The Arena

It was the warm tepid liquid that hit me first. Within microseconds a brief gust of air carried stale breath and the unmistakable aroma of rum.

The drummer, who had just completed a pulverising set on stage had probably not intended for me to become a victim of his projected bodily fluids. The sneeze could have been one of those that creep up. No warning given.  

Using the flouring tissue I had carried for most of the day, I pat down the foul mixture of snot and saliva as I walk to the men’s room. You come to accept these things, although never expect them.

The door to the entrance of the men’s bathroom slammed open, missing my feet by inches. I reeled back. A bedraggled hesher stood less than a body width away from me. Pupils saucer wide, stringy red hair framing his wraith-like face. For the second time in less than a minute, I began having murderous thoughts.

Stepping around the human obstacle, I touched the door. Sticky to touch. The putrid sheen on the door’s paintwork reflected the blue fluorescent light of the bathroom. Blue. Blue to keep the heroin users away.  

The bathroom is a collection of broken tiles, a trio of basins and toilet stalls with the doors ripped off. Chewed wood replacing brackets and hinges. Standing at the urinal was a girl. A woman? No, a girl, barley 18. Oh. Ok. I geddit. But this place stinks, the floor is coated with a mixture of piss, toilet paper… reams of damp toilet paper, mud… is that shit? Oh God, that’s human shit!

The parental instinct that would be put to use later in life was by then, evident. Staring at her, I volunteered my hand as a gesture of safety. She looked to the ground, then back at me.

“He’s got a black eye”

Arm extended past me, the figure of her attention shuffled into view. He was pointing at a fresh bruise, the size of a small mandarin, to the left of his left eye. I knew better than to ask what happened. I’m no one’s parent yet. Attention is what these vagrants want, and I’m not the guy.

Never have been that guy.

Turning on the single tap at a well-worn basin (no option for hot or cold) a flaccid stream of lukewarm water collects into my cupped hand, bound for my neck and back. Small mercies, be grateful that the water is turned on. Some venues turn it off to force patrons to pay for water at the bar.

Leaving the blue light behind, I am back into the fray and the dungeon-like ambience of the venue. “Check 1-2”. The engineers and guitar techs are busy tuning and adjusting monitors. Not long now. A drink? Why not. It’s been a rough few minutes…

“I’ll have a Coke, please” 

The peppy bar maid offers me a pleasant smile, one I have seen before. She’s pretty. Tattoos and an impeccably manicured face. Relieved to have a 30 second encounter with a patron who isn’t drinking.

Teeth hit ice, then hit cola. Saccharine sweet. Drinks finished, I’m biting the ice, crunch after crunch.

I’m standing as far as I can from the mass of sweaty bodies that are heaving and surging in the mosh pit, jostling for position. A few hardy souls, solo gig attendees such as I, form a collective around the perimeter of the venue. A few feet separate us from each other. No words are exchanged.  

Time passes slowly. The band eventually takes to the stage causing an almighty response from the brazen horde. The guitarist’s mane of hair windmills into action. A heavy percussive groove creates a monstrous sound. A microphone becomes a weapon as the vocalist spits a diatribe into the audience. My eyes are fixed on the wonder of the spectacle.

Tomorrow it’s a suit and jacket, emails and meetings. Endless meetings and requests from clients to ‘discuss matters of importance’. Financial controllers, administration managers and IT managers. I suppose I am their guy.

Andrew McKaysmith