- Ash Srinivas
Slice of Life Shorts: Moon Eyes and Songbirds
The story of a lone nightclub worker contemplating the simplicity of his own emotions late at night, with someone from the opposite side of town sitting next to him at the bar.
Moon Eyes and Songbirds
Akira notices on the sleekness of the bar flooring that most moments are wholly artless. He's been told he’s good with his mouth but somewhat still only partially capable of holding withering conversations from its descent into awkwardness. Socializing is a multidimensional, difficult and complex area of expertise. Dialogue wasn’t useless in the life of a club boy though, sweet talk and sweet hosting lead to larger tips and bigger promotions, the highest paid boys and girls in the bedroom were always the boss’s favorites, and everyone wants an upgraded luxury apartment in one of the richer districts of the city. Akira is quite proud of his loft.
He’s a street-worker (sometimes); one that’s got plenty of names: the lonely escort, Aki-darling, city street boy, pretty boy (that one has always been a classic), and sometimes he gets the more creative names: stuck up, rich darlings, a used toilet, whatever insults fat men can come up with riding Jeeps with bellies hanging over their belts while praying to Jesus. Akira doesn’t care for christianity. The idea of god left him a long time ago.
He likes to think of the job differently. People come into clubs with mouths full of could haves would haves and should haves, brains filled to the brims of what ifs, contrary to popular opinion, drunkenness doesn’t make the heart any happier, and hangovers don’t help with heartache. And he could be the most effortless savior, a knight in shining armor, on the arm of someone whose girlfriend just walked out, or a rich dude whose wife doesn’t satisfy his oh-so-desperate needs, he may be the savior to those with slightly cracked moral compasses.
Chaeyoung is comforting a crying man in the corner with a cracking puberty voice and a Justin Bieber haircut, and Akira can hear his sad apologies on top of the newly introduced testosterone patches stuck to his shoulder.
Akira thinks she might be a little better than him, being a savior not for the crazy but for the broken.
Some people are just made to be anchors.
Akira wishes he had the ability to care that much. To love and feel that much. he finds himself more jealous than he likes of her, all those moving expressions and softness of touch. He wishes he had some of it. Talking to her on a rooftop after a rough night of a man pulling too harshly on his hair bent over one of the VIP room’s dressers, smoking a cigarette.
And he could voice it out loud saying: “God, I wish I could love like that,” to Chaeyoung on the phone with her boyfriend, unlabeled partner, whatever she wants to call it.
And Chaeyoung just looked at him with a baffled expression, snorting and putting the phone in her pocket. “Love? Like that?”
“Love like that. To love desperately.” Then he asks. “What does it feel like?”
And Chaeyoung pauses, hums, and contemplates for a second. In the seconds of silence, Akira finds some relief and twirls one of her thick locks of black hair around his own finger. She smiles at him and wipes a small eyelash where it falls on his cheek.
“It’s a lot like loving a city you’ve never been to.” Chaeyoung said. “Desperate love is like that.”
Now drinking alone as he waits for someone who smells more like bills than coins to walk through the door, he thinks about asking Hara Sen the same question when he stops by his office the same day.
He thinks Sen might be more like him than Chaeyoung. Maybe he’s just desperate for someone to relate to.
Someone sits down next to him with a sigh. He looks and there’s a boy his age wearing a ratty grey band shirt and ripped jeans. Akira looks around but can’t find anyone looking at them. He wonders why a boy like this would come to a working club like insomnia alone. If he was a trust fund frat boy he would be dressed better and have his brothers with him, so that gets crossed off the list as well.
Akira starts with a hum, trying conversationally, “I’ve never seen you around before.”
With pale skin and badly dyed magenta hair, the boy raises an eyebrow. “I’m just here for a drink.”
Akira nods in understanding before getting up and walking around the bar to the bartender's side, leaning down across from him to face the boy straight on.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t have the money to pay for your…service or whatever. Only higher ups and the rich upper class carry that much cash. On their person, I mean.”
Akira raises an eyebrow.
The boy continues. “And how do you know I’ve never been here before? You’ve got one of those photographic memories? Remember everyone you’ve taken to bed?”
“No, but I'd remember you,” Akira laughs at the sarcasm. “With those big eyes of yours. It would be weirder not to.”
“My big eyes are ADORABLE, don’t lie.” His hair is damp and ruffled from walking in the night fog and wind. It’s cloudy tonight but Akira thinks this boy has the moon in his eyes. He finishes pouring the whiskey over ice and puts it in front of the boy.
“On the house.”
“What, is this pity I sense?”
“Can I take a guess?” akira says.
“Rough breakup,” The boy laughs dryly. “Can’t pay rent this month.” The boy glares. “Nail right on the head, I see.”
“For someone who says they don’t care, you just made it sound like you care an awful lot.”
“When did I say I didn't care?”
“You give off the vibes. Spilling them all over the room, honestly.”
Sitting with the man who would be his boss for a drink, and his boss’s eyes when he told him what he wanted. Money, the glory of it all. And Sen just shook his head and sighed, as if ten teenagers a day came in asking for a job like this. Wanting it for materialism, all the things that they get in stride are aware that they don’t deserve it. The brothels, Sen told him. someone with eyes as empty as yours would fit right in.
And Akira had leaned forward that day, pushing the glass of whiskey away from him, and Sen sighed again, reaching over to grab Akira’s hand, and it felt a lot like an apology. “I’m going to tell you the rules once and I won’t say them again, so listen close.”
Akira still remembers the feeling of Sen’s hand, feeling sorry for what Akira didn’t know at the time. But thinking back, it was probably for exploiting someone so young. For dragging a blind Alice all the way down to meet the mad hatter, or however the story went. It’s not like he ever watched that movie.
The boy downs the drink in one go, slamming the glass onto the counter. “I’m heading out.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Akira calls, walking back around the bar and picking up the boy’s coat. “Come for a walk with me.”
“Look, I said I didn’t—“
“Just a walk. I need some air, I’ve been here all night.”
And the boy looks at him suspiciously, before sighing and turning towards the door. “Okay, but tell me your name first.”
Akira hastily wipes off the shiny lip gloss that feels sticky on his teeth with the back of his hand and unrolls the sleeves of the silk shirt. “Akira.”
“Cool,” The boy says, his face not changing. “I’m Song.”