I live in a certain part of a certain city that is commonly described as "notorious". It has all the hallmarks that polite society attempts to avoid - such as dark, syringe-littered alleyways, spaced-out locals begging outside the train station, and a certain baked, dead look about the few patches of trees and grass clinging to the concrete. If this place has seen better days, it hasn't been for a long, long time.
I've seen my share of shit around here. I have a lot of stories. The young, crying girl with the ripped shirt and methadone-smeared eyes who took refuge in my house for a few hours after turning her first trick is one. The guy who tried to sell me heroin which he pulled out of his three-year old son's pocket is another. Then, there's nearly getting pole-axed by an umbrella-wielding teenager after she ripped me off for weed. There's watching a married couple in their fifties fight in the street until a heavy blow split her face open like a plum. There's finding the little girl outside the pub, begging me to get her mother off the pokies for her. And, of course, there's my occasional porch-sleeper, but that's another blog.
You might call my neighborhood "colourful". In a strange way, I fit right in here.
So it's not surprising that I started to occasionally patronise the clusters of pushers up on the corner. They sell bad pot at high prices in small quantities, but at least they're close. And they're there when you stumble home drunk, at midnight.
The summer drought always bodes badly for the weed supply, and times have been tight recently around here. The cops landed a huge raid a couple of weeks ago, which didn't improve the lot of the local dealers much. So, a few nights ago, I found myself waiting in the most dangerous part of town for my "fella" to show back up and slip me a gram. A young guy, unusual only for having white skin in this part of town, gestures me over with a standard;
I sidle over and smile. Maybe he's holding. He immediately disabuses me of that belief.
"Are you holding, sista?"
I apologise. I'm not holding.
"Do you use?" he asks.
I look down at his face. He has a junkie complexion - greyish skin, sheened with sour sweat and dotted all over with greasy pimples. Mostly it's the hollows under the eyes, and the twisted, bitten lips which betray how much pain this guy is in. He's suffering.
"No mate," I reply. "Not anymore, anyway. Dodged that bullet." I shrug.
He looks at me more intently, searching.
"I know you from somewhere," he says.
"I'm local. You've probably seen me around."
"No... somewhere else." He pauses and stares at me, grasping for recognition. Suddenly he seems to work it out.
"Did you work?" he asks. "Ever work ... at all?"
It takes me a moment to process the peculiar emphasis on the word "work". Then I get it.
"No, mate. Not in that industry, anyway."
"I'm sure that's how I know you," he nods to himself, apparently sure that he has known me in the Biblical sense. And for cash.
I'm not offended at being taken for a prostitute. It's not even the first time. So many people here operate on a completely different plane around here, and ethics hardly come into it. It's a matter of survival.
The guy's head drops back and he stops talking to me. I'm not in a position to fuck him or score for him, so our conversation is over. He doesn't look older than twenty-five. I look around at the milieu of pushers, pimps and users lining the alleyway, waiting for a score. This scene can be intense - maybe too intense to justify going through it just to score a gram of weed. I think about how close I was to being a fixture in it, a few years ago. But for the grace of God, they say.
But maybe I am a fixture. At least, apparently I look like one.
I head back home empty-handed, thinking about all the bullets I've dodged.