It’s not an actual room, rather, it’s a space which is separated from the waiting room of the ARENA centre by double-pane windows and blinds. In the large hall, people fill small glasses with water to take their methadone. I will ask some of them to take place on the couch on the right or on the examination bed covered in oilcloth, “wherever feels better”. I will sit on the chair and talk with “yours”, I am such a moron, this is so inadequate. I’ll wait for the right moment to switch my taperecorder on and listen to confessions about hepatitis, lungs, prisons, deaths, I’ll ask questions such as When was this?, like it would ever matter, i’ll extract from these 283 minutes in which I talked with them the moments in which they, the people, are unfolding in the details of their lives.
Nicu: “I do drugs… I’ve been doing drugs for eight years. That’s what you want to know, right?”
He smoked for about seven months. Then he took a one-year break, then he started puffing cigarettes again, then he quit for another year, ‘cause he was afraid of his mother, mostly.
“Everytime I saw her, I was this close to pissing myself. And I was a tough boy, the kind which don’t get scared of everything. But of her I was really scared… I’ve been afraid of her ever since I was a kid. I’m talking about Ceaușescu’s era, I’m 37 now.
Not like she beat me, but there was other stuff like, I’d do some shit: I put a house on fire when I was smaller, I burned down a construction site when they were building those apartment blocks in ’84-’85. She grabbed my hand, and put it on the stove. «Stop playing around with fire, look what fire means, here!» Ok, just as a thing, not to kill me or anything. I was bad when I was little. And if she came and said «that’s enough!», I dropped everything, didn’t need drugs anymore. Even if I were sick, I didn’t need anything.” Even now, as a grown man of 37, Nicu gets the chills while talking about his mother.
Mojo talks about the five units of heroin which made him forget the pain in his leg 15 years ago, about the six cracks in his lungs which miraculously healed themselves after a long time and is now complaining about the 30 lei he was asked to pay for a methadone pill on the black market, when he suddenly stops to answer the phone.
“Yeah, brother. Come on, send me the text or charge it directly. Enter it directly, automatically. Great, brother, thanks a lot. 5… If you could do 6, it’d be wonderful. Give me 5, I’ll find an option. With 6, I could’ve called mother. 5 works. I know you help me as much as you can, brother. We’re friends-friends, no complaints. Alright, kisses, thanks alot. You accomplished me. You helped me get back on my feet again, as they say. Keep in touch, bye.”
That was Adi, one of the two friends that are helping out when his phone credit expires. Mojo told him he had nothing to call him with because he had no credit, and Adi called him afterwards: “Yo, will 5 euros do it?” Who makes these kinds of presents nowadays, without even asking? He doesn’t have many friends left, the world became dangerous. But the ones that remained are true brothers. “Well how couldn’t I help this boy out when he needs it? Now, you tell me: wouldn’t you help him? The other one doesn’t do drugs, calls me at 1 a.m.: «Mojo, let me send you 150.000, buy yourself some cigarettes tomorrow, at the hospital»”.
Loneliness is the worst illness to Mojo. Not HIV, nor hepatitis, nor tuberculosis. “Loneliness screwed me over worse than all the rest”. His mother is in Italy, his father’s six feet under, but he didn’t talk to him before, anyway. His mother calls him on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and sends him 100 Euro.
In the end, Adi gave him 6 Euro, so he could call to Italy. “I call her sometimes too, you know? What can I do, she helps me out, sends me over 1000 Euro a month… Look, she’s calling.
– Yes, mommy, I was just talking about you with a boy here, at the pills.
A feminine, yet severe “hello” is heard over the phone.
– You want to marry me to someone?
– I don’t want to get you married… Yesterday I would have gotten you married, but today I won’t. Today I’m more serious.
– Adi, that friend of mine, he charged my credit. Gave me a gift code. So I’m going to be able to call you these days, whenever I’ll need something from you. (Laughs)
– Don’t call me only when you need something.
– Come on, if you wanna get married: this boy here has a college degree, he’s not some regular guy. Not like you: two classes, just like the train.
The discussion is getting serious again, something about pension funds and some bills.
– Your brother sends you kisses.”
He hangs up, has some trouble with the phone.
“God, I love this woman more than anything. If it wasn’t for my mother, I would have died a thousand times.” She works at a medical office and “at an administration, something to do with maintenance, no clue.” Lately she hasn’t had enough to work, hasn’t been doing enough hours. But she helps him out.
Mojo watches the laptop, he wants to get himself one. He had a computer worth 1000 Euro, and – “look how friends are”- he had pawned it and they didn’t want to lend a little more cash to extend his lease. “Just so you see the kind of greasers they are.”
Three hundred and thirty-five
Augustina is a regular and gets junk sick, but she doesn’t have that many diseases. Only hepatitis, the small kind. She shoots up only with clean needles and never in front of the kids. Her seven-year-old boy, Gigi, came along today at the meth clinic, sits quietly on the chair, doesn’t say a word.
“I want him to go to school, he turned 7 on Friday. And he likes it. He knows the buses… He gets me onto the buses, and I tell him: «You’re fooling me!» And then I ask the people, «It’s 335», and he’s right.”
Augustina doesn’t know how to read, hasn’t been to school at all. “But he’s light-headed. God took good care of him. Other children’s heads are evil.”
The deal with Pompi is that he looks like he’s from Trainspotting, has long hair, bony cheeks, a hard jaw, wears a hoody and a cap over his eyes. He actually quotes Renton, the main character in Trainspotting, when the feeling of heroin is discussed: a thousand orgasms.
“That’s right: you take an orgasm, multiply it times a thousand and you get the heroin effect.” He’s been hospitalized all over the place, but he relapsed when his wife left for Portugal and had their son there. Now the boy is 8 years old and gets 2000 euros a month for being Portuguese. He’s in school, second grade.
““But they don’t count grades and school years the way we do here. Just like in kindergarten: they take off their shoes, there’s a rug on the floor, they sit barefooted, play all sorts of games; it’s not like school, they don’t have grades, they’re not interested in making you better than your colleagues. No: everyone’s equal (…). When we were in 5th grade, we had to see who was the coolest, who wrote the most, who had the prettiest handwriting. You don’t have that over there… But the school is beautiful, it’s good they don’t compete among each other. You go to school ’cause you like it. Over here you were terrorized by school. Here, in Romania, they always teach you to be better than your colleagues, to always be in first place.”
Back ack in the days when she used to stay awake for three weeks in a row and dreamt insanities while crossing roadways, with trucks nearly tearing her to pieces, Narcisa weighed 50 kilograms. After she checked herself in and switched to methadone, she reached 70. She then remained on the 40 milligram dose but still lost some weight.
She has C and B, HIV, low immunity, syphilis traumas, liquid cirrhosis, migrains, but manages to live with them.
“So now, my brain, even if I try to lie to it, try to tell it «No», it says «Yes». And even if I am going alongside it, I can end up killing myself, I’ll go to a balcony and throw myself off. ‘Cause it’s drenched, it’s blown to pieces inside of me, it’s like a scattered blanket. The Doc told me that «if you keep hitting all the time, we can’t give you a prescription. (…) You’ll die on the streets. Because even walking down the street gets you tired.»”
Because of her migraine, she can stand having only children around her. She keeps telling her daughter that she’s a Romanian cub, because she doesn’t look like her at all. She has curly chestnut hair, with big big big eyes and a white face. And she has a mole on her cheek, just like her dad.
“And I say to her: «Can’t you see how people are looking at me? They’re looking at me, then they look at you, and you don’t look like me at all. Pretty please, go to your uncles.» Because I’m too dark-haired, and she’s white, white, white. One time some woman said to me: «Is she a foster child?» I say: «Lady, she’s my child!» «Oh come on, get outta here, take a look in the mirror!» She gets blonde streaks in summertime. Looks as if I take her to the salon. (…) She goes to the centre and writes her name down, she’s really smart.”
Narcisa lives with her children and sister in an apartment. A couple of days ago, a couple of reporters from Channel D burst into their home, pretending that they were from a foundation. Some lady downstairs had told them to go up, that there’s 4 HIV-positive people were living in an apartment. So they filmed their home and then broadcast it on television, saying that they beg with their children next to traffic lights, that they steal electricity.
“We don’t send our children in the streets to beg, we know what’s going on, that’s the way we grew up. I raised my daughter in the underground sewers, I slept with her on streets, but I never forced her to beg. Because I did everything for her. I don’t spend my money on myself, I’d rather go beg for clothes at a foundation rather than… I leave it all to them. [When I saw the news,] I wanted to take them away, run away with them. If the Child Services would come to take away my child, I’d go mad. (…) My children are healthy, clean, tidy, with their nails cut. But all they ever think about is AIDS. They get a cut, have a small wound, you get them sick. But they don’t know how careful I am with my child.”
Mihaela curls up next to the radiator. You can hear her every breath, a gulp of air once every three seconds. Tuberculosis is carving her in, made her tiny. “My mother threw me on the streets with a 40°C temperature. And I sit on the street, my lungs can’t take it anymore. (…) While I was in the hospital, she used to say: “My girl, my girl, my girl…” And then, a week later, she chases me away. She told me to get going, to leave home. And I couldn’t take it anymore, I felt like fainting. I left with a pair of jeans and had nothing else to wear, I’m dying of cold.”
Thirty-nine point eight
When he used to buy heroin, George shot it at night, but kept some for the morning as well. Afterwards he went to work and fell asleep while the wave of lycra kept flowing and gathered up in front of him, without anyone cutting it. Without hitting he felt sick, just like having the flu.
He didn’t lose weight, that’s the way he’s always been. “Since Friday, I had a temperature of 39.8°C and couldn’t eat for 2 days. Actually, I had some of those instant soups, I like them a lot. But they’re not consistent, I was eating them for nothing.”
He eats a lot though, generally, he even eats during the night. The doctor says not to eat sweets, but he eats chocolate and anything he can.
A text by Vlad Odobescu
Illustrations by Sorina Vazelina
Translation by Alexandra Şchiopu and Flavia Dima
Article created with the help of the Romanian Harm Reduction Network