I could hardly remember the days after the train station. My money, taken by Jimbo. My heart, still in the process of running. My thoughts still present in the mindset of being followed by my father. I lost a lot of built-up feelings in tequila. Like a short solution to a long-winded problem, they dissolved in the 40 percent Mexican devil’s juice. The short impressions, I did remember, however, were completely faded after only a few hours of being awake. The first clear moment I do recall was when I woke up and Ätz played on his Xbox 360. He was in the break menu of the latest FIFA version; the soundtrack was booming from the Television speakers as he was rolling a joint. We smoked. He went to bed. For a while I watched TV and in a commercial break, I fell asleep on the couch again.
When I woke up, a Chinese guy sat next to me and wolfed down his chicken sweet-sour noodle box with his chopsticks. I recognized it by its distinctive smell. I rubbed my eyes. I had hoped that, if I was ever hallucinating, it would be something more interesting than an Asian guy with a noodle box. A traditional Chinese dragon, that would have been a good hallucination. Meanwhile, the Chinese boy noticed that I had woken up and he was staring in my direction. He put the plastic chopsticks into the box, waved with his fingers awkwardly at me and shouted:
“Hey Ätz, your friend is awake.”
I stretched my arms out and the little movement reminded me of the hangover, I was currently experiencing. My skull screeched, and I immediately stopped spreading my wings when I started to feel the stinging pain in my brain.
“Do you have any paracetamol pills?”
“Hey Ätz, you got a headache pill somewhere!?” The Chinese man screamed.
“Stop screaming and eat your damn noodles. I’ll get them myself.”
The apartment was not very capacious. There was a kitchenette I could see from the couch, an extra bedroom, a bathroom and an extra room for the toilet. I crawled from the couch surface, stood up and my first attempt failed miserably. Immediately I felt dizziness in my head and sat down again on the edge of the sofa to regain strength for another try.
“Hey boy, don’t overexert yourself.” The Chinese boy said to me under his noodles.
I turned around to him and nodded. “Thanks for the advice,” I mumbled.
The slightest movement was already too much. My head hurt. I held it for a while, whilst I breathed in deeply, stood up and trying to move my body as little as possible while getting as far as I could, I was on my way to the bathroom, two steps later I noticed that I had overestimated my ability to accelerate my movement, had no time and changed course. Without consideration for my physical condition, I stormed towards the kitchen sink and threw up.
The Chinese guy laughed under his noodles and if he hadn’t swallowed them right away, I would have ripped the box out of his hand and thrown it out if the window. He coughed up the chicken meat, I puked again at the thought of his sweet and sour noodles. When Ätz finally decided to show his face. He came out of the bathroom.
“Hungry?” Ätz had asked me and pressed an aspirin from the aluminum blister into my hand. I threw up once more, spat the taste of vomit out of my mouth and when I thought to be ready to keep my guts down, I swallowed the pill with water from the tap.
“You see, I just ate,” said the Chinese man who had put his noodle box down at the table.
“Are you coming anyway?” Ätz asked.
“I could use a beer.” The Chinese man replied.
“What time is it?”, I interrupted the two. The blinds were down since I’d arrived. The only sources of light were the Television and an overhead light of which two out of four bulbs were broken.
“16:30”, the Chinese guy answered.
“You’ve been sleeping all day, Nat”
“Oh come Ätz, you’ve only been awake for an hour yourself.”
“Shut the fuck up Chang,” said Ätz and laughed.
“So your name is Chang?” I asked the Chinese boy.
“No, my real name is Alex.”
“Oh,” I said and held my head as my brain started to twitch again.
“He just doesn’t look like an Alex.”
“And that’s why you have to call me Chang?”
The Chinese guy gave the black guy the middle finger. I laughed, my head hurt even more, but I just couldn’t help myself.
“Mind if I call you Chang as well?”
“What the hell do I care? Do whatever you want.”
Chang started to sulk.
“Oh, don’t act like that, karate kid, it is an endearing nickname.”
“Yeah, yeah, fuck you. But if I call you a nigger, you immediately freak out.”
“Call me a nigger, like I care…just don’t insult me with it. You have to…mean it endearing.”
“All right, nigger, let’s have another smoke then.”
“You see, at the prospect of medicinal herbs the Chinese man suddenly turns happy in an instance”
We laughed. Ätz sat on the couch, pulled out a box underneath him and rolled a joint. I sat next to him. Kept my head still as best as I could. It got better. I had a glass of water. Silently Chang and I watched him until I remembered that I had completely forgotten to introduce myself to Chang.
“Chang”, I said, and he looked at me, “I’m Nathaniel by the way.”
“I know, Nat…you introduced yourself like two days ago.”
After I showered, we stood in the courtyard. We sat on a stone staircase up to a grassy hill, where the children played when it was a little warmer. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t smoke upstairs in the flat anymore. It was safer and wasn’t a problem before. I mean, it didn’t bother me enough to ask, but I still felt uncomfortable smoking illegal drugs right in front of the general public. I mean neighbors could snitch on us when they felt particularly morally righteous or just had a bad day. But not only because of the curious rat eyes that could potentially spot us, but the grass was also wet from the storm that raged before and because the sun had no chance to warm the stone up in the last days, the surface of stairs was fittingly cold. It was bearable as well, thanks to the clothes Ätz had given me to change. They were way too big for me. The clothes kept the warmth of the apartment encapsulated between the fabric and my skin and in order not to a degree of body temperature, I had turned over the ends. I looked like a child stuffed in his dad’s clothes, but I was a very well sheltered boy. Still, why did we have to smoke down here?
Ätz ignited the fuse that’s what we called the paper wing that is created when you twist the cigarette paper on top. I watched it burn down. He stripped the burning fuse off on the stone. As soon as it burned away Ätz lit the actual head and took a puff. My objections regarding this bad idea were made obsolete. We were bound to sit here till we inhaled the whole length. I looked around. There were two small trees on the grassy hill, otherwise, we were sitting ducks for the eyes of all the residents living in the surrounding complex, who decided to look into the inner courtyard once.
He held out the joint to me.
“Nah.” I turned him down and he passed it onto Chang without further comment.
“Puff Puff,” he said when he handed it over.
“I can’t be high all day.”
“I didn’t say anything, Nat.”
“But while we’re at it, what exactly are your plans for today?”
Chang had his two moves and gave the joint to Ätz. He smoked and waited for my answer.
“I don’t know, but…”
“This morning you did, too.”
He made his two drags on the fading joint.
“Yes, to sleep in… You may have noticed that I threw up?”
“Oh, you seem to be fine again.”
I was tired of arguing. He was right. I had nothing more to do for today.
“Give me that” I demanded.
Fortunately, many people were sitting in front of their TV at this hour until they went to bed. I took my two puffs, gave it to Chang who grinned gloatingly. I shook my head and then I saw that Ätz also grinned and I started to smile too.
“You’re such a crazy toss-toad of a pot. I know exactly what you’re doing.”
“And yet you do it.”
Ätz got it back. Two more drags. Then he laughed.
“Yes, because I want to, and you know it.”
I took it, smoked my two short puffs.
“Show me”, Ätz asked me and I held the joint to him.
“Kill it and let’s go.”
He led us down Felix Street away from house number 72 to 13. The street was something to take note of: A less than a charming bakery, a dive of a grocer who mainly sold cigarettes and booze, burgers and hotdogs, two brothels, although they were called studios and had black silhouette stickers of women in explicit poses glued to their windows. A homeless shelter and a bronze war monument of some general, surrounded by a green patch and park benches, people doodled on and carved their names into; all a few meters apart.
As we passed the statue, I looked up to the monument and noticed that someone had glued googly eyes on it. A rough-looking old man sat below it and fed pigeons with the leftovers of black bread with cheese. “Stop feeding these flying rats. They will just come back and want more.” His wife proclaimed. She was sat next to him and started to rummage in her purse whilst lecturing him.
“Is this city always like that?”, I asked my companions.
“Like what?”, Chang asked.
“What do you mean?”
In front of house number 13. There were ten chairs arranged around two tables. They looked old, worn and cheap. Ashes were scattered on the tables as the wind had distributed the content of the ashtrays close to evenly on the surface, but the light breeze could not lift the cigarette butts.
The entrance wasn’t built for men of tall stature, so Ätz had to duck slightly as we entered the building. Chang just walked through. I went in and the first thing I did was almost stumble over the steps leading down. I slid one down but luckily caught my balance on the next. I sighed out of relief, not only because nothing happened to me, neither of them had taken any notice of my clumsiness.
We sat down on a table in the back of the smoking area. Here the smoke from the room rose through a small cellar window outside. I laid my head on the table and used my arms as cushions so that I could see and hear my two companions. Ätz was sitting next to me. Chang sat across the wooden table. When he laughed, something could be seen dancing behind them, the love for life, even though the slits and his height made it hard to see when standing up. Whilst standing, Chang was more than 15 centimeters smaller than I was but sitting, I could see him properly, he had a very pronounced jaw, which sank because of his head size and only gave him big puffy cheeks. One could say he looks innocent compared Ätz. Like someone, you could trust, and that made me skeptical.
“Where is he?” Chang asked.
Ätz left the smoking area without saying a word. He left Chang alone with the corpse that was me. I tried to raise myself from my inappropriate burial ground. I couldn’t. Defeated, I dropped back into my arms, dead on the table.
“So kaput?” Chang asked me.
I lifted my head slightly, took a glance at him. I gave him no answer, but he understood. We didn’t say anything for a while. It took Ätz an unusually amount of time to get a waitress. I closed my eyes.
“What are you gonna do now?”, Chang tore me out of my dying state, I just made myself comfortable with.
“I don’t know, what do you mean?” I mumbled.
“You told me you left home without anything”
“Shit, did I?”
“Yeah, you said you were running away from yourself.”
“You don’t believe me?” I pressed my face even harder towards my left elbow and laughed, then I turned my head, so I could look at Chang with one eye.
“You do realize that we’re not in the Middle Ages anymore. You can’t go away and say: I live here now. Even if, you won’t have your peace for long. It’s the 21st century, you can’t just be nobody anywhere. Payroll accounts, insurance, payslips, car registrations, taxes, the government, the internet, e-mail, social media, mobile banking, and smartphones. You can’t stay invisible. As far as I know, you simply lack the money to be.”
“Why do you think I sit here and rack my head?”
Chang tried to respond, but before he could the door to the non-smoking area opened, Ätz came back and he broke off.
“He will be with us shortly”, said Ätz and sat down with us. He asked what we were talking about. Chang told him and he looked at me.
“So what’s your plan now, Nat?”
“I don’t know. Find a job, I guess.”
“Gonna be hard at these times,” Chang remarked.
“How hard could it be?”
“The times are rife for struggle. We’re bleeding jobs into the third world so we can get stuff cheaper that we can’t afford anyway.”
“You go a little far, don’t you think?”, Ätz asked him.
“We get the lie of outsourcing happily served up, but in reality, we are the real fucked ones in the equation.”
“Maybe so, but no Indian from Mumbai is able to fill up the shelves in the grocery store, the technology just isn’t there yet.” joked Ätz and managed to save the tense atmosphere. We laughed as tensions began to ease.
“I don’t care if I fill up shelves. Whether I stay or move on, I need money wherever I go.”
That was the end of the story. I turned my head and buried it in my elbow again. Chang talked with Ätz about what he is going to order. After he decided on something, I sat up and yawned into my hand. The Chinese man was on the lookout for the waiter and Ätz was playing with the coasters.
“So, do you have any skills or what?” Chang asked me as he narrowed down the waiter.
“Mathematics, I guess.”
“Math?” asked Ätz in surprise.
“Mhm.” they both murmured.
“Not the most sought-after skill in real life” Chang interjected.
“Yeah, no shit.”
“We can work something out with it.” Ätz grinned.
“If you say so.” Chang ended the conversation.
The door to the non-smoking area opened.
“Oi Tony!” The entrant cried out when he saw Ätz. An older Turk had joined to us in the smoking area. He wore an apron on, so I concluded that he had to be the waiter.
“Hey, Kamil. How’s your son?” Ätz asked him.
“Not up to much good as ev1er.” He answered as he did one strange gesture that I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of.
“He was bad at math, wasn’t he?”
“Amongst other things. He’s got a big exam ahead of him, but he doesn’t seem too interested in his future. School is unnecessary my good for nothing boy says.”
Kamil shook his head and muttered a few words in Turkish into his beard.
“I think Nat could help him.” He proclaimed and touched my shoulder to show me to the Turkish man.
“Sorry what?” I asked. I was perplexed whilst looking at Ätz and Kamil. Ätz didn’t seem to take any care or notice of me.
“Send him by my place tomorrow, he’ll get tutoring from my friend here. Ten euros an hour and he’s guaranteed to pass.”
Kamil looked at Ätz and grinned. “Deal. I’ll bring him to you.”
“Tomorrow, 72 Felixstrasse – Staircase 13 door 7, but I think he should still know where to find me. When it comes to the time…tell him to write to me.”
“I will tell him to.” Kamil smiled warmly.
I wanted to stifle the offer, but I didn’t get the chance to make myself heard. After the fact, it seemed too easy. Was it Ätz or was it destiny, that made it all converge? I had to ask myself that question. I still barely knew the guy. As far as I knew, he could have been a gay mass rapist who had it in for skinny weak white boys like me, and now that he got what he wanted from me in the days I lacked in memory, he decided to be nice and retaliate for the ass fucking. The fact that I could sit was only limited relief. As well as this job offer.
We ate. I got a fried egg with toast. Ätz ordered flatbread with goat cheese and drank Çay, a Turkish black tea, which he let me try. It’s generally good stuff. From there onwards I ordered it every time I was here. Chang had a beer and lamb skewers on rice. He talked with his mouth full the whole god-damned time. A grain of rice managed to splutter out from his mouth and made its way onto my cheek. Chang apologized but did not pay any more attention to his eating habits afterward.
“Didn’t you say, you don’t want anything to eat?”
When I put my cutlery down, the table was dotted with grains of rice. I thanked Ätz after dinner. We didn’t have to pay for the meal.
PART OF: TOXIC 24/7
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