If ADHD met whiskey and cocaine in a bar, they would not be Flo. The session has taken Flo beyond, to places we do not know. Flo would drink the three of them under the table. Again. He would not recall having met them the night before.
And he will not remember tonight, either. You are lounging on cushions around a low-set table when he stands, stumbles and flamboyantly falls over it, obliterating a series of drinks. Pools of beers form around you, the girls at the next table turn away in wet disgust. Your Russian friend Ilya plays the big brother, taking Flo to sit at the bar. It is an attempt to defuse matters, but will only introduce more unprepared revellers to Flo’s beautiful brand of chaos.
Flo and the session are finely acquainted. He has come to understand that the session does not knock before entering and it comes at the most inappropriate of times. It has it’s own agenda. Your needs are secondary. Flo acknowledges this, safe in the wisdom that sobriety is just a crutch for those who can’t handle the session. Everything is the session, the session is everything.
That night actually begins at nine in the morning. You are waiting for your ‘Essential Armenia’ tour to leave, unaware of the monstrous mass of monasteries to come, when Flo pulls out a bag of Viagra and insists you take one. You erect a plea not to. He relents on the condition you wear a pink ‘hen party’ tie all day. He does not remember how he acquired it. There is a voice in your head telling you to wear the tie. You know who the voice belongs to.
He gives the ten Viagra he’s wielding and twenty Xanax to the driver instead. There is no explanation for why he has taken on the role of a mobile pharmacy. The driver does not understand English, but the glimmer in his eyes suggests he knows the wordless language of the session. With a nod that appears to acknowledge the potency of the session pulsing through Flo’s veins, he politely declines and hands them back to Flo. It is nine in the morning.
You spend the morning as a heathen in monasteries, unenlightened at shrines. Sure, you worship, but you do not go to church. You understand it may be inappropriate to be a ‘Graveyard Bachelorette Pioneer’ with the all-too-willing Babushkas, but they, like you, never had a choice. The church comes to you because the session is the church. You bow, you worship, you thank the session for the strength it gives you and understand the hangovers and comedowns are merely a test of the purity of your sessionhood.
Some do not believe. The tour guide is a Christian who doesn’t drink. He is increasingly exasperated with Flo’s need to have a beer. He doesn’t understand that you do not choose to session, the session chooses you. You see the fight leave his eyes over lunch when he politely asks Flo if he has kids. Flo’s reply, in the most earnest of tones, is to say he has an ex-girlfriend that is a ladyboy. Flo insists that if the guide comes to Thailand, the drinks and the girls are for free. The guide says he will consider it, attempting to access some irreverence and embrace the lunacy of it all. He half-succeeds, but a note of terseness remains in his voice. The session is yet to provide him with the light.
Afternoon drifts into the evening, the last temple in the rear view mirror as the drinking accelerates. You are soon theorizing; could the rising session in Flo be on account of rabies? He was, after all, bitten by a wild dog on the Iranian border, and how on earth would Iran, where drinking is illegal, have reacted to such a whirlwind? Was he normal before? Was the session recently delivered to him via the poisonous saliva of a dog? Surely it could not already be this fierce?
Night descends. You swirl and tumble through the next drink, the next conversation, the next dance, the next laugh. It’s a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs, a volcano with fireworks for lava, a tumble dryer full of kitchen sinks.
It is, simply, a session.
You are drinking with a Syrian refugee who has a penchant for carrying glasses of cognac around with the poise of a man wearing a cravat and smoking a cigar. The session has been taken out of Aleppo, so he has taken himself to the session. It’s a recurring theme, drinking with Syrians. They are a flawlessly good bunch.
You reminisce on moments and stories heard only yesterday. A late-fifties Austrian chap, who, from nowhere, has started drilling his finger on the table to accentuate his point, “heterosexual only.” A Norwegian decides to toy with him, saying he swings both ways. The Austrian moves to the next table, enraged, sinking angry pints alone as he stares at the wall, pretending he can’t hear us telling him to return. We soon learn that he has an unspecified disability that means the drinks go to his head faster. The session is amplified for him. He goes to pieces; we need to take him home. He falls face first in a puddle as we do so. We put him to bed, thinking he’s just an alcoholic. You later learn he’s a history professor at a prestigious university.
You are with a ladyfriend, separated from everyone else in the club by a mass brawl that has broken out between twenty Armenians in the space between you and the dancefloor. You are confused as to why there is an olive in your ‘dodo shot’, but you drink it anyway. You are getting turned away from Hallowe’en themed bars due to the lack of fancy dress and returning, minutes later, as Santa and his reindeer. They reluctantly let you in. On a random street corner, you run into Ilya, who has been missing for hours. “No questions, just come,” he says. You are soon in an underground bar where he is pouring all the money he has on the bar, an eruption of notes and coins. He is flying home in a few hours and is blind drunk as he spends twenty minutes hugging every single person in the bar goodbye, a move that is enthusiastically reciprocated. Emotions are flying everywhere. The bar manager thanks him, hands him a few thousand Dram back for the taxi fare to the airport. You love him even more than you already did. It is the first time he’s ever been to that bar.
You are surprised to find your Iranian friends drinking. You soon learn that if you live in Iran, you will do what is necessary and teach yourself to brew beer in your basement. The geographic lottery of being born may not have been conducive to session, but you will be compelled to operate outside the law. The session does not adhere to such things; it is an urge that does not know borders.
It will find you when you’re not drinking, too. You will be in Kiev airport, broken with exhaustion yet unable to sleep in the middle of the night when you walk past a Victoria’s Secret in the terminal. Three men are inside, perusing the displays. Behind you, a speaker blares a song with a woman screaming “fuck tomorrow, we’re not getting younger” with a practised raspiness. You can’t really argue with her logic.
You are coming home from the Genocide Museum, sombre and thoughtful in the taxi. The driver had tried to originally charge ten times the price it took you to get there before relenting and agreeing to use the meter. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the number on the meter making absurd leaps. You break your maudlin thoughts to argue with the driver. Soon the car has been pulled over and the doors are locked. There is a stand-off. It escalates until he is slamming his hands against the steering wheel as you shout at each other in opposing languages. A calm falls before it gets physical. You relent and use sign language to explain you will pay him what’s on the meter to unlock the doors. He does, and you walk home for an hour through the backstreets, wondering if there’s anywhere the session will not find you, wondering if it will ever end.
Your final reminiscence lands on the ultimate. The story goes that the German friend of a friend was in Kurdistan five years ago. He loses everything: passport, wallet, phone, money, bag, the whole shebang. He’s in a tight spot. Going down to Baghdad to acquire a new one? Not possible. Staying with nothing? Not an option. In a bid to help him, some Kurds give him a horse. He thanks the Kurds, promising to return the favour one day, and literally rides the horse back to Germany.
The storyteller is absolutely insistent that it’s true, betting on the lives of his family. There is a fire of defiance in his eyes. It’s implausible, borderline unfathomable, but you choose to believe because it’s as close to genius to anything you’ve ever heard. In comparison, you are a fraction of a man. You are an amateur in awe of a mastery that transcends everything you ever knew. You wish to build a church in which to worship the myth. Maybe he rode to the next country and reached the German embassy there, maybe he had more possessions, maybe it never happened at all, but you think of the image – a missing man, the worries and search parties, until he emerges a month later, haggard and jaded, trotting into his hometown in broken triumph after the epic voyage. And it’s enough for you. The session gives you faith in unbelievable tales.
Your thoughts are broken by a commotion at the bar. Flo is at the epicentre. More drinks have fallen, stools have too, and a phone is missing. The missing phone belongs to an Armenian model, so there is uproar. Because she’s hot, so it matters significantly more, as with everything in life.
People are searched and Flo, incomprehensibly drunk, is ejected. Ilya takes him home. We later find them in a bar down the street. The session doesn’t sleep.
When you wake up the next morning, you are exhausted. The hangover is roaring, your mouth full of both that acidic, coppery residue and teeth that feel like they’re covered in a layer of fur. You suspect this one might be forever, your halcyon days of the session abruptly terminated. This one might actually kill you.
Flo is in your dorm. You hear him stir. Confused, he hesitates.
“Whose phone is this?”
Yerevan is Groundhog Day. It’s perpetual and pervasive, the nights flowing through each other as the drinks flow through you, leaving you unsure of the exact order of events but pleased that the echoes of laughter in the air are yours as you go through the same cycles, routines and patterns.
The vow is steadfast, you will not drink today. For karma restoration purposes, you deem yourself more responsible than Flo and take the Armenian model’s phone, promising to take it back to the bar when it opens.
Five o’clock rolls around. You and a friend are the first people in the bar as it opens. You explain the situation to the barman and he receives the phone gratefully. Before you know it, he’s pouring three shots, insisting you join him for one as a display of his appreciation.
You start to smile, like someone’s in the middle of a joke you already know the end of. You go again. Or you just continue.