Finally mum told me to get a glass of water and prop him back up, so I did, and she gave him a couple of pills. She patted his head gently and spoke to him in the maternal way that she used on me too, “These are strong painkillers. They’ll help you rest. But when you start to withdraw, I can’t really help you here.” She sounded full of regrets.
The boy’s better eye half opened and he regarded my mum for a second before turning his head to the back of the couch. I guess he didn’t want to respond to her or was simply exhausted. I put a cushion under his head, and hoped that would help him sleep. Mum took her gloves off carefully and wrapped them and the bloodied gauze carefully in a plastic bag. Mum told me to get him a duvet, so I did. The flat was surprisingly quiet. I could hear his breathing though, so low and even for now. I wanted to hold him like I did some minutes ago, to have him sleep in my lap. It was absurd but I felt I needed to be there to give him that comfort. I didn’t even know anything about him then.
Our dinner had long gone cold and neither of us had the appetite anymore. I helped mum take the dishes into our tiny kitchen. She washed up and I dried. As we did, she turned to me, “Jay. I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to stay here longer than necessary. He’s a complete stranger and a drug addict, obviously mixed up with some nasty people.” She looked really worried, her frown deepened.
I knew she had already done her best and to be honest other women would probably turn the boy away or at most call for an ambulance and police. Mum’s pretty courageous like that.
I smiled because I knew she couldn’t resist me when I did. “Let’s wait till he’s well enough. We can ask him what happened and…”
She cut me off, “It’s not our business. We shouldn’t get mixed up in it. I’m sure the boy needs help but it’s not something we can do.”
“Mum.” I flashed my big puppy eyes as she often called them. So she sighed again.
“Well. He’s not going anywhere the state he’s in. We’ll let him rest up, for now.”
After mum went to bed, I crept back into the sitting room and watched the stranger sleep. His face was almost calm and even through the bruises, I wanted to touch his cheeks. I didn’t, wouldn’t want to wake or hurt him, so after a while I went back to my room.
A few hours later, I woke to the very faint noises in the front room, the shifting of the duvet, the squeaking of the sofa. I gingerly got up and put a pair of sweats on, and went back to him. In the darkness, once my eyes got used to it, I could see that the boy was sweating, his body contorted. I imagined it was just the effect of the beating and the painkillers wearing off. I knelt over him and asked, “Hey, you need something?”
But he only pushed me away. I persisted, “I’ll get you some Paracetamol.” That I did and let him have three. He gripped his stomach and was doubled up in pain.
“Man, do you want food, may be some toasts?” I remembered now he didn’t exactly have dinner. He faced me for a second and I realised how blue his eyes were. Well, from the good eye that he could open a little, I saw the sea blue and fire, burning up, that hit me in the guts.
“Fuck off.” He said with little energy. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went back to my bedroom but I couldn’t sleep, lying awake and listening to his struggles. He fell briefly back to unconsciousness, as did I. When I heard more movements later, I got up again.
He had gotten out of the sofa and was crawling on the floor, searching for something.
“Hey, man. You shouldn’t be up.” I tried to help him sit.
“Give me my fucking clothes.” He yelled, tried to push me away but that caused him to curl up in pain. My mum came out in her pyjamas, startled by the sight of the boy. I managed to prop him against the sofa. He looked really pale and ill, still sweating even though the night was cold.
My mum pushed him back up a bit, “You’re withdrawing. You need to get to a hospital or a drugs clinic.”
“No, no.” He grabbed my mum’s wrist. She didn’t resist but was clearly alarmed. He dropped it. “Sorry, lady. I need to go. Score.” His voice remained croaky and his chest heaved, his eye pleading desperately.
“Kid, you either stay here to get better or go back out there to find drugs. Your choice.” She said flatly. “You’ll die in that cold.” I noticed how he smelled bad and everything but my earlier thought of protecting him or helping him hadn’t changed. I would lend him my good jacket if it meant he didn’t catch cold, but that seemed to be the least of his worries.
I wondered which he would choose. I knew for sure which I preferred but I guess he felt so bad, he wasn’t quite himself. I didn’t know then what heroin was really about and how it affected people. Like I said, I didn’t think deeply about any of it before that night. He tried to stand up but ended up crawling on the floor and onto the couch to try support himself. “Give me my clothes.”
I looked at my mum and she gazed back. But his legs gave out and he was in a heap again on the floor. I pushed him up and onto the sofa, his resistance was wearing out. “Fuck’s sake, man. You can’t even stand up.”
He shook like a leaf again and eventually spat, “Help me.” His voice sounded like someone crying though no tear came out.