It is a cold wet winter afternoon few days after the Paris and Bamako terrorist attacks. As I stroll down a major street in East London, a man is melodically hollering:
“Evening Standard! Evening Standard!”
He hands me a copy of the free daily London newspaper.
ES, headline says another terrorist assault in Tunis has killed 12 and wounded 17 of the Presidential guard bus. A third attack this year, which leaves Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi vowing, “We are at war and we are going to win.”
Walking on I am thinking of the growing panic across the world. I reflect on Palestinians and Israelis who have faced this sort of fright for decades. I remember some other recent interesting news.
A report last week said at least 100 kids have been phoning UK’s Child Line (the protective number of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children - NSPCC). They include a 9 year old scared of terrorist aggression plus a 17-year-old teenager racially abused for wearing a Hijab and being Muslim.
The range of fear once again reminds Palestinians and Israelis. Both sides are in constant emotional rumba. Now this very same emotional upheaval and agitation is spreading everywhere. Thanks to the so-called apostles of religious fascism.
I keep on walking.
It is a very crowded area. You can hear street vendors yelling and the occasional police siren. It has been raining, is wet and ahead of me, something resembling a pair of sticks slides and falls down. Quickly the sticks get up and to everyone’s astonishment hobbles on.
These are not sticks but legs – long legs – in white boots reaching below the knees. The boots seem too big but the limbs know what to do. Long limbs that go further up to a tight skirt. You know the type that have been cut, framed, and curved from jeans. Recycling. They look fantastic. And it is a woman in a hurry. Her matching white-cream handbag is swinging and so does she.
Once again she trips. Keels over.
“Drunkard,” my thoughts whisper. Nothing unusual during these troubled times. And seeing drunken females is no surprise in London either. As she gets up again, I am now real close. She rubs her mouth and nose and quickly announces:
“Be my man tonight. Gimme a sniff, love. I need a sniff.”
My puzzled expression composes a strange speech.
“Just money for a sniff, darling,” She keeps pressing..
If you live in London you will know what Spliff is, but this is Sniff. Although these two mischievous words rhyme, they are non-identical twins. One is smoked and is called Marijuana in Spanish. ...but it is not Spliff ...it is Sniff. That means inhaling not smoking.
Cocaine, ladies and gentlemen.
It was a lie when I claimed my expression was puzzled. Nothing should baffle, faze and bewilder you in London. Not folks pleading for weed and the white sniffing powder on a busy inner city street. Nothing should surprise you if you see drunks and staggering individuals on road corners and pavements.
I shake my head; avoid eye contact, keeping a peripheral vision.
Junkies like this have the most developed body language skill. They read everything faster than the blink of an eye. Survival. Their lives depend on sussing out the language of unspoken communication. She crosses the street, but keeps on the swaying and swinging. Her legs are truly long and you wonder if the shoes are borrowed or what, oh what!
As you and I speak, she has already cornered another potential fella. He is perhaps more accommodating. He stops to chat to the staggering woman.
“Is he going to offer her something?” That meddling whisper asks my inner ears.
Unlike my casual appearance (woolly hat, bulky Gym trousers, T-shirt and a thick winter coat), the other man has a smart suit. Resembles a banker. Maybe lawyer. Do not judge a book by its cover.
The man appears to be pushing the woman away. Physically. He stumbles, trying very hard to keep balance and distance. The woman lurches sideways.
“You! Don’t –push- me!”
Man seems to flee.
“You! Don’t- run- away- from ME!”
It is a very loud, thin scream. Like a falling star.
He looks around, the dear gentleman. A fly trapped in a web and a spider about to entangle it with knots of invisible wires. Spider silk. Dictionaries call them gossamer. Spider’s cobweb.
The executive -looking bloke, manages to free himself. Rushes away.
But for the junkie, it is as though nothing happened. She hobbles on searching for another possibility. The patient, persistent search for substances.
As William Shakespeare once remarked “I to the world am like a drop of water that in the ocean seeks another drop.”
Would the English icon, whose 400 years death anniversary is April 2016, have known what a sniff is? Another drop. Another sniff.
Be mine, tonight...