ENRIQUE WOKE IN A CLOUD. Not so much a cloud, more a mist. But it wasn’t a mist either. A blur would better describe it. He could hardly remember a time when he hadn’t woken into a blur. He knew he’d been dreaming, but not what he’d been dreaming. Even his dreams had become blurs. He couldn’t recall a single detail. Inma had read somewhere that interpreting dreams improved couples’ sex lives. So he’d promised to write them down the moment he woke. Yet, when it came to it, he couldn’t retain them long enough. She’d be sure to ask when she came round that evening. He’d have to invent one.
Reaching for the tobacco pouch he kept by his bedside, he rolled a cigarette. Today, he would get things done. It was time to do things. There were so many things to do. But first, he needed coffee, and a joint. Though he’d also promised Inma not to smoke dope before evening, one little spliff wouldn’t hurt. He’d be able to face his tasks all the better for it. She should be thankful that he didn’t drink. Yet women were rarely satisfied. No sooner had they ensnared their man than they wanted to mould him into someone else.
Enrique slipped from his bed and went over to the kitchen stove. He’d moved a bed downstairs for the nights Inma wasn’t staying. Apart from the extra warmth the stove provided there was the added luxury of being able to make coffee without having to tackle the stairs before he was properly awake.
Ever since she’d given up smoking dope Inma had taken to nagging at him to stop as well. Moreover, her sermons were developing a distinctly puritanical streak. There was nothing worse than the newly enlightened. Not satisfied with seeing the light herself, Inma saw it as her mission to convert Enrique. If it didn’t count as religion itself, it was almost as bad. To Enrique’s mind her dramatic Saul/Paul conversion only possessed a sinister side. Where she saw light he saw creeping shadows. More blurs. Smoking harmed nobody. He filled an enamel pot with water and lit the hob. People should mind their own business.
Feeling for the small box he kept behind a jam jar on the shelf above the sink he peered inside. A small crumb of blackish-brown. Used very sparingly there might be enough for a couple of days. If only he hadn’t used so much when he first bought it. Then he always did. He always loaded joints with the drug, thinking he would get even higher. But you couldn’t. It wasn’t like drinking; the more you smoked didn’t necessarily mean the higher you got. Sometimes, it had the opposite effect.
After carefully arranging large pinch of tobacco from his pouch along a cigarette paper lined up on the table, Enrique flicked his lighter several times to no avail. He flicked again. Guiding the fragile flame to the crumb of hash, he held gripped between thumb and forefinger, he passed it beneath a couple of times. The flame died. He cursed. Shaking the lighter, he flicked it again and again, cursing each time till a weary flame caught. That’s another thing he had to do; fill his lighter. The secret with hash was to warm it gently, teasing out a bit of smoke without allowing it to burn. Allow it to burn and you wasted it. But the piece he’d bought from an Argentinian he met in the pueblo was too oily; too sticky, it didn’t crumble. Removing the pinch of tobacco from the paper he lay it onto his palm. He would have to work the sticky mess into the tangled strands. Too much oil, that was definitely the problem; they wouldn’t mix properly. Enrique shook his head. He’d be lucky to get two smokes out of what was left, and he didn’t have money to buy more. He lay the mixture back onto the paper and took it up with both hands. After rolling, licking, and sticking, he set the completed joint on the bedside table, not wanting to light it before that first sip of coffee. It was his morning ritual; the way he always did it. Coffee and a joint; the same for years. He needed them just to get going. He licked his thumb and forefinger of the black stain the hash had left. No need to waste it. Most people didn’t know what they were doing when they bought drugs, yet all claimed to be experts. They thought the oilier the better, so the drug dealers added oil. Yet it wasn’t always the case. Different growing conditions imbued the cannabis plant with different qualities. It was a sin to interfere with its natural properties. It didn’t matter how strong the resultant resin was if it didn’t smoke properly, and that meant evenly.
The coffee pot having boiled he removed it from the hob. Man had been using drugs since time immemorial. He poured coffee into a mug followed by two heaped spoonfuls of sugar. For energy, he needed sugar for energy. Enrique sat down on his bed. He needed energy all right. He had only made a cup of coffee and rolled a joint yet already he felt tired enough to curl back beneath the sheets.
A quick sip of scalding coffee, and he lit the joint. The first toke, like warm milk soothing the delicate membranes. Inhaling deeply, he allowed the smoke to fill his lungs. Then he started to cough.
Enrique raised his feet onto the unmade bed and rested his head on the pillow. He had promised Inma he would . . . what had he promised? He had promised her that he would do something. It was the only way to stop her grumbling. He took a second, deeper deep drag. The smoke scorching his lungs he suffered a cough fit again and had to gob into the sink. Better out than in, by the look of it. It was always the same with those first few draws; his lungs waking up to a brand new day, he liked to tell his friends.
The drug began to wrap him in its warmth. It was a good feeling, like anaesthetic. He worked so much better for a smoke. Such a shame he had no work to go to, but there were plenty of other things to do. If only he could remember what they were. Thinking about it, not only did he work much better, but the world in general seemed a much better place for a smoke. All he lacked was the cash for his next deal. That was what he had to do. No sense in tearing about aimlessly all day long. You had to order your priorities first. Have some sort of plan. There were ways of getting things without money. He tried to think of all the remaining dealers with whom his credit was good. There weren’t so many; not that sprang to mind immediately. When it came to it, there were none. Not one. Dealers were so greedy wanting money all the time. It led to so many misunderstandings. They lacked flexibility. Without credit the international economy would collapse. Whole nations would disappear overnight. Extended loans were the oil of industry, they kept everything afloat. They were the one sure way of expanding markets. Even the World Bank was beginning to acknowledge that debts couldn’t go on accumulating forever; that there should be a time limit after which they were deemed to have expired. Everyone knew that, except the drug dealers. They seemed to think that they could go on demanding money until you were dead. And after.
But there was one. Pedro. There was always Pedro. Although his hash wasn’t very good, and expensive for the pathetic size of the deals, Pedro didn’t demand payment straightaway. Enrique tried to recollect if he’d paid him for the last deal. It was such a long time ago the debt must either have lapsed, or been forgotten in the way of things. Yet there was a chance Pedro might remember. The last thing Enrique needed was to be reminded of another debt; that was the sort of thing he smoked in order to forget. And Pedro possessed a violent streak.
He sighed a deep breath. Breathing, it was funny how you never forgot how to do it. Right from the very first breath you took. Without ever having to think about it, you breathed. Whether you were awake or sleeping, conscious or unconscious, in out, in out, all day long. Enrique breathed long breaths. But what would happen if you did forget? What if your mind stopped your lungs from breathing one day? All of a sudden they packed up, finally deciding it wasn’t worth the effort.
Enrique stopped breathing. Those first few seconds felt good, very good. He wondered how long he could keep it up. A few seconds more and it occurred he might not need oxygen at all. Perhaps he never had. Some strange genetic quirk, scientists discover new ones every day. He pictured the newspaper headlines. He would gain a certain celebrity. There would be breakfast TV appearances, world tours, things like that. They would sink him beneath the sea in airless chambers, and bury him alive for weeks. And there would be money, lots of money.
Then, all at once, he craved oxygen like he never craved it before. His lungs were starved of it. He would die if they didn’t get some straightaway. In a panic he gulped several short breaths in quick succession, each breath more deliberate than the one preceding it. He had to think about every single one in order to draw breath at all. In his vision of triumph he’d forgotten how to breathe without conscious thought. He told himself not to panic; everyone can breathe. The thing to do was get back to the stage where he didn’t have to think about the process. But then he might stop breathing altogether. It was a crisis. He’d lost the ability to breathe naturally. He sniffed to check that his nose was working. It was. Thank God for that! He laughed at his stupidity. At least he had a back-up. It was like an emergency generator kicking into action. With that one act he could almost breathe normally again. But trying to stop his mind thinking about breathing altogether only meant he thought about it even more. The word breathe interrupted all other thoughts. It stood impressed on his mind in large letters.
Enrique was still steeling his mind against thinking about breathing when his nose detected a nasty smell. He glanced around the room to see where it might be coming from. Beneath the kitchen sink a bin was overflowing. It wanted emptying. The sink itself stood piled with greasy pots and pans. They wanted washing. Discarded clothes lay strewn on furniture and floor. They wanted tidying. But all that could wait until tomorrow. There were more important issues at hand. If only he could remember what they were. He would have to see Pedro; that was certain. Even if he didn’t lay any dope on him there was always the chance of a puff or two. The thought of being without hashish was a worry to him. He could live without it, of course, that wasn’t the problem. After all, it wasn’t as if he was addicted to the stuff. You couldn’t get addicted to cannabis the same way you could to heroin and alcohol. Nevertheless, it was nice to know that you had some to wake up to each morning. And to help you sleep at night.
Pedro spent his nights floating around the bars of Santa Catalina selling underweight deals to those who didn’t know any better. He was rarely in bed before dawn, not rising until late afternoon. Enrique would have to wait until then. Why were dealers always so lazy? They never appeared to give a thought to the needs of their customers.
To recurring visions of Pedro, Enrique felt a rush of fear. His entire body tingled with it. What if he did owe Pedro money? Only that he’d once set about a reluctant debtor with a crowbar, that was all. “From time to time it pays to advertise you’re not running a charity,” Pedro had snarled at his critics, “The occasional broken leg hobbling round the pueblo is good publicity.” Pity it was the wrong man. Pedro had shrugged off the error claiming that it was a genuine case of mistaken identity, and there had been no malice intended on his part. Whatever, it encouraged the others.
Enrique tried to remember whether he’d paid the last time he’d scored from Pedro, but couldn’t. As far as he knew, they hadn’t seen each other in weeks. And then he seemed to recall seeing him only a few nights before. He tried to think what had happened. Pedro had been loitering outside a bar. He was handing over a little wrap to a German tourist. He hadn’t mentioned anything about money on that occasion. They’d nodded the silent recognition of co-conspirators. But Pedro’s memory was as erratic as Enrique’s: that he didn’t remember then didn’t mean that he wouldn’t remember now. Of course, chances were that he didn’t owe Pedro anything. If only Enrique could remember. It was best to think of something else. Perhaps he should think of work. But how could he think of work at a time like this? He didn’t have time for work.
Suddenly, he had a bright idea: why not work for Pedro? It was brilliant. It would solve everything. Now the tourist season had started there were far too many places for Pedro to be in all at once. To maximise business he would need someone to help. Enrique was his man. It made sense. He knew the drugs scene inside out. He’d been smoking hash since he was twelve. Even Pedro would see it made sense. Once they’d sorted out the issue of any outstanding debt Enrique could begin selling for him on a regular basis. In no time at all he’d be into profit. There were fringe benefits for both parties; Pedro would have someone he could trust, and Enrique would always have something to smoke. Dealers never ran out; they always kept a secret stash for their personal use. Everybody would be happy. As soon as Pedro realised what a good worker he was he would ask him to go into business as a partner. There was a tempting thought.
Yet the more he considered it, the less the prospect appealed. Just how much was Pedro prepared to put on the table? Without adequate reward it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Enrique had debts and commitments to take into consideration. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys. If that’s what Pedro wanted. He’d have to speak to him. Besides, did he really want Pedro as a partner? No point in rushing into things. He’d have to mull it over. First off, he’d say that it might take a couple of weeks to make a final decision. If Pedro didn’t like it, he could stuff it. After all, he wasn’t the only dealer in town. No need to jump into partnership with any fly by night. Anyhow, after all was said and done, Pedro was small fry. Enrique was the man to put him straight on that. He’d emphasise just how small a fry he was by holding out a finger and thumb with the tiniest of spaces between. He’d explain how Pedro operated at the bottom of the heap, while the big profits were at the top. You had to get organised nowadays; the days of the street corner pusher were fast drawing to a close. Fierce competition was seeing to that. People bought drugs like they bought anything else: they wanted quality and dependability at a reasonable price. You had to streamline and cut costs to a minimum just in order to survive. Plus Pedro didn’t work hard enough. Enrique would have to mention that. He didn’t put the hours in. In the final analysis, Enrique wanted something better than Pedro was able to offer.
The best thing with dope was to grow your own. It was easy. All the ingredients were on your doorstep in Santa Catalina. The climate was perfect: plenty of sunshine all year round. There was hardly a month you couldn’t grow it. The soil was rich in nutrients. Beyond the pueblo there were pine trees in almost every direction. Dense forests where nobody ventured save ignorant goatherds and their goats. All you had to do was find a clearing. You planted the seeds, sat back, and watched them grow. If Pedro was too stupid to realise how it was done that was his lookout. Enrique would lay his hands on the finest skunk seeds, all the way from Holland. In no time at all he would have the best grass in town. Word would soon get round. It wouldn’t take long to save enough money from the marijuana to invest in a kilo or two of the finest Ketama from Morocco. People were prepared to pay the earth for the genuine stuff. It was like gold dust. If he confined himself to supplying only the richest clients he wouldn’t have to work so hard. He wouldn’t allow them to buy piddling little bits; they would need to buy thirty of forty grammes at a time to make it worth his while. A coded message to his phone would alert him. He could deliver by motorbike. He would need a a motorbike. And a phone.
Back to Pedro. He might have to begin by working for him after all. Enrique tried to calculate how much time it might take him to be able to afford a mobile phone and a motorbike. If he worked for Pedro. There were so many unknown factors to consider. Those aside, however long was far too long, so he gave up. Even if he could he cream a couple of euros from the top of each deal it would still take years. Better to cut Pedro out of things altogether. The man was too greedy. Far too greedy. He wanted all the profits for himself. How could anyone be expected to survive on the pittance he paid? He’d never be able to start up on his own working for such a slavedriver. Enrique began to feel hatred towards Pedro. If he begged him on bended knee he wouldn’t work for him. He would set up on his own straightaway in competition with Pedro. That would be favourite. For that he would need capital. He racked his brain, always coming back to the same solution.
Out of all the people he knew there was only one who possessed the necessary cash. Inma had a savings account at the bank. He could borrow money from her. If she knew he was going to use it set up in business she couldn’t possibly refuse. Wasn’t she constantly on at him to do something? He would be doing her a favour into the bargain. It was the answer to all their problems. Yet it raised a problem of its own at the same time. It could prove tricky telling her what sort of business it was. The best path to take would be to keep things a bit vague at first. Make it into a bit of a surprise; a mystery. Inma liked mysteries. Once she knew how much money he was making he could tell her. She’d realise what a good idea it was and praise him for his cleverness. He’d take her on holiday to Rio de Janeiro. She’d always wanted to go there. They’d stay in the swankiest hotels. Without so much as a word, he’d book first class airline seats, then toss the tickets onto her bed, casually. That would be a good time to tell her.
Enrique felt very pleased with himself. Time to celebrate with another joint. Rising up from his bed he took his little box from the shelf. Not much left. He would have to see Pedro that afternoon. Maybe he would start off working for him, after all. But what if he owed him money? Why was there some much greed in the world? All people thought about was money. It was a good thing that he had hashish to keep his mind off things. He yawned. His head so full of things he had to do he needed a nap. Best to make a fresh start next morning when his brain was clear.
Copyright © 2015 Bryan Hemming