For all its promises of a jolly evening, the restaurant was cloaked in a funereal atmosphere the first time I entered it. A large gathering of people, everybody in the restaurant barring one cowering in a dark corner, stood in silence and in a giant circle, everyone standing close to each other and holding hands, encircling something or someone I couldn't see but whose presence made itself felt in the warm glow of golden-white light that emanated from the centre of the circle and made all the beautiful faces shimmer with sadness.
When I reached near enough, two people unclasped their hands and quickly grabbed mine and let me squeeze through to be part of the ring. At the centre lay a small, young fairy, writhing in agony. One of her wings had been severed and lay at her feet like a hand fan broken and discarded.
"What happened?" I whispered to the fellow on my right.
"Happiness is dying," the answer boomed from somewhere else in the eatery.
As if that were the cue they were waiting for, everyone started talking all at once.
"It was all Misery's fault."
"Happiness didn't stand a chance, she never did. She has always been so fragile, poor thing."
"Misery is savage."
"A bloody cat-fight it was, the two of them screaming and screeching and scratching and clawing at each other."
"That's what comes of being too kind to fight back. You only get killed."
"That bitch Misery, so selfish she can only think of herself."
"Why didn't you all try to stop the fight?" I asked.
An interval of silence.
A four-measure rest.
And the cacophony resumed.
"Here we fight our own battles, son."
"Yeah, you need to choose your battles carefully. Choose the ones you can win on your own."
"I don't agree with you," I countered. "You ought to have helped your friend. And it appears you haven't even tried to. So why are you all pretending to mourn for her?"
"That is not the question you should be asking. What you should demand to know is what punishment ought to be meted out to Misery now."
"Kill her, I say. Tear her limbs apart and set them on fire."
"Yeah, a nice funeral pyre it would make for Happiness."
"I thought you were merely mad. But now you are turning out to be savage," I said aloud.
"What then do you recommend, Little Sir? That we permit Misery to have good food and cold beer and dance around Happiness's corpse?"
"Well, you know what they say right? That Misery loves company? Why not just banish her from this place? She can spend the rest of her life moping about in solitude and trying to cling on to others willing to entertain her."
An interval of silence.
A four-measure rest.
"Not bad, eh laddie? I didn't think you had it in you but that is a brilliant suggestion, I say."
"A fitting punishment, one that will serve as a reminder of her crime for the rest of her life."
"Where's that bitch, hein?"
And in three mammoth strides, the tallest and the most towering of the men in the room was beside Misery, the little black bundle cowering and sniffling in the dark corner. He grabbed her unceremoniously by her hair, swung her over his head in three swift circles, her screams getting louder and screechier with each turn, and flung her out the window and she flew in a wailing arc across the seven mountains and the seven seas. No one saw where she fell but we all felt assured it was too far away from us to be concerned about.
The giant of a man dusted his hands with the satisfaction of a job well done. He turned to me and shook my hand and said, "Welcome aboard, son. Well deserved."
And with that, Happiness rose from where she was lying on the ground, attached her wing to her back and flew to the ceiling where she fixed herself for the rest of the night building a tapestry of night sky and stars glittering like disco lights.
The people in the restaurant came up to me, thumped my back and gave me hearty grins and cheerful laughters. Music swelled from nowhere and rocked the place rhythmically. The bartender juggled bottles and glasses and concocted potions of ever-changing colours and flavours. Waiting staff scurried from table to table taking orders and with a snap of their hands they heaped piles of food quickly on the table tops. Someone put a chair under me, and a mug of beer and a plateful of food appeared in my hands.
When the food and drinks had finally suffused me with contentment, the mad people of the restaurant told me that they orchestrated The Death of Happiness whenever a newcomer made his way to the restaurant.
"Just a simple test you know, to make sure those who come in really choose to be happy, like the rest of us do, you understand?"
"I do. You are mad people after all."
Not long after a black cat slipped in through the window, strode up to me and hissed angrily, but the others in the restaurant told Misery to stop troubling me and to accept her defeat graciously, and she was fed the largest fish on the menu that night for her part in the performance.