Sunday, August 18, 2019

Eight Glasses of Beer

My friend and I went on a road trip and explored the towns of Bendigo, Echuca, and Ararat in the state of Victoria, Australia. These towns are at least several hundred kilometers away from Melbourne. They're so far that only a few foreign tourists know about these places–including me, totally undetected from the tourist's travel radar. Before this trip, he told me that life in the Australian countryside is so much different compared to the big cities like in Sydney and Melbourne. Aside from having a more relaxed environment and a laidback lifestyle, the locals are known to be friendlier and love engaging in small talks, which unfortunately I kind of hate. For now.

We made a quick stop at Bendigo for a quick lunch before driving further north to the town of Echuca. Located near the border of the states of Victoria and New South Wales, Echuca is an idyllic Aussie town surrounded by rustic cabins and old but restored buildings no taller than three floors. The place reminded me of a scene straight from an American Midwest film from the 80s, albeit the cowboys, tumbleweed caught in the desert wind, and guns. The shops close as early as six in the evening, and the only shops open for the rest of the night are pubs and Maccas (the Aussie slang for McDonald's, FYI).

It was a cold Friday night. Everyone was out with their friends or families. And what better way to celebrate my post-birthday trip is to have a glass of Aussie beer. First glass. Second glass. Third glass. A plateful of chicken parmigiana. More and more people came inside the bar. Fourth glass. Then, we transferred to another bar. Fifth glass. Sixth glass. The bar was about to close, but I spotted a piano. I played several songs, and the bar attendants gave me their loudest applause. I felt like I was Lucifer Morningstar minus the singing part. We went back to the first pub we went to and ordered my seventh and eighth glasses of beer. The mood started to change as the pub's resident DJ began to play house music. I didn't even feel guilty about spending almost a hundred dollars just for a beer. I'd always think that I deserved to be drunk after all the stress that I've experienced back home.

We left the pub 10 minutes before two in the morning. I was craving for something salty. And since there were no bulalo or pochero nearby, the closest thing that I could get was Maccas. Great, a cheeseburger value meal can suffice for a recovery food. My world was spinning as we walked to Maccas. It wasn't that far, and the only people inside were the same people from the pub. As I was having the first few bites of my cheeseburger, someone patted me at the back.

"Hey, mate! Mind if I seat here?", he said in a very husky voice.

"Yeah, sure mate! I won't mind sharing a seat with you", I replied with the faux Aussie accent.

We both took our first bites of cheeseburger and fries with so much gusto as if we have not eaten for days.

"How are you doing?", he asked.
"I feel great! Well, I'm drunk, but I am still okay! You?"
"I'm good. I haven't had any drinks for the past few weeks. Here I am! Talking to a complete stranger at Maccas."
"Likewise, mate. So, what do you do for a living?"

He heaved a sigh. "Well, I am a builder. This Maccas where we're at right now, I built this. That was in 2015." There was a sense of pride while he told me his story about his job.

I smiled and continued eating my fries.

His mood suddenly shifted. "You know, I'm not really happy at all."

I got caught off guard by what he said. He has got a facade of some sort. The sadness drained through me rather than skating over my skin.

"You know, life is hard. I need to work hard just to make ends meet. But, if I don't do my job, how can I sustain myself? There's nothing I can do about it. Good thing, the beer makes me happy for a brief moment."

And then it hit me. I would always complain about the things that do not go on my way, even the simplest ones. The stranger in front of me is telling me all of his struggles in life, and he has been like that since God knows when.

"Life is really unfair, mate. Not all have the chances and privileges in our society. But you know what? Life is such a beautiful thing to experience. And these struggles? They allow us to know ourselves better. After all, life is meant to be lived and to be enjoyed regardless of the circumstances, right? You just have to keep on fighting the good fight.", I said.

"Do you have a family?"

"No. I am still single."

He was in complete disbelief.

"Why that face? You don't believe it, do you?"
"You are very attractive. I don't understand why."
"It's a matter of choice. I am not in a hurry. But, I defo don't want to grow old and alone."
"Wow, your choice of words. I can tell you are such a brilliant man."

We both chuckled. It was past three in the morning, and my head starts to hurt a bit, probably because of too much alcohol. After finishing our meals, we talked more about life in Echuca and all the interesting things about living in the countryside.

We went outside and waited for his cab. As for me, the hotel was only two blocks away. I won't mind walking around the deserted streets of Echuca. It was peaceful. When his cab arrived, we decided to call it a night and hugged. It was my first time to hug a stranger.

"Thank you so much. I have learned a lot from you, mate.", he said.
"No, thank you! You made me realize a few things about my life."
"Alright then, have a good night! By the way, my name is Bryce. Bryce Whitfield."
"My name is Enzo. Nice meeting you, Bryce!"

As I walked towards Quest Hotel, the alcohol turned down the volume on my thoughts. It brought memories of good times past, and I allowed myself to dwell in them rather than think. And at that moment I am here and not, existing in two perfect moments. Somehow it steadied me, and it gave me the resolutions to go on, to forget the inhibitions and insecurities in life.

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