I was walking through the streets thinking about the young girl Lesia and her dad taking pills to stop drinking. The shop windows were bright and sparkly and the crowds meandered slowly with the drooping shoulders of tired humans. A waft of cannabis smoke drifted by; I could see its journey by the heads that turned. A group of young girls were passing around the source of the smoke, laughing and waving at anyone who looked at them.
‘Stupid girls,’ I overheard a man say to his girlfriend.
‘It’s illegal, it’s bad for them and it’s addictive.’
The girls disappeared out of sight and I carried on walking. Slumped in a doorway was a man with scraggly hair poking out from under his grey stretchy hat. A tattoo of an eagle’s head stood proud above the collar of his tattered shirt and his battered shoes were neatly placed next to him on top of a dog-eared book. His jacket and jeans were shiny with grime as if they hadn’t been cleaned in months and his feet were filthy.
I squatted down next to him. ‘Are you okay?’
He looked at me quizzically. ‘Yeah…’
‘Aren’t you cold?’
‘A bit, you get used to it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘How did you end up living in a doorway?’
‘You’re a bit nosy, aren’t you? What business is it of yours?’
‘None, I guess. What’s the book?’
‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying.’
‘I read it all the time to remind me of the slow living death that I escaped.’
‘Wow, that’s severe. Why do you think that?’
‘Oh come on… in the so-called normal society you’re so bound by the rules and by other people’s expectations, you can’t breathe. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that…’
‘Is that how you ended up here?’
‘Sort of… I stepped outside of it all. As far as I was concerned the rules no longer applied, but then I was disowned, pushed away and punished.’
‘Tell me more…’
‘Once you step outside you have a different view of what’s normal and what should and shouldn’t be allowed. I started using illegal drugs rather than the legal ones like alcohol and that annoyed them. They forced me further and further into the wilderness, treating me as a troublemaker rather than someone who just didn’t want to play by their rules.’
‘I have to say, I still don’t understand why some things are prohibited and some not.’
‘You and me both, I didn’t harm anyone; I just got on with my life in the way I wanted. It’s not just the chemicals we choose to digest though, is it? It’s more fundamental than that – deciding you don’t agree with their rules, let alone not wanting to play the game, is tantamount to high treason.’
‘It’s a strange world you live in.’
‘There, you’re doing it now. We live in the same world; it’s a strange world we all live in.’
‘Yes, sorry. Thanks, it helps me understand.’
‘No worries. You seem like you’re on the fringes too.’
‘More than you could ever know.’ I smiled, shook his hand and stood up. ‘Bye.’
I was about to turn the corner at the end of the street when I heard a commotion behind me. A group of six well-dressed and very drunk young men were shouting abuse. One of them spat at him and the others joined in. Before I could get back to help, they’d gone. It made me wonder again about the purpose of prohibition – why are some things legal and others not when the problems seem to be with the person not the substance?