CHANNILLO

Rough Times (1)
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Distracted, waiting for the light to change, my eyes wander across the street and stumble on him. Because it is him, even if his hair looks different and he seems somehow smaller than the first and only time I’ve seen him before, all those years ago, on the night Sean won the lottery.

I can’t recall much of those days, but I do remember that one night. I remember getting off the bus and wrapping my coat tight against my neck to shield it from the surprisingly icy air. Life can change in a moment.

 

‘Did you hear?’ Paul barked at me from outside the liquor store near the bus stop.

‘Hear what?’ I immediately regretted asking. Paul was an endless source of gossip and bad news. I was not in the mood for one his morbid tales.

Drunk, as always, Paul bumbled to catch up with me. ‘Sean won the lottery, the big one, all six numbers. Your best friend’s a billionaire, that makes you something of a millionaire, no?’ He laughed hard, thinking himself funny. I sprinted forward, leaving him and his alcoholized breath behind.

It was late and I was freezing, but Paul’s news demanded a visit to Sean. It’d be good to congratulate my friend if he’d actually won something. Or we could drink a beer together to wash away the disappointment if this was one of those times he’d mistaken last week’s tickets for this week’s tickets and proclaimed himself rich before realizing his blunder.

I turned left on Western. It was longer that way, but better than dealing with the working girls parading Northern Blvd. It had started to drizzle, which would only add to their desperation.

I heard the clatter streaming from Sean’s building blocks before I could see the place. The noise grew exponentially stronger as I got closer.

A tsunami of sound, smell, color and touch washed over me the moment I turned the corner to enter the building. There was music, and hordes of people going up and down the stairs, and in and out of Sean’s apartment. I’d never seen most of them, but they laughed and sang and danced, and I felt I knew them. A few of guys carried bottles of expensive champagne, filling and refilling the crowd’s glasses, and the crowd drank and toasted to being alive, happily forgetting—even if only for one night—that life was hard, messy and relentlessly unfair.

Among the mesmerizing chaos I heard Sean, shouting, ‘I won! I won! I won! I really did it!’

I could help but grin. Friends since childhood, I knew well the many hardships that had plagued Sean’s life and how much he deserved this win. After so many days of going hungry to buy tickets and so many nights of cursing his fate, swearing he would win the lottery even if he had to sell his soul to the devil, luck had been on his side for once. And this one time was enough for a lifetime.

I went up the stairs.

‘I told you I'd win!’ he shouted as soon as he saw me enter the apartment, rushing across the room, jumping over furniture and pushing people aside, to hug me.

I hugged him back. ‘Lucky bastard, you surely did!’ My voice half drown by the effort of refilling my lungs after his assault.

From there on, the night became a blur of drinking, laughing, smoking, and kissing women I’d never seen before, but who seemed more than happy to sit on my lap and let me grope them, probably thinking that getting close to me would get them closer to Sean and his newly acquired billions.

Most of my memories of the party are fuzzy and disjointed, as drunken memories are. There’s one thing I remember clearly, though: the outsider.

I first saw him standing against a wall, unsmiling and sober, the only person in that apartment who was not celebrating. He was wearing the same rags everyone wore at the time—slashed jeans, black t-shirt with some band’s name printed on it, and a red and black lumberjack shirt—but he was not from the neighborhood, and I’d certainly never seen him before.

I approached him. Up close, he was striking. I have no interest in members of my own sex, never had, but even a blind person would have noticed.

Half drunk and insulted by his attitude, I confronted him, ‘What, too good to drink at someone else’s stroke of luck?’

‘I’m working, pal, no need to get mad,’ he answered, without looking at me.

‘Working? That’s bull man! Nobody is working here, not tonight.’

‘Really? Would you like me to prove it?’ A smile spread on his face, like that of a bored cat when a mouse leaves the safety of its little hole in the wall.

‘What are you going to do, start taking orders and serving drinks?’ I taunted him, feeling entitled and almighty, as most drunks feel.

He shook his head slowly and looked straight at me. I got a tad scared, yet not enough to stop harassing him.

‘That’s not my line of work,’ he said. ‘I’m more of a facilitator; you tell me what you want, and I help you get it, that’s all.’ He stepped toward me and his smile widened. ‘Of course, there’s a contract to sign, payment to discuss, and a few other formalities. Interested?’

I shook my head, ready to punch him; Sean had won the lottery only hours ago, and all kinds of leeches were already arriving.

I stepped closer, fist high and willing, but when I looked into his eyes, cold horror filled me.

‘No, I’m good,’ I said, stumbling backwards away from him. Those were my last words of the night. He went back to his wall, and I spent the rest of the party sulking alone on a sofa.

Much happened after that night, but I missed a great deal of it by staying away from Sean, hiding in fear of coming face to face with the outsider again.

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