|Asha shuffled restlessly as the queue inched forward. She adjusted the clingy, black dress and tried to stand at an angle so her ankles would not chafe in the new shoes. She had bought a new dress and new shoes for this occasion.(Number 1: You have to make an online booking and receive confirmation with a reference number.)
She had made the booking five days ago. She had her reference number – JT89.
Her heart was beating fast. She was nervous. She had been to The Jupiter a few times, maybe three or four times. She liked it because it usually was not bursting with a young and boisterous crowd, like those one might find in Jellies. There was more of a mixed crowd here. The Jupiter’s patrons were closer to her age, and some even older. Even if there ever had been a younger crowd, there would be a consensual exodus around 11pm, a rush to the clubs in town.
(Number 2: Your booking must be for at least two people. No individual bookings are allowed. Bookings have to be for two, three or four people. This will help maintain social distancing inside the pub.)
Asha quickly checked her messages again. Kelly was running late but she had texted to say she was on her way and would be there in five minutes.
(Number 3: You must queue 2 metres apart outside the pub. Please join the queue as soon as you arrive. When your reference number is called, please proceed to the front and display the confirmation sent to you with the reference number.)
Asha prayed silently that Kelly would get there before her reference number was called out.
(Number 4: You can remain in the pub for a maximum of two hours. At the end of two hours, your reference number will be called out again, and you must leave.
Asha wondered if they would let her in first if Kelly was late. And when would the two-hour allowance start? When she entered or when Kelly arrived?
(Number 5: In the pub, you must remain with your group. Orders will be taken at your table. No one is allowed to approach the bar. Please don’t approach other groups.)
‘Go to your local’, she had been told when she had first moved to Dundalk and was trying to make friends. So one Saturday evening, she had walked down to her local, ordered a drink and sat by the bar, smiling at other folk, saying hello, how are you. No one had spoken to her for nearly an hour. She could not bear the humiliation anymore and decided to leave. When she had stepped out into cold, dark, wintry night, two men had been standing outside, smoking. ‘Give us a kiss, darling,’ they had shouted at her. ‘Don’t go, c’mon now’, they had kept hollering as she broke into a slight jog.
No message from Kelly. Asha rang her. There was no answer.
(Number 6: Only three patrons will be allowed into the toilets at any time. Every patron will receive two toilet passes each. You must hand that pass to the toilet attendant and only enter the toilet when you are instructed to.)
Asha pressed her legs together. She remembered wetting herself when she was 14. She had hated going to the toilet at school. Lowering herself over those squatting toilets with her ample rear was always a challenge so she usually held it in as long as she could. But that day, she had felt liquid trickling down her right leg, into her sock, pooling between her sole and the sock. Asha had dashed to the toilet, taken off her panties, washed it in the sink, wrung out the water and stuffed it into her schoolbag. She had walked home that day with no underwear, feeling her damp sock squelch in her shoe.
‘JT89!’, a voice rang out.
Asha swore under breath and hurried up to the front.
‘JT89?’, the door man asked her.
‘Yes’, she said and raised her phone so he could see the confirmation on the screen.
‘Party of two?’
‘Sorry, my friend is running a bit late. She’s just couple of minutes away.’
‘Nope. Sorry. No single entries. Rule number two’.
‘Please’, Asha begged. ‘She will be here soon’.
‘No, sorry. Please step aside’.
‘Next….JU 93’, he yelled, ignoring her.
‘Can I move to the back of the queue? And then can you call out JT89 again in a few minutes?’
He shook his head. A group of smartly-dressed four men, probably in their thirties, were suddenly at her elbow. The one closest to her threw her an exasperated look and held up his phone to the man at the door..
The door man glanced at Asha, shrugged his shoulders and waved the young men in. They whooped and skipped through the open door, allowing excited snatches of conversation, clinking of glasses, and a waft of spirits to float out.
Asha turned and walked away from The Jupiter. Her feet ached from having stood in heels for ages. And she needed to go to the toilet. She bit back her tears. She didn’t want her mascara to be ruined.
‘Asha!’, the shout reached her. She kept walking. She wished she could walk faster in those shoes.
‘Asha, Asha….stop!’ she heard a tired voice pant behind her. She stopped but did not turn around.
‘Asha! I am so sorry! My mum rang and I couldn’t end the call.’ Kelly was suddenly in front of her.
‘Was our number called?’, Kelly persisted.
‘Did you try and explain?’
‘Rule number 7’, she screeched at Kelly, ‘don’t be LATE!’ A wet drop escaped.
She pushed Kelly aside and strode agonisingly towards the taxi rank.