Good as Gold

He repeatedly gurgled, 'Marieme, Marieme.' And something about accara fritters and sosu kaani sauce.

Good as Gold

‘Big man, are ye’? Want to go it alone?’ Alone fizzes in his spit.

His turquoise bottoms shimmer as he pulls them higher to his waist. Like tinsel, they’re feathery in his grip. He fondles his balls and his shell-suit creases.

‘I want to be safe,’ I answer, distracted.

A vehicle with blue lights approaches to the left of the shuttered Sant Antoni market; Idriss pulls me back from the street. A uniformed man gets out and saunters into Paralel. A second later, I drop my shoulders. It’s not the police; it’s the other fuckers, taking our metal: our livelihood.

‘Safe?’ he laughs, ‘well, you never failed with me.’ Idriss widens his eyes, daring me to argue back. Last night, he wore a similar smile; he talks in his sleep.

‘Better to take the side-streets,’ I insist.

‘Side-streets are for rats. Little ones scurrying.’ Idriss clacks his teeth together and imitates a rodent.

El Raval is too far back now. We have to head on. Khady told us the higher streets would be deserted, ‘it’s where the rich families live’, which made me want to respond, so you go if you know the turf.

Sant Antoni used to be good for us, full of transistor radios, toys, and every fourth Sunday, abandoned railway sets, but the garbage men take everything in their truck. A discarded tube of Pringles is the only thing that falls out as they brush the pavement and drive off. Idriss holds it aloft and licks the cheese-and-onion crumbs that spill onto his cheek.

‘Muntaner is too damn wide, too big,’ I start up. Like him, I think to myself, too fucking heavy and it will hurt.

Last night, he climbed back into his own bed, for fear Khady would come in. It was ten minutes after I came; the power went, and besides the light from the port, only his alloy crowns cut through the darkness. He falls to sleep without cleaning himself up. And does he talk. Repeatedly, gurgling, ‘Marieme, Marieme’, and last night, something about accara fritters and sosu kaani sauce.

We’re stooped under the pawn-brokers on the corner of Paralel, opposite Khady’s. She’s looking down at me from her terrace, her heart-shaped pendant beating her bosom as she leans over. What’s she doing, the fool? Motioning to us to run, to get going, to get away from here.

‘You never see beyond the immediate problem. Always thinking you’re clever, with that certificate of yours,’ Idriss says, ‘the police, you think they’re not on to us? Just because we have a strategy, nah. Magic, they appear like puff.’ He motions for effect, circling his hands.

I am clever. Not enough, otherwise I’d be in Paris, or I’d be living in one of the better houses in Dakar, but that was hardly my fault, was it? But with him, it pays to act stupid, he likes me to be wrong. I look again at the terrace but Khady darts inside her apartment.

‘Those trash-cans on Muntaner. Full of coat hangers and crap -‘, I start.

‘Child. Stop objecting,’ Idriss interrupts.

‘We need the rich stuff to get enough for next week. That’s Khady’s take. For food, survive,’ I say.

‘We not got much time, so profit from what we do have and get the hangers. Get the tuna cans, easy. Quick. The big boys aren’t working right now. Simple as.’

Estacio de Nord?’ I ask, wondering where we’ll be taking the junk.

‘Nah, little places. We’ll have to head back to the coast, a warehouse down by that Olympic Port.’

‘All that, all those streets? And she thinks we won’t get caught?’

‘She don’t think, that’s the point. That’s why she pays me. And you follow,’ Idriss quickens as he takes a sharp right.

‘How much can we make, when it’s like this, this damn lockdown shit?’ I don’t want to let go but I know I’m losing the battle.

‘The stuff they’re worried them lot is covered in the disease, that rich family crap, that’s what we’ll find. Cans, wire. C’mon, Muntaner,’ Idriss shuttles back a response.

Calle de Muntaner it is.

The late afternoon curdles as a sepia light blankets the empty streets. Where pedestrians normally form shadows, instead there are unswept leaves. I remember aunty, who wore a pendant like Khady’s, but better of course. Proper gold, like mother wore – before father left. Sañce aunty used to say about him. Her brother. Good as gold. Even after he went to prison.

We climb. Tibidabo stands high above the city, its speared towers teasing us into thinking the city can’t change. I push the trolley and cross Corts with its dribble of traffic. There’s some chicken-wire to grab off the ground. We weave in between the cracks of the broader boulevards and reach Diagonal where there’s two brothers, like us.

‘Fuck, damn that bitch,’ Idriss says.

‘Khady?’ I ask.

‘Of course, setting us all up. Wants maximum profit.’

‘Well, they seem okay with the side streets. Maybe it’s – ‘, I look warily at Idriss, imagining his response.

‘Yes, a fucking set up. As I say, follow me. Stay low and don’t make so much sound with that damn trolley.’

Enric Granados. I’m nervous now but keep my eyes low, watching out for every piece of uncollected dog shit. I heard kids can’t leave their homes for exercise, but people are loaning out their dogs for adults to take exercise. And we’remeant to be uncivilized.

Low hanging around here, the mandarins on the trees and Idriss’s shell-suit. I feel raw after he took me without lube. We hear an alarm, which pierces the darkening sky. A few birds flutter their wings and fly off as a middle-aged man tries to unlock his car. He swears to himself.

There’s a lull as we row the trolley like a pair of oars, each of us holding one side as its weight increases and the incline of the hill sees it slip back. My back is depressed; it has no fight. Muntaner is a few minutes away and this is where I can still part, do my own thing: run. Idriss has a tight grip, even as he turns his head to see whether we’re being followed.

The tall avenue is lined with bare shops and lone nurses heading for a night shift. I need to find a way back, to El Raval, but after this mess, to Senegal.

‘Duck, low, it’s them,’ Idriss whispers.

A police car slows a block below, where the avenue dips after a camel-sized hump. We can see them, but they’re parked, talking to one of the nurses. We crouch behind a large recycling bin, Idriss holding his tight hand to keep the trolley from moving. The car moves on. We hear the click of a button and the slamming of a door. Beneath the bin, we see the silhouette of crisp packets dancing in the breeze and a moment later, their feet. Idriss muffles me.

Their voices are low and gruff. Something about how they’re low on issuing fines today, at least four hundred-euros. I steel myself and close my eyes, but I’m taken to the expanse of the Atlantic when I was eight, when father nearly caused me to drown by the Petite Côte.

One of the officers is motionless but the other one’s feet disappear. No conversation now, but a few moments later a smell of pizza. I haven’t eaten since dinner last night, some olives tipped from a jar. That wafting smell of pepperoni. The glory of conducting the strings in the cheese, I want it. Idriss looks ready to retch. I hold my palm over his. Idriss pulls my neck closer and kisses me on the forehead.

‘We can go up to Sarrìa, bigger fines up there,’ ponders one of the officers.

‘Perhaps, but we need to take the Chatarreros off the streets. Remember what the captain said, ‘public health risk’,’ the second one says.

Idriss lets go of the trolley, it catapults down the street. He panics, runs and they both tackle him, forcing him downwards face-front to the pavement, crisp packets and leaves at his feet. I see the trolley bouncing off the hump in the road, the wire we’ve collected uncoiling itself as a nurse jumps to avoid its path.

They start the ignition and are ready to drive off when I hear Idriss’s voice, higher-pitched than I’ve ever heard it, ‘you’re right’, he shouts, ‘side-streets.’


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