Fear Makes Us
"No way!” the man said. He laughed at the secret I’d just revealed and rocked unsteadily on his bar stool. He slapped the counter top theatrically making his ashtray jump.
“You did not! Hahaha!”
“You did not! Hahaha!”
“Yes, I did.”
“You did not! Haha!” he was drunk, and so was I.
We had been sitting next to each other at the bar for hours, the only patrons in the backstreet hovel. The hostess, a fifty-something nocturnal woman who had earlier engaged us in what she supposed was entertaining conversation was now too drunk herself, on the drinks we’d bought her, to be bothered with us. She sat at the other end of the counter in the midnight gloom nodding off into the smoke of her hundredth cigarette of the night.
I didn’t know the man. He didn’t know me. I didn’t tell him my name. He didn’t tell me his. He was a regular in the place. I’d never been there before. I’d never go back again. We’d been so bored we’d started talking. I told him about my job. He told me about his. He told me about his family. I told him about mine. I told him things he wouldn’t remember. He told me things I didn’t listen to. I bought him a drink. He bought one for me. I bought him another. We got drunk.
“So…so…” the man drawled, “why…why did you do it, if you really did do it?”
“Fear.” I told him quietly.
“Fear? What do you mean fear? That’s not a reason why you…”
“What makes anyone do anything at all?” I interrupted.
“I dunno?” he shrugged and grunted, he was bleary eyed and heavy with fatigue and alcohol. He wouldn’t be listening to me for very much longer.
“Fear,” I told him leaning closer to his ruddy drunken face, “runs our lives, it is the primary motivating factor for us to act, or to not act.”
The man just nodded, pretending to be interested in the lecture he felt was coming.
“Why do we get up every morning and go to work?” the man just stared, too drunk to think, neither having nor wanting to have an answer, “Because we are afraid not to, we are afraid of what society will think of us if we don’t. If we are unemployed, what will they think of us if we aren’t seen as useful members of our community? If we are not contributing to the economy, if we are only taking from it and not giving back, won’t they think we are lazy and stupid? Aren’t we fearful of what everyone else thinks?”
“Mmm…” the man nodded, doing his best to listen to my rant but all the while his eyelids sagged and his head slipped closer to the counter top.
“If we don’t go to work and make money,” I rambled on, “we are afraid that we won’t be able to buy all the things we are told we must have; new shoes, neck ties, watches, furniture, phones, computers, iPads, books, holidays overseas, a cat, cameras, this season’s clothes, designer pens, brand name bags and accessories, hats in winter, air-con in summer, dinner in restaurants, coffee at Starbucks, music downloads, software, shampoo, magazines, sunglasses, cigarettes and alcohol, gym memberships, carpet, bicycles, a new house in a quiet suburb surrounded by people just like us all with the latest appliances and a suitable car parked in the garage with an automatic door operated by a remote control on the dashboard so that we can drive straight in without having to expose ourselves to the rain, the wind, the cold, the sun, the world.”
The man just stared from his half upright position, too far gone to even nod.
“Then we fall in love and get married because we are too scared not to. We are scared of making a mistake and choosing the wrong person to settle down with but we are too terrified of being alone not to. We don’t want to watch TV alone every night, we don’t want to go out for dinner alone every weekend, we don’t want to go on package holidays designed for two with no one to accompany us. We don’t want anyone to think we’re strange or that there is something wrong with us because we’re getting old and we’re still single. So we find someone else who is also afraid and get married to that person so that we can live in fear together, which is better than being afraid alone. And then we have children for all the same reasons and they grow up to be afraid and they will do all the things we did motivated by the same fear.”
The man’s head rested peacefully on the bar, his face inches from the overflowing ash tray, his hand still holding his drink, the ice melted and the whiskey and soda warming under his grasp. I leant closer to him and whispered in his ear.
“Like wild animals at end of the food chain which designates us as being prey rather than predator we live our lives in fear.”
His mouth dropped open and he started to softly snore. I could smell his breath of cigarettes, booze and something unhealthy, eaten hours ago in a rush, digesting gassy in his gut.
“That’s what made me do it,” I whispered, “but my fear was different, I was terrified of living with the regret for the rest of my life that I didn’t have the courage to do it, and so I did it because I was scared not to!”
The unconscious man just snored in oblivion.
“Sleep now, you drunken waste, in the morning your life will go on, and go on and on and on, like water flowing downhill, because you live in fear too, just like all the rest.”
I opened my wallet, left a stack of notes on the counter for the old lady to find when she woke and left.