the international junkie

The International Junkie rages in three different languages; fluently. We hear her, below our window.  It is late September, I am in Barcelona with friends staying in a house along the narrow streets of Barcelonetta. It is a stone throw from the beach, traditionally a poor area built for the local fishermen back when shoreline property was deemed undesirable.  Washing hangs off balconies like flags or bunting, front rooms spill onto the street and a smell of rotting garbage mixed with the sea breeze pervades but from a tourist’s perspective, it appears romantically dilapidated, authentic Barcelona.From my balcony, I can see directly into 4 rooms; across from me a young pregnant woman folds clothes in a bedroom whilst her husband sits on the balcony smoking.  Above them a mature woman prepares dinner in her kitchen, a steaming pot on the hob awaits the carrots she is slicing. Here, lives are lived in the closest proximity and we are all conspicuous. However, the ground floor apartment is different, it is barricaded behind white metal shutters, which are pulled down, a block on my curious nature. It is here the international junkie lives.

Early dawn breaks, we wake to her torments, she is screaming fluently in Russian, English and Spanish.  ‘Let me in,’ she rails, ‘This is my house, mia casa,’. A male voice intercedes and an argument ensues. By now fully awake, I get up and cross the room to the balcony, push aside a heavy sheet used a makeshift curtain and am met by a sea of faces; all the neighbours have been roused and stand on their own balconies to watch the unfolding drama below.

This young woman, the street junkie, smack addict will not be hushed. She carries a skateboard in her arm and smashes it against the white shutters, oblivious to the racquet she has created, the disturbance she is causing. Water is thrown at her from neighbour’s stewing pot.  The junkie laughs and shrugs it off continuing to unleash her woes.  The man arguing with her is one of the street residents, he appeals to her to cease her raving, he yells at her to shut up, raises his fist at her. His stances are aggressive but impotent, mere postures thrown which she dances around.  The entire street is united in its desire to shut her up but no one calls the police. This early morning, smackhead cockerel is a problem; a regular nocturnal happening still and all it is not a police matter.

The next day she hangs outside the house with a girlfriend.  I can see she is young early twenties, a slight skinny frame; there are sores around her mouth and various tattoos scratched on to her arms. She is calm and curious when we appear, wanting to know who we are and what we do.

Later when her high has subsided this calmness is eradicated. She attacks her friend, hurls abuse at her and vomits up her agonies, once again in impeccable Russian, Spanish and English.

Barcelona’s city planners are a proud and practical lot, the populace enjoys the beaches, the parks and hills, there is much for all to share. It is a fair city, socially equitable in many ways, there’s a square around every other corner, with play areas and benches; even the seats are arranged in such a way conducive to striking up a conversation.

In leafy suburban NW London, such behaviour would not be tolerated. The police would have been phoned immediately. She would have been removed. Yet here all live together, the toxic, the tormented, good, bad, fools scoundrels, young, old there is a clearly a strong sense of community of which our street junkie (albeit unwanted) is a part.

Our last night passes peacefully. We rise early the next morning, our sleep for the first time uninterrupted and wonder at her silence, it’s a worry…