The monster is talking again. Deep inside the lower part of your brain he lurks, a black imaginary figure from whom there is no escape.
“I have brought you a cup of grey dust and a plate full of ashes, but I promise you better things when I take you back to the carnival, where I will make you safe and well as long as you have the £30 downpayment. Don’t bother about the small print where it says that you have to make up the rest with your soul. Who needs a soul anyway?”
Every morning, as soon as wakefulness pushes its unwelcome way into your life, your limbs ache and wriggle. You suffer nausea and cold sweats. Often your head aches. You feel that you cannot move, but you know that you have to. Somehow you unravel yourself from your dirty sleeping bag which barely kept you warm last night. You have to make it to the seller of lies who is also just a victim, taking your money to fund his own habit.
So you give him the money for the drug that makes you die yet another death, because each small death takes away a few moments of suffering.
And as you go alone through the curtain, and into this dark carnival where there are no family or friends, in a bedsit half a mile away the dealer is also pulling a blood-smeared needle from his vein.
As the drug wears off you reflect as so many times before that winter arrived too quickly, and has stayed for too long, the rain making the bright colours of the cheap carnival fabric fade and run.
The magic was lost long ago, and although you knew it, still you hoped, and still you had no willpower to resist another visit, because you think it is better than the alternative.
Now, as you walk towards your daytime pitch in the centre of town, you remember your mother’s laughter, as she stood in the kitchen watching while, at twelve years old, you mimed crawling through an imaginary black tunnel that was narrow, and curved downwards. You couldn’t manage the downwards slide in a convincing way, and your efforts drew your mother into tears of mirth.
She laughed so often; at your antics, and at every humorous thing.
The laughter turned to tears as the tunnel became real, and your descent was no longer mimed. When you had finally stolen all she owned to fund your addiction, she made the decision to buy a one way coach ticket out of the county.
The only things she gave you before she left were a piece of paper with her email address and the town she was moving to scribbled on it, and a promise that she would always love you unconditionally.
Your last meeting with her was a week before she got onto the coach. You told yourself that you didn’t say goodbye to her at the station because you felt so resentful. You told yourself that unconditional love was a strange way to describe the act of leaving you.
But the real reason you didn’t say goodbye was that you needed to see your dealer for another hit.
As you approach your pitch in an unused doorway beside the chemist shop, you see someone who looks familiar, bending down to put something in the place where you normally huddle. Omwo? It looks like him. Tall, with Omwo’s distinctive, wide-boy walk, but this guy is dressed more smartly, and isn’t Omwo dead? Or had he moved away and got clean? Everyone, including him thought that he would wind up dead before the rest of you. He used to say “I’m on my way out.” On My Way Out. Omwo.
You look down to see what he left behind. Just a flimsy folded sheet of paper that is probably a religious tract. You’ve seen it all before. You leave the leaflet where it landed. But you’d really like to catch up with Omwo, if it is him. So you look in the direction that he went. He was there only a moment ago, walking along by the wall of the multi-storey car park, but he has disappeared, although there is nowhere he could have gone.
So you sit on your sleeping bag, place your empty bowl in front of you and concentrate on looking hungry.
Pickings are poor, because most people can see what you are, and don’t want to give you money to spend on drugs, but it’s a place to rest.
Was that Omwo? Is he dead? So many of you have died. If you die, how long will it take for your lifeless shell to be found, to be identified? For your mother to be informed? How long before she will be able to laugh again?
Black ink has splilt over your brain, and is spreading into the hidden cavities. Confused, you mouth an unhelpful incantation, “this is a bad day, this is a bad day.”
It is not the hope of a miracle that causes you to pick up the leaflet that lies beside you. You just want to mop up the ink blot by surrounding it with innocuous narrative.
The words “Narcotics Anonymous”, written boldly on the front don’t impress you. On the back, the place and date of the next meeting is handwritten. Vaguely you realise that it is this evening, and you think “Big deal”. They have nothing to offer you. It’s all very well for them; they weren’t so ill so deeply intrenched they were stronger they had people who loved them they had more reason they had……
There is a sheet of paper inside with something that looks like a poem printed on it. It is headed “With love from your Angel”.
It’s not a poem, but a page of quotes, or slogans or something. They look a bit soppy, but you read them anyway:
“Guilt is the gift that just keeps on giving.” Cynically, you raise your eyes to heaven.
“To thine own self be true.” What does that mean anyway?
“You are not alone.” Now there are tears in your eyes as you realise that it was you who left your mother, not she who left you. She just couldn’t live in such close proximity to your absence.
“Let go of old ideas.” Your head drops, and your hands cover it as you weep shamelessly, while passers-by evert their eyes and choose not not get involved with the troubles of another half-dead junkie.
Gradually the racking sobs subside, leaving you physically weak, but with the miracle of determination, and alongside that determination, one truth piles on top of another. There is space and light where only a while ago there was nothing but ink blobs.
You make your self a promise to get clean from drugs. It has been said that a promise, once broken, cannot be mended. But it occurs to you now, as you glance upwards at the optimistically blue evening sky, that although a promise cannot be mended, a new one can be made.
You know it won’t be easy, and you know there will be pain, but pain is as familiar to you as breathing, whereas fellowship has been missing for years.
You wonder whether you will see Omwo this evening.
You stand up and retrieve your bowl, pocketing the change. There is enough for you to go to the leisure centre and have a shower.
It would feel disrespectful to go to Narcotics Anonymous without making the effort to clean yourself up first.
Before the year is out you will revel in your mother’s laughter again.
© Jane Paterson Basil