If I need to find heroin in a new town, I will use Burroughs’ psychogeographic technique. You can find heroin, according to him, where ‘legitimate business meets skid-row’. Walking through town, I already knew all the Big Issue sellers were clean. On one desperate afternoon I had asked every single one if they knew where to score brown. I was absolutely disgusted to find that they were all foreign immigrants or ex-addicts with wise eyes, stable relationships and flats. I deplored what ever happened to the Big Issue. In other towns, Big Issue sellers were almost exclusively emaciated addicts ready to run to dealer as soon as they had sold 20 quid’s worth of budget magazine. Here, some do-good bastard was assessing magazine sellers like they were supposed to. So I walked past the well fed, supposedly homeless-but-working, towards the grimmest towerblock I could locate. The clean slabs of the pedestrianised high street gave way to hard tarmac and roaring cars. Slowly, boutiques and pretty coffee shops gave way to businesses catering for the town’s less desirable residents. Neon-lit 24 hour off-licenses, a boarded-up Argos and the only rainbow-flagged pub in town with a few old gays eyeing the road over their cigarettes outside. Then, as I passed the jobcentre, I noticed the hooded tracksuits and fighting dogs of the modern poor. A knot of upturned caps and pregnant teenagers languished lean outside the bookies where brawny men with tattoos for arms funneled their wages into plate-glass windows.
I pressed on. Gut-wrenching excitement and dry mouth, walking as fast as I could, I could feel the presence of my drug get closer as I reached a taxi office. A rotating bulb outside emitted a sickly light. Next door, a Kebab shop, the atmosphere hanging heavy with grease. Between the two places a gang of addicts and alcaholics gaggled. Alcoholics and junkies hanging out together – this was certainly a small town. In larger towns they wouldn’t give each other the time of day. Even junkies and alkies need someone else to look down on. A man moved mouse-like outside the train station opposite. His face mapped with tattoos, he was picking up dog ends to harvest the last dregs of tobacco. Late commuters fled from the station, scurrying home. Addicts are invisible to those who have the wrong kind of eyes. And that is the way addicts like it, although they won’t often tell you that. The group was too large for me to approach. The risk was too high. Scoring drugs from strangers is a hazardous activity. At that moment, I was most concerned about getting ripped-off and loosing my last 30 pounds. If I was concerned for my own health and safety I would not have been out there in the first place. All I wanted was to end the craving that echoed through my twitching body and churned my thoughts into a deadly washing machine. It wasn’t the drug I craved. It was the peace it gave me. The nearer I got to my goal the harder I craved for it. And what peace I had disappeared into a black lake of need. My legs jerked forward, and I hastily passed the gaggle of addicts; my eyes longingly stared out at them from desperate corners. I wished I was them. They had drugs. I wish I was friends with them, they would get me drugs. I strained out the sides of my physical body trying to merge my hollowness with theirs but nothing. Still empty. I carried on.
The legitimate businesses had almost completely gone, now there were only boarded up buildings and the sort of pubs where spilled blood is seen as a red carpet. Behind all this was an estate with 2 monolith tower blocks standing 2 shades darker then the Saturday night sky. I turned of the road into the inky estate. Ahead of me a man moved, the streetlights illuminated his shuffling. He might do. As he drew closer I noticed his ruddy-cheeked health and confident stride. I was appalled. The thorns of desperation in my guts contorted me harder. I wandered around the estate. The moon threw down a blue light and 30 storeys of yellow glow emitted from a hundred windows. Ahead a blonde women, fat, middle-aged got into a car. I sighed deeply. The people of this estate looked like normal, good people. Not even a hint of bottom-scraping degradation. Then I noticed two people scuttle in the darkness, they were small, nervous and twitchy. They walked woth great haste like they were being driven by a merciless necessity. They need to get somewhere fast. I recognized that purpose – it was the same as mine. I closed in on them without a second thought,
‘Hey, can you get any gear? I’ll sort you a tenner’
‘That’s not going to be enough mate’
‘I’ve only got 30 quid and that’s it’, they paused
‘OK but you’re going to have to wait while we get money’.
It was man and a girl. The girl was about 19 or 20 and the man was in his 20s but looked 10 years older. He was the one who spoke, from a flapping, badly controlled mouth,
‘How long will it take?’ I asked
‘Well I gotta go on the rob so it’ll be about an hour’.
Which meant up to two hours. I was disappointed but it had taken me over an hour to find anyone who was able to score for me so I didn’t have a choice. They were injured from their habits. The man’s body seemed to be collapsing in on itself, snot ran from his nose, his eyes shot with need. The girl had her hood up and was itching with anxiety and discomfort. They were perfect
‘Ok I’ll wait, let me take your number’ I said.
It was a cold night. The man sped off and the girl fell behind me as I walked aimlessly back towards town. When I turned around I saw the girl disappear into a back street labyrinth with a man with a curved back. I returned down the high street and sat on a bench near the pubs and bars of town. The cold wood slowly chilled my behind. My listless gaze took in the weekend revelers. Long legs echoed in high heels their miniskirts revealing white thighs, thick or thin. They wrapped their arms around their flimsily wrapped torsos walking quickly, looking for the alcoholic warmth of a bar. Young men in tight t-shirts were already drunk and falling over traffic cones and diversion signs. The last of the respectable folk pulled their Marks and Spenser coats around them and left in taxis fleeing for the suburbs and that final glass of wine. After an hour, I called the man. 15 minutes more. Fuck’s sake! Stupid fucking junkies. My thoughts rotated on bitterness. I curled my lip and plunged my icy hands further into my coat pockets. After 15 minutes I walked my half-numb legs back towards the estate hoping to locate the girl. She wasn’t there. The group of junkies had deserted the taxi office and kebab shop. I walked back down towards town. Then slowly back up again. I called the man.10 more minutes – he’s going as fast as he can. Fucking lying junkies. My eyes widened as I looked into the 24 hour off-license and convenience shop. My savage hunger would be satisfied by the heroin as would my impatience if only this bloke would hurry up! God, I wouldn’t mind if he just told me honestly how long he’s going to be. The fire of my anger predictably gave way to self-loathing. What is wrong with me? I’m such an idiot, letting myself be treated like shit by junkies just because I’m desperate for a stupid brown powder that does nothing but fuck me up anyway. Fuck I don’t need this. My mind split in two. One part of me was so close to getting what it needed it raged and screamed and cried a storm in my head. The new voice of self respect quietly suggested I just get a taxi home. There was a taxi rank by the station which was opposite the kebab shop and taxi house. Fuck this. I’m going to call him one more time and if he’s not here in minutes I’m getting in this taxi. 5 minutes, he’s literally round the corner. I took a seat in the nearest bus shelter and waited hanging my head. It was another 10 minutes when I heard his whistle. I got up and ran alongside him like a hopeful dog.
He carried two weighted Co-Op Bags for Life. We walked at express pace
‘So what’s the plan?’ I asked him.
‘It’s late and there’s only one person who will serve at this time of night and we have to get a taxi there’
‘We’re gunna meet Nancy, get the taxi, go score and get a taxi back – thats where your tenner is going to come in useful, you can pay for the taxi, it’s too far to walk’
‘Why don’t we just get the taxi to wait?’ I asked
‘it’s Saturday night it could be ages before another one comes to pick us up’
‘Nah, it’s too on top to do that – the dealer don’t want a taxi outside his place’
‘You know I can’t give you any money unless you give me your phone and keys to hold’ I warned, satisfied with the plan so far,
‘Nah don’t worry, Nancy’s going to get it, I’ll be with you the whole time, now wait here’.
He walked into a pub which disturbingly seemed to have no windows at all on the ground floor. He emerged 15 minutes later. I was huddled against the freezing wind. The two bags he was carrying were gone.
‘Give me your phone mate’, I passed it to him and he dialed Nancy
‘You in the flat? Come meet us now then’, he handed the phone back to me
‘What did you nick? Meat?’
‘Nah 16 blocks of cheese, just got 20 quid for them’.
We walked on in silence and met Nancy who remained taciturn. The three of us walked back to the taxi/kabab shop. I did a quick calculation of the situation. Alex, the man, was too wasted and weak to be of any threat to me and Nancy was not a big girl either. As long as they didn’t pull a knife on me I would be OK.
We passed an abandoned theatre. It was built in the 1930s. It’s ornate architecture now gripped by vines and weeds. Tightly bound metal fencing skirted the site and aged structure illuminated by streetlights. Signs read ‘keep out’. Someone had scrawled the phrase, ‘the fuck’ between the two words. The fag-end pubs advertising ‘karaoke night tonight!’ gave way to the railway station which ran opposite the 24 hour off-license, kebab shop and the taxi office. The addict/alcoholic gang was back and greeted Alex and Nancy. I stood slightly apart from them, trying to disassociate myself. I did not want police to direct their animosity at the unusual sight of well-dressed kid hanging with the taxi-office gang. Also, I did not want any of them knowing my name incase they attempted to greet me in another situation. I just focused on getting what I wanted. I was standing still, relaxing a little now I had my route to drugs sorted. The fag-end collector with the tattooed face rocked up. He was called Semtex. The loudest of the gang took his hand and connected it sharply with Nancy’s behind,
‘She’s got a fantastic arse’ he said through savage beer breath. He was right. She did. She was too pretty for this game. But when heroin takes you, things like beauty and self-respect become a commodity. As a way of settling karma, the gang suggested playfully that Nicola slap his arse back. She declined. The taxi took yet another painfully anxious 15 minutes to turn up. It was now two hours since I first met Alex and Nancy. Nancy and I sat in the back, Alex in front
‘Gooor it’s warm in here drive’ Alex said.
I sank greedily into the soft seat. Glad of the warmth and comfort. The driver and Alex chatted about things I can’t remember now. We drove three miles to a small row of houses by an empty four-lane road. I paid the driver 4 pounds for the ride and he accelerated in the direction we had come. Nancy took all our money, 20 quid from each of us. Alex and I perched on a gray curb watching Nancy enter a 4 bedroom pseudonym – neither of us willing to let her and our money out of our sight. Within minutes she was back again
‘Got it’. We all started walking back down the tumbleweed road. It was close to midnight now and it was cold.
I passed my Blackberry to Alex to call us a taxi and we carried on walking. Surprisingly, now we had the gear, we walked slower. Part of our craving was satisfied. The feeling in the pit of my stomach was now more close to elating excitement – the gnawing need fading into the background. The taxi screeched to a stop at a sliproad just ahead and all three of us were running, the wind, no longer too cold, skimming past my ears
‘St David’s please drive’. I looked at Nancy, sat next to me in the back of the cab. She was slim, fresh skinned with a mean attitude that was clearly just for show. In that moment I wanted her. But the vacant look in her eyes told me that she was already taken. The journey was over and I was last out as I had to hand my dregs of change to the driver. The other two were almost at the entrance by this time, calling up to the flat to be buzzed-in. I unpacked myself from the backseat, a panic tsunami in my stomach, if they made it inside and closed the door then that would be all my gear gone. My legs made huge obtuse triangles as I tried to get to them as quick as I could without running and setting them on edge. All three of us made it inside; apparently still friends. Now we were going to their flat I no longer had the physical advantage. Anything could be waiting for me in there. And they had my gear. My gear. It was in Nancy’s prostituting junky pocket. I emitted phrases, trying to qualify myself as proper junky like them, not an idiot bourgeois with a vanity deathwish
‘Yeh so I was in rehab, I was pretty messed up, I hope this gear’s good, the last lot I got was shit, but then that’s the war in Afghanistan for you isn’t it? It messes up the supply chain’. Neither of them looked impressed. The flat door was pushed open and the guy with the tattooed face, Semtex, was already there. He was an old, a shriveled mess of blue ink and homeless smell,
‘I found these. I was waiting for you to open them’ he said
‘Aww really?’ Nancy ola cooed
‘;Gis us a one then’. Semtex handed out the fresh Marlboro Lights. I refused. I am still, to this day, the only heroin user who doesn’t smoke I have come across. The room was a large shoebox decorated with floral wallpaper that looked like someone had smashed a million boxes of potpourris into the walls. Three mats, or they could have been flattened cardboard boxes, segregated the floor sheets and duvets laid on top of them. In the corner was a small TV and ariel with an old playstation I underneath it. It was almost homely.
‘Nice statue’, I commented on the statue of Buddah next to TV. Nancy was fixing her shot from the unwrapped brown sugar cube,
‘Thanks babe, it’s nice isn’t it?’
‘Here you go mate’. They handed me two foil wraps containing a decent amount of powdery heroin. My heart fluttered magic butterflies all over my insides. I lost 2 pounds in weight from the relief. Now the chances of being hurt or ripped off were tiny. Spider smilingly handed me a fold-up garden chair and Alex gave me a piece of foil.
‘Can I borrow a fag mate?’I asked Semtex
‘Sure’. I took the Marlboro Light and wrapped a square of folded foil around it to make a small tube to suck the heroin smoke through. I gently tossed the fag back to Semtex,
‘Nah, keep it mate’
‘I don’t smoke’
Spider carefully returned the fag back to the packet
‘We got one for you here Semtex’ said Nancy
‘Ah cheers mate’
‘No worries, we all look after each other don’t we?’ said Alex. The rest of the lump was liquidized into three syringes. Semtex took his into another room. Being twice the age of the rest of us, he probably needed to contort himself into a naked position to reach, probably, one of 2 usable veins in his body. Alex and Nancy loosened their trousers and injected themselves in their femoral veins where their groin meets the top of their legs. I turned away so I didn’t have to look at Alex’s withered body. Seeing Nicola concentrate on penetrating herself with the tiny spike aroused in me equal feelings of lust, disgust and pity. Her pale skin softly reflected light from the bare bulb in the room, in a moment, I wanted to save her. But that all faded pretty quickly as the numbing smoke reached my lungs and turned off the driving craving, the lust and anxiety. And all I felt from then on, was peace. The warm peace of a tropical beach.