On the Outside, Looking In

Have you ever felt like an outsider while meeting a group of friends? Most people have, right? Maybe you were dragged to a do with your significant other? Maybe your gym friend invited you to a party and you agreed because it was Friday night, and you didn’t want to stay in. Sometimes, these nights can end up being wonderful. You meet new people and the conversation flows. You shuffle through the place and talk to several different people, some of whom you know you want to be friends with.

But sometimes, things can go quite differently. Picture this: It’s a cold January evening. You’ve committed to going to a thing at someone’s house. You’ve been there before and know these people because you’ve met them once or twice, but you start to regret it almost as soon as you’ve agreed to go.

Maybe you had a hot shower, and your cat is curled up next to you like a perfect comma. Maybe the book you’re reading is just too good. Maybe you just want to stay in and watch TV. Memories of evenings of being stuck at lame parties float around your perfect room, with the most inviting lamplight, in dreamscape colours, as if to rewrite the many great evenings you have spent with company. So, you try to cancel. But your Take-You-There Friend (significant other, gym friend, others) insists. You simply must come. You’ve met these people before. And they’re so fun. It’ll be so chill. SUPER chill. And it’s at someone’s really beautiful apartment. What’s not to love about a great apartment full of fun people?

“It’ll be really chill, babe. Just come.”

They alternate between these soft, sad pleas and friendly aggression.

“Can you please just stop being so annoying? Just f***ing come.”

You give in. This is not worth putting up a fight. Of course, it will be fun. People are nice. Friends of friends are nice. What were you refusing this for? Another night of staying in? And look at how sweet the Take-You-There Friend is being. They must really, really want you there. Even if it’s bad, at least you will have them around. So, you agree. You’re not expecting to have too good of a time. Nothing crazy like that. But it’ll be okay, you’re sure. Might even be fun.

You get there. You’re ready. You will have fun. You must. You’re already there. You left your house for this. You better have fun. You’re greeted warmly. Good start. Everyone looks happy to see you there. You meet your Take-You-There Friend. They’re so nice. They engage you almost immediately in a conversation about something only both of you know about. Good story. You both laugh. You’re a bit separated from the rest of the group at this point. You feel bad about keeping your friend from the rest of their friends. So, you suggest joining the rest of the group. You squeeze onto the couch around the coffee table, one amongst two, with two armchairs on opposite ends.

These Old Friends start catching up. They talk about the trips they’ve taken. About snowfall at some skiing village. Meanwhile, someone is pouring drinks at the table while someone else rolls a joint. Fun is now inevitable. You try and tune back to this conversation, with the Old Friends Catching Up. You soon realise that this is a group of people who hung out with each other back when all of them were living wild, rich-kid lives. They spent their salaries buying grams of cocaine while you spent yours on un-cocainey things. They’re now older. Wiser. But these wild, rich-kid lives were their peaks of Fun-Had-Together. Not to be confused with Fun-Had-In-Life. This was their collective best, but they have moved on and grown up now. Individually. Together though, it’s something else entirely. They are united mostly by their shared past.

Also read: Lost and Found: A Trip Down Memory Lane

As the evening progresses and as the seating shifts, you recognise a few other outliers. Mostly women. Sometimes you see them appalled by something bizarre that someone says “as a joke”, which all the others laugh at. Something like, “Oh, Goa wasn’t as fun this year. There was no colour, you know? All foreign tourism is banned.”

Everyone laughs. Except the appalled women. Sometimes, they call out these “as a joke” moments and everyone laughs and agrees that it was a ridiculous thing to say. Nothing changes. The “as a joke”er asks the appalled woman if she is okay. “What’s happened to you?” they ask. The appalled woman is now quietly appalled.

At this point, it’s been more than half an hour since you had personal contact with your Take-You-There Friend. Your Take-You-There Friend is wholly immersed in the evening. You look around helplessly. Offer to roll a joint for lack of anything to do with your hands. The alternative to sitting like a factory worker with two other people rolling joints is being quietly appalled. Just like the other appalled woman, who has now taken to offering everyone water and making sure this evening is at least good for the skin – if not for the soul.

Your seating at all times is rather unfortunate. There are at least four people you can speak to at this party. You don’t sit next to any of them for more than ten minutes. That’s how these things work. The landscape shifts like a countryside with erratic weather. Constantly.

“We should make a movie about our lives,” someone suggests, in a moment of striking unoriginality. You begin to think of the highly negative review you’d leave about it on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Two other people shoot it down. “No one would want to watch that,” they say, only half meaning it. You know they would secretly love to be in that movie. They start sketching characters. The proposed movie would obviously be set in their glory days of cocaine and women and vomit in cars and Brazilian massages. Appalled woman rolls her eyes. You look on. You admire their confidence and wish you had it.

Someone tells a story which does not land. They make an emergency penis joke to salvage the situation. You can almost hear your room now. Softly whispering your name. It’s time to leave.

Your Take-You-There Friend leaves with you. He asks you hopefully, with a touch of desperation in his voice, if you had fun. You say you did. Obviously. You’re not rude. Then he asks you when you had most fun. “Leaving was pretty nice,” you snap.

Poor thing. You feel bad. So, you laugh. He laughs too, knowing fully well you weren’t joking.

Isha Maniar is a lawyer-turned-writer based out of Bombay – the city she writes in and about.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty