“What are you watching, man?”
In one of the employees’ rooms of an abandoned cement factory, Leo lay on a depressed mattress, hugging a portable 13-inch TV. He had better days but for the most part of recent months, he was stuck with the routine: his life was figuratively in a coma.
“I can’t figure out this video,” he replied to his out-of-the-blue visitor. “I think my TV is broken.”
Darius was his co-inmate in a drug rehabilitation facility when they were still teens. Ten years later, he belonged to the working class. Unlike him, Darius found something worthwhile with his life.
“Have you been taking those funny pills again?”
“I am clean. I swear.” Leo professed, covering the lie with false conviction.
Darius handed him the plastic bag filled with groceries. At least, he did not come empty-handed.
“You’ve been warned not to stay here. This is a condemned building. Anytime, this could be destroyed by the elements.”
“This is worthless,” Leo pointed out. “I am worthless. We are in good company.”
Darius sympathized with Leo’s self-pity: the man lost everything in a fire that took away his family, their possessions, their future.
“I am offering you a job. That is, if you want one.”
“What? Cleaning toilets?” he shouted, instantly indignant. “No, thanks, pal!”
“Well, that’s an honest job. I had it for two years.” Darius laughed. “I am talking about something well-fitted for your creative mind.”
“Me? Creative?” Leo asked. “I know I’ve been on drugs. We both did the course, remember?”
“My boss needs someone to paint his room.” Darius kept the suspense with a pause.
“You want me to paint. I can do that.” Leo agreed, traces of enthusiasm filled his voice.
“But he wanted it in the 70s style. You know, flower power and all that stuff.”
“How old is he?” Leo was curious. “He should be in his fifties by know, if I am not mistaken.”
“Younger,” Darius replied. “He is thirty.”
Leo jumped out from the mattress, a bit unstable and groggy. Good thing he was just in time to prevent the TV escaping his grasp before it smash down on the concrete floor.
“Is he like us?” he asked, winking conspiratorially. “I like him already.”
Darius remained passive although deep inside he wanted the matter forgotten, erased from his memory.
“I am here because I want to help you, not give you funny ideas.”
Leo felt his friend’s seriousness heartening. There were still people who would not let him slide to a slow death. He was being given a chance: he had to grab it.
“Oh, I get it!” he exclaimed. “Your boss wants the image but not the experience.”
“Like I told you earlier, I know you are the right man for the job.”
“Don’t you know anything about paints, thinners and all those chemicals?” Leo probed. “Sniffing those for a long time can you give similar highs.”
Darius nodded, letting his friend formed his own conclusion.
“You smart son of a gun!” Leo got it. “You’re turning a liability into an asset.”