When I was in my mid-thirties, I would often go to bars in the city by myself, under the pretext of wanting to write a story set in a hipster bar, but also probably with the great secret hope of meeting a woman, someone who would floor me with her beauty, and maybe invite me back to her place.
Now, that’s a pretty ridiculous idea, under the lamp-light of proper scutiny. And if I was doing things like a normal person, I wouldn’t have been on my own. I would also have accepted the fact that nobody meets at bars anymore: online dating apps are the only socially acceptable way to not seem like a serial killer.
Anyway, my excuse to myself wasn’t complete bullshit: I wrote a short-story called ‘Getting Stuck in the Game of Life’ which in retrospect is okay, a romantic wish for something more exciting at that time.
But it’s not the reason for me writing this post now . . .
In the process of going out to different bars, I met a lot of different people. One guy who sticks in my mind, was an Aboriginal Australian, who was visiting the city from a regional town.
We had both already had a few drinks before crossing each other’s path. It was a crowded bar, and hard to hear, and we were mostly making small talk, him telling me about what sort of night he’d had, and that he was from the country. He told me with a big smile that his name was ‘Alan Nala’.
Now, Alan, he explained was his given name – but Nala was something he had given himself. ‘Nala’ was in fact ‘Alan’ spelt backwards; so he had created for himself a perfectly palindromic name.
That sounded like a pretty good name to me at the time, even though I didn’t really know if he was being serious, or just joking with me.
We kept talking, and I thought that we were getting along okay.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, he asked me if he could have my shirt.
I asked him again what he had said – and he repeated it.
Give me your shirt.
This second time was much more forceful.
My instant reaction of course was no, not at all! I need it! What would I be left wearing? It was a long-sleeved blue collared shirt, not expensive; but of course I was attached to it — it was mine!
But the fact that I had said ‘no’ must have seemed to him like an unreasonable answer, maybe even an insult.
That changed the tone and direction of the conversation for both of us; we couldn’t go back to the small talk of a few minutes before. We had reached an impasse; there was a rift between us, that neither was willing to bridge. So we both drifted off into the crowd, with me possibly being the one to drift off first, not being the bravest of people when it comes to confrontations.
Now, that was about ten years ago. Maybe even a bit longer. But the words ‘Alan Nala’ still regularly pop into my head, as they did today, which made me want to write this.
What harm would it have been to give him my shirt? I didn’t get to have much interaction with the Aboriginal community, and it’s a big cliche of insight from the non-Aboriginal community, but at a very fundamental level, indigenous Australians always share what they have with their friends and family. He wasn’t just asking me this to be confrontational.
And, in thinking about it, we could have both swapped shirts – and then that would have solved my problem of having nothing else to wear. Who knows what would have come of it. Maybe something much better than the night I was dreaming up, which of course, never ended up at somebody else’s flat.
Anyway I think the shirt is gone — and of course, those years definitely have; but Alan and his palindromic name are still a part of my thinking.