticed him side-eye the crowd.
I smiled at his sense of humour.
I took the Picasso and popped it into my mouth and chewed it slowly. Death looked at me and waited for a verdict.
“Yes, definitely a note of regret,” I said, exaggerating my chewing like I was finding hidden messages in my mouth, “and lies. Definitely lies.”
Death recommended I try something else on his tray. I put what looked like frozen bird shit in my mouth.
“How is that?”
“Tastes like frozen bird shit. And blending in.”
“What else can you do here?” he said. His gaze took in the crowd for a moment before he flicked it back to me, eyeing my shirt, my blazer, and my bow tie. I am sure Death could smell my attempts to fit in underneath my friend’s cologne.
“So what brings you here?” Death asked.
“Free food. Bad conversations. Mingling.”
“And, how is the evening so far?”
“The food tastes like my lost sense of childhood wonder. The conversations are murder.”
He laughed. Gently. “The mingling can’t be that bad, though. You look and sound like this is your thing. Aren’t you one of these types?”
“Ha. No. I actually need a job, man. I don’t work just to say I work.”
“Yeah, what do you do?” he asked.
“That and this. This and that. Trying to make ends meet while they’re slowly being pulled apart. Ambitions in one pocket, bills in the other. The usual.”
“I hear you, man.”
We were quiet for a brief moment as we surveyed the crowd around us. Then I sighed and reached for the tray, selecting a morsel which probably made you lose weight by putting you off food forever.
I bravely gagged it down.
“Well,” Death began as he adjusted his tray and prepared to do his rounds on the floor, “gotta get back to work. All the best with the mingling. Catch you later.”
“Yeah, cool. I only brought four big words with me and I’ve already used three of them. You got some I can throw around here?”
“Try persiflage,” he said.
“Frivolous banter,” he said. “It’ll definitely have some respect thrown your way.”
Death started to walk away from me and then turned back and said, “Dude, word of advice? Unless you’re working at these things don’t hang around this crowd. Sooner or later your whiskers will poke out, or your accent will falter, and then the sheep will panic.”
“You cannot speak so well forever, can you?”
My voice imitated the tanned girl with the transformative journey.
“Dilution is death,” he said.
“And black is black enough,” I replied.
I watched Death as he vanished into the crowd.
I would spend another hour breathing in the poisonous fumes of boredom and leave just as the host told the expectant crowd about the new product: calorie-controlled water.
Their chosen slogan was: Discover the fountain of you.
An excerpt from the diaries of Oscar Q. whose life is based on a true story and who, during the small moments his of life, had chance encounters with Death and lived long enough to tell the tale. His diaries were discovered, as it were, posthumorously, because life is a funny thing and there is such a thing as a laugh after death.
You can read about Oscar Q’s first encounter by clicking here.