She has run out of methamphetamine, what the Thais call yaba (mad medicine), and she has become agitated and irritable and potentially violent. Jacky's cheeks are sunken, her skin is pockmarked and her hair is an unruly explosion of varying strands of red and brown. She is tall and skinny and her arms and legs extend out from her narrow torso with its slightly protuberant belly almost like the appendages of a spider who got shortchanged on legs.
Sitting on the blue vinyl flooring of her Bangkok hut, Jacky leans her bare back against the plank wall, her dragon tattoos glistening with sweat as she trims her fingernails with a straight razor. It has been two days—no, three—without sleep, sitting in this hut and smoking the little pink speed tablets off sheets of tinfoil stripped from Krong Tip cigarette packets. Now, as the flushes of artificial energy recede and the realization surfaces that there's no more money anywhere in this hut, Jacky is crashing hard and she hates everyone and everything. Especially Bing. She hates that sponging little punk for all of the tablets he smoked a few hours ago—tablets she could be smoking right now. Back then, she had a dozen tablets packed into a plastic soda straw stuffed down her black, wire-frame bra. The hut was alive with the chatter of a half dozen speed addicts, all pulling apart their Krong Tip packs and sucking in meth smoke through metal pipes. Now that the pills are gone, the fun is gone. And Bing, of course, he's long gone.
This slum doesn't have a name. The 5,000 residents call it Ban Chua Gan, which translates roughly as Do It Yourself Happy Homes. The expanse of jerry-rigged wood-frame huts with corrugated steel roofs sprawls in a murky bog in Bangkok's Sukhumvit district, in the shadow of 40-story office buildings and glass-plated corporate towers. The inhabitants migrated here about a decade ago from villages all around Thailand. Jacky came from Nakon Nayok, a province near Bangkok's Don Muang airport, seeking financial redemption in the Asian economic miracle. And for a while in the mid-'90s, conditions in this slum actually improved. Some of the huts had running water piped in. Even the shabbiest shanties were wired for electricity. The main alleyways were paved. This was when Thailand's development and construction boom required the labor of every able-bodied person. There were shopping malls to be built, housing estates to be constructed, highways to be paved. And someone had to service those office buildings and corporate towers.
Around the same time, mad medicine began making its way into Do It Yourself Happy Homes. It had originally been the drug of choice for long-haul truck and bus drivers, but during the go-go '90s, it evolved into the working man's and woman's preferred intoxicant, gradually becoming more popular among Thailand's underclass than heroin and eventually replacing that opiate as the leading drug produced in the notorious Golden Triangle. While methamphetamines had previously been sold either in powdered or crystalline form, new labs in Burma and northern Thailand commoditized the methamphetamine business by pressing little tablets of the substance that now retail for about 50 baht ($1.20) each. At first, only bar girls like Jacky smoked the stuff. Then some of the younger guys who hung out with the girls tried it. And then a few of the housewives began smoking, and finally some of the dads would take a hit or two when they were out of corn whiskey. Now it has reached the point that on weekend nights, it's hard to find anyone in the slum who isn't smoking the mad medicine.
When the yaba runs out after half the slum's population has been up for two days bingeing, most of the inhabitants feel a bit like Jacky, cooped up in her squalid little hut, her mouth turned up into a vicious little scowl and her eyes squinted and empty and mean. She looks like she wants something. And if she thinks you have what she wants, then look out. She slices at her cuticles with the straight razor. And curses Bing.
But then Bing comes around the corner between two shanties and down the narrow dirt path to Jacky's hut. He stands looking lost and confused, as usual. Jacky pretends he's not there. She sighs, looking at her nails, and stage whispers to me that she hates him.
Bing, his long black hair half-tied into a ponytail, stands next to a cinder-block wall, rubbing his eyes. Over his head, a thick trail of red army ants runs between a crack in the wall and a smushed piece of pineapple. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tissue in which he has wrapped four doa (bodies, the slang for speed tablets). Jacky stops doing her nails, smiles and invites Bing back into her hut, asking sweetly: "Oh Bing, where have you been?"
This mad medicine is the same drug that's called shabu in Japan and Indonesia, batu in the Philippines and bingdu in China. Perhaps it's appropriate that speed is Asia's drug of choice, with an estimated 30 million users across the region. Hard work remains this part of the world's indomitable virtue. Making money and getting rich are viewed as glorious ends in themselves, no matter the means. And methamphetamine use, at first, dovetails nicely with those 16-hour days slaving on a construction site or hunched over a workstation. It is the perfect drug for those struggling to keep pace with an upwardly mobile continent.
While it has taken scientists years to figure out the clinical pharmacology and neurological impact of ecstasy and other designer drugs like ketamine, methamphetamines are a blunt pharmaceutical instrument. The drug encourages the brain to flood the synapses with the neurotransmitter dopamine—the substance your body uses to reward itself when you, say, complete a difficult assignment at the office or finish a vigorous workout. And when the brain is awash with dopamine, the whole cardiovascular system goes into sympathetic overdrive, increasing your heart rate, pulse and even your respiration. You become, after that first hit of speed, gloriously, brilliantly, vigorously awake. Your horizon of aspiration expands outward, just as in your mind's eye your capacity for taking effective action to achieve your new, optimistic goals has also grown exponentially. Then, eventually, maybe in an hour, maybe in a day, maybe in a year, you run out of speed. And you crash.
In country after country throughout Asia, meth use skyrocketed during the '90s. And with the crash of the region's high-flying economies, the drug's use has surged again as battered, tired populations try to work through their hangovers with even more mad medicine. If you used the drug to push yourself to work harder when the region was on its way up, you then used it to alleviate the boredom of unemployment when the region was on its way down. It has now become a continent-wide crisis, one that is creating millions of addicts and threatening to cripple societies barely on the mend from an economic cataclysm and still wrestling with huge numbers of addicts hooked on more traditional drugs like heroin. The numbers reveal a region with an increasingly lethal need for speed: in Japan, between 1995 and 1999, the amount of methamphetamine seized, a pretty good indicator of usage patterns, increased from 85 kg to nearly 2,000 kg—about 65 million hits. The story is the same in South Korea, where there are now more than 7,000 meth-related arrests annually, up from just 479 in 1992. In Indonesia, 218 kg of shabu were seized in 1999, up from just 3 kg two years earlier. The amount of ice confiscated in China doubled in 1999 and then doubled again last year to 20.9 tons. In Taiwan, speed now accounts for 85% of all drugs seized; in Cambodia, police seized 35,000 amphetamine tablets last year, up from 22,000 in 1999. And in Thailand, the government estimates that an astounding 800 million yaba tablets were imported and consumed last year—enough for every man, woman and child in the country to smoke a dozen each. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has worked in Asia for many years warns: "The opium war may be nothing compared to the Asian meth war."
The base of the drug—ephedrine—was actually first synthesized in Asia: a team of Japanese scientists derived it from the Chinese mao herb in 1892. Amphetamine and methamphetamine are derived from this ephedrine base, or from pseudoephedra, an artificial alternative, in a hazardous process that involves heating and pressurizing solvents and other store-bought chemicals. While the refining can be volatile, it is not terribly complex, which means that meth labs are an ideal family business for industrious Asians, who set them up in converted bathrooms, farmhouses or even the family hearth. Unlike ecstasy, which requires sophisticated chemical and pharmaceutical knowledge to manufacture, or heroin, where the base product, the poppy plant, is a vulnerable crop, there are no limits to how much meth can be made or who can make it.
This gray-brick warehouse on the outskirts of Beijing is a typical, small-time meth lab. Here, the six members of the Li family oversee the process of creating crystalline methamphetamine. Their neighbors, says father Li, think they are making legal chemicals, which is why crystals are drying out in the open between two warehouses. "No one knows that this isn't an agricultural product," he smiles. "No one knows what methamphetamines look like." After Li's speed is processed it is handed over to local crime gangs, who ship it to Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia or take it overland into Burma to the Wa state, where the drugs are further refined into the tablets that are eventually smuggled into Thailand and sold, via numerous middlemen, to Jacky and her fellow addicts at the Do It Yourself Happy Homes. The pink pills that Jacky smokes are all stamped WY, the symbol of the United Wa State Army.
There is something familiar about Jacky and her little hut and her desperate yearning for more speed and even for the exhilaration and intoxication she feels when she's on the pipe. Familiar to me because I've been there before. Not in this exact room nor with these people. But I've been on speed.
During the early '90s, I went through a period when I was smoking shabu with a group of friends in Tokyo. I inhaled the smoke from smoothed-out tinfoil sheets folded in two, holding a lighter beneath the foil so that the shards of shabu liquefied, turning to a thick, pungent, milky vapor. The smoke tasted like a mixture of turpentine and model glue; to this day I can't smell paint thinner without thinking of smoking speed.
The drug was euphorically powerful, convincing us that we were capable of anything. And in many ways we were. We were all young, promising, on the verge of exciting careers in glamorous fields. There was Trey, an American magazine writer, like myself, in his 20s; Hiroko, a Japanese woman in her 30s who worked for a Tokyo woman's magazine; Delphine, an aspiring French model and Miki, an A. and R. man for a Japanese record label. When we would sit down together in my Nishi Azabu apartment to smoke the drug, our talk turned to grandiose plans and sure-fire schemes. I spoke of articles I would write. Delphine talked about landing a job doing a Dior lingerie catalog. Miki raved about a promising noise band he had just signed. Sometimes the dealer, a lanky fellow named Haru, would hang around and smoke with us and we would be convinced that his future was surely just as bright as all of ours. There was no limit to what we could do, especially if we put our speed-driven minds to work.
It's always that way in the beginning: all promise, potential, fun. The drug is like a companion telling you that you're good enough, handsome enough and smart enough, banishing all the little insecurities to your subconscious. And you bid them good riddance, because in your giddiness you feel liberated from those self-doubts—never mind that they are there for a reason, to remind you that you are vulnerable, that you are human. You feel totally, completely alive.
I don't know that it helped me to write better stories; I don't believe meth really helps you in any way at all. But in those months, it became arguably the most important activity in my life. Certainly it was the most fun. And I looked forward to Haru coming over with another 20,000-yen baggie of shabu, the drug resembling a little, oily lump of glass. Then we would smoke, at first only on weekends but soon we began to do it on weekdays, whenever I had a free evening. At first only with my friends. Then sometimes I smoked alone. Then mostly alone.
Not everyone in Jacky's neighborhood is as badly off as Jacky and Bing. And even the slum has its nicer alleys, where the huts are made of finished wood and there are flush toilets and the skittering rats don't root through piles of festering garbage. The teens and twenty-somethings in these parts of the slum also like to smoke yaba, but they look down upon Jacky and Bing and their flagrant, raging addictions. Sure, the cool guys in the neighborhood, guys like Big, with a shaved head, gaunt face and sneering upper lip, drop into Jacky's once in a while to score some drugs. Or they'll buy a couple of tablets from Bing's mother, who deals. But they tell you they're different from Bing and the hard-core users. "For one thing," Big alibies, "Bing's selfish. That's how people get when they smoke too much yaba. He loves himself because he's high all the time."
For another, Big points out, Bing hasn't left the slum neighborhood in a year. He doesn't work. He doesn't do anything but smoke. (Bing just shrugs when I ask if it's true that he hasn't left in a year. "I'm too skinny to leave," he explains, "everyone will know I'm doing yaba.") Big has a job as a pump jockey at a Star gas station. And he has a girlfriend, and he has his motorcycle, a Honda GSR 125, and this weekend, like most weekends, he'll be racing his bike with the other guys from the neighborhood, down at Bangkok's superslum Klong Toey. That's why tonight, a few days before the race, he is working on his bike, removing a few links of the engine chain to lower the gear ratio and give the bike a little more pop off the line. He kneels down with a lit candle next to him, his hands greasy and black as he works to reattach the chain to the gear sprockets. Around him a few teenage boys and girls are gathered, smoking cigarettes, some squatting on the balls of their feet, their intent faces peering down at scattered engine parts. The sound is the clatter of adolescent boys. Whether the vehicle in question is a '65 Mustang or a '99 Honda GSR motorcycle, the posturing of the too-cool motorhead trying to goose a few more horsepower out of his engine while at the same time look bitchin' in front of a crowd of slightly younger female spectators is identical, whether you are in Bakersfield or Bangkok.
The slang for smoking speed in Thai is keng rot, literally racing, the same word used to describe the motorcycle rallying the boys do every weekend. Their lives revolve around these two forms of keng rot. They look forward all week to racing their bikes against other gangs from other neighborhoods. And while they profess to have nothing but disgust for the slum's hard-core addicts, by 4 a.m. that night, in Big's room in his parent's house, on a mattress laid on the floor next to his beloved Honda, Big and his friends are smoking yaba and there suddenly seems very little difference between his crowd and Jacky's. "Smoking once in a while, on weekends, that really won't do any harm," Big explains, exhaling a plume of white smoke. "It's just like having a drink." But it's Thursday, I point out. Big shrugs, waving away the illogic of his statement, the drug's powerful reach pulling him away from the need to make sense. He says whatever he wants now, and he resents being questioned. "What do you want from me? I'm just trying to have fun."
The younger neighborhood kids who look up to Big are running out every half hour to buy more speed. They'll keep on racing until dawn when the money is finally gone.
In Jacky's hut, Bing and a few bar girls are seated with their legs folded under them, taking hits from the sheets of tinfoil. As Jacky applies a thick layer of foundation makeup to her face, and then dabs on retouching cream and then a coating of powder, she talks about how tonight she has to find a customer; she needs to make a thousand baht. She'll work the dance floor at Angel's and, if she can't pick up a foreigner, she'll try Thermae, a sleazy after-hours joint and the evening's last resort for Bangkok's bar girls. If she can find a customer and save some money, she can visit her children out in Nakon Nayok. Her two daughters and nine-year-old son live with her uncle. Jacky sees them once a month, and she talks about how she likes to bring them new clothes and cook for them. When she talks about her kids, her almond-shaped eyes widen. "I used to dream of opening a small shop, like a gift shop or a 7-Eleven. Then I could take care of my children and make money. I used to dream about it all the time, and I even believed it was possible, that it was just barely out of reach."
Back then, she was a motorbike messenger, shuttling packages back and forth throughout Bangkok's busy Chitlom district. She was laid off after the 1997 devaluation of the baht when her company released those messengers who didn't own their own motorbikes. "Now I don't think about the gift shop anymore. Smoking yaba pushes those kinds of thoughts, and the thoughts about my children, to the back of my mind. It's good for that. Smoking means you don't have to think about the hard times." Bing nods his head, agreeing. "When I smoke, it makes everything seem a little better. I mean, look at this place, how can I stop?"
Bing's mother, Yee, slips off her sandals as she steps into the hut, clutching her 14-month-old baby. She sits down next to her son and while the baby scrambles to crawl from her lap, she begins pulling the paper backing from a piece of tinfoil, readying the foil for a smoke. Her hands are a whir of finger-flashing activity—assembling and disassembling a lighter, unclogging the pipe, unwrapping the tablets, straightening the foil, lighting the speed and then taking the hit. She exhales finally, blowing smoke just over her baby's face. Bing asks his mother for a hit. She shakes her head. She doesn't give discounts or freebies, not even to her own son.
At one point I ask Yee if she ever tells Bing he should stop smoking yaba. "I tell him he shouldn't do so much, that it's bad for him. But he doesn't listen."
Perhaps she lacks credibility, since she smokes herself?
"I don't smoke that much," she insists.
"She's right," Bing agrees. "Since she doesn't smoke that much, I should listen to her."
"And he's only 15 years old," Yee adds.
Bing reminds her he's 17.
"I don't know where the years go," Yee says, taking another hit.
For the countries at the front lines of the meth war, trying to address the crisis with tougher enforcement has had virtually no effect on curtailing the numbers of users or addicts. Asia has some of the toughest drug laws in the world. In Thailand, China, Taiwan and Indonesia, even a low-level drug trafficking or dealing conviction can mean a death sentence. Yet yaba is openly sold in Thailand's slums and proffered in Jakarta's nightclubs, and China's meth production continues to boom. Even Japan, renowned for its strict anti-drug policies, has had virtually no success in stemming speed use and abuse. "The drug situation is so serious right now that the Prime Minister himself is heading the anti-drug task force," says Yoshitaka Yamada, superintendent of the National Police Agency's Drug Enforcement Divison. Even so, Japan has been fighting this battle longer than most Asian countries and has never been able to eradicate or even seriously dent its methamphetamine culture. "The Japanese like stimulants because it suits their hard-working character," explains Yamada. Certainly, today, amphetamines are more widely available in districts like Tokyo's Shinjuku or Osaka's Nishinari than ever before.
In Taiwan, Dr. Lin Shih-ku, director of the Taipei City Psychiatric Center's department of addiction science, estimates there are 200,000 addicts, or about 1% of the population; in Thailand there are an estimated 2 million speed addicts; in Indonesia the numbers could be even more appalling, though no accurate figures exist.
Without any sort of outside help or intervention, quitting the drug becomes arduously difficult. Especially since prolonged use can lead to severe psychosis. "Basically," says Dr. Lin, "they go crazy." In the meantime, for societies grappling with this crisis, many debilitating side effects result from hosting large addict populations, including spiking crime rates, larger numbers of absentee fathers, higher HIV infection rates and increasing domestic abuse. Undoing the damage could take the rest of the decade, and if the American experience of fighting a prolonged battle against drugs is any example, the war may never be totally won. More likely, these countries and societies will have to write off vast swaths of their populations as drug casualties, like the American victims of the '80s crack epidemic.
Asia's medical and psychiatric infrastructure is already being overwhelmed by the number of drug addicts, particularly meth abusers, who are crashing and seeking help. But in most of the region, counseling facilities are scarce and recovery from drug addiction is still viewed as a matter of willpower and discipline rather than a tenuous and slow spiritual and psychological rebuilding process. When it comes to methamphetamine addiction, where the brain goes through physiological changes that leave the abstinent addict clinically depressed because of depleted serotonin levels, recovery programs and rehab centers become a crucial way station between addiction and sobriety. But most of the region's drug-treatment centers are run like a cross between military-style boot camps and prisons. Even so, beds are scarce as addicts seek the meager resources available. In China, the nearly 750 state-run rehab centers are filled to capacity; in Thailand the few recovery centers suffer from a chronic shortage of staff and beds. While the most powerful tools for fighting addiction in the West—12-step programs derived from Alcoholics Anonymous—are available in Asia, their dissemination and implementation do not reach much of the region. In Thailand, for example, Narcotics Anonymous meetings are far more common in English than in Thai. But it is precisely these sorts of support groups that can determine whether an addict can stay away from speed. "On good days, I am two people," says Cai Zhoushen, a speed addict who has been sent to a Kunming rehab center three times. "One who wants to quit speed and one who wants to just have it one more time."
Or, as Bing puts it: "I can stop using speed anytime I want, but I can never stay stopped."
What started out as a fun diversion for me and my tokyo crowd degenerated in a few months into the kind of chronic drug use that Jacky and her crowd have found familiar. I began to smoke alone, and I started smoking before going out on interviews or to meet editors. I smoked, basically, to begin my days. In the evening, I'd take valiums or halcyons or cercines or any of a number of sedatives to help me calm down. When I stopped smoking for a few days just to see if I could, a profound depression would come over me. The drab grayness of the world would become crushing and the boredom would seem ineluctable. Nothing seemed fun. Nothing seemed worthwhile. Every book was tortuously slow. Every song was criminally banal. Every movie crawled. The sparkle and shine had been sucked out of life so completely that my world came across as some fluorescent-lit, decolorized, saltpetered version of the planet I had known before. And my own prospects? Absolutely dismal. I would sit in that one-bedroom Nishi Azabu apartment and consider this sorry career I had embarked upon, these losers I associated with compounding the very long odds that I would ever amount to anything. It really seemed there was no hope, that I was destined to become this shabbily dressed, dull mediocrity, short on wit, lacking talent, unable to muster the power or engines for sustained flight.
These feelings, about the world and my life, seemed absolutely real. I could not tell for a moment that this was a neurological reaction brought on by the withdrawal of the methamphetamine. My brain had stopped producing dopamine in normal amounts because it had come to rely upon the speed kicking in and running the show. Resear-chers now report that as much as 50% of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be damaged after prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of methamphetamine. In other words, the depression is a purely chemical state. Yet it feels for all the world like the result of empirical, clinical observation. And then, very logically, you realize there is one, surefire solution, the only way to feel better: more speed.
I kept at that cycle for a few years and started taking many more drugs than just methamphetamine, until I hit my own personal bottom. I spent nearly six weeks in a drug treatment center, sitting through tedious group therapy sessions, working out some plan for living that didn't require copious amounts of methamphetamines or tranquilizers. I left rehab five years ago. I haven't had another hit of shabu—or taken any drugs—since then. But I am lucky; I am an exception. Of that crowd who used to gather in my Tokyo apartment, I am the only one who has emerged clean and sober. Trey, my fellow magazine writer, never really tried to quit and now lives back at home with his aging parents. He is nearly 40 years old, still takes speed—or ritalin or cocaine or whichever uppers he can get his hands on—and hasn't had a job in years. Delphine gave up modeling after a few years and soon was accepting money to escort wealthy businessmen around Tokyo. She finally ended up working as a prostitute. Hiroko did stop taking drugs. But she has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and currently believes drastic plastic surgery is the solution to her problems. Miki has been arrested in Japan and the U.S. on drug charges and is now out on parole and living in Tokyo. And Haru, the dealer, I hear he's dead.
Despite all that I know about the drug, despite what I have seen, I am still tempted by it. The pull of the drug is tangible and real, almost like a gravitational force compelling me to want to use it again. To feel just once more the rush and excitement and the sense, even if it's illusory, that life does add up, that there is meaning and form to the passing of my days. Part of me still wants it.
At 2 a.m. on a Saturday, big and his fellow bikers from the Do It Yourself Happy Homes are preparing for a night of bike racing by smoking more yaba and then, as if to get their 125-cc bikes in a parallel state of high-octane agitation, squirting STP performance goo from little plastic packets into their gas tanks. The bikes are tuned up and the mufflers are loosened so that the engine revving at full throttle sounds like a chain saw cutting bone: splintering, ear-shattering screeches that reverberate up and down the Sukhumvit streets. The bikers ride in a pack, cutting through back alleys, running lights, skirting lines of stalled Bangkok traffic, slipping past each other as they cut through the thick city smog. This is their night, the night they look forward to all week during boring mornings at school or dull afternoons pumping gas. And as they ride massed together, you can almost feel the surge of pride oozing out of them, intimidating other drivers to veer out of their way, even truckers hitting the brakes as the gang roars past.
On Na Ranong avenue next to the Klong Toey slum, they meet up with hundreds of other bikers from other slums like Makasan and Suan Phloo. They have been holding these rallies for a decade, some of the kids first coming on the backs of their older brother's bikes. Ken rot is a ritual by now, as ingrained in Thai culture as the speed they smoke to get up for the night of racing. The street is effectively closed off to non-motorcyclists and pedestrians. The bikers idle along the side of the road and then take off in twos and threes, popping wheelies, standing on their seats; the tricks are really third-rate motorcycle stunts, the kind you might see in a local 4th of July parade in the U.S. What is impressive is the speed at which the stunts are executed. Souped up and fitted with performance struts and tires, these bikes accelerate at a terrifying rate if you're on the back of one of them. And that blast off the line makes for an unstable and dangerous ride. It is the internal combustion equivalent of yaba: fast, fun, treacherous. And certain to result, eventually, in a fatal spill. But if you're young and Thai and loaded on mad medicine, you feel immortal and it doesn't occur to you that this night of racing will ever, really, have to end. The hundreds of bikers thronged on the street, the revving engines, the other kids cheering as you make your runs, even the cops coming and setting off concussion grenades and then chasing you through the narrow alleys of Klong Toey. It's all so exciting, euphoric and fun you just never think there's any downside.
There are still moments when even hard-core addicts like Jacky can recapture the shiny, bright exuberance of the first few times she tried speed. Even tonight, as she dances with a potential Belgian client at Angel's, and it looks like the customer is about to take her back to his hotel room, and she's thinking that she'll soon have enough money to visit her children, it doesn't seem so bad. It seems life is almost manageable. A few more customers and who knows, maybe one will really fall for her and pay to move her to a better neighborhood, to rent a place where even her children could live. Maybe she could even open that convenience store after all.
By the next afternoon, however, all the promise of the previous evening has escaped from the neighborhood like so much exhaled smoke. Jacky's customer lost interest and found another girl. Even the bike racing fell apart after the cops broke up the first few rallying points. And now, on a hazy, rainy Sunday, Jacky and a few of the girls are back in her hut. They're smoking, almost desperately uploading as much speed as possible to ward off this drab day and this squalid place.
Jacky pauses as she adjusts the flame on a lighter. "Why don't you smoke?" she asks me.
She tells me it would make her more comfortable if I would join her. I'm standing in the doorway to Jacky's hut. About me are flea-infested dogs, puddles of stagnant water several inches deep with garbage, and all around is the stench of smoldering trash. The horror of this daily existence is tangible. I don't like being in this place, and I find depressing the idea of living in a world that has places like this in it. And I know a hit of the mad medicine is the easiest way to make this all seem bearable. Taking a hit, I know, is a surefire way of feeling good. Right now. And I want it.
But I walk away. And while I hope Jacky and Bing and Big can one day do the same, I doubt they ever can. They have so little to walk toward.