Lonely Souls

A vignette from the dregs of the expat bottle – by Paul Haire


I watched the rugby on Saturday night, Scotland vs Ireland, and I drank too much as usual. I had to nip out of my 9 o'clock class the next day a few times to vomit in the bathroom. But what do you expect when you have class at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

We watched the game in The Den bar, Sanlitun, which is full of foreigners and hookers who charge 1000 kuai a night. I was with my friends – an Englishman, a Canadian and another Scot. We settled into our usual place at the corner of the bar. It’s a rubbish place to watch the games from, because you can't see the screens properly, but it's always empty and it's sort of our home now. The waitress remembered us from last time.

Just next us, a girl was sitting slumped at the bar. I assumed she was a pro initially, because she was on her own and the place was full of them. In front of her sat a full bottle of Absolut vodka which she drank with a grim determination. She looked like those middle-aged alcoholics you see slumped over bars back home, but she was young, maybe 25. She was pretty, but sat hunched over which made her less attractive, her head buried in her big fluffy collar.

After I'd had a few drinks and was feeling gregarious, I started talking to her. She was an art student from Beijing, and said she drank so she could get a good night’s sleep. I wondered what personal tragedy, heartache or sadness was at the bottom of her glass. She told me she wore an engagement ring to prevent guys trying to pick her up. She swung an arm drunkenly in the direction of the barman, saying she was a regular here and they all knew her.

I still suspected she might be a working girl, but there was something about her that told me she wasn’t. She didn't have the focus or alertness that hookers have, a feline-like awareness as they scan the bar for the vulnerable and lonely. This girl just wanted to get drunk and be left alone, to dive into oblivion and forget the world for a few hours. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know her story. Maybe in the back of my mind I even wanted to help her.

I watched the game with my mates and we talked and joked. Everytime I looked over she was slumped motionless at the bar. Someone had placed a shot, a Baby Guinness, by her left shoulder – a pitiful gesture, and it remained untouched. She looked up and asked me who had bought her it with a look of irritation and confusion, angry that her peace had been disturbed.

Maybe it was one of the Irish fans, in celebration of their victory – a nationalistic gesture in the form of a free drink. Or maybe it was the old man to her left who hung at her side hopefully, perhaps thinking that she could help him bury his own misery.

We left the bar and I wandered home with my friends, talking in that drunken way you do. It had been a good night, but not a happy one. I wondered what happened to that girl. I wonder if anyone was low enough to pick her up and take her home. Either way I’m sure she felt worse than I did the morning after.

Paul Haire is a proud LBH who lives in Scotland. Also read his previous story for the Anthill, Bike Beijing