Ineke didn’t know what day it was. All she knew was that she was cold, that she needed a fix and she needed it fast.
She noticed her left foot twitching. Placing both hands on her knee, she stopped the movement. The black fingerless Merino gloves, she had stolen off a coffee table the day before, provided little protection against the bitter cold of the Amsterdam night. Her fingertips were blue. She grimaced, ‘Stupid choice.’ She had stolen the gloves to hide the skin sores on the top of her hands which could give visibility to her drug addiction. Bunching her hands into fists, she winced as the cold caused a scab on one of her knuckles to crack and start bleeding.
Lifting her mittened hand, she saw the blood, oozing through the wool, freeze as it made contact with the sub -zero air, instantly forming a dark red patch of crystals. She tugged on the glove breaking the bond between wool and skin and cursed as the wound started bleeding again. She suppressed the urge to tuck her hands under the wool underlay of her jacket’s armpits to keep her fingers warm.
Luckily it was a windless night. She marveled at the contrast between the tranquility of the canopy of stars visible above her and the festive Amstel river canal lights. Created in the 17th century to keep the sea at bay, Amsterdam’s canal belt was an unbelievably pretty sight by day and night, lit by fairy lights. The whole area had a magical feel, this masking the reality of the bitterly cold night she sat in.
Amsterdam in winter, the streets dusted with snowflakes, signified a fairy tale story for tourists. To passers-by she was simply someone sitting on a wooden bench next to the frozen Herengracht canal. To Ineke, in her situation of relentless drug use, living from hand to mouth, it signified the start of a long cold period in hell.
In the dusk of the 11 p.m. light, she knew she had to take a risk: to get her hands on some cash, if she wanted to survive the night without going into withdrawal. Her drug habit had reached a point of no return and she knew that she had to have a fix, no matter what the consequences.
Gazing up at the stars, Ineke thought about what had led her to this point of total despair. She knew she had reached the end of the road. She had no control over her addition.
A sadness crept into her dilated pale blue eyes.
She had started experimenting with liquid marijuana shortly before finishing med school. This had quickly developed into a far more serious drug addition, theft of hospital prescription drugs and her inevitable disbarment as a medical practitioner. The shame felt by her loving, but strict and ultra conservative father, was too much for her to bear. She had simply walked out of their home in Utrecht one day and disappeared into the anonymity of the drug underworld of Amsterdam. Before she disposed of her mobile for cash, her mother had got hold of her. She had simply said that she loved her and had then said a strange thing. “Remember, Ineke. This is not who you are or are destined to be. Your time has not yet come. You are destined for greatness.”
The calmness in her mother’s voice had surprised her. This was also their last contact.
Arriving in Amsterdam, Ineke quickly found friends of similar drug disposition. She had been living on a canal barge with three of them for the past fourteen months. The girls kept their habit alive through theft and prostitution. Despite her recent weight loss, the result of taking small amounts of methamphetamine, anyone could see she was an attractive girl and she could easily have used prostitution as a means of feeding her addiction. However, Ineke, even with her insatiable drug addiction, refused to use her body as a vehicle for feeding her nemesis.
Ineke’s medical expertise told her that she was a walking corpse.
She knew she was on a destructive rollercoaster ride. Taking repeated doses, she was in constant need of rebooting the short term pleasure the drug produced, this keeping her in a constant “binge and crash” pattern. She also knew that if she continued, she would most probably be dead within the year.
One thing she had learnt the hard way. Amsterdam was full of cheap, nasty, deadly drugs and ignorance could quickly kill the unseasoned, recreational user. Her first foray into drugs had been purchasing from a shady street dealer in Warmoes street. She had been violently ill. Ineke remembered lying on a park bench, delirious with stomach pain, whilst people walked by and went about their daily business. This was how she got to know her closest friend, Greetje, who personified the meaning of her name, ‘pearl.’ Taking her in, Greetje had cared for her and coaxed her back to health, giving her a place to stay and a home on their canal barge.
From then on, she only purchased through known acquaintances and ‘coffee shops’ selling weed, as well as illegal drugs, to known and trusted clients. She slowly got sucked into this world of drug use, moving into hard cocaine and then into destructive methamphetamine.
She had never, or would never, smoke, having experienced the destructive effects on patients during her med school years. She used the drug by injecting herself, delivering its effects very quickly to the brain, where it produced immediate, intense euphoria.
Ineke sighed and started contemplating her next move.
She looked across the snow-covered pathway at the canal pub she had chosen to target. Filled with alternative type, bohemian clientele, she knew she could get in and blend well with the boisterous, animated crowd, sitting behind the warmth of its windows. All she had to do was get in, get some cash for an immediate fix and get out.
Ineke groaned as she slowly pushed her weak body off the wooden seat, wincing as the pressure of her open palm supporting her body, opened the sores on her hand again. Walking across the cobbled walkway to the pub, her composure transformed. Her slow, hunched shuffle changed to that of a confident punk female out on the town for a good night out. She felt the persona fitted the Amsterdam scene. Dutch punk had a magnificent and ongoing, if largely unnoticed, legacy in Amsterdam and ‘normal’ people, and even the police, left them alone most of the time. Inwardly, Ineke hated the loudness and the depressive undertones of the music, but she intensely loved the sub-culture and the intimate humanness of its followers, all strongly individualistic in their rage against the world. Not that anyone would not notice her presence, as she walked into the bar. Ineke’s voluminous blond hair was dyed a turquoise blue, the ends fading into contrasting purple pink tips. Her neck was tattooed in a matching turquoise blue motif of interweaving x’s. Her arms were covered in an intricate feather design, the tips bursting open with a flight of bird silhouettes spiraling around her shoulders, crossing into inverted flight down the nape of her neck and back. Her eyebrows were dyed the same turquoise and contrasting purple pink and she wore a thick mascara, that curled her eyelashes, accentuating her pale blue eyes. She chose her lipstick with care - a deep turquoise that instantly drew attention to her full, voluptuous lips.
She opened the door and walked into the pub, her six-foot-two physical height willing patrons to pay attention to her entrance.
As she walked up to the bar, at the side nearest to the door, both men and women looked at her, some with awe, some with envy, and some women with jealous disdain.
Ignoring their stares, Ineke sat down on the tall barstool. To ensure nobody noticed the sores on her hands, she quickly put twelve Euros on the bar top. With a nod of her head, she signaled the bartender, a thick portly man.
Their eyes met, and she mouthed, “Den Haag” above the din of the music.
Nodding, he poured a draught at the beer pump, careful not to spill the head, and brought it over, scrutinizing her as he put it down in front of her. He had not seen her in the bar before and was always weary of newcomers. He took the Euros and from the nod of her head, he acknowledged that the change was his to keep.
Without touching the beer, she turned around and leaning against the bar ledge scanned the noisy room. People were talking, and most were absorbed in their own affairs. As her eyes crossed over the crowd, she noticed one couple sitting at a small table next to the entrance of the toilets. From the closeness of their heads, she could see they were very much in love and totally oblivious to those around them.
They were holding hands across the table and were in deep conversation. Ineke felt a twinge of envy at their obvious love for one another.
The girl had put her bag over her chair and any patrons going to the toilet had to squeeze past the couple to get to the toilet door.
Ineke smiled, ‘This is going to be an easy take.’
She got up from the bar, indicated to the barman to keep his eye on her beer and walked across the space towards the toilets. Without breaking stride, Ineke pushed open the toilet door, at the same time deftly lifting the handbag off the crest rail of the chair on which the woman was sitting. Inside the toilet she slipped into the first available cubicle and, latching the door, opened the bag and rummaged through its contents. Finding the purse, she opened it and could not believe her luck. She counted out five hundred new, crisp euro notes. Taking these, she ignored the credit card and, tucking the money into her jean pocket, put the purse back into the handbag. She opened the cubicle door, looked at herself in the mirror and then confidently walked out of the toilet, effortlessly dropping the handbag back over the crest rail of the chair, as she walked past the couple again.
Ineke casually walked back to her beer at the bar, took a long sip from the draught and put down the glass. Waiting a few moments, she turned and suppressed the impulse to increase her pace,or show the urgency of her near uncontrollable need. She walked up to the bar door, opened it and casually walked out into the cold winter night.
As the door closed behind her, she let out a sign of relief.
Walking past the pub windows, Ineke paused, and looked back into the pub. The barman saw her standing at the window. He looked across at her half-finished beer and then looked back at her. She raised her hand, gave him a smile and a small wave. He reciprocated. Picking up her beer, he turned and went about his business.
The moment Ineke walked beyond the light of the pub windows, she quickened her pace.
Seeing a cab, she waved it down.
It pulled over. Ineke opened the rear door, and getting in, thankfully snuggled down into the warmth of the air-conditioned interior.
“Enterpotdok Straat. Bedankt.”
She passed over a twenty euro note.
The taxi driver nodded and pulled away from the curb.
As she sat in the back of the cab, Ineke bit her bottom lip, the blue of her lipstick staining her bottom teeth. Every sense in her body wanted to scream at the cab driver, “ Haast je ! Harder rijden.”
It took all her will power to sit silently in the warmth of the back seat of the cab, as it whisked her away from the scene of her crime.
Ineke felt a moistness on her cheek. Surprised, she used her finger to brush away a tear. The cab slowed as it pulled into the curb, bringing her back to the present.
Ineke opened the door and stumbled out, slamming it shut. As the cab pulled away, she shivered, snuggled into her winter coat and then briskly walked to a corner coffee shop. Opening the door, she entered and walked across to a table where four men sat, drinking coffee and smoking hashish. Ineke half gagged at the sweet, repugnant smell that pervaded the room. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a wad of euro notes. Counting out fifty euros, she threw the notes onto the table and said in her calmest voice, “Ruud, give me a shot of the best.”
Ruud looked up and, seeing the vision of his dreams, said, “Looks like you have come into some ill-gained,” he paused, “or is it hard-earned money? I would rather you pay me in a hard-earned way,” putting emphasis on the hard, “but you are above that aren’t you?”
He said this with a sneer, exposing nicotine stained, crooked teeth. The men around the table laughed at his insinuation. Ineke reached out to take the money, her eyes ablaze with defiance and desperate need. She started to say, “You go. . .”
Ruud reached across the table and firmly grabbed her hand in his.
“Not so fast my little duifje. . .”
He leered up at her and slid his free hand across the table. Seeing the small plastic square hidden under his hand, holding the promise of short, blissful respite from her pain, Ineke quickly grabbed the sachet. Turning, she twisted her hand out of Ruud’s grasp, wincing at the pain this motion inflicted on the sores on her hands. Ineke quickly walked towards the exit, the plastic square tightly clenched in her right hand. She willfully shut out the shame and humiliation she felt, as the four men at the table broke into loud, lecherous guffaws. She walked out of the coffee shop and back into the coldness and welcome darkness of the night.
The five-minute walk from the coffee shop to the barge boat, seemed to take forever. Reaching it, Ineke stumbled across the short walkway leading from the canal path to the deck of their barge and the promise of warmth inside. Stepping on board, she half slipped, half fell, onto the icy deck. Opening the door to the cabin, she quickly stepped inside shutting it firmly behind her.
Her three female friends lay sprawled around the warm pot belly stove, each in their own position of stupor.
Greetje lay on the double bunk, spread-eagled, snoring quietly. The two other girls lay cuddled up together on one of the other bunks, a thick down blanket pulled tightly around them.
Ineke sat on the side of the bed and opened a bedside drawer. She removed a small padlocked metal container. Entering the padlock code with unsteady hands, she opened the box to reveal a material-lined inner case containing several vials and two syringes.
She was meticulous in making sure no one used her syringes, acutely conscious that HIV and hepatitis B and C were rife amongst the drug community. Tearing open the plastic sachet, she got up and walked over to the small kitchen benchtop. Taking a cup, she quarter-filled it with hot water from the small gas-powered cylinder.
Ineke walked back to the bed and shakily poured the contents of the deadly plastic square into the cup. The meth crystals quickly dissolved. As she picked up the syringe and put the tip of the needle into the methamphetamine mix, she became aware of a blue tinged light illuminating the interior of the barge room. Frightened, Ineke looked up, thinking it to be a late-night police bust.
Instead, her Essence hovered in front of her.
Ineke stifled a scream and leaned back, trying to get away from the bright specter, thinking it a hallucination brought on by her mental state. The orb shot forward, blinding her and disappeared, the room returning to its semi-darkened state. The warm safe light once again flickering off the cabin walls from the pot belly stove.
She sat in the semi-darkness, uncertain of what had just happened.
As her eyes readjusted to the low ambient light of the potbelly stove, Ineke glanced across the room at her reflection in the frosted barge window. The frightening specter looking back at her, had bluish-tinted flame-filled eyes and hair, now charged with static electricity, that floated in an arc around her head. Looking at the reflection, Ineke felt a hotness, a pain beyond belief, sweep through her body. Every pore on her skin felt as though it was about to burst.
She felt she was being consumed by fire.
Vaguely conscious of a high-pitched scream, she realized that the sound, a deep, unearthly, inhuman, guttural wail, was coming from her mouth. Her head arched back and as her body rose off the bed, she blissfully lost consciousness. She now hung suspended in the center of the barge room, streams of dark, black, repugnant fluid seeping from the end points of every hair follicle on her head. As each drop exited a follicle, it dropped to the wooden barge floor with a loud pop, the sound soon changing to a crescendo of a surging black rain. The process lasted about a minute and then the drops of black fluid slowed to a patter, as the torrent of repugnance stopped flowing. Ineke’s body floated down from where it had hung, suspended, during this process, gently coming to rest on the thick down duvet covering the double bed. As it did so, her lifeless arm, now devoid of any sores, all toxins expunged from her body, came to rest across Greetjie’s arm.
Greetjie, lying on her bed, pumped full of cocaine, was oblivious to the events that had just transpired. Oblivious to the high-pitched screaming. Oblivious to the dark black residue pouring onto the duvet from each of her own red-dyed hair follicles. Oblivious to the gift of life Ineke’s unconscious arm contact had conferred upon her. Oblivious that she had just been cured from HIV and hepatitis A. Oblivious that just like Ineke moments before, her body was cleared of all harmful toxins as well as a cancerous growth that had been growing, hidden inside her now purified body. Not so for the other two unfortunate girls, who sat cowering and whimpering in the corner of the barge.
Eyes wide with fright, they watched Ineke’s body rise from the duvet.
As her turquoise blue hair lifted off the duvet, exposing the contrasting purple pink colored strands, her head arched back, hair streaming, arms and legs arched, responding to the pull of gravity. Ineke floated towards the barge ceiling, the tattooed bird silhouettes spiraling around her shoulders giving the illusion of flight.
A luminescent membrane emerged through her skin and slowly enveloped Ineke, her arms and legs slowly constricted until she lay in a coffin-like pose, arms by her sides, face almost divine, pure, tranquil. Reaching the low ceiling of the river barge, both capsule and Ineke dissolved through its ceiling.
The pale blue light faded, and the barge was plunged back into flickering darkness.
At this point the two terrified spectators started screaming, waking Greetjie with a start.