A week passed by. Raghu didn’t answer any calls. His boss who wanted to fire him, his girlfriend who wanted to dump him and in general everyone closely associated with him were getting antsy and were really really angry at him. Malaika had even stood below his office building for an hour after his work day ended to try and meet him. She wanted to have a proper conversation, end things with him but Raghu was nowhere to be found. His door was bolted from outside and he wasn’t answering his phone. It was almost as if Raghu had eloped and didn’t want to be found. Malaika was the only one who was now more worried than pissed.

Raghu was on a train to Panvel. He had rented a room there for a week. The intention was to cut off all ties from the world, explore whatever side of him he wanted to and “get it out of his system”. He would come back and deal with everything. At the time, it had seemed like a good decision. He had Malaika’s knocking on the door and the flurry of calls and texts to “open the door”. But Raghu was lying on his bed, tripping majorly. He couldn’t open the door and talk to Malaika. It was bad enough having to read the text appeared as if it was being projected on a large backdrop of outer space. Of course, Raghu was grinning like a crazy idiot but he couldn’t stop. There were times during the week when he was lucid and was thinking straight. Each time the high from the last swig would show some signs of wearing down, he would bury himself into self loathing and misery. And then proceed to binge on more cough syrup. At night he would get high till he passed out on his bed. In the morning he would brush his teeth and start what had become a routine. Each night, he’d promise himself he would wake up the next day and clean up his act. Each morning, he would be faced with the mess that the current reality of his life was and he would resign to his mistress. Around noon on two occasions, he visited the same set of nine medical stores in a 5 kilometer radius around his apartment and procured a fresh stash. He would buy food too from the ones that were general stores too so it looked fairly inconspicuous what he was doing. He would make sure he was sober or at least sober enough. One of the chemists did protest about giving him heavy duty cough syrup without a prescription but it was an empty threat. Raghu knew that.

*

Dwayne Fernandes, Raghu’s downstairs neighbor worked at a wine shop by day. He co-owned it with a couple of other friends. Dwayne was a helpful guy by nature and stayed sober six days a week. On the seventh, he would pop pure heroin scored methodically on the night of the sixth, tested the very same night for purity and injected into his vein the seventh morning, a ritual he had grown accustomed to for seven years now. Since his day job was not particularly lucrative, he made money to support his addiction by dealing occasionally, but only occasionally.

In his late teens and early twenties, Dwayne had tried just about everything that Mumbai’s streets had to offer. Given that this was the 80s, LSD, cocaine and heroin (or as Dwayne called it, his Dwagon) were his regular mistresses. Dwayne was an alcoholic when he went off the hard stuff but when he turned thirty, the news of his father’s death due to an overdose of a bad concoction hit him like a jolt of lightening. The death was eventually ruled an accidental overdose although Dwayne found out that his father had been a long time addict to several drugs and was miserable and very likely had decided to sleep forever. This changed Dwayne’s life completely. He checked into rehab the next week, successfully did his time, took up a job as a waiter in a bar and five years later, opened a wine shop with a couple of friends. The money came from savings earned from dealing drugs and not using most of it to fund his own addictions.

Dwagon was Dwayne’s dragon. Heroin. Dwayne had tried heroin last, well into his twenties and he had found his calling. Nothing else compared to how dwagon made him feel. Even after he cleaned up his act and finished rehab, Dwayne knew he couldn’t give up on dwagon. Determined to not end up like his father, he made a pact with life. He would  continue to ride his dwagon, but once a week. The other days, as hard as it may be, he would live in society, following its rules, not scoring, not shooting, letting the red dot from last week to blend with the other faded dots near his elbow.

At thirty eight, Dwayne was content with life, lived in a decent apartment for a dealer and his ritual gave him sanity and purpose in life. His day job was dull but the seventh day made up for everything. Every few months he would have to miss the seventh day for some reason, but thirty years of life had taught him to treat the seventh day like the sixth, instead of lying in a toilet cubicle somewhere, crying because he couldn’t find a vein to renew his high. Now he rode the dwagon, instead of letting it ride him. It pained him that the people he dealt to didn’t have the kind of control he did, but such was the price one had to pay to achieve the balance he thought he had struck with life, after wasting nearly half of it to drugs.

Dwayne had known the minute he came over to help Raghu that it was far from being a case of food poisoning like he had claimed. Dwayne had also realized that Raghu was a terrific customer and that apparently, half his job was done. Raghu was going to be a steady pay day and he needed a new fridge. In the next year, Raghu would pay for that fridge. Over easy monthly installments. In exchange for riding the dwagon, wanting the ride more each time than the last time. Dwayne had been a dealer long enough to know an easy pay day when he saw one. He had watched Raghu frequent medical stores systematically over the last few weeks. He smiled at him in the corridor and asked if he was okay, if he hadn’t been eating any stale Manchurian. Till one day, he intercepted Raghu after a trip to the mall, in the middle of replenishing his supplies and medicine.

“Hey..got a minute?”

“Umm..sure? What for?”

Dwayne opened the door he was leaning against and invited Raghu in.

“Do you want to meet dwagon?”

“What’s a dwagon?”

One ride of the dwagon will take all your pain away. It will give you whatever you are seeking. A small, tiny ride of the dwagon is enough to sort out all your shit. I can see that you have some shit that needs to be sorted out.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“And doesn’t everyone wish they could ride their pain away. Come in. Let me show you”

Reluctantly, Raghu entered an apartment, far more immaculate than his, certainly more than a single guy, not much older than him should be living in.

“Nice place. What is this dwagon you’re so sure will fix everything?”

“Relax man. You just relax. How much cough syrup have you had today?”

“What?”

“Just relax. You wont need that brown bag anymore. It’s useless. I have what you need”

Dwayne pulled out a spoon from a drawer, took out a tiny balloon from his pocket and emptied a little more than half of it onto the spoon. Then he took out a syringe from his wallet and squirted a little water on to the tar like contents of the balloon on the spoon. The tar melted into the water and turned into a brown puddle. He took out a lighter and began cooking the tar. Raghu realized what was going on and got up.

“What’re you doing? This is ridiculous. I’m leaving.”

“No you’re not. Sit down.”

The bitter, vinegar smell filled the room. Raghu sat down, furious, watching Dwayne keenly, about to flip his lid.

“I don’t want any part of this” Raghu protested.

“Of course you do. You just don’t know it yet. Don’t worry. Just relax.”

Raghu felt like punching him and leaving. But he suddenly realized that even if he did that, it would be only to go home and chug cough syrup till he passed out. He felt compelled to stay. Dwayne tore a small piece of cotton and placed it on the brown sludge on the spoon. The cotton soaked up the brown slush. He used the syringe to draw the dark brown matter from the cotton, filling a third of it. He quickly capped it and kept it on the table.

Raghu got up and left, only to come back an hour later. Dwayne opened the door. The loaded syringe was still lying on the table. Dwayne asked Raghu to take a seat and make himself comfortable.

“Give me your arm” Dwayne said with a little authority. Raghu obliged. Dwayne took out a rubber belt and tied it around Raghu’s arm. He slapped his arm a few times and a large underlying vein revealed itself just below the arch of his elbow. Dwayne pulled the cap off the rig and slowly slid the needle into the vein. Raghu felt nothing except for a slight pop of the needle entering his vein. Dwayne drew back the plunger as it filled up with an incarnadine mushroomed cloud, replacing the brown mixture. Suddenly, Raghu felt his stomach turn over and his heart began pounding. Dwayne loosened the belt and pushed down the plunger, careful not to let the needle pop out. Once it was done, he pulled the needle out and asked Raghu to start counting backwards from ten.

Within seconds, Raghu felt a wonderful, warmth overwhelm his entire body, emanating outward from his chest. He felt an inexplicable tingle deep inside him, like on the verge of an orgasm. He felt like he was floating in air, miles off the ground. Everything became a blur, a sweet, merciful blur of nothingness. It felt almost too good to be true. He felt his soul convulse with mystical gratification.

This was all the therapy he ever needed. This was everything, he had ever needed. Where had it been, all his life?

*

Dr. Andrews’s interest in Raghu’s case had suddenly escaladed. She suddenly had a breakthrough in her head. After that, she was immersed in research for nearly eight hours. The next time Raghu came to her, she would have a solution to his problem.

*

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