Written by Otis Shaw
I remember the smell of piss stained carpets, broken lifts in Mile End, squat parties in Hackney and cheap Morrocan dope. I remember time standing still – eternal youth and nihilistic summers. I remember the pain.
Her wry smile seemed to collectively sum up the desperation of our drug dependency. It had been a long week, no-one was making anything nearly close enough to score for a household of crack fiends. Camden was turning into a yuppie cesspit along with its MTV headquarters, upgraded canal front, wine bars and superstar DJs – no place for strung out junkies looking for their next fix. We had begged, swindled, stole and scraped together no more than one hundred pound for this evenings pleasure. I had done the usual handbag sweep along the canal and into the Stables Market at the end of Camden High Street. Roxy, a tall unshaved, washed-up hippie, was a master at intercepting young public school boys out to score a bag of weed. A bag of oregano is not what they had bargained for but when your fifteen and shitting your pants … who cares? Fear is an ideal playground in which one can develop the artful craft of stealing from the upper class. Otter, our resident anarchist worked in and around the t-shirt stalls, brushing past Sunday shoppers and dipping their pockets before disappearing into the heaving crowds. Jane in her slender pale figure, blue denim jeans and soft but aged white cardigan, seduced middle-aged business men in The Fox and Hound until their guard was down. She would make off with their card, pin number and details of their predictably doomed marriage or Barbie doll love affair; ample ammunition should things ever get out off hand. How does one explain fingering a blonde junkie in the toilets of The Fox and Hound to the wife?
Roxy had taken at least two hours to procure the medicine from a courier on Holloway Road. His excuse being that the kid got lost somewhere between Mile End and Camden. Bullshit. We all knew how the game was played. There was always time to smoke a quick rock in a stairwell or in the back of a burnt out Fiesta, before returning to the three hungry little pigs. A cold sweat was running down my back- another bleak reminder that we were all dependent on crack cocaine – some more than others. Roxy put on a stirling performance in order to convince his flock of worshippers that he too felt the same pain as his fellow addicts. He played with us just long enough to let us know he was holding all the cards. Jane had her pipe ready and politely made space on the sofa for Roxy, ‘ Never mind, sit down … you must be shattered.’ Manners go along way in the queue for freebasing. A collective mindset prayed to the one God; ammonia based and ceremoniously smoked on a bed of ash in order to capture every wisp of chemical bliss. Jim Jones had brought home the Kool-Aid and we were all willing to take his poison.
She went first, she always did. The sweat dried up instantly upon seeing the small black balloon containing euphoria and yet eternal suffering. Jane knew all about suffering – her sister was killed in a motorcycle accident when she was thirteen, hopefully sparing her from the long weekends at Grandpa’s house were fellatio took priority behind closed doors. Her daily anticipation for a hit served as a replacement for her love lost. Freddy Fresh and Roxy had both tried to break through Jane’s reinforced exterior without success. Over the years her pain had turned to a cancerous black stone and her heart was eventually welded shut. I had considered making the effort to council Jane over her sister’s death and her Grandfathers abuse but our habit always came first and her mental state?
Freddy was a force to be reckoned with: an insatiable hunger for drugs and a face that could charm the pants of a Jewish princess. He became a valuable asset in the squat. Although prone to nodding off at the grill and setting fire to the kitchen, his rapping skills and attempts to bed more ladies than Bob Marley always brightened up a long day. He was one of the many illegal immigrants that had overstayed his welcome and until the authorities caught up with him, had no plans to return to an HIV ridden, violent and corrupt Africa. Freddy’s drug-induced fantasies included spit roasting Jane with Roxy and starring in his own pornographic movies with various women. His suggestion of primal debauchery usually ended with Jane throwing our collection of second-hand plates in his direction. ‘It’s all in the hips’ Freddy explained laughing as he narrowly avoided another Charles and Diana silver jubilee dining plate.
Out of this monopoly of misfits, I was just a drifter, neither here nor there. I lived for the moment. My interests in women had long died off with the habit, as if there was ever any time for bodily fluids between robbing Camden Town, scoring drugs and the inevitable withdrawals. My diary was full and as long as the rocks kept falling, I had no immediate plans to move on. Besides, she needed me. I couldn’t turn my back on her in case Fresh made a move. As innocent as he played himself, he was one of the rare species of junky whose libido never died. The horn was always on and in Freddy’s case you were just a piece of meat for the taking. I hated him for that.
We woke on Sunday morning to screams from Jane. She had possibly been screaming for hours. I emerged at the same time as Freddy. Both still in an opiate haze from the Valium we had scored the night before, nothing seemed real. I had awoken to a nightmare. Jane stood at the back door leading to the small outhouse where Roxy had pitched up early last year. There was no sign of Roxy and considering the level of screaming and hysteria, I knew something was very wrong. I ran into Roxy’s room to see a cold stiff body hanging from the ceiling. He was dead. Roxy was dead. I felt sick and throw up all over the old rug Roxy had used as a makeshift door. This was bad. Really fucking bad. I had never seen a dead person before – the shock outweighed any sign of human emotion. What the fuck do you do? Do we call the cops? Cut down the body? I turned to see Freddy run out the front door. He knew the inevitable would happen and the last person Freddy wanted to see was the police. I made a move to grab him, stop him from leaving the chaos behind, but it was too late. He was already halfway down the street. Roxy’s skin was a pale green like milk that had lain in a cupboard for weeks. His eyes were open as if he was searching for a reason to live in this dark, sorry existence. He must have been dead for days. I kept on thinking why Roxy? No one can really explain the actions of a desperate man. Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead and my face was ashen white. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife.