:: Article

Wanting

By Andy West.

 

detail from the painting Zeus Xenios by Takis Katsoulidis (1972)

 

 

Thursday

‘Got any change?’ the beggar says.

I type in my pin number at the cash point and feel Damon’s lips on the back of my neck. The machine displays amounts I can withdraw and Damon slides his hand under my t-shirt. I push the button to request the maximum.

‘Couldn’t spare any change?’

The beggar sits on cardboard. Damon’s belly against my lower-back.

The machine gives me the money and Damon and I go inside the shop for supplies. I pay and step outside.

‘A bit of change?’

The beggar has a lined, exhausted face. He could be twenty-five. He could be thirty-five. What does it matter? From my wad of notes, I pick out a twenty and Damon laughs, his top lip riding up to show his teeth and gums.

‘Have a fucking great night mate.’ I hand it to the beggar.

‘You too boys,’ he says as we walk off.

 

Friday

I head back to mine with Omar. On the way we pass the shop.

‘Having a good night?’ the beggar says with a grin.

I scoop out the change in my pocket and drop it in front of him. He winks at me. I nod at him.

 

Saturday

The cash point displays the amounts I can withdraw. Jay stands a few feet behind me. I press the button to take out the maximum.

‘You don’t have a quid?’ the beggar says.

The machine gives me the wad of notes. It feels less chunky than it should.

Jay waits outside as I take the champagne, cans of energy drink and antibacterial wipes to the counter. Through the window, I watch Jay correcting his hair in the camera on his phone. His skin looks yellow in the street light. ‘Condoms too’, I tell the guy behind the counter.

I step outside. ‘Fifty p for a cuppa?’ The beggar says.

There are needle marks on his forearm. Fifty p won’t help.

‘Shall we go?’ says Jay.

I don’t want to sleep with Jay. But it’s late.

We head off together.

 

Sunday

Jay finally leaves after breakfast. I take the sheets off my bed and put them in the washing machine. I’m about to press the button to start the cycle when Pierre messages me to say that he is too hung-over to come round later.

I go to the shop and as I walk through the door, the beggar doesn’t ask me for money. Maybe he has stopped believing I’ll give him anything, or maybe he’s stopped wanting from me. As I browse the newspapers, I hear the sound of copper coins being scraped across the surface of the counter. An old man is buying three cans with hundreds of pennies. Nobody really stops wanting. I take a sandwich from the fridge, pay for it at the counter, step out the door. ‘You like cheese?’

He mutters something unintelligible and fumbles the sandwich out of my hand. He lifts it to his mouth to take a bite and drops it. It separates; grated cheese and wet tomato scattered in his lap. He screws his face up as if to cry and turns and punches the brick wall to his side. I step back. Blood pools on his knuckles.

I go into the shop, take a packet of baby wipes and leave a pound on the counter. Stepping outside, I pass the wipes to him. Blood streaks down his hands. He tries to peel open the packet but he drops it. His eyes are red.

I squat down, open the packet and clean his hand; his skin is the same temperature as the wipe. Fresh blood surfaces and soaks through the material. I get on my knees and put pressure on the wounds. His forehead is against my temple; his eyelashes in the periphery of my vision. I squeeze and his knuckles dig at the bones of my hand. His head tips backwards and knocks the wall. Behind me, a car speeds over a pothole. It sounds like it’s driving over a body.

I hold him for a few moments. When I take my hand away from his I see that the bleeding has stopped. I cradle the back of his head and bring it forward. He gawps at me and sighs in my face, and I taste alcohol from his breath at the back of my throat.

 

Friday

I’m approached in the club by a man called Stephen. He dances close; I step back and keep my arms across my body. The music is too fast.

Stephen goes to the toilet. I join the line for the cloakroom. But the queue is long and he finds me.

‘My feet are sore,’ I say.

‘I need some fresh air anyway,’ he says.

We get our coats and head out into the street. I hurry in the cold, walking on the other side of him from his cigarette smoke. He puts his hand on my lower back. I keep one pace ahead.

We approach the cash point. The beggar isn’t there.

With one foot in the door of the shop, I say to Stephen ‘You can’t smoke inside. I’ll message you tomorrow.’

‘I’ll finish it outside,’ he says and makes an O shape with his lips as he blows smoke into the air.

I go in and stare at the purples and yellows and pinks of the chocolate wrappers. Behind the counter is a rotating electric heater. It blows in my face and I blink to moisten my eyes. Stephen paces outside the door. With no appetite, I pick up a chocolate bar and tap it on the counter. ‘Where’s the man?’

‘Who?’ says the shopkeeper, hugging himself over his coat.

‘He’s always outside.’

The shopkeeper shrugs, looks at the back of the chocolate bar and taps numbers into the till.

‘Has something happened to him?’

‘Probably. Fifty-five pence please.’

I give him the money and walk away, leaving the chocolate on the counter. I step outside. Stephen takes a drag of a cigarette that’s almost down to the filter. I go up to him and press my mouth on his before he blows out the smoke.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy West‘s writing has appeared in the Guardiantes and Open Democracy. He lives in London where he teaches philosophy to children.

 

ABOUT THE ART WORK

Detail from Zeus Xenios (mixed media collage on canvas, 1972) by Takis Katsoulidis from the National Gallery of Greece in Athens. Zeus Xenios is the name given to the aspect of Zeus associated with kindness to strangers, beggars and the practice of hospitality.

 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, July 18th, 2017.