Then I quit my job. I spend all my money on heroin and it isn’t even nearly enough to keep up with my gradually increasing dose. I sell an old laptop, two phones, and an mp3 player. I blow through half of Ramy’s bank account.
The problem was—broke as often as not—I would have to spend a day or two sometimes with no heroin. Hell isn’t eternal burning. It’s the suffocating, intolerable panic and pitch black depression of withdrawal. I’d lie in bed unmoving, not speaking, just crying while rocking back and forth. I would beg and pray to God for anything, any way at all to end the suffering. Mother would come in, sit next to me, brushing my hair back, feeding me cubes of chocolate and reading Quran for me. I would hold on to her like a baby, asking her to not leave me alone with the darkness, the ghosts and the unbearable flatness, colorlessness of the world. She’d sit with me for hours, as I drifted in and out of sleep, holding my hand, telling me it would be fine. She would plead with me to tell her what was wrong. Promise to not get mad, to not tell a soul, to deal with anything I had to say. She knew something was wrong, she’d tell me. I was like two completely different people, she’d say, and neither of them was particularly normal. I would only cry harder. Ask her to pray for me over and over. Ask her whether she thought I would ever be okay, if my head will ever quiet down.
Then again racing down the stairs and into Ramy’s or Hamada’s cars, barely able to prop myself up, visibly malnourished and underweight, eyes tearing, nose running, shivering at the cold no one else could feel, pale as cadaver, not puking only because I hadn’t eaten since my last line. Prompt them to drive faster, come on, are we there yet? Was the line you just gave me the last of what you had? Why’s it taking so long?
I came home one night to find father and mother sitting absurdly upright on the living room couch, waiting for me. In front of father, sitting on the coffee table as though it was a mundane item was a translucent plastic cup with a white lid, looking smug and menacing. High a smidgen short of an overdose, I broke into a grin as though this was perfectly normal, asking casually, “have you been waiting for me?”
Some part of my intoxicated mind was aware the situation was bad. Danger, it alerted. Bolt for the door. Escape while you still can. Sirens and alarm bells rang in my ears. I could see Ramy standing in the corner next to the plastic rose bush, shaking his head. What was he even doing at my house? No one else seemed to hear or see anyone or anything unusual so I figured it was one of those times when life was occurring for me on a slightly different dimension than those around me. It happened sometimes. (Delusions? Psychosis? No, I had long decided, I was just an imaginative artistic spirit.)
Clipped tone, steely and calm, father hissed, “we’re going to need a urine sample from you.” Behind my ribs, the muscles of my heart contracted so fast I thought I was dying. My smile fell off my face, crashed on the ceramic floor. “Why?”
“Because you—you ungrateful, shameful curse of a child—are on drugs. Don’t even dream of denying it,” still measured and cool, but the contempt in his tired brown eyes lashed at me like a whip or a serpent.
Fight or flight.
“If you’re so sure I am, why do you want to test me?”
Mother began to cry.
“Because we don’t know what—exactly—you’re on or how much and because your mother wants to be 100% sure.”
“Oh, but you already are, aren’t you? It’s so easy for you to believe the worst about me, right? Not depressed, rather an attention-whoring child. Not self inflicted cuts, but a tumble down the stairs. Nothing ever wrong with me which isn’t my fault. Cause you can never admit your own superior genetics and magnificent parenting could ever produce such a monster. Oh, no, you’ve done everything perfectly right because you’re so fucking perfect, right?”
I guess he hit me, because suddenly mother was standing between us, weeping now and repeating enough, enough, enough. Father sat back down and lit a cigarette.
Two drags later, he informs me that back in his village, girls like me would be killed by their fathers, their bones thrown in a garbage dump. The honorable thing and all. Remember how we always had trouble imagining our fathers growing up in a small village at the heart of Mansura, Ekleel? How we could never reconcile their adult images to the mischievous boys who stole dates and grapes from their neighbors’ trees and spent their entire summers on the fertile farmlands of the northwest, picking bollworms out of cotton plants to help their widowed mother cope with the expenses of raising her eight children and two stepsons? How we could never fathom how they became so harsh? So cruel? Perhaps it’s these bizarre, inhumane practices—less like justice and more like rituals.
I looked at him and I understood he loved me in his own complex way. And I hated him so thoroughly I wished I could torture him for whatever was left of his worthless life. The luxury of his denial came at the price of my suffering. If he had set his ego aside just once, maybe things would have turned out differently.
“Well, good luck getting that urine sample from me because—unless you intend to force me to pee—I’m not giving you shit you ignorant, sexist bigot.”
He didn’t even bother getting up, settled instead for throwing the T.V. remote-control at me. I dodged.
Mother—now a complete wreck—tried to place her hands on my cheeks, begging me to be silent, telling my how afraid she was for me.
“No, don’t touch me, you pathetic bitch. You disgust me. All you do is pray and pray and pray and has it done any fucking good?” I was shouting now but everything still felt very distant and muddled, as though I was watching the scene and acting it out from two different angles.
As we drive, I think of Ramy. He’d probably just start fucking that blonde Lebanese smack-hound he’d been hanging out with lately whenever he wasn’t with me. Maybe he already was. Good riddance…
All has come apart. Or come together.
Hamada’s still got some inheritance money left and I have the ability to keep up with him. We’re heading east, into the desert. We plan on getting sober but I think we’ll die first. I write this to you, hoping for something, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the age-long need to leave a suicide note. Maybe I don’t want to only be remembered as this horrible, heartless bitch. I’ve suffered for so long and more than anyone else involved, doesn’t that count for something?
Hamada has gone to score us some heroin. Then he will drive me to the post office where I will drop this and with it anything still tying me to Cairo. You are in my thoughts, though, Ekleel, just as Cairo is in my blood, and I hope you, at least, will be able to forgive me my shortcomings and think of me somewhat fondly.
Noha Al-Badry was born in the heart of Cairo to parents who consider exploding gall bladders and terminal lung cancer good meal-time conversation. Her work has previously appeared in Otoliths and FailBetter, and is forthcoming in Prime Number.