Oindrila Gupta, June 20, 2023
I’m the DJ and I’m crying. This is our last night in this bar; we’ve been fighting for months. They’re closing this magic space of dust and light. I feel the history of what I’ve done, all the energies, all the songs I’ve played. The soundtrack I set for the life of strangers, the mood I’ve matched to the room. The marriages I’ve made, the romances I encouraged. I play songs and I let the heavy strikes match the circle of their hips. Their eyes meet and strike flames. The music urges them together, a hypnotic pull, a rhythm that has them pushing through bodies and sweat, doused by the drinks thrusted in the air in joyful cheer. What happens on the floor is messy and none of my business. But I want to make the collisions happen. I want to see the things that set new life into action. I command their touch, I like to see it. A hand on the shoulder or elbow or head. It’s lonely.
The rumours of closure had been haunting us through our conversations in the break room. It was in text messages, in worrying empty floors, and shifts that finish early. Music, with no one to listen to it, had conquered the room. It echoed in my brain as I tried to sleep. I felt a part of myself being lost with it, of blank spaces bulging and growing to accompany the coming loss.
We’re closing, I said to Samuel before our shift started. I can’t believe it.
He was getting ready, which meant drinking a red bull and laughing with the staff on the front desk. I thought; I love him. He stood tall and aloof, leaning against the only clean wall by the entrance, watching us all.
I like your hair, I said. He’d twisted it into locs.
Thanks, he said. My sister did it.
Is she still visiting?
She went home yesterday.
She offered to take me with her.
He was not afraid to smile; I felt the full force of it. It sent me backwards, a few steps, wanting to go downstairs and into my own space, to get ready for the night.
I love my job but sometimes it’s so hard to watch the fun when your heart is breaking. I often saw others like me, girls with glitter dresses who stopped, suddenly, and stared into space. Into something else, some void of the past.
Samuel will have to go back to America if he can’t find another job. I thought of him often, packing up his flat (not that there was much there). He’ll have his life and I’ll have mine. Everything would separate us; time, oceans, miles.
Bro, he said to the others, with a laugh. Where am I going to have my deportation party?
We were all going to his, after the shift, for an afters.
Let’s talk later, I said, just to him.
He nodded. Another smile, I could chew on it. The life in him was so full it rattled around the room. I had to get away from it, otherwise I would have been another stupid party girl in a glittery dress.
I’m the DJ and I’m crying. I can feel the looseness in the room. The bartenders make their drinks heavy handed and sloppy. There’s spilt drinks all over the floor. The air feels heavy and humid; I watch the groups of friends, our regulars, as they move across the room. My salt tears mix with desire and courage, and flow through the music. I see a girl watching me. I don’t want to hide my wet face from her. I want to make my body a place for the music, I want them to see it through me. Look at my loss. Look at how it fills the room.
I will never get enough of clubbing. I went with Samuel a few weeks ago, to a tiny bar in Soho. They had expensive drinks, velvet sofas, neon signs spelling well-meaning, though sometimes ominous, slogans. When life gives you lemons, put them in your drink. We sat in the corner and talked, and I focused very carefully on his knee when it touched mine. With the sweet alcohol and music combined, it sent sparks through my body. It’s a strange feeling to realise your body had been asleep for a long time. I wanted to spark it alive, with a rage; I wanted to spill my guts on the streets. I felt desire surge in me sweetly, thick, like honey. A buzzed, summer feeling.
We went to dance. The DJ was good. I would shout Samuel my critiques, bringing him close, my lips to his ear. I felt his hot breath when he replied, the sourness of alcohol.
This is a good song to bring up the energy, I yelled. It was lagging before.
He’s not as good as you.
He gets stuck in the same mood too long.
We were dancing as we spoke, my hands around his neck.
Music is about movement, I said.
Movement like this? His hands on my waist. Moving my hips.
Not much talking after that.
I’m the DJ and I’m crying. This is a sound and salt infused room. Samuel is a symbol of American resistance. He dreams of flight. There’s pictures on his Instagram of him at protests, his fist in the air, black glove on. I want to walk back to America with him, to stand and watch as his protector, to hold on. I worry about all the things that could happen to him.
I have half an hour left of my set. This room has seen so much of my life; the loneliness, the men who hurt me, my own hands that hurt me. My heart red raw and open. It feels right to cry, it feels right to give the room its weight as a holy place, a place where things come to a head, where things can be spilled, and life emerges, at full force.
I need to tell Samuel I am pregnant. The room knows about my baby, I can feel it, in the silence between songs, I can hear it’s beating pulse, imaginary, of course, but it’s there. My baby likes the drums. My baby sits low in my stomach and wants to live. I want to live. The baby is born of music, of all this love and desire in the room, in the smells, in the sound. The room is alive with the energy of a funeral. It’s like no other, it’s a death in action.
I’m the DJ and I’m crying as I see Samuel walk down the stairs. He knows me, his eyes go straight to knowing. He’s wearing his Hi Vis still, his earpiece, his badge strapped to his arm. Look at the life we have here, I want to say. Look at what we’ve done. You can’t go.
He climbs onto the stage. The rest of the front of house staff are here, the bar staff, my friends clap me on the shoulder as I play the next song. I want them to be proud of what I’ve done here, how I directed things. I want to tell them of everything that has happened since I’ve started working, how I came to be in full bloom, and confusion. How things have ended right as they were just beginning. My friends are dancing behind me and I’m feeding them what they want to hear. The patrons are singing and waving their arms. There’s kissing. There’s too much.
Samuel picks his way to me. He nods at me, a silent question. He can see the tears in my eyes. I should tell him now, it’s on the tip of my tongue. I want to say it. Stay for me. Stay for this.
I’m the DJ and I’m crying. A girl in the crowd, a glitter girl, has stopped dancing. She stares at me, and me at her, meeting her peering gaze. We are thinking the same thing.
What’s left for us now?
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