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In Conversation… with an Ex-User

“Would you like some tea?”

Me: (turning and smiling at the young man behind the voice.) “No thank you”

Him: “You sure? You don’t like tea?”

Me: “It looks a little too strong for my taste!”

Him: (pulling up a chair and settling down with his own cup of hot tea) “So, are you a journalist?”

Me: “Um, no, I am just working in the office here.”

Him: “Ok, well, either way, if you want to ask me anything feel free to do so”

(after a pause)

Me: “So you are working here as well?”

Him: “At this rehab centre? No, I was in here a few years ago; I came back then to get help with my addictions, and since then I have been trying to get my life in order, starting from becoming independent so I don’t need to be dependent on anything or anyone. I like to visit this place once in a while. Just come back and say hello to all my friends in here. ”

Me: “That is a good thing.”

Him: “Really, you can ask me what’s on your mind.”

Me: “I was wondering how did you get into it though.”

Him: “Oh it was just everywhere when I was growing up. You know this place, its very populated and there is no future, well atleast we never saw any when we were younger and playing and living off these very streets. Socially, the culture just passed on from the youth to kids, it was that bad. Habits caught you even before you knew what a habit meant. When I was as young as nine, I started smoking. I remember it was one of my seniors from my local school that offered me my first cigarette, and back then we were so young and naïve that I didn’t really think twice. When I was eleven, I was already smoking up.”

Me: “Didn’t your parents realize what you were getting involved in?”

Him: “I had about half a dozen brothers and sisters and my parents were very busy raising them. They had barely enough money to keep the house running and kept busy with that. Plus once I would be off to school, I would be on my own. You might have already guessed I could not get much money from home, so I started doing odd jobs after school to afford my new lifestyle. I would do work for anyone who would pay me a bare minimum, provide an extra helping hand in small shops or for small businesses. As these were random jobs, and we needed something much more steady, we got around to picking rags and sifting through the rubbish to find anything we could resell to kabadiwalas (scrap dealers) who would find someone who would pay for their scrap value. This was an okay thing until we started finding curious things in the wastes from the area where we were growing up – the residential-cum-commercial area was full of grown-ups sniffing and discarding worse stuff in the trash – there were always traces of such things, especially the cheaper, unhealthy, and contaminated variety, for us to find and experiment there.”

Him: (continuing) “We got in a nasty habit there, trying all sorts of things, first for free then slowly paying for it. We just didn’t realize we were paying a part of our lives as the price. This went for many years before my family finally gave up on me and stopped giving me shelter any more. Looking back, this was one of the best things that happened to me. Then I had to come here to seek shelter and also make changes to my life. These people were nice, they let me in at zero fee, I just had to follow the rules and help with chores. Things turned around slowly. It was not always easy, but I kept trying. Since the time I got out of here, my target is always the monthly salary from a decent job – nothing gives me more happiness than going home with a cheque in hand and being greeted with smiles. I live for my family, from one day to another.”

(awkward silence)

Me: “Thank you for sharing that with me.”

Him: “I will see you next time I come around here. You really should have that tea, if you intend to work here for longer.” And then he passes me one of the most genuine and warmest smiles I have ever seen.

As he walks away with his cup, I pick up my tea reluctantly, take a sip of the bitter liquid, put it back on the table, and try to do some work. From the corner of my eye I can see him chatting smilingly with other people. I wonder if his new fix is hope – or love – because we are all dependent in some way. It’s just about choosing the right fixes.

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