(I wrote this text for Revista de povestiri’s workshop in Vama Veche. The exercise Dan Coman proposed was for us to read The Beach by Roberto Bolaño and tell the story from another character’s perspective:)
Only 3.4% of heroin addicts recover as part of their methadone treatment. This means 1 out of the 30 people we treat every day at the outpatient.
The other nurses bet on who the lucky patient will be. The teenagers whose families bring them early in the morning have the biggest share. All, except for Vladut. Doctors say anyone would do drugs with a mother heroine like his. Sometimes I think she only comes with him to the outpatient to complain about the boy. She sometimes keeps us from doing our duties to tell us how he’s no good, despire all her sacrifices.
The Russian girls come at around 11 o’clock. I understood they have been coming for a few years, they are ‘hardened’ so it’s against the rules to bet on one of them. They shamelessly flirt with the 2 male nurses in the outpatient. Mihai never flirts back when I am around. Adrian keeps talking to them until we get the wave of patients. Adult men and women make up most of the group. One of the richer women, whom we treat in private, has a disturbed menstrual cycle. If she sits, she gets hemorrhagic. She sleeps with adult pampers on, even though she is not 40 yet. She jokes around that this would be fashionable in Japan, where she heard women wear diapers out of laziness to go to the bathroom.
They also bet on those with small children or pregnant wives, given the success example of Gheorghita. He came to us shortly after he heard he was expecting a child and neither did he relapse, nor start drinking. His little boy is now a few months’ old and he is really cute.
It’s 12. I should go to lunch. Surely Mihai will not mind covering for me. A young man shaking like a leaf comes in.
– This one’s new, the doctor says and nurses are starting to weigh his chances. You can tell he works out by the pecs showing through his T-shirt even though he has a slight scoliosis. His physical shape is exceptional. That’s a plus. He is unaccompanied, though, which disconcerts even the most daring. His eyes are red, his face is a little swollen and the corners of his mouth are falling.
I call him to the front of the line. When he walks, it seems as if he is saving his movements. He remains silent during the testing. He swallows the methadone with difficulty. For the first time, he looks up at me and nods.
-You’re welcome, I go, then I feel stupid to have answered a ‘thank you’ that never came.
He comes regularly for 2 weeks, shaking less and less. Sometimes, he closes his eyes in satisfaction when he drinks his little glass. I am used to greeting him with head movement. Soon, he will be out of the critical period. Nurses are more and more lenient towards him. I wonder if I could wear a dress under my robe starting next week.
On Monday, at 12, I put on lipstick. The nurse on duty lets me know that ‘my poet came’. This is what we call him. He is only wearing a bathing suit. He whispers ‘hello’ to a few people from the line. He sits and pauses in between 2 methadone sips. I am waiting to pick up the little glass from the counter, as usual, but he offers it to me. His hand is warm. He looks me straight in the eyes, articulates a ‘thank you’, then gets up in an ungainly manner.
Every day that goes by, his increasingly visible tan shows off his green eyes, as transparent as old beer bottles. Other 2 weeks pass, until one day, when he stops coming. Around 2, Mihai says that maybe he went and drowned himself, and the others agree that he looked depressed.
Why would they all say that? He seemed to have it going so well. I drop a methadone glass that spills all over the floor, I cannot manage to draw blood from a child, until the doctor tells me to take the rest of the after-noon off. I go to the Seaport. You can see the whole beach from over there. Even though it is warm, there is only one person swimming. Close to the buoy, he is chaotically waving his hands. I run on the stairs that lead to the beach.
When I reach the sand, he gets out of the sea. He is breathing heavily and shaking as badly as the first time I saw him. There are people who relapse every season. He covers his face with his hands. I wish I could go hug him, but there is nothing anyone can do for him now.
The second day, at the outpatient, you cannot guess his eye color anymore. He quietly drinks his methadone and leaves. Mihai looks at him in perplexity.
– What’s the minimum I can bet on the poet?
^ The picture is from Mihaela Nitulescu’s portfolio, see more on her facebook.