The addict in the hoodie wanders up and down the dual carriageway I used to live on. His hoodie is black, his skin almost transparent.
He picks at sores on his face. His jeans look like they stink. He’s thinner now than I remember. As we approach him on our long walk to school, I instinctively draw an arm around Rosie, bringing her closer to me. It’s as if our very proximity to him is dangerous… as if his addiction is contagious.
He has hollow eyes and he is lean. There is a hunger that overwhelms him, so much so that it reverberates through his frame, compelling him forward on this road that stretches from London to Liverpool. He has no purpose beyond his addiction.
I remember seeing him loitering around the apartment building behind our old flat. Back then his face was broader. Most of the time he was blitzed out of his mind, his eyes lolling about. Recently, I spot him drinking behind the old bathroom shop at 8 in the morning. That is before I see him with the sores on his expressionless face.
That face – I can’t forget that face. Because it’s the same one I saw perhaps 18 months ago. I can still remember his nodding head, the floaty-eyed daze, his nonchalant body language as he crouched to crap on the corner of a residential street in my neighbourhood.
I imagine his mother and father – perhaps a family worrying about him, then giving up on him as surely anyone will when it gets this bad. Then I think of Ben and how he, too, donned the uniform of the dispossessed. The hoodie and jeans. I imagine he, too, crouched like this young man, that he, too, sacrificed his dignity for another drink – and another.
More than anything, it is the filth that makes me shudder. The relief of leaving behind those walls stained with beer and blood. All cleaned up, yes, but the memory of them still scarring the rooms around me. I am free of that now.
It is conceivable that this hooded young man will be discovered dead somewhere soon. Or that he tries to rob me or someone else in the neighbourhood so he can get his next fix.
He must have had ambitions once. Before they were gutted by his need, and abandoned.