He knocks on our door. Tip tap. Then barges in without waiting for a reply. It’s a bit rude, really, but also strange. Being 2:20am, and all. My roommate and I were having one last long chat into the night. Abdul had been sharing a room with me for the past two months, and on the eve of December the 1st, he was due to depart.
Good mate, very wise to the world, despite his young 25 years. A taste for powder back in the day, just like me. But that was far from the only thing we had in common. Over the past few months we had discussions that ranged from theology to the nature of addiction to Instagram awesomeness.
On the theology front, he tried convincing me of the existence of an all-power omnipresent force for good in the Universe. I managed to get him to admit his own doubts.
Of course, one evening I pretended to be a convert to the faith. I went as far as to suggest we blow ourselves up. I guess I just felt that I was a quick learner. Abdul, rather than be offended, laughed. A Muslim and a Jew, staying in a room in perfect harmony. We called our pad the Holy Land.
Not a very good Jew, me, because I partake in bacon. But I’ve decided to quit it. Mostly out of a fear of tapeworms. There are certain worms the early bird is more than welcome to have.
In any case, it’s odd for night owls to encounter early birds in the wee hours. Idiom, not his real name, who knocked on our door and barged in, normally was asleep by 10pm. The past few nights, he’d been up late though. Abdul and I discussed it. We had a feeling something was up.
Of course, being in a halfway house means you might run into a housemate on drugs. More commonly, when someone uses drugs or alcohol, they do it off-property and mostly own up to it quickly. I had my relapse over a year ago, and phoned the house manager herself to tell her. That’s because, for many relapses, the addict stumbles. Has a lapse in behaviour, but really, truly wants to get and stay clean. They own their behaviour in the same way as an Olympic sprinter owns his mistake when he tumbles before the finishing line.
Idiom seemed to be using drugs, based on bits of his behaviour there’s no point trudging up. The problem was, he was being tested through urine analysis, like the rest of us, and passing. Could he have been cheating the test somehow? We didn’t know. (There are methods for cheating tests, but I won’t describe them, and you’ll probably get caught out one way or another if you try them – because everybody gets caught out eventually).
We had been discussing some of this behaviour earlier in the night. And now, suddenly, he was in our room in an ungodly hour.
Abdul and I, sitting up in our beds, asked Idiom what he wanted.
“Dude, do you have airtime?” he asked.
“Yes, why?” Abdul responded.
“My friend’s been in an accident,” Idiom said, almost frantically. “I can’t call him from my phone, I’m out, please let me just call him quick, I’ll get him to call me back.”
“I don’t have a lot of airtime.”
“I’ll be quick, please, I need to find out how he’s doing.”
“J.D, do you have airtime?” Abdul asked.
I didn’t want, suddenly, for my phone to have anything to do with what I suspected was dodgy business. “I don’t have any airtime, dude.”
This was not a lie. I didn’t have airtime. I had a contract.
“Please, Abdul, I’ll be quick.” Idiom said.
“Okay, but you must talk here.”
“Sure. The number is…” Idiom recited a string of numbers, as Abdul punched them into his keypad. The phone started ringing. He had it on speaker mode.
Idiom grabbed the phone, and switched it to normal. There was an answer, we could barely hear the voice as Idiom said, in an almost convincing way, “Are you okay?? Are you okay??”
This situation felt so off, so uncomfortable. Both Abdul and I “knew” this was a conversation happening with a drug dealer – which wasn’t a suspicion lessened by Idiom suddenly saying, “I sent my mate your number…” Then he repeated this, louder. Sounded like a stern voice on the other end.
Idiom asked that his “friend” call him on his phone, and handed Abdul’s back. Then his phone rang, and he answered it again with the award- winning “Are you okay?? Are you okay??”
He left the room swiftly, slamming the door behind him, and his voice disappeared down the passage way.
“I think that was a dealer,” Abdul said.
“No sh!t.” I replied.
“You thought it too?”
I sighed. “Do you have the number?”
Abdul was, as I was saying this, searching the call log, before looking up at me. “He deleted it.”
We were right, of course. There was way too much smoke for this not to be a deal happening. And it sure as hell felt uncomfortable, like a flashback to an urgent, desperate time of needing to score drugs in the seedy part past midnight.
Yet, where was the proof. We really wanted to catch him out. Somehow, he slipped past the urine test, and clearly he was using drugs on the property, which in itself felt like a violation. So what to do?
“He’s organising for the dealer to drop it off by the gate,” I said.
“I think so too.” Abdul replied. “Go eavesdrop on his conversation.”
“Dude, I’m not eavesdropping on him. That’s some ninja sh!t. Do I look like a ninja to you?”
“We could spot him through the bathroom window.”
Our room, being the best room in the halfway house, had its own bathroom en-suite. Its window faced the front gate.
The thing with halfway houses is there’s a curfew. It’s probably one of the most important of the rules. Creates a clear and safe structure for residents at the house, I feel. So Idiom couldn’t go off on a sojourn – as a currently active addict, his best bet to escape detection would have been to ensure he was fully stocked before coming back to the halfway at night.
But, of course, addicts being what they are, control over amounts tends to get snorted out the window. He ran out of his drugs too soon because we ultimately don’t have control over our abuse – otherwise we wouldn’t need rehabs like Houghton House.
So, Abdul and I figured, he got that ooooold hunger for another hit. “Sir dealer, may I have some more?” Oliver Twisted alright.
Now we had our plan. We heard footsteps, sounded like they were coming from outside, by our room’s main window (curtained), and walking up the driveway.
“You hear him!” Abdul fiercely whispered.
“Yeah!” I replied. “Let’s go be ninjas!”
So we stealth-tippy-toed to the bathroom and kneeled down quietly on the floor. Our bathroom window was open, and we had our vantage view of the front gate. Now Idiom was unlikely to open the gate… the house manager was like a German Shepard: the sound of that gate opening had her go from sleep to barking in mere moments.
The dealer was going to land here.
“Do you see Idiom?” Abdul asked.
“No! Shhh!! Talk quieter!”
We waited for fifteen minutes.
“I don’t think he’s outside.”
“Just wait!” I said. “The dealer can’t be far away!”
“I’m going back to the room.” Abdul walked off. Not even tippy-toeing much.
After five minutes, I gave up and went back to bed.
“So much for that,” I said.
“Okay, try this number out.”
“You have the number, I thought he deleted it?”
“He did, but I’m good at remembering numbers. Let’s try get him.”
“Okay, what’s the number?”
Abdul recited it to me. I punched it in, and then rang it. On speaker.
Suddenly the phone call got rejected. Beeep.
“I think that was the wrong number. A dealer would answer even at this time of night.” I said.
“Ummm. Let me think…” “Why are we using my phone anyway?”
“The dealer’s already seen my number. Once, he’ll forget about. More than once, he might save. It’s your turn. Okay, I’ve definitely got the right number now. Try this…”
“I’m not doing this all night, dude.”
“It’s the right number.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s the number he called. He deleted it on my phone, but if you press the call button, it still brings up the last number dialled.”
“Oh yeah, brilliant!” We had it. Time to do this.
Again, Abdul recited a string of numbers. Again, I punched them in.
I hit ‘call’.
It rang. I handed my phone to Abdul.
“Here, you do it. I’m no good at these bullsh!t conversations.”
“Okay.” Abdul put it on speaker.
The call was accepted. We heard the voice, loud and clear.
“Hallo, who is dis?” The voice was West African. And not to typecast here, but every dealer I’ve ever bought narcotics from in my entire life was Nigerian. And, this is almost definitely certain, he didn’t sound like someone who had recently been in a car accident.
Dealers also have this very brisk, businessman-like way of talking. But risky business, as you can imagine. And they tended to sound very suspicious of unfamiliar voices, unfamiliar phone numbers. The job inspires a certain amount of paranoid caution, of course.
“Idiom gave us your number, is that okay? He said we could call.”
“Not normally how dis work. Who is dis?”
“A friend of Idiom’s, a friend of Idiom’s, can we get some stuff from you?”
“Oh-kay, my name is John.”
Nigerian dealers always use innocuous-sounding and common Western names. For reasons.
Then he continued, “Who is dis, who is dis?”
Abdul and I had heard enough, and actually felt a little tainted by the whole incident. So Abdul extracted himself from Operation: Bad Idiom, and said, “Sorry dude, another time, another time, night night,” and disconnected from the call.
He then looked up at me with a huge grin. “We’ve got him red-handed.”
The next day we gave the house manager our “field report”. Idiom didn’t even need to do a test. When he was confronted on the call, he admitted he was using coke. Out the house he went.
Sadly, two other people in the house relapsed in the following days. They did own up to it after they relapsed. It shows willingness. We didn’t even have to smoke a pipe and wear a tweedy deerstalker hat.
But this is a difficult time of the year for recovering addicts, especially those in early recovery. I also need to take precautions, I’m far from far in mine.
I’m not special and different. I can fall just as easily as anyone else. I like to think I won’t lie and manipulate others if I do relapse. I like to think that if it happens again, I’ll own up to it, just as the other two housemates did, as soon as it occurs.
But there’s only one way to know for sure I don’t try manipulate, deceive, and sell other people’s property for drugs.
And that’s not to pick up in the first place.
After all, recovery is fairly elementary.