I’d arrived early for my flight, so naturally I found myself at the airport bar having a few last beers before calling it curtains on another fine vacation.
With the thrill of travel still having hold on me, my eyes shot about the room, this way and that, taking in all the different sorts of people gathered. Now, they were no longer the fascinating locals of a strange land, but a mixed assortment of likeminded travellers coming or going to where I would never know.
It was a fairly typical crowd. Young couples with diamonds in their eyes, old men with coals. People exhausted from long treks and people eager to start new ones. And of course, there was ‘that’ guy.
We’ve all seen him before.
Red faced and talkative. Talking too loud, talking too much. Talking too forcefully—too absolutely certain of the value of his long-winded rants, and utterly convinced he was the life of an otherwise non-existent party. He was the kind of idiot you see all the time.
The kind I do my best to avoid. And I certainly tried.
I scrolled through my phone and sipped my beer while waiting on my burger. Still, I’d glance up now and then, taking in the annoyed but patient expressions around him.
He’d already shouted out a young couple sitting on the side of the bar near him. They laughed and waved as they hurried away. I saw his laugh melt into a leer as he watched her take her partner’s hand and leave. Then he fell into blathering to a bunch of young ‘bros’ at the bar, and I figured that would keep him occupied for a while.
My burger arrived, and I thought that was the end of it.
As I finished my meal and got to work on my next beer, I noticed that the young men had been abandoned by their loud-mouthed old counterpart. He was on the other side of the bar now, clawing at some young lady as he bellowed about his life and worth and ‘stories you wouldn’t believe’.
I wondered if she could be his daughter. That would explain the perturbed expression on her face and the patience she showed as he leaned his red face in over-close and tried once more to catch at her arm. How many times had she found him like this?
Or maybe she was just another poor stranger. Perhaps she knew the younger men and was trying to make her way past him to join her companions.
They were staring at their phones now though, and their lack of recognition seemed almost intentional.
She glanced about nervously as he spoke. I felt concerned, but maybe she was just late for a flight and struggling to remain polite.
I caught her eye at one point, and it seemed the look held overlong. Nervously, I glanced away, hoping she didn’t take me for another idiot ready to cast my hand in on the action.
Was he trying to kiss her there, or just leaning in too much under the weight of his drink?
Everyone else stared intently at whatever screen was nearest at hand. But now, I was worried.
He offered to walk her to her gate and she said she would be fine.
He persisted, and she joked that she was a big girl and could handle herself.
She laughed nervously and cast her eyes downward as she tried to step around him. That didn’t work either.
Finally, I felt guilty. I’d waited too long, thought too much.
That’s the point of all this. ‘No’ is a word to be respected. And she’d said it in every way possible while avoiding making too much of a scene.
He was circling around and cornering her near the exit by the time I stood up. I caught her eye again, but spoke this time, loud enough for the bar to hear me above his commotion. “Are you ok there?”
Until that moment, she had held her countenance in a nervous, meek mask of worry and embarrassment. Now, it threatened to break as she leaned desperately around him to answer me, “…no.”
That one did the trick. I turned to him now, giving her my back and clearing a way to the door. He looked up at me with the wry confidence of a man who has been told he was special all his life and finally came to accept it as sacrosanct.
“You need to leave her alone.” Bereft of his banter, I imagine the whole bar heard me. Still, few looked up from their phones. But she took the opening, and darted through the exit.
He held my gaze for a moment in challenge, his ruddy face wrinkling with the supreme disappointment of a toddler being told they couldn’t keep the toy they’d torn from the shelf. Then he shrank back.
“Ok,” he said with a churlish sneer, and slunk off to his seat. He sat back down with the young guys, and soon they were all laughing again.
People kept scrolling on their phones.
I wondered if I was too aggressive, and sat in uncomfortable silence until the bar tender slid over a free beer. “Good man,” he said with a conspiratorial nod.
My vacation was over. She was, presumably, safe. He, I assume, would be unaffected by the encounter.
As I finished up my second beer before moving onto the free one, I reflected on the questions I’d asked myself before acting. The justifications for my potential silence.
Was she his daughter? No.
Was she just a patient stranger? No.
Was she amused by the banter but in a rush to catch a flight? No.
It was clear enough now. It wasn’t about her shyness, or her effort to be polite. Her patience in avoiding a scene didn’t matter, and my reticence to be part of one didn’t either.
She’d said no. At least four times. That was all that mattered, and that should have been the end of it. She should not have had to repeat herself, and if she did the whole bar should have risen loudly to back up her statement and support her choice. But that’s not the world we live in.
It should not have come down to one lone person accepting they would have to be the one to stand up. But I guess that’s where we are these days, and it’s probably well ahead of where we were not so long ago.
I slid the empty cup across the bar and started on the free one. It was cold and smooth.
‘That’ guy at the bar. I thought about the term. It should mean something different. Not the pushy idiot who has no place in the bar to begin with, but rather the ones willing to speak up for those going unheard.
I wondered, if I ever saw the moment to be ‘that’ guy again, would I hesitate?
-Brad OH Inc.