I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? – Ecclesiastes 2:2
Henry surprised himself in finding his destination without much actual thought to it. He knew his mind tended to wander so intensely that he would find his actual self displaced from where he thought he was, but this particular time – of going to Ruzemberok – of daydreaming startled Henry. When he came to, he saw the place he had been eager to find.
The splintered wooden door frame of the old Kneipe, the unofficial name of the old town bar in Ruzemberok, an existing village, stood over Henry. The bar stood but two-stories tall and was built of cement and supported by thick, petrified beams of wood and capped by a thatched roof. It was built recently but with the intention to make it look as if it was the lone survivor of an extinct era.
“Well, what do you know? I made it home,” said Henry. The sun was rising in the east, and Henry took note of that. He laughed, “Lost in a dream again.” He thanked his feet for knowing the way.
Henry heard a great commotion from inside the Kneipe, and that muffled sound of revelry burst out when Henry opened the front door and entered.
Like the exterior, the interior of the Kneipe was a blend of old aesthetics and modern amenities. While the bar was made externally to represent the region that once existed, the décor inside was a hodgepodge of mementos from other regions and countries which no longer existed. An old Czech hockey jersey hung there, a reproduction of a German beer poster leant unhung against the wall there, tapestries from China and Africa adorned the tables and barstools, and glassware from numerous other places held alcohol for the patrons.
Upstairs were bedrooms for guests. To get to them, one had to squeeze through a slim passageway and escalate up steep steps which were situated behind the bar counter. An old man and an old woman who ran the Kneipe were minding the bar and were constantly doing busy bar-related work. They were married and were visibly much older than everyone else in the establishment.
The said patrons were men and women of all race and creed. About forty of them sat snugly with each other in the bar, sharing drinks and laughs. Many of them paid no heed to Henry’s entrance as they were distracted by monochromatic projections from their Memory Boxes which were likewise nestled snugly in between the hordes of empty beer mugs.
Those who did acknowledge Henry’s entrance gave a loud cheer and a hearty “Henry!” greeting.
All of Henry’s friends were here in the Kneipe, men and women of Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. Henry expected them to be there, because there truly was not much else to do in Ruzemberok. Truly, there was not much to do on what remained of the Earth except to meet with friends.
He walked to his usual place in the Kneipe which was left open for him. A beer, frothing at the top and shimmering from the lights of the room’s high-tech fixtures bouncing off of it, was handed to him as he waded through the mass of friends.
“Henry!” a voice nearby him called out – a voice tainted with inebriation and a northern European accent, “Henry! Tell us something from your past!” A smattering of agreements rang out, but they were mostly smothered by they surrounding gabbing and blabbering.
Henry looked about him as he continued to his corner of the bar, but he could not locate the voice. “No, not now, Stefan!” Henry laughed while guessing at the name of the person who spoke. Other people stood to greet Henry. Pleasantries were shared between them.
After many shuffles and high-stepping over carelessly extended legs extruding from beneath tables and its persons, Henry plopped down in his seat. He unfurled his rucksack and laid it close next to him.
Henry called these people his friends, and they him a friend, too, because they shared a common bond, like most good friends do. Everyone here in the Kneipe made the conscious decision to be where they presently were. They chose to stay on Earth and to not jet off to the stars like nearly every single one of their compatriots had done over the last century. They chose to make Ruzemberok their home. These men and women, like Henry, congregated in a place such as this tiny village which survived the deterioration of age and wars and of excavations so that they could together recount, retell, and replay the days of old.
This was made possible by the Memory Box. A man at the table next to Henry’s was doing just that for a few onlookers.
The man, an American with well-kept hair and a strong, angular face, narrated the story of a boat heist gone wrong. In front of him was his Memory Box – a simple square device with a few knobs and LED lights blinking in no sensible rhythm. A thin wire connected from the back of the box to the left forearm of the man. The box emitted onto the tabletop a monochromatic projection with a blueish tint of the actions being described by the American. In the projection, a younger version of the speaking American and a group of similar-looking friends were sneaking into a private harbour and hijacking a boat for an alcoholic-fuelled thrill ride.
The actions played out on the table before those listening and watching were one step ahead of the American’s narration. In effect the American acted as a play-by-play commentator to the audacious events. Some in attendance at the table roared in laughter and excitement as the events played out more clearly and with more vivacious details at each juncture of the tale. The narrator was failing to garner enough words to provide context or commentary for his audience. Eventually, he became his own audience member.
Slowly, the man was becoming stricken and held in a “tranquil comatose.” He began to slouch into a kind of stupor, and his eyes were locked in on his own story playing before him like some out-of-this-world snow globe. Smiling, eyes glazed over, and undeniably full of amusement, the American stopped speaking and could only watch the boat hijacking continue with a gleeful and, one might say, stupid look over him.
Henry had seen this story before. He pulled his attention away from that table and took a long sip at his beer. Another table to his right was also being entertained by a person and their Memory Box. Here, a tall and slender woman from West Africa was projecting a beautiful memory of meadows, running children, and adventures in luscious forests that the monochrome imaging did not do a justice for. The woman was at peace as she spoke of her childhood friends and how her brothers were always there to protect them. Despite the rambunctiousness of the Kneipe, an entrancement of calm from the visions of West Africa, a still-standing region of civilisation and culture, befell the group watching.
Beautiful children jaunted through high skies under a hot African sun; they came to a ridge and decided to chase guinea fowls while singing songs. The memory of this woman was clear and innocent.
Henry could see fruitful happiness exude from the woman. Meanwhile, the laughter at the behest of the American’s boat-hijacking story had quickly dissipated and attentions were turned to another story of debauchery and frivolity from another guest at the table. The American’s body posture and demeanour returned to normalcy.
“Henry! Come on! Give us a tale, would ya?” yelled again the Nordic and sotted voice from the midst of the Kneipe.
Henry raised a glass to the crowd as a dismissing gesture. Unsolicited calls from the guests of “cheers!” and “proost!” and “na zdrowie!” rang out from habit at the sight of a raised glass.
He drank, and leaned in closer to see what else the West African woman had to show.
“That is absolutely beautiful,” Henry said to himself.
The West African woman, whom Henry had never met before, was locked in the same kind of trance as the American, but here eyes were closed, lips trembling as if she were about to cry. She, too, fell into a tranquil comatose. Whereas the American looked numb and dull in his recantation, the West African woman looked to be actually reliving her childhood memory in the forests and meadows of Africa. Henry could see her lips mouth the words of an old song, but the buzzing of chatter and shrieks of laughter and clanging of dishes prevented him from hearing the tune.
This woman was truly reliving something special.
The voice rang out again: “Go on, Henry! Give us one!”