by Martin James Hunter
Unflagging consumerism barely contained within its district. Cameras to ensure purchases are made under constant scrutiny. Clusters of polystyrene hanging from strained wrists. In the proximity of the crowd, glances come only from the immediately close; a shopper taken aback at the last minute as we pass another. A beggar amid his kind – but why? Surely this is only a place for those with money to spend.
Under a bench there is a discovery to be made. A half-full bottle of Buckfast on its side offering solace from the hysteria. After a brief assessment I deem it worth the risk. Shoppers stream past in oblivious waves as I take a seat, lost to their objectives. Just another beggar having a rest. The chain of traffic ahead pauses. A mitotic family observing me from their six-seater as though this were part of an urban safari park. Tiny hands waving.
I finish it in an alleyway in three unpleasant swallows. Some goes down the wrong way. My eyes water in response, blurring a grubby fire exit. Then comes the warmth, spreading from my chest and rolling upwards. I emerge back onto the street wanting more.
When no one is looking I stash my bedding in a thicket in the centre of town. At night it is easier to blend in without it. Disinterested bouncers wave me into their establishment and almost immediately I acquire close to an entire pint. As the flat liquid passes my lips I examine my surroundings. A drunk holding a smattering of change inches from his face. Beautiful girls around a table like an arrangement of flowers. Two foreigners taking a seat beside me. They introduce themselves and then we are conversing. As I finish off my drink mid-anecdote I notice another on the table to my right.
Such a small club. Just a large room with a bar really. Same place I met the porcelain doll a few weeks back, though all it carries now is her memory. Dead ahead a DJ bobs aggressively over his machines, blasting house music at deafening levels through a low-quality sound system. The girls dressed for summer don’t seem to mind, mouthing to and writhing against another as shadowed males sip their drinks and hungrily observe. From a forgotten corner an old fog machine hisses and gives birth to a tired smoke ring. It drifts into the crowd and silently collides with a man in a long jacket who appears to be selling pills. Amid all this excitement and in the darkness I am just another punter. There is an aisle of unattended drinks by the door.
In the smoking area under a vast Tudor bridge I make a cigarette and recount my adventures to an aisle of swinging jaws. They listen in astonishment as I talk between puffs of smoke, occasionally pausing for dramatic effect. Their shock as I describe being woken up by the little girl, immediately followed by an excitable question and answer session. One of them suggests that I could be a real beggar which I choose not to deny. A police car passes diverting their attention, and I am again left standing alone.
Before I know it the club is closed and we are being ushered out. A bouncer nodding gravely as I pass. Clumps of students obstruct the road like liberated cattle, incinerating cigarettes and absorbing the last of the night’s raillery. A Toyota impatiently sounding its horn. As I emerge stumbling from the drunken mob a familiar voice calls me back. I turn. Eyes alive with chemicals, grin almost exceeding the boundaries of his face. Cosmonaut – an American the porcelain doll introduced me to a few weeks back. He thumbs in the direction of north, away from my bedding. You wanna come to a party?
As we make our way across vast tracts of concrete he passes me a nasal spray. Without much consideration I send two bursts up my nostril which come back down my throat in sweet hues. I swallow and a warmth grows in my chest similar to MDMA but more gentle. I ask its name and he says 25i-NBOMe. Rolls off the tongue. A new psychedelic banned for production and sale but legal to possess. Eventually our destination rolls into sight – a mossy stairway leading into a block of flats. The chemical carries me upwards with little effort.
The Dirty Dozen
A ceiling barely above our heads. Tiny windows without much purpose. In the centre of the room a small table filled to the brim with tumblers and empty wine bottles – a monument to a time when alcohol ran aplenty. Among the dozen or so of us here are two Frenchmen loudly experiencing the peak effects of the drug, a French girl who looks like Helena Bonham Carter, Cosmonaut and his girlfriend sharing a duvet on the couch, a quiet nutritionist with blonde hair, two nervous Spaniards perched like crows on a telephone wire, and a Machine and his girlfriend. Machine has on a long mask like Zorro and is apologising to the Spaniards. Apparently there was an alteration in the taxi on the way here. Despite accepting his redress they still seem uncomfortable, and gazing at his enormous arm I’m not surprised. A crimson bra draped over the couch behind them.
Minor hallucinations linger in my peripheral vision. Nothing yet worthy of a heart attack or even slight concern, just vague amusement. Cosmonaut and the French are hooting with delight at something. Helena on her back cackling the loudest. Machine dancing with a long scarf, great arms drawing it over his shoulders as though drying off. Someone asks me what I do and I say journalist with the confidence of a man who is actually paid to write. My big toe protruding from its sock. Joyful music in the air at a respectable volume. Then I realise the two girls in the poster behind the nutritionist are really kissing. Hands travelling over another’s bodies in smeared tracers, a slideshow languidly blended together. A box of chocolates being passed around. I try one and am disappointed by how ordinary it tastes.
The Spaniards finally get up to leave; turns out Machine is an ultimate fighter. He’s pointing to a poster behind me and expressing admiration for its subject – Mohammed Ali towering over a fallen opponent. He removes a short sword from the wall and unsheathes it. Acute metal throwing a spear of light across the room. There is a flash as a digital camera immortalises the image. Then the weapon is back in its scabbard and Machine is dancing again. I release a slow breath of relief and shuffle along the sofa away from the scene right onto a laptop. The music abruptly stops leaving us in silence, a tense few seconds drawing the room’s attention to my error. Apologising, I take a seat on the floor. Three guesses who it belongs to.
Machine isn’t too happy with the incident. Describing me in less-than-pleasant adjectives in a volume that suggests he isn’t too bothered I hear. I avoid his eyes as one does when faced with a threatening animal, wishing I had a hunk of red meat to offer as tribute. All I want is to love and be loved – what have I gotten myself into this time? Am I to suffer the same fate as the Spaniards? Where even are we?
My attempts at taking notes are met with difficulty, the chemical appearing to prohibit my wrist from recording much detail. Or perhaps it is because Machine has moved onto ridiculing my notebook, unaware that he is hampering creativity under quantum law. Either way it would seem I’m next on his indiscriminate hit list. Helena is in hysterics, seemingly amused by my impending doom. I glance at her and am taken aback. Caustic smog seeping from her skin in black wisps. Her face a pained mask, creased and malevolent like something from a grim fairytale. She is the only person in the room whose appearance has changed under the conditions of the psychedelic.
I take my eyes from her, focusing on the matter at hand. No one steps in to defend me from Machine; no one even knows me. Deciding that it is time to take matters into my own hands I get up, cross the room past bemused expressions, and take a seat beside the beast.