THE RED TIDE
by Nenad Pavlovic
I STOOD at the crossroads leading into the street I was born in and upon which I grew up. The neighbourhood didn’t change much since—it was still a deceivingly quaint suburbia with deep rural roots, slightly modernized by contemporary items and materials: crumbling red brick and a low forest of dried string bean stalks lay on my left, a noisy AC unit and a rusted satellite dish on a low-set roof on my right.
The asphalt was radiating heat. I heard a choir of cicadas, or maybe just imagined them. A dog started barking somewhere. I lifted my bag and marched straight on.
I felt like I was supposed to feel something. Nostalgia, bliss, dread, all of those were viable options, but none fit. I felt nothing, and walked home.
I ate my meal in quiet; the clang of the spoon and the ticking of the wall clock were the only sounds in the room. I dodged the few questions my parents asked, answering quickly, dismissively and vaguely. It wasn’t hard, as they didn’t really want to talk to me, and inquired only out of parental courtesy. They were angry and disappointed at me, because I was a bad student with a repeated year, few passed exams and low grades. The truth, still unknown to them, was actually much bleaker: I was an ex-student, with a repeated year, no passed exams, and forged grades. I was also a pothead and up to my neck in debt. But they didn’t need to know any of that, at least not yet. Questions about girlfriends and hobbies had ceased a year ago. Aging and decaying, ma and pa knew I was a failure, but they still clung to the slim hope that I might get on top one day. Me being their only child, it was the only thing that kept them going.
I never wanted to come home, but I couldn’t say no to the invitation, especially as skint as I was. Tolerating my parent for a couple of weeks was, I convinced myself, an acceptable burden to bear in exchange for the money I would get from them in the end.
The moment I was left alone, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had friends in the city, long ago, it seemed. They were still there, but they were not my friends any more. ‘No drugs, no droogs,’ was a catchphrase of one of them, which he uttered with a grin whenever we were out of weed, departing promptly. We all laughed at it every time, even though I was certain that each of us knew just how dreary it was in truth.
I didn’t really want to meet any of those people. But I did want to get stoned.
‘I’m gonna go for a walk,’ I announced and headed out.
As I was pacing towards the crossroad, two things flashed through my head. The first was a stream of memories: faded, almost unrecognizable, but undeniably happy. Memories of playing marbles in the dirt, playing hide and seek in the dusk veiled street, riding bikes under the orange flavoured sun, shooting plastic guns and shouting excitedly… The second train of thought, the one that crashed through the first one, was ‘Where I could possibly get weed in this neighbourhood?’ I knew for certain there was some to be found; even before I started smoking, I knew about some guys who were using and selling. In the end, I settled for a tried and true method of hanging around, looking as if I were waiting for someone or something, until I would be approached by a dealer.
I popped my finger joints and sweated, avoiding the looks of the curious neighbours and passerby’s. In moments like this, I had instants of clarity. Remembrance of a friend laughing at me, saying, ‘Dude, it’s just weed. It’s not coke. Would you suck dick for weed?,’ and of another, or perhaps the same one, saying, ‘Weed can be like heroin, if you let it. Same with coffee or ciggies.’ Then, I would dig deeper, trying to get to the bottom of it, how it all started. And I remembered the fun times: going out, laughing with friends, dancing, listening to music and tripping out, playing video games or watching movies, fully immersed… Somewhere along the way, that joy faded, leaving only a habit and an itch, aching to be scratched.
And like many times before, just as I was on the verge of questioning my life’s choices and perhaps even changing my routines, something happened to collapse it all. I saw someone walking from the bottom of the street. I didn’t even see who it was, but my junkie Spidey senses told me it was the person I was looking for. A minute later, I recognized the person in flowing flower patterned clothes sauntering towards me. It was Sunny, a girl good five years or more my senior. I never really knew her; I was a playmate of her kid brother’s, but I doubt I really spoke to her more than twice in my whole life. Sunny was tall, thin and boyish, with short hair and an ageless and not quite attractive but kind face.
I knew deep inside that it was no super sense, just pattern recognition. The clothes, the walk, the mannerisms; all undetectable to the straight eye, but one junkie knew another as soon as he saw him (or her).
‘Hey! Mike! Long time no see, hi! You back in town?’ she stopped to chat, noticing my gaze.
‘Yeah, you know, just for a few days.’
‘Cool! So, how are you, how are things?’
‘Good, good, you know… Listen, Sunny, can I ask you something?’
‘Sure, what do you need?’
And that was the shop question.
‘Do you know where I could get some green?’ I asked in the lowest voice manageable, looking around in the least conspicuous manner I could accomplish. There was guilt and anticipation and joy and paranoia in those words; I recognized those feelings time and again, and pushed them back as always so not to interfere or bother me. Still, this was an activity for two A.M. in a seedy part of town, not sun blasted noon on the crossroads I grew up on. I felt dirty. But that didn’t stop me.
‘Sure! Come, I’ll show you!’ she answered chipperly, and took a right.
The girl pulled a tiny mobile phone out of her pocket and made a familiar, short call, innocent enough for the normies, but clear as day for the likes of us.
‘Can I see you? Yeah, in a few. Okay, great.’ she said and hung up.
We didn’t need to walk far; the meeting place was just around the corner, in the street right next to ours. I remembered a book shop being somewhere in the vicinity when I was a boy; all of the kids used to buy each other stupid knickknacks for birthday presents there. The house Sunny led me to was the one just before where the bookstore used to be. It was a white, featureless building with walnut trees peeking over its white, featureless walls. I never knew who lived there, not even when I was little.
She rapped on the metal door and we were promptly let inside.
I found myself in a spacious room, an unused garage or workshop of sorts. Its whitewashed walls were barren, slightly dirty and pleasantly cool. The only item inside was an old, banged up desk with a sickly looking youth sitting behind it. The girl that let us in shared some of his features, hinting that they were siblings.
‘They’ll sort you out. I gotta run, bye!’ Sunny said with a smile as she slipped back outside.
I walked to the desk and placed a large banknote—all the money I got from my parents for the duration of my stay—before the greasy haired boy, and he promptly matched it with a cigarette pack cellophane bulging with dried up leaves.
Confused, or perhaps perplexed with the amount of money he received, the teen mumbled:
‘What do you want?’
‘I dunno. The best you’ve got?’
A long fingered hand snatched the cellophane pack and replaced it with another, much slicker and at least four times smaller. This one was a zip bag, adorned with a single red line, containing several dark green, rust veined nuggets.
‘It’s called ‘The Red Tide’. It’s tha bomb,’ he said with a nigh undetectable pride in his otherwise monotone voice.
‘Okay, I’ll take it.’ I answered, taking the package and turning around towards the entrance.
The girl/sister was peering through the cracked opened door.
‘Wait… just a second,’ she said to me, turning back to watch the outside.
‘There are some pigs on the street. They aren’t here for us, I’m sure, but still, wait a minute till they’ve gone, just so you don’t get paranoid.’
Seconds passed like years, and I guessed the ‘shopkeepers’ felt the same way.
‘They’re still here. You know what,’ said the girl, obviously much more extrovert and expedient than the brother, ‘this might take a while. Why don’t you go out the back door, eh? It leads into a garden, the Stefanos’ vegetable patch. Just go right through and out to the Roman street, there’s no gate on the fence.’
I played hide and seek in the Stefanos’ garden long before you were born, I scoffed, slipping through the gap of the heavy door the boy held opened for me. The door didn’t even get to close all the way when I’ve heard a terrible racket behind me.
‘GO GO GO! POLICE! ON THE FLOOR, NOW!’
Ice coursed down my spine. I kept pacing robotically forward upon the dusty soil, my chin glued to my chest and my hands down my pockets, sweaty palms clutching the tiny package. I was in a dried up cabbage patch that gave way to equally dry stalks of corn and sunflower. The shouting and commotion were disturbingly near; I expected a policeman’s rough voice, or hand, to reach out at me any second now. I was going to prison this time; I was sure of it. And my parents will know all about it. It will be the talk of the neighbourhood for months to come.
The drugs, that’s all they could have on me. I had to get rid of the stuff. But where? I could swallow it, perhaps, but… My junkie brain interfered again—that way I’d probably never get it back, not in any useful state, anyway. I could just drop it, but then they could find it and pin it on me; the plastic probably had my fingerprints on it.
Suddenly, a dubious solution emerged from the dried vegetable stalks. It was a scarecrow, an old fashioned one, made of hay and decrepit clothes. An instinct, more than an idea, flashed through my mind. I jabbed my fist into the straw man’s chest, gifting it with a boon, wrong by The Wizard of Oz lore. The straw scarecrow, with torn worker pants and a dingy blue hat, suddenly gained a heart of red veined cannabis.
Of course, it occurred to me, not even three steps later, that what I did was extremely stupid. But it was too late to go back now; what was done was done. I could still hear the shouts behind my back when I reached the gateless exit. I was now on the street. No one had grabbed me yet. I continued surely to my house, gaze forward, never once turning.
I got into the yard, the hallway, and eventually into my bed, where I spent the rest of the day staring into a book I found on a nearby shelf. It was The Jungle Book, my childhood favourite, an ancient edition, yellow with time and use. I had read it a dozen times, but now, I just gazed at words and spaces, my mind blank and paralyzed. I wondered if they would find my package. If they would find me.
The night eventually came, but I found myself unable to sleep. I was sweating and turning, my brain lashing out at memories, ideas and fantasies, gripping at each for no longer than a couple of seconds. I couldn’t even remember the last time I went to sleep straight. Then I recalled what my friend, Black Chubby, once told me about this: ‘There’s no such thing as cannabis withdrawal. If you can’t sleep without a joint, that’s a nicotine withdrawal. You really shouldn’t mix your weed with tobacco, that’s bad for ya. But if you feel restless, just have a ciggie, it will put you right at ease’. I did have a cigarette in my kit, and I trusted his experience, but somehow deep down I doubted that it would help me. After all, cigarettes were so stinky and mundane, I thought.
I got up and had a late night snack. Eventually, I fell asleep, and come morn, I woke up. No one came to get me.
The morning was crisp with the smell of rain on dust-covered asphalt. My parents were nowhere in sight, apparently away from home. I ate a simple breakfast and watched some random TV. But then I got restless.
Another thing Black Chubby used to preach about was how good it is to make occasional breaks from smoking. ‘That way, you give your brain some time to recuperate. And then it hits you much stronger. It feels like the first time again.’ The prospect of having a high like the first one was very appealing to me, and I swore that I would try it sometime, but the chance never presented itself. Now, the abstinence had forced itself to me. And it didn’t feel good.
I switched through the news of several local stations to see if there was anything about the bust in my neighbourhood from yesterday, but no station reported any such event. Encouraged by that fact, I got out.
First, I circled the block to check if the coast was clear. I saw no police, nor much of anyone else for that matter. Putting my paranoia at ease, and checking the Stefano family was either away or sleeping, I entered the garden, heading briskly towards the scarecrow. After making sure no one was watching me, I performed a quick Mortal Kombat like move, punching into the poor straw man’s chest. I expected to find nothing. Perhaps the cops saw me and picked the package up, or maybe the dogs sniffed it out, or some of the local junkies saw me, or even one of the Stefano brothers… My fingers felt the smooth plastic, and the shapes of the nuggets within. Swiftly, I ripped the bag out, stuffed it into my underpants, spun on my heels, and strode back homeward.
My head was pounding from the excitement and anticipation. I went straight upstairs and into the spare bedroom which was almost never used. I stood by a book shelf and pulled a banged up cigarette from my kit and a rolling paper from under my cell phone battery. My hands were shaking. I was just about to pick out a bud from the bag when I heard a door opening behind me. My heart skipped a beat. With a speed of a cheetah, I swept all of it into my shirt pocket.
‘What are you doing here?’ pa asked.
‘Just… checking out some books.’ I bumbled.
‘Oh. Well, get your things, we’re going to your grandparents’.’
‘Okay.’ I nodded, trying not to look too confused.
Foiled for the second time in my attempt to get high, I was now sitting in the back of my parent’s sedan, looking restlessly at the roadside. We hardly spoke all the way to the seaside, the only sound accompanying us was that of the car’s engine and the ancient rock songs from pa’s cassettes.
I had some fond memories of the times spent at my grandparents’, but I had even more of not so fond ones. For every recollection of a fun time at the beach, I had at least three of doing boring chores around the estate. There was always something to do there. And now, even long after my grandparents were dead, the situation seemed the same.
‘We’re gonna have us a cup of coffee, and then we’re heading to the store to buy some paint,’ my mom said.
‘We need you to help us paint the porch, so don’t you wander off like you always do,’ Pa added sternly.
I nodded, and then proceeded to wander off, as far from the house as possible.
I came onto on the main road, which went parallel with the local shallow brook. I walked between them for a while, and, just when I gathered that I was far enough from civilization and began producing my tools, I spotted some unlikely, familiar-looking silhouettes in the heat baked distance.
As the mass of thick blonde dreadlocks and a slickly parted black hair got nearer and away from the sun’s blaze, I was more and more sure that they were who I thought they were.
‘Geek! Salvy! Fancy meeting you here!’ I said with an honest smile on my lips.
Small explosions echoed the gorge as we slammed palms, followed with shoulder bumps.
‘What… What are you doing here?’
My old chums didn’t look that great. True enough, they hadn’t looked good in broad daylight for years now, but at this moment it seemed like there was something more that was plaguing them.
‘We’re… on leave. You know. Country side, the sea, the air… Far from the town and all that… bullshit,’ Geek sighed.
‘It got that crazy, huh?’ I inquired.
‘Man, you don’ even know… Everyone had gone insane.’
‘How’s life in the big city?’ asked the dark skinned boy with the parted hair. His nickname was Salvy, as he once smoked a ton of Salvia and almost went insane at his ex-girlfriend’s birthday party. His whole family was there, too. Among other things, he told his girlfriend’s mom to make a cup with her hands and then peed into it. In the end, he had to be rushed to the hospital. No one ever forgot that incident.
‘You know… Boring,’ I answered.
‘I’d never get bored in a city that big, there’s always some hustle there. You’re just too lethargic,’ Salvy chided.
‘I guess,’ I answered with a smile. ‘You know me.’
‘I’d DJ every day! There’s like a million clubs there. Million clubs, million chicks, two million tits, man, with so much pussy… Hah, bored! Listen to him!’
We continued walking and chatting. The expression small talk was an understatement in this case; we talked a lot, but nothing any of us had said contained any sort of real information or emotion.
‘So,’ Geek asked, ‘are we gonna light up some or what?’
This question was a test of sorts, to reveal which one of us had any weed, and was the most willing to share (or most eager to smoke). Sometimes only one of us had any, and this question was used to flush that person out. Other times, we all had some, but we were all saving it for later, for that point of the day when it was obvious that there was absolutely nothing else to do.
Now, I had some weed, and I was willing to share. I reached nonchalantly inside my jeans pocket.
The white boy with thick dreadlocks pulled down his dark shades, revealing eyebag-rimmed pupils. They were pointed at something down the road.
‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ he almost squealed.
‘What?’ I asked, spotting a black BMW rolling our way.
‘Is it him? How the fuck did he find us?’ the other boy panicked.
‘Who?’ I asked. ‘Who are you talking about?’
The person known under that shady nickname was a son of a local money man. He was a couple of years our senior, and for some reason, unfathomable to any of us, he liked to act like a small time criminal, pretending to be always hustling for money, even though everyone knew that he got it from his father.
‘He has gone right mental lately.’
‘Yeah. And we owe him money.’
‘How much could you possibly owe him that he drives all the way here to collect?’ I questioned.
‘Well, not that much!’
The car slid by our side and stopped. The tinted window rolled down with a whirring sound, revealing a wiry young man wearing black shades and a thick gold chain. He gave us a long, sham serious look, eventually stopping his gaze on me.
‘Sega Boy, that you?’ he asked, raising his shades to the top of his head.
‘Yeah, it’s me, Crowbar.’
‘Didn’t you, like, move? To the capital?’
‘Yeah. I study there. Literature. Just came for a visit.’
He nodded slowly for a second or two, all the time giving Geek and Salvy the stink eye.
‘Well, nice seeing you. As for you two…’
‘Listen, man, we’ll get your money soon. My aunt is coming to visit next weekend, and she always gives me some…’
‘Man, fuck your aunt! Now, get inside.’
My friends were reluctant, but the large man sitting next to Crowbar seemed ready to get out and persuade them.
‘We’ll get you half by Wednesday. I swear…’
‘I don’t want to hear about your fucking chickenfeed debts for a second more! Now get in! I need your help with something.’
The request sounded genuine, and the two boys got inside the black car.
‘You, Sega Boy, you from around here?’
‘Not me, but my folks are.’
‘You know where I can rent a boat round here?’
‘A boat? Yeah, sure, just go down any of the piers and ask around. I’m sure all of the folks be willing to rent you theirs. Not many tourists this year, so they might even be willing to rent it cheap.’
‘And what about a truck?’
‘Um, well, try by the sawmill. The Jorgensens own it, they’ve got a bunch of trucks. I doubt they use them all.’
Crowbar nodded, pulling his shades back on.
‘Thanks,’ he said.
‘How much is this going to take?’ Salvy asked from the back seat.
Crowbar turned his head. I expected him to bark something in the line of ‘As long as it fucking takes!’ but, instead, he just said ‘Not long.’
Then they drove off, raising a cloud of dust.
I walked some more and then turned back, moving slowly as a turtle. I could’ve rolled and smoked a joint by myself, but now I really wanted to share it with my friends. After all, they’ve said they won’t be long. And I really didn’t want to go home and slave for my parents. What was the point of fixing up a summer house all the time if you were never gonna use it anyway? Purposely, I lost track of time. I had a natural talent for it.
I walked back at a snail’s pace, looking at the silvery fish in the brook, the scuttling lizards on the hot rocks, the butterflies fluttering about. I thought about how beautiful life was even when straight, but the very next thought that followed was of how much cooler all of this would’ve been if I was high. Just as I was reaching a critical point, both on the road and in my mind, and started digging though my pockets, a large white truck stopped by my side. I recognized the man on the passenger seat.
‘Get in,’ Crowbar said.
He didn’t seem angry or hostile, so I began climbing into the cabin.
‘Around the back, in the storage unit.’
I stopped in my tracks.
‘Your mates are in there. Well, go on! I’ll be joining you in a short while. Gotta make a couple of calls first,’ he said calmly, flipping open a cell.
I walked round the back and entered the storage. It was mostly empty, apart from several overturned white plastic buckets serving as chairs. And, as Crowbar said, my mates were there, sitting on those same buckets, looking gloomy. I sat on an unoccupied bucket. Someone closed the cargo doors and the truck soon started moving again at a cruise speed.
‘Where were you?’ I inquired with genuine curiosity. ‘Where did you go? What was that whole deal, with the boats and the trucks?’
I was sure no one could hear us over the engine noise, but I still spoke with half a voice.
‘You don’t even wanna know, man,’ Geek answered.
‘Why, what did he do?’
‘He went fucking insane, that’s what he do,’ Salvy almost shouted.
‘He went to bury treasure,’ Geek mouthed, with a mocking, resigned tone in his voice.
‘Whaat??’ I squealed, not managing to hold back a smile. ‘What treasure?’
‘I don’t fucking know!’ Salvy continued. ‘He’s gone mental, I’ve told you! He took off on a boat with a big-ass metal chest, and an honest to God real old timey map. And he made us swear never to tell anyone about it, haha, can you believe it?’
‘What do you think is in the chest?’ I asked.
‘Who the fuck knows? Who cares? It certainly ain’t no treasure! Treasure, ha! He’s been doing too much speed, that Crowbar…’
The truck stopped, making us lurch into silence. A short while later, the door opened and, as promised, Crowbar entered to join us, followed by one of his goonies.
As soon as they sat themselves, the truck began rolling again.
After a minute or two of uncomfortable silence, I spoke out.
‘I hope we’re just cruising around, I need to go back to my folks sometime today.’
Crowbar just nodded his short cropped head of hair.
‘I’ll get you home, Sega Boy, don’t cha worry about it.’
More uncomfortable silence followed.
‘You know, Sega Boy, I always liked you. You always had a vision, some idea or a trip. Unlike these chuckle fucks here.’
‘That’s not fair, Crowbar,’ Salvy said, encouraged by his injured pride. ‘You know that I spin, you’ve been to my parties. After all, it was me that introduced you to…’
‘You are a fucking redneck, Salvy!’ Crowbar exploded into the black boy’s face, gnashing his teeth and stabbing his chest with a stiletto like index finger. ‘Everybody fucking hates your guts! I actually wanted to kick your ass a thousand times before, and on one occasion, I almost did, if only for the Sega Boy here,’ he said, pointing at me. ‘He saved your hide!’ And it was true, I realized, as I suddenly remembered the occasion.
We drove some more in steadily more unpleasant atmosphere. No one dared say anything.
‘Yo, got anything to smoke?’ Crowbar suddenly asked. ‘C’mon, I know you do. You junkies always got some.’
This was my time to shine, a chance to lighten up the mood, I thought. Also, I was dying for a joint at this point, and was actually hoping for him to share some.
‘I’ve got something,’ I said, in a low but cheerful voice, as I pulled a crumpled up bag from the depth of my pocket. ‘It’s called ‘The Red Tide’. It’s supposed to be pretty good.’
Crowbar, whose real name was Nico, as I suddenly recalled, took the bag from my hands. He then proceeded to take an unnecessarily large chunk of the buds and crush them over his thug’s cupped hands. Rich, diesel like smell quickly filled the cargo space.
I remember him rolling the joint. I remember it being passed around. I remember the dank, heavy, but overall pleasant smell of the weed. I remember it hitting me a bit too fast and too hard: the dryness of the mouth, the heaviness behind the eyes, the drop of blood pressure… And then…
My ears were ringing. I was sweating, walking down the motorway. I couldn’t remember how I got there. My hands were sticky. I lifted them to my face. They were coated with blood. As was my shirt, and the patches of my shorts. I didn’t know whose blood it was, but I guessed it wasn’t mine as I wasn’t in any pain. I couldn’t be certain, as I suddenly recalled an article about people not feeling their injuries after experiencing profound shock. Shock…
I turned around.
I saw the overturned white truck in a ditch a short distance behind me. It was still smoking. The door of the cargo trailer was plastered with red stains. A back wheel still turned vainly in the air.
I turned back and continued walking. Past the truck—not stopping, not even for a glance. I walked straight forward until I reached the bank of a brook. My head felt as if it was filled with dirty cotton. I crouched, washed my hands and face, and then took several big gulps of the cool water, not thinking about its purity. Then, I took off my t shirt, rinsed it a bit, turned it inside out and tied it around my waist so it would cover the stains on my jean shorts. After that, I walked straight back towards the town. I walked like an automaton, with determination and an end goal in mind, but with no clear thoughts. Not that I was capable of any, nor have I wanted them at this point.
Eventually, I reached my grandparents’ house. Sneaking into the shed, I exchanged my bloody clothes for spares—jean shorts for an old, musty pair, and the bloody t shirt for clean one—they were both black with metal band logos on them, and I was sure my parents couldn’t even tell the difference. Then, I entered the front door, acting normally—a performance I perfected many years ago.
‘Where the hell were you?’ my pa asked irately. ‘You’ve been gone the whole God damn day!’
‘Don’t shout at him,’ my ma interceded.
‘And why not? Why shouldn’t I shout? Whenever there’s work to do, he disappears! Can you at least tell me where you were?’
‘I went for a walk, okay?’ I answered.
‘For a walk, hah! Where?’
‘Up the mountain side!’ I lied purposely, to place myself as far as possible from whatever happened down the road. ‘It’s so pretty up there,’ I added, knowing it would sell the lie more easily.
‘I told you not to wander off,’ pa grumbled, but ma took him by the hand, the act of which immediately disarmed him.
‘Go wash up, we’re about to have dinner,’ ma said.
‘I already did,’ I answered as a dropped on a wooden chair, genuinely exhausted and starved.
Ma patted my head and proceeded to serve dinner. After I stuffed myself, we were getting ready to leave.
‘We’ll take the mountain road. You’re right, it is more scenic, especially this time of the year,’ pa said, and I was so glad, not because I really cared about nature’s splendours, but because it meant we wouldn’t drive pass Crowbar’s truck and whatever was in it.
We drove back in silence. My ma and my pa talked some, but I didn’t follow, answering only when I was directly spoken to. I was stoned and in shock, and I remained in that state all the way until I got into bed, feeling protected by its cocoon effect.
The next day I woke up feeling somewhat better. It seemed that, while I was asleep, some part of my mind had decided just not to care about all that had happened the previous day. It was a defence mechanism—a very unhealthy one at that—and I was aware of it, but it was easier to just go on with my life than to pick at that sore spot. I did wince though when I saw the overturned truck on the TV.
‘Look!’ ma tsked, pointing at the screen. ‘Just a couple of miles from the summer house!’
‘God damn!’ pa stared. ‘What are they saying, what happened? They were drunk, I’ll bet. Everyone’s driving drunk these days. God damn irresponsible… Where’s the remote? I wanna turn it up!’
By the time they found the remote, the meteorologist girl was already giving the weather.
‘Damn. Hey, did you see anything? You were out on a walk about that time, did you see the crash?’
‘No pa, I went the other side, remember?’ I answered with an inner shudder.
‘You could’ve seen the road from up there…’
‘I was by the sea side.’
Pa nodded and spun, trying to remember where he was headed before the TV interrupted him.
‘Bring me the washbasin!’ ma yelled to jog his memory.
‘All right, all right, I was on my way. The blue one or the pink one?’
I went back into my room, unfazed by the news. In fact, I felt weirdly fine. Calm, freed. I knew that after all of this I wasn’t going to think about weed and anything related to it for some time, possibly forever. And, who knows, I might even finish my studies! At that moment, I wanted to go out. Go out and do something fun and positive. I pulled out my cellphone and scrolled through the names, many of which were dealers filed as ‘Aunt May,’ ‘Dentist’ or ‘Copy house’. Suddenly, I spotted one name that made my eyes glaze over.
It was a contact of an old, dear friend, a pre marihuana friend. I pressed the dial button immediately.
‘Hey, Alex… Yeah, it’s me… A couple of days ago. Yeah. Yeah. Hey, listen, what do you say we meet up some place, have a cup of coffee and reminiscence, you know? Sure! Sure… I remember! How could I forget! Yeah. Okay, see ya there at five. Bye!’
That was Alexander, Alex for short, my one time best friend, from that weird period between junior high and high school, when video games were still the most important thing in our lives, but also when we began turning our heads for fluttering skirts and tight tights. We met in a private Spanish course, which my pa forced me to take when I definitely said no to violin practice. It turned out to be very fun: we had a hot teacher, I met some girls, learned some Spanish, and acquired some very good friends, of which Alex was the best. After class, we used to go to his pa’s office, which was in the same small mall as the Spanish course, chug soda and play video games on his father’s PC until my pa would ring to ask me where the hell I was.
It only made sense to meet up there again. I felt actually giddy taking the bus uptown.
None of us drank soda any more, but we had quite a lot to talk about, not only the past, but normal, everyday things, such as hobbies, music and TV shows. Nothing drug related, which was a welcome change.
‘This place hasn’t changed a bit,’ I said, looking around the small, dusty office, overflowing with crumbling paper stacks.
‘Yeah,’ answered the tall, black haired youth. ‘Dad doesn’t like change. He works a lot more from home recently, though.’
My eyes went towards the grey monstrosity sitting on the far end of the table.
‘Does this thing still work?’
Alex answered with a big, white smile.
‘What do you think? Of course it works! Dad still uses it for business.’
‘But it’s ancient!’ I exclaimed in disbelief.
‘What can I tell you, he really doesn’t like change.’
After a moment of silence, I took a sip of cold instant coffee from my paper cup and asked.
‘Hey, do you remember how we used to play Pinball Fantasies on that thing?’
‘I sure do! Wanna play some now?’
‘What? You still have it installed?’
‘Sure! I’ve also got Prince of Persia, Commander Keen, Cisco Heat…’
The old dusty PC did indeed work, and we mashed the wonky plastic keys for hours on, talking and laughing. I was transported into my childhood again. Everything that had happened afterwards disappeared, as if it had never happened. My ‘new friends,’ the weed days, the failed studies, even the horrific and unclear events of yesterday became like bad dreams in my mind, something to be forgotten and discarded. I was still aware, even more so than before, that I was in objective danger: there could be my fingerprints, or even worse, my DNA, all over that disaster truck. I was never one to fall for such things as faith or superstition, but now I also felt an irrational, almost supernatural feeling that I could make all of that go away just by the power of positive thought.
After we had turned the ancient 286 off, we continued talking over one more cup of coffee.
‘I gotta take a leak, be right back,’ Alex said, interrupting our chuckle fest.
I affirmed with a mumbled okay and then proceeded to entertain myself with the stuff I’ve found on the table. There were old newspapers and magazines there, coffee stained reports, sheets of paper with illegible notes, and a whole heap of business cards of all sorts, colours and shapes. I began shuffling through them, admiring the diversity of design, when my gaze fell onto one particular card. It held only a telephone number, a thin cardinal line, and three words: ‘The Red Tide’. All my positivity evaporated on the spot.
Suddenly, I felt cold.
I heard a flush and Alex emerged from the tiny bathroom in the corner.
‘Sorry I took so long, all that coffee gave me the runs.’
Slowly, I stood up and lifted the inconspicuous business card into the air with both hands.
‘Alex, what is this?’
He leaned his body downward to get his head into the height of my outstretched hands, so much taller was he, and squinted.
‘Mmm… Dunno,’ he said, straightening himself disinterestedly.
‘Whose card is it?’ I persisted.
‘How should I know? My dad’s a lawyer, can you imagine how many people come through this office every day? And that card could’ve been there for years as far as I know. Why, what’s so special about it?’
‘I gotta go. And I gotta take it with me,’ I said, feeling as if all of my blood had left my body.
‘Erm, okay. I guess. If you gotta go, you gotta go.’ He shrugged, looking slightly perplexed.
There was none of our usual long goodbyes in which we would small talk for hours. I stormed out of the cramped office and then out of the small, now eerily empty mall, into the dirty night of the boulevard.
I acted like a man possessed, clutching the business card in my pocket, squeezing it like I wanted to punish it. I stopped under a high lamppost. Even though all of my senses and reasons told me to just rip the damn card into pieces and throw it in the gutter, I couldn’t resist it. I took out the cardboard rectangle beneath the streetlight and dialled the number written on it.
The dial tone sounded two times. I took in a heavy breath and exhaled it shakily. I was hoping that nobody would answer; it was, after all, a silly, unreasonable notion, and it was pretty late…
Someone picked up. What I first heard was a sort of buzzing sound, like from a broken light fixture, or a faulty refrigerator. Or perhaps a distant low flying plane. It made my flesh crawl.
‘Mister Snyder…’ spoke the voice on the other side. It was a male voice, older, but not decrepit. ‘Sly’ was the adjective that popped into my mind. ‘Sinister.’
‘How… How do you know my name?’ I stuttered, my jaw chattered as from frost, even though it was an overly hot and humid night.
‘I know all about you, Mister Snyder.’
‘Who are you?’ I asked, my voice still quivering.
‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say that I represent the one you persistently look for.’
Suffocating silence followed, mired in more of that low buzzing sound.
‘So, what now?’ I asked. ‘When… When will this all end?’
I don’t know why I asked this particular question. It just seemed right. I could almost feel the person on the other end of the line smiling.
‘End? But, Mister Snyder… It has only just begun.’