Pilaka Colaka

Graphic by Jondell Coombs.

The bar is packed. Everyone laughs while they nurse their beers and down their shots. The bartender is on duty, attending only to the drink orders slurred towards his general direction. People spit. People spill. No throw up yet.

It isn’t yet midnight. Still, too late to be stuck here alone. “Let’s just leave,” my hands keep saying. The nerve of some people makes you nervous. But it’s just the body, not the mind. The mind has to focus on only one thing.

I walk up to the bar, waiting for people to move. It’s a queue with no line. How could anyone handle it?

Not properly, I suppose.

It’s my turn. Let’s just leave –

“What are you getting?”

The bartender is brusque, matching his expression. Heavy, but more fat than muscle. We know each other, but he still wears the smile of a slave. His look is very much expected.

“I’ll get a –”

“Lemme guess, pilaka colaka?”

“Yes. Pilaka colaka, virgin. Please.”

Please leave.

The bartender is unhappy. He spits with force, unlike anyone else. Doesn’t matter. He sets a blender on the counter and scoops some ice, pouring it in with pineapple juice and something else. The blender, barely audible, revs up, crushes the ice, then stops. The drink is poured, sloshing around in an odd-shaped glass, then topped with a cherry. I hate cherries.

The bartender hands the drink over. “That’s $7.” “Here’s $10. Thanks.” I walk away.

There’s an empty seat in the back corner of the bar, well away from the crowd but not the noise. I sit, against my will. All I can think of is the bartender, and my friend who hasn’t shown up.

Where is that bainchod? He was supposed to be here a half hour ago.

I drink the colaka. It tastes excellent. At least the bartender is good for something.

I stop drinking and look up. “Hey hey hey, what took you?”

Polish. Amake thamte holo jate polish amare pich na ashe.”

My friend stands there. He looks like he’s hiding drugs. Or maybe it’s all the drugs around him. His hands are clenched tight in the pockets of his black sweater, matching his black sweatpants. I know what’s bothering him.

Ingreji, Mohan.” It’s less suspicious.

“Right, right.”

“And of course the cops are going to follow you, you’re wearing all black. Did you tint your car windows, too?”

Mohan disapproves.

He’s about to sit down, but I get up. I’m done with my drink, anyway.

“You wanna leave?”

“Of course, buddy.”

The bar is no longer inaudible. It’s probably time for people to start throwing up. I gag a little, remembering once walking up to a bathroom urinal and finding chunks spewed half in the drain, half on the floor. Please, let’s just leave.

I exit through the front doors, Mohan following closely. We walk down the street. No one follows us. I look behind me; Mohan’s eyes dart each and every way. The streetlights and his stress are too apparent.

“It’s OK, buddy. It’s karma.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, you’ve heard what’s happened. Let’s go down a quieter street, where it’s not so bright.”

We walk for a couple blocks, silent and unseen. After ten minutes I stop, right in front of a smaller run-down house. The paint is peeling, the roof is stained brown. Unmistakable.

At least there’s a tree on the lawn. That’s nice.

“This is the place.”

“Right, right.” Mohan looks around, surprised. “It looks like karma has already been here.”

“Haha. You know, you’re funny when you’re not pissing your pants.”

“What can I say?”

“That this is worth it.”

His mood reverts. He is silent for a moment, eyes fixed on the house.


“Because we have to stand up for ourselves. The shit we’ve been through? We weren’t denied to live here, and we shouldn’t be treated like it.”

“Right, right,” Mohan says. “How long do we wait?”

“An hour.”

We wait. We stay away from the streetlights, keeping to the sidewalk opposite the house. No one walks near us, but there’s no need to be diligent because we’re invisible in other ways.

The hour goes by, and my body tenses. I keep shaking, my heart offbeat, but I stay quiet when a dark car pulls onto the block. We hide behind a large tree. The car drives close to us, and parks. After a couple minutes, a man exits the vehicle. He looks around, suspicious, then locks the car door. He walks to the front door, opening and closing it abruptly. I watch as the living room light turns on, then off again with footsteps slugging upstairs. A light turns on upstairs, and a shadow covers the ceiling.

“Let’s get closer.”

Mohan follows me. We cross the street. I keep watch. Satisfied, we crouch by the tree on the man’s front yard. The shadow paces back and forth, the light staying on.

Mohan taps my shoulder. His hands are shaking.


“When the lights are off.”

The shadow disappears. It morphs into a man who looks out his window, before closing the blinds. The lights go off, and our hands warn us it’s our last chance to leave.

“Let’s go.”

I sneak back to the street, looking for a rock by the side of the curb. I find one and walk back towards the house, tossing the rock in the air a couple times, just to gauge its weight. Mohan disapproves.

“On my mark, buddy.”

I position myself on the lawn. The grass is freshly cut, perfect for a game of cricket. I breathe in, enjoying the moment. I only hope I don’t bowl the rock right into the ground.

“3, 2, 1, . . .”

I throw the rock. The upstairs window shatters, pieces of glass falling onto the lawn. I hear a yell, followed by heavy footsteps. The living room light doesn’t even turn on when the front door swings open.

OK, we have to leave.

“Now, now, now!”

Mohan, hands in his pocket, pulls out a firecracker and lights it. Like a grenade, he aims for the man’s feet. It explodes, and I hear another yell.

“Go, go, go!”

Mohan sprints, I’m not even sure which way. I try to follow, crossing a street into a backline. Sirens are off in the distance; Mohan hops a backyard fence. We stop, hide behind the fence, and hear a police car drive past. I can tell it turns onto the bartender’s street, and I know we have to keep running. Mohan agrees. We book it, sticking to the backyards, hopping fences until we’re a safe distance from the scene.

We reach a street where bright lights shine. I walk to a streetlight. It’s right by the bar. I collapse.

“Are you OK?”

“Better than ever.” I am finally liberated, and I laugh.

Mohan sits beside me. “I get it, I really do. But should we have done that?” He’s no longer shaking.

“Why not?”

“It gives him more reason to hate us.”

I understand Mohan, so I think before I reply. “No, it gives him more reason not to fuck with us. I work with him. He knows me, so he probably knows we were at his place. But he can’t do anything. If he blames us, I’ll blame him. What’s worse: broken glass, or a hate crime?

“Look, Mohan. You won’t get in trouble, if that’s what you’re worried about. He’s not even tough, and he doesn’t even know you. If you saw how he treats people like us, and, shit, how he acts, I think you would completely understand. This is karma. I’m just showing him what everyone thinks about him. Because he lives here, he thinks he’s a good person. But because he was born here, he thinks he’s better than us.”

Mohan sits still, internalizing. He stares for a while, then nods his head.

“So. He’s really that bad.”

“Mohan,” I said. “O ekta bainchod.”

“Ingreji, buddy. You speak it just fine.”

“Haha, Ingreji. Right, right.”

I pause, anger surfacing. Then, words come to me.

Pilaka colaka? What a fucking racist.”