He had that pretty boy look, beneath the grime. If he’d had a good shower, washed his jeans-hanging-moodily-below-his-bum-showing-his-boxers, had a R450 Bieberesque haircut and cleaned his finger nails, he could’ve been one of those private school boys I see being dropped off by their mommies in their gas-guzzling 4X4s each morning. But he wasn’t.
I was sitting alone in the passenger seat of the car at the garage. B had gone in to pay, leaving the driver’s side window open to petrol fumes and the lemony scent of the dishwashing liquid in the bucket next to the window – the water for washing windscreens. I smelt it as I riffled through my purse looking for change to tip the petrol attendant, my cell phone (the new one) lying quietly on my lap waiting to be put back in my bag. A clean smell.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw him swagger over. Looking up, I watched him fill his syringe with the sudsy water, squashed up bugs from trips to faraway places rushing through the needle and into the syringe. He squirted it out, shattered dreams from a different type of trip joining the bugs being forced back into the bucket. And again.
I pretended to not look, hid my phone in the door of the car, put my purse between my knees, and watched, acutely aware of the sharpness of that needle. He was completely unthreatening yet I felt threatened, not by him, but by my inability to stop him from walking away, to inject whatever noxious chemical he’d buy around the corner, along with the dishwashing liquid and squashed windscreen bugs now coating the syringe into his young veins.
As we drove away I saw him loitering outside the café waiting for whichever dealer would come by first, licking his lips with delight, swapping death for cash. The scene was watched over by the big old lady of a hospital across the road. A hospital filled with the ghosts of young boys just like him, and I wanted to scream out of my window: “Don’t do it, please. You’re beautiful, and you deserve more than this.” But I didn’t.
This morning, driving past the café, up to the big old lady of a hospital I wondered where he and his dirty, dishwashing liquid-smelling syringe spent the night last night. Winter is coming and the evenings have a decidedly biting edge to them.