Half running and half walking with pace, Alex cut a weave through the sidewalk. He flipped his red demin collar up to fight off the spitting rain, and smiled or stared at the young people in their own drunken Saturday worlds. A couple arguing over a cab here, a couple of men laughing and pissing against a wall there, and some tired people at a bus stop who were indignant about what happened without them. Then he realised that he was on the wrong road, heading away from the meeting point. He sent a text to the dealer and turned back to run on through a back alley and wet darkness, while trying to not let any hope dwindle.
Alex had been gone over twenty minutes when he reached the tube station, and he was astounded by how little he felt fatigue. Standing on the corner, his heart barely made a sound. He couldn’t remember what the dealer looked like and stared too long at people walking by. It was cold and the night was quiet – people were already too drunk to hope. There was a beautiful girl standing near the stairs to the station and he looked at the creasing in her tight jeans, seeing how it pulsated as she shifted her weight. How the lights from all around her played with the shadows on her fine legs. He fell into the curvature of her ass and everything was glowing, until it stopped. Air snapped cold and he looked up to her face where there was a rage that looking away wouldn’t dissolve. She yelled at him,
“What? What!? You fucking punks. You fucking asshole. Just another useless, tiny dick pervert. You look like a stick insect! Look away all you want but I am TALKING to you!”
Her handbag was dark pink and hefty, she stomped her way over to him and he actually smiled at her.
“Don’t you smile at me, don’t you even look at me sicko!” She flung the bag square into his face. It felt cold and dry and his stomach tightened as she dug a small fist into it.
“Sorry!” His voice was untamed and shrill. She tutted and said nothing but walked away and down into the station.
A little while later Alex saw a familiar face, though it was younger than he’d remembered. The guy walked on, then back half a minute later and told Alex to walk with him.
“It’s just sixty ok.”
They’d already agreed on the price, but Alex had not gotten the money out of his wallet. He started to say something about the handbag beating and abandoned it. He offered to walk into an alley with the dealer but he was told that was too suspicious and he just counted it out as they walked. All sixty pounds. There was only change left.
“Have a good night my man. You call me anytime, especially weekends yeah? I just need more notice if it’s later ok? Have a good night.”
Alex looked at his watch and nodded, biting his lower lip while he pinched the coke. It was wrapped in a balloon made from a plastic shopping bag that was melted closed. The night was getting on, but he still felt alive.
“It will be a good night.” He said to himself and took off in a run back toward the bar.
His energy waned and he stopped to check for a bus to save on time and sweat, but had to kick a metal post and swing his head back into the cold air, thumping into the pavement for twenty minutes. When he got to the final block he slowed up to seem casual as he passed the smoking area. Flashing his stamp eagerly at the bouncer with ambivalent eyes, he didn’t wait for approval. No one stopped him, but the two bouncers mumbled something as Alex rushed in passed the bar and toward his table.
His friends were still much as they were almost an hour before, as was his beer. John was deep in conversation with Olive and Jane was slouched in her chair muttering something to Diego. After he chugged half of his beer without drawing a look, Alex announced,
“I’m sorry I took so long guys, but I’m just gonna go to the toilet real quick, then we’ll really kick this night off! John? You with me?”
John looked up, smiled, and looked back at Olive. Sighing, Alex felt the strain that his lungs were enduring, but he also felt the bubbling in his upper chest that leads to good things like love or mutual orgasms. He felt the past few months of suffering, the proximity to poverty, the loneliness, the dark nights and late mornings where he begrudged every shower and every shave, not just because of the cold, but because of how quickly time and youth was passing. Then he felt it fall into nullifying, soapy water. The music from the DJ now was unironic hip hop that focused on synth and bass and making white people feel like they were dancing and rebellious. He breathed in histrionically, stood there in the dark din and felt everything around him pulsate as he tapped his pocket then spun around to find the toilet.
There was a doorway leading to pure concrete stairs, and it was down two flights with broken fluorescent lighting and kitschy posters in old frames that had the cold smell of bleach and incense peeling off them. The men’s room was extremely white, bright, long, and tiled like a hospital from long ago. In the corner as he entered, there was a short Asian attendee with redundant and oppressive colognes & soaps. A surprisingly short urinal wall was next to eight stalls in a long corridor. In the last one Alex slouched down to not have his head popping up over the wall.
His heart was erratic and the bag was there, lumpy in his palm and difficult to open. The brightness faded. The cold that was seeping into his back through the tiles of the wall meant nothing to him. He rolled the ball around, looking at the plastic scar where the ends of the ripped bag had been melted. He took it to his mouth and bit down, creasing his entire face and there it was, a small, numbing taste that slapped him in the corner of the mouth. Lowering his hand, he stared at the lines, the colours, the mixing and the swirling.
“What you got there mate!?”
Alex shuddered and yelled inarticulately. Above him was the bald, ferocious head of the bouncer with no more ambivalence in his eyes. Alex felt weak and vulnerable; under attack with no escape. His face locked up and in lieu of words, he slowly raised his hand up to the man. A few dribbles of white powder beside an orange ball on a greasy palm.
“Step out of the stall please sir.”
Alex put the bag back into his pocket, wiped the dribbles off his hand, pulled the door back and leaned a shoulder past the bouncer, toward the stairs.
“Sir, empty your pockets for me.”
The bouncer’s strong arm was effortlessly in Alex’s way and he was pushed back by the bouncer’s mere energy against the wall.
“We have a zero tolerance policy on drugs here, so I’m going to need you to hand over what you have to me.”
“Sir, I’ve just caught you doing drugs in this bar. We can have the police come down and take care of it if you like.”
“Fine, I get it, just let me leave and I’ll never come back. I… this cost… please”
“What you are doing is illegal.”
“This is illegal, but it’s not wrong.”
“If you do not hand it over, the police will come, and you will be arrested.”
“I don’t… dude…”
“We will not let you leave until you submit to a search. Do you want to be searched?”
Alex looked to the attendee and the two other security staff standing with him by the entrance. All of them were bored.
“I don’t see why I can’t just leave. Why the fuck do you want it?”
“We have a zero tolerance policy sir”
“You’re going to keep it for yourself. Aren’t you? You fucking… I know you are; yeah, yeah, there’s no way any of this is reported to the police, or to anyone.”
“Sir, you have ten seconds…”
Blood and adrenalin were gushing through his body and all he wanted was out of the powerful discomfort, and away from this man. He felt like everywhere he turned this bald face was beating him down into a white ball. Then he felt a spasm in his jaw and a twinge in his shoulders and he put his hand into his pocket. In less than a second he whipped his hand up to his mouth and swallowed the cocaine bag whole.
“SIR! Alright, lift your tongue. Now… Sir, LET me see your mouth!”
He stuck his tongue out and lifted it, closing his mouth in a smile and said,
“Can I go now?”
“That was stupid. Empty your pockets for me… do it.”
Alex felt a wave of pride and victory, mixed with tickles of the amphetamine slime dripping down his throat. There was only keys, gum, scraps of paper, a lighter and his wallet. Alex wanted to point out how little cash he had in the wallet because that bag had cost him almost everything he had for this week. Then he remembered that there was a small Ziploc baggy with two grams of marijuana in his coin pocket.
“Move your arms back; I need to make sure you’ve nothing else in your pockets.”
The bouncer moved in close and shoved a hand in each pocket, then around to his back pockets, and finally he dug a couple of fingers into the coin pocket. He pulled nothing out and said,
“Am I free to go?”
“We will escort you out, and you never come back.”
While his head pounded, his knees ached, and his jaw tingled, Alex felt no satisfaction; just reprieve and anger. Before they passed the last stall, the bouncer stopped and told him to stand aside. Then he knocked on the stall, immediately jumping into the adjacent stall and standing on the bowl to look down and repeat the scene with another young guy.
He was wiry and baby-faced, wearing a mock-vintage pattern shirt and excessively pointy shoes along with a corduroy jacket. He shat out a series of excuses about vitamin medication and allergies, which Alex believed for a second, then caught up, and saw the ornate wooden pillbox he was holding. The bouncer ignored his rambling. He emptied half a dozen large pills into his hand, examined them briefly by moving his hand to his side, out of his own shadow and told the kid to come with him.
“Can I have my pillbox back, please? It’s, special to me”
“What? Oh, fine”
Walking up the stairs the pillbox guy sulked and muttered “fuck” repeatedly. Alex turned to the bouncer and said,
“Your job sucks.”
“It has its benefits.”
Alex flashed with anger, and then wondered how badly the bouncer had wanted to pat his pocket full of ecstasy and who knows what else.
“You a fighter or something? MMA?”
“I need to get my jacket.”
Alex picked up his jacket and the others barely looked up, even though he motioned to the odd posse that was behind him. He motioned toward the door and still no one said anything, but the bouncer slapped his shoulder, and he walked off.
“Why don’t you go into MMA, there’s gotta be good money – better than this.”
“I stopped fighting ‘cos I had my femur snapped in two. Now I have to stand up all night… We can’t all be pretty and have perfect lives. Get out.”