By Rob Burton
Song Shau Che was desperate. He needed a fix but all the sources he knew had dried up. It had been a week now and cold turkey was starting to claw at his brain. He’d tried every alternative he knew to distract himself. Movies, reading books, even his old text books for Gods sake––but nothing scratched that itch. He knew he could go online but that was fraught with dangers too, he’d heard of people being scammed, paying for low quality, second rate product so he stayed away. Song wanted, no, he needed, the real thing.
He decided to be more pro-active and get out on the streets to search for it. He’d never had to do that before. A year ago it had been so easy. The streets were flooded with guys touting for business. Some of it low quality for sure, coming from Africa, the Philippines, even Russia. Song knew in these countries the product was never pure. Certifications of purity could be bought or forged or just not even bothered with. He’d come across too many dealers offering false hope to the unwary. Those who want to jump in feet first, giddy with their first forays into the mysteries of what was once unimaginable.
He’d heard of a bar downtown where all the dealers hung out. Song girded his loins and decided to try his luck there. He was nervous of course, he’d never been to a bar before and he’d heard that these dealer bars were the rough sorts of places his country men and women didn’t frequent unless they were criminals themselves.
Criminals. It had never occurred to him that his suppliers might be criminals. That was until about ten days ago. He'd been enjoying his thrice weekly fix at a joint downtown. It was a new place taking up two units in a large shopping mall. The introductory prices were low and that's what attracted him at first. The place also had pretty girls with long black hair and dark almond eyes dressed in that business style he liked––black pants suits and white shirts. Smart, not too casual. They'd been long time users, but you couldn't really tell. He liked how they smiled at him and helped him learn the ropes.
Some of the main dealers came and went during the day, but he was too scared to talk to them face to face. He hung at the back of the crowd listening trying to make out what they were saying so he could become a better user. He picked up some of the more useful techniques and was feeling quite pleased with himself for being so brave. And after a few days started to relax into it feeling the buzz of pleasure as he hit the right spots.
Then, one day the cops turned up and raided the place. The foreign dealers were taken away in handcuffs. Song remained transfixed to his chair as the police milled about rounding up the pretty girls and the managers herding them into an office for questioning. Another officer came and shouted at all the punters telling them to leave quickly. Song ran into the street his heart beating wildly, not sure what'd just happened and why the foreigners had been taken away.
And now here he was stood in the street watching more foreigners drinking beer at the tables outside. The weather was still cool. Song was still wearing his winter underwear, two tee shirts, a fleece and his down jacket. He was always careful, his face masked against the chill air of the evening, his grandma had taught him that breathing cold air was bad for him and he always did what grandma told him. But these people––in their short sleeved tee shirts and shorts, with strange white smoke billowing from their mouths were like aliens from another planet.
He sidled past, keeping his eyes glued to the front door, feeling so small and inconspicuous, his heart beating uncontrollably in his chest. Inside it was warmer and he risked pulling the zip of his jacket down a few inches. The place was packed with men and women. As far as he could tell they were all users, probably all dealers. He knew some users managed to hold down jobs in the local Ford and Bosch factories earning good money. They didn’t have to deal but seemed to be happy to hang out in these dive bars.
Song didn’t quite know what to do. Did you just go up to one and start talking? The very idea scared him to death. Some of these guys were big, fat and hairy, their large bellies wobbling over their belt buckles and their beards dripping wet. Others seemed to be quite low class wearing dirty, ripped jeans and their tee shirts had surely seen better days, stained and baggy. Many wore ratty baseball caps on their heads. Song couldn’t understand it.
And the women––so big. Nothing like the cute, dainty Asian girls he eyed up at the joint in the mall. Some of these foreign women had clothes so tight and short that excess skin and fat hung in rolls over their jeans waistbands. They seemed to have no shame as they rolled their heads back to laugh at something while pushing their large breasts out. Song dropped his eyes to the floor ashamed at what he was seeing.
He stood for a moment, eyes closed, wondering what to do. It was a mistake to come here. He’d never get what he wanted here. He was too small, too insignificant. They would eat him for lunch. He knew he wanted it, needed it. The desire for more burned in his stomach. It was so close, everybody in the bar was using it freely. He was confused as to why the cops seemed to be on the case. He’d heard since the raid that many more foreigners had been arrested for dispensing it illegally. He spun around and made for the door, he shouldn’t be here.
Song walked disconsolately through the dark streets of his Chinese city. He didn’t know what to do. He’d slurped miserably at a bowl of noodles looking deep into the murky soup but even that hadn’t perked him up. Perhaps he would, after all, access those websites that would provide him with some succour. But would it be the same? How could it be? It was so artificial. But now the real thing was being denied him and his dreams were fading.
He turned into an alley that led away from the 1912 area of the city where the dealers and criminals mixed. Head down he trudged though the dark shadows.
What was that? Song stopped as the strange noise bounced over the overflowing refuse bins. Was it a cat?
“Psssssst” Longer this time, more insistent.
“Hello?” Song squinted into the blackness. “Who’s there?”
The darkness moved and a pale oval face peered out at him.
“Hey.” It whispered. The voice hoarse and rough.
A frission of excitement coursed through Songs body.
“Uh.” He managed to cough out, his power of speech deserting him.
“Hey,” the pale oval spoke again, blue eyes reflected the sparse light. “Come closer.” A grey hand with long thin fingers beckoned at him.
Song stepped forward. He held his breath, hoping beyond hope.
The blue eyes glanced left and right, checking the coast was clear.
“Hey, you lookin’…” the voice paused a second. A breath was taken and exhaled softly.
The figure stepped forward into the grey light. He was tall and thin. His grimy white shirt was set off with a pink tie the knot loose at his throat. A thin raincoat hung to his knees.
Song stopped, his nerves kicked in once again. He became aware of his knees shaking. His mouth dried. He realised it didn’t matter as he had forgotten what to say.
The foreigner pulled his raincoat wide exposing the textbooks that Song loved.
“You lookin’ for an English teacher…”
Thanks to Brandon for the initial idea that made me laugh when he mentioned what getting a part time (illegal) job might become in China.