Marek Vadas

A Bad Neighborhood

translated by Magdalena Mullek

This translation first appeared in Books from Slovakia 2019.

Reprinted with permission of LIC.

Why We Booze

You stop in the middle of the street, look around, and what do you see? Everyone’s drinking. Naturally, I booze too, I won’t deny it, but it’s different with me. I battle demons. I devote all of my time to this struggle; often I’m even battling them in my sleep. It’s because there are two more of me in my head, two more Mbomas, and a number of minor, but dangerous characters that argue with me and make me anxious. Which is why I have to drink regularly. The characters settle down after a few bottles of palm wine.

I wonder why everyone else boozes. It’s a mystery, because at first glance, an outsider wouldn’t get the impression that we’re lacking anything. OK, the streets are in disrepair and there’s sewage in front of the houses, but that’s no reason to keep killing yourself with alcohol.

Take a look — that one over there is on his eighth beer, so he isn’t poor. We have everything we need; no one’s dying of hunger, the food stands are always packed. Maybe life’s just too long and we’re bored with it. Those warm days that are always the same…

Walk from here, the Touch of Class bar, to the train station right before midnight — you’ll have to push your way through a crowd, and you won’t meet a single person with his wits about him. All of them will be laughing hysterically, shouting, pummeling each other, or otherwise, collapsed in a ditch. You’ll find people slumped over benches, on unattended sales counters, and who knows why, also on corrugated metal roofs; last night I even saw someone snoozing in a treetop. In the wee hours of the morning some are still sprawled out in parks or under the facades of unfinished houses. Arms spread wide, as if they didn’t belong to them, legs splayed out, and occasionally a cock sticking out of their pants. Such a sleeper looks like a dog that had rolled onto its back to get scratches. It’s a sign of trust; the dog isn’t afraid to show its groin, it trusts you, its owner, that you won’t hurt it. The sleeper is just as relaxed and carefree, the streets of Akwa are his owner, who feeds him and whom he trusts.

By midmorning they’re sitting on the porch, bleary-eyed, guzzling beer. Their heads hurt, but in that moment no one would expect anything else. One man is boozing because he has lost his job, another is celebrating having just gotten one, and a third that he never had one.

© Mullek and Sherwood