Martini tower says it’s six o’clock in the morning. We walk down Oosterstraat and sit down on a flight of stairs to smoke a final cigarette. Out of one of the alleys emerges an African-looking man. Speaks English with a French accent, Congolese. He approaches us, smiling, seemingly beatboxing, making sounds and scatting. He sits down next to us, and shakes my hand as if I’ve known him for years.
‘Ey boys, how’s it going?’ My friend chats with him.
‘Can I maybe have a cigarette?’ the man asks. Sure.
‘You, you have any change left?’ he asks.
Some delicate little instinct tells me it’s time to go home
Sure, why not? This friendly man is probably in a worse position than I. We talk about the NBA, the basketball league about which I know nothing. My friend decides to go home, and I’m left sitting and chatting with the Congolese, while another man walks out of the alley. He looks across the street, and when he spots my Congolese friend, starts marching at him directly, pointing his finger.
‘You! You still have to pay, asshole.’
Some delicate little instinct tells me it’s time to go home. I get ready to get up and leave, but the angry man pushes me back down to where I’m sitting.
‘You can’t leave, you’re in on this too!’ He jabs a finger at the tip of my nose.
‘You use, I can see it!’
Evidently I’m caught up in an unfinished drug deal that took place earlier this evening. The Congolese man begins to a plead, excuses, makes denials. Half French, half English, half street slang. I don’t know what the fuck they’re saying. In a way I don’t want to know, I don’t want to interfere either, because usually one bad situation leads to another. I try and think of unrelated things: there was this psychological experiment, where you had to count the number of times basketball players passed a ball. At one point a man with an umbrella walks across the field, but none of the participants could remember his presence afterwards. In the midst of this heated discussion two strangers stop and size up the dealer.
Seven people are pulling and pushing, screaming and cursing, angry people start cluttering up the street
‘You sold us that bad shit last week’, one of them says. A bit of pushing around begins. The dealer looks a little less self-assured. The noise attracts the attention of two bouncers, from the café across the street. They look at us, at me, and start walking up to us. ‘Hey! We told you: no more of this bullshit in this street! Do your drugs business elsewhere!’ By now about seven people are pulling and pushing, screaming and cursing over my head. Angry people start cluttering up the street. It makes me think: did you know that honeybees kill hornets by smothering them with their bodies? (look it up, it’s bizarre). Nevertheless, I feel somewhat like the helpless hornet right now. So, I passively sit on the stairs and think of unrelated things. Some drunken students find the situation entertaining, and watch the scene while laughing. Maybe I could be like the man with the umbrella: unnoticed and quiet, shuffling through this field of playerz. So really steadily and calm, I get up. Look at the mob to see if they pay any attention to me. When they don’t, I scuff away one step. Then another. Like the game grandmothers’ footsteps, I shuffle further and further away, into another alley. I take a detour down Peperstraat. No more socializing with junkies.