There is Only This
by Leona Lee Cully
[Photo by Trini Schultz – http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/trini-schultz-trini61-photography]
The guy came at me with a knife and demanded my wallet. I refused. I was drunk and coked up and wearing a suit but he was smaller than me. I towered over him so much I almost laughed. He lunged at me and cut my face. I didn’t feel any pain but blood poured from my cheek onto my jacket and shirt.
The City was ghostly, smeared with flashes of red, yellow and blue light. I had left the club early. The street was dark and the guy was threatening to cut me again. He was shaking, I remember that. Just a young black guy looking for easy prey amongst the bankers in the City. Fridays made a good hunting ground for inebriated City boys.
A few pints at lunchtime in the pub. A couple of hours poring over accounts looking for missing amounts, minor lost transactions that cost the firm millions because it was so old-fashioned, so mired in tradition and wealth. I was good at finding missing things. Knew how to spot the patterns in spread sheets. I stretched out tedious work, fed them back results slowly or quickly depending on their reactions, and charged lots for it as a freelance contractor. At four o’clock on Friday afternoons, the bank provided us with food and drinks. Coke was always available – how else could we work such long hours? We circled from toilet cistern to desk to pub to club to bed, and back to our Excel sheets. Gambling with the ill-gained profits of others. Paid to wallow in vice. I loved it but I had gained weight, my heart raced too fast, and I had a constant headache.
This Friday was special. It was my thirtieth birthday and my girlfriend had just told me, over the phone that morning, that she was leaving me for a guy at work. My sweetheart since college. Her delicate shoulders and her fragile neck and the lustrous curtain of black hair that poured over me when she bent to kiss me. A beauty who loved expensive things, and I had squandered her as I searched spread sheets for profit and loss, and found money, drugs, drink, clubs, lap-dances, all shades of pleasure.
The boy touched his knife to my other cheek and demanded my wallet. That moment. Everything leads up to, and away from, that moment. A tinder heap is ignited by this boy and he will suffer the consequences. As will I.
My right hand smashed. Three knuckles reduced to crumbs so that I can never work on a keyboard again. A taxi driver pulled me off the boy saying – you’ll kill him. He left the boy there but drove me to a hospital. Later I searched for news of a dead black boy but found nothing. I thought he would kill me. How was he to know he had picked on an ex-rugby player from Ireland, still muscled under his costume of a suit.
Three years later, in India, searching for what we all search for, I saved the life of a drowning man. He was in his early twenties, a rich Indian college kid. I dragged him up onto the beach back to his friends who were all high and hysterical. I was high too but practically immune to weed because I smoked so much. An elderly man on the beach told me that I should have let him drown, that it’s bad karma to save a life that was destined to be lost.
Back in Dublin, I circle from dole office to my parents’ house to the pub and back to bed. I deal a little weed and sometimes try to talk to a girl in a bar. If she asks me why I have a scar on my face I tell her it was a childhood accident. There is something that I cannot shift, a dense shadow that encumbers me. I make dates with pretty girls and don’t show up. I turn down small offers of cash-in-hand work, easy manual stuff I can still do but what is the point. I occasionally read the financial pages and see that nothing has changed there.
My sleep is dreamless. I cannot recall the face of my sweetheart. The clock on my phone does not tick. There is only this – one breath after another.