Freelancers are like travelers. Ones without an itinerary.
Things aren’t usually that good back home. They were fine for some time so I had stayed. Now I’m back here. He scrunched his face as he said that, hinting at another episode of dysregulation—fights, silent treatments, money troubles, health issues, and who knows what. I have seen him in the café a few times; looking at the buzz of the Tibetan market through his round, old-fashioned glasses, with his arms propped over the parapet of the balcony, and all this while balancing a lit stick of kretek between his lips. I confided to him that this place was my getaway too, and he eased up. We talked about how this place was ideal to chill. I described it to him as non-judgmental to which he replied, Not always. The other day I was sitting here on the floor of the smoking area when a couple walked in. The guy, with his ego boosted due to a female companion, mockingly asked me, ‘dude, didn’t you get a seat inside?’ I knew it was his moment, so I allowed him that. I smiled and told him that I like reading a book out here. The girl had laughed.
Being a guy I could relate to the ego-boost theory, but the way this guy observed it and chose to respond with maturity was astonishing. Men generally avoid sharing such moments where they were embarrassed by another man. I thought to myself, “This guy is shedding all traits of toxic masculinity and knows himself well, his strengths and his shortcomings.” He was about five–foot–six, had buzz cut hair and a regular demeanor that allowed him to flit through the crowd unnoticed. So, what do you do? he asked. I told him about my recent career shift from a musician to a writer. “What about music then?” Being a content writer himself, he understood the importance of being passionate about work. He suggested that I continue making music somehow. Money is very important, no doubt about that. But don’t let your music die. He said that in a concerned tone and with a smile that testified his optimism, selflessness, and love for art.
His work, he said, allowed him the luxury to work from anywhere in the world. He comes here every day but never books a table. He straightaway heads to the balcony, opens his laptop, orders his coffee there itself and smokes. “I was never happy doing fixed-time jobs. Freelancing is my thing now. Abhi toh sab sahi chal raha hai.” (everything is going fine as of now) His present was reminding me of what I’d aimed for my future when I’d switched to writing. I’m going to a music festival on the third of December in the Himalayas. I went there last month as well, but there wasn’t anything cultural going on at that time, so I thought why not go again for this gig. The words knocked on another one of my passion doors with the zeal of a teenage extrovert. For a moment I wanted to switch our bodies. I told him that I aspired to do all of what he was doing but wasn’t successful. People like the idea of freelancing, but it doesn’t come easy bro. You need contacts for it. I agreed.
My admiration trance was interrupted; cut short by one of the servers who came out with my herbal tea. I was following at least one of the routine things that a freelancer does—ordering a light beverage. The freelancer seemed to have moved on, attention-wise, from the conversion. I was only able to stop him for another minute. “Do you live nearby?” I asked him. No, I come from the far west side of the city. Told you it’s a getaway, so, yeah…anyways, it was nice talking to you. His content–with–life smile reappeared and a relaxed hand approached me midway for a friendly handshake. “Same here buddy.” He picked up his backpack that didn’t have his hiring company’s name or logo over it, but it looked expensive. Off he went back in and then disappeared behind the thick wooden balcony door, that supposedly segregates the smoke outside and the air inside. I saw his head pop up once as he flit through the servers, the cackling diners, the selfie-obsessed teenagers, and the decorative prayer wheels. No one knows more about impermanence than a free soul. Fixed-time jobs provide security, certainity, and social status. But in these unprecedented times, these challenging times, when Covid-19 variants are appearing as quickly as one leaves his/her office on a Friday evening, no job can guarantee you any of these. I pulled out another cigarette and played one of my singing videos on the phone, inspired to mend the severed ties with my passion.