Drugs, bats and the banyan tree

I have to call my dealer. I don’t want to but my girlfriend’s going mental. The drug’s got such a big hold on her. It’s meant to be harmless isn’t it, marijuana? But looking at her, the anger on her tiny face, the desperation with which she commands me, they’re all testament to its potency, its addictiveness, psychological or otherwise.

My dealer lives in a house on a main road so visiting him discreetly is out of the question. The house has been raided a few times, yet he’s managed to remain unscathed and continues to deal. But every time I pay him a visit I am in constant fear of who may come in through the door.

One night I was standing outside his house. He’d gone inside to get ‘a present’ and I was on the phone with my girlfriend. Two policemen on a motorbike stopped beside me. They asked me what I was doing there and cold, brittle fingers raked my heart and bowels. I managed to mumble something and began to walk slowly away from them, putting the phone in my pocket.

When I’d gone as far as home, I called my dealer and told him to come quickly and meet me at the end of the street. He came on his motorbike. I told him I was going to go to a taxi centre to get a cab and asked him to follow me to my girlfriend’s. I said I ran into some cops by way of explanation. He knows how I get.

We made the exchange once I was at my girlfriend’s, in the small garage. And when I was in our room I learnt that she’d heard the whole thing with the cops over the phone and was worried sick when I hung up on her, thinking I’d been apprehended.

So these are the conditions in which I have to operate.

Anyway, I call the guy and he does not pick up. I put the phone down and try not to think about my girlfriend who is in the toilet, smoking a furious cigarette. It’s no big deal, people go over to his place all the time, I tell myself. It’ll be over in a few minutes. Yet at the periphery of my awareness lingers a fog of abject, visceral terror.

I get a call on the phone. It’s him.

“Hey, you rang.” It was not a question as much as a statement.

“Yeah, can you get me something?”

“How much?”

“The usual.”

“Give me a call when you’re here.”

“See you in ten,” I say and put on a shirt, open the door and scurry down the stairs.

It takes me about seven minutes to reach the place on foot. I scan the area quickly before opening the narrow door, which opens into a slender corridor that’s blocked by an iron gate. Between its bars is visible a large room scattered with broken furniture. At the end of it is a dark passage. A faint, feline smell hangs in the air.

I call him and he doesn’t pick up. So I roll up a cigarette while I wait, listening to the noise of the road, still as audible as though I were outside. A small, hollow ball begins to grow in my stomach. I take my phone out and check the time. It’s been six minutes since I called him. The cigarette goes out, and I take a lighter from my pocket and try lighting up.


I drop the lighter. A man with a shaven head is grinning at the gate. It takes me a moment to recognise him.

“Man, I didn’t hear you come,” I say. He opens the gate and motions me to come in.

“Have a seat,” he says, dropping into a battered armchair. “Sorry I took so long but there was somebody near the stash. Don’t keep any in my room, you know, on principle.”

“Fine, fine.” I try lighting up my cigarette, my hands still shaky.

“Here,” he bends towards me and lights it with a flick of his Zippo while grabbing my hand with the other. A small square packet is thrust into my palm.

“It’s good stuff,” he says. “Mango. You can tell by the smell.”

His bald head glistens with sweat. A bird with bright plumage is tattooed on his scalp, its yellow beak tapering off at his forehead.

“When did you get that?”

“Last week. Do you like it?” He bows so that I can inspect it better.

“It’s nice I suppose. What sort of bird is it?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that it’s the most colourful tattoo in town.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

I take my wallet out and hand him a hundred. He pockets it and we stand up and walk towards the gate.

“We should go for a coffee sometime,” I say before we part.

“Yeah, call me.”

I open the door and look around to see if there is anything out of the ordinary but it’s just people going about their business. No cops. The walk home seems infinitely longer and more terrifying because of my knowledge that I can be stopped by the fuzz and frisked. I move with quick steps and a racing heart. There is a sharp crackle of thunder and I look up at a sky low with cloud.

When I enter our room I find my girlfriend on the bed with her laptop on her belly.

“I’ve got you something,” I say, climbing in. Her face lights up.

“Thank you. But I won’t be having any tonight, I’ve decided.”

“Well, it’s there if you change your mind.”

She puts her computer away and cuddles up to me.

“You’ve really got to take a break,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, “I intend to after I quit work.”

The hollowness in my stomach begins to contract and my eyes grow heavy. A hard rain begins to fall and my mind drifts to a far off place; a vast redbrick courtyard in whose centre stands a single banyan tree. As I approach it, a swarm of bats emerge from its foliage and flies off into the deepening twilight. I stare at them long after they are lost from view. An inexplicable sense of melancholy and loss overcomes me and with a heavy heart, I walk to the tree and sit underneath its meaty boughs, waiting for the bats to return.

Photo by dyingregime