My Neighbours, The Drug Dealers
WORDS | Briar Pomana (she/her)
ILLUSTRATION | Yi Jong (she/they)
One was twenty-something and the other probably sixty. They both sold weed, a humble drug and a favourite in our community. Everyone’s parents did it, even my own. It was nothing out of the ordinary and it grew like wild flowers or grapes along our paddock fencelines. The weather was perfect for its harvest. Our town had painfully hot summers and eerily cold winters and followed the bends and curves of the Tukituki River. My first memory of weed was playing in a greenhouse full of it, bemused with its other-worldly scent and deep plumage.
My mum used to keep it in an old Eclipse mints tin on top of the microwave. I never saw her buy any mints at the supermarket, so my curiosity at a spare tin of chewy mints piqued from the moment she set it aside for “safe keeping.” After a long day of work, my mum would loiter out on the deck at night and offer clouds of smoke to the gods. She wore a green jacket, which is mine now. Its pockets could only hold her fists and a nicked lighter. She’d light a sunken-in purple candle that was strong enough to camouflage the nostalgia and shiver at its lack of warmth. Sometimes the twenty-something neighbour would check in on her, often flicking her another bag of green and in Spring, the promise of a feed of lamb tails.
Twenty Something lived with his grandmother and uncle in a little yellow house with an orange brick roof that always spewed water when it rained. They had a big garden that was tended to by the Granny of the house. She was elegant and stunning in stature. She wore big floaty sun hats with ankle-grazer trousers and fake teeth that seemed too white for her darkened skin. Twenty Something almost exclusively wore a singlet and grey track pants. Both looked unwashed and in need of a soak in a bucket of soapy water, but I never got close enough to test the theory. Twenty Something and his uncle would sit in the shed out the back and play Bob Marley all day, lowering the volume at night. I try to remember if I ever saw either leave the property and I cannot recall an instance where their radio wasn’t blasting. Customers never parked in the Granny’s driveway, which must have been her one rule. It was only when they had family stay that you heard the shells on the dirt driveway crack. Our street was long and wide, so it was no bother to those who weren’t family to park up alongside the curb to get their fix.
The older neighbour also lived with his nephew, almost an Uno reverse card of Twenty Something. He was always in a dark hoodie that shielded his face and back. Making out his face was impossible. His house was guarded by two big dogs named Spud and Spike. They towered over us kids but their eyes were kind. We used to scare them more than anything and after school if they dared to find themselves in our own backyards we’d scold them silly. Spud was golden and smooth. He had what looked like a stubble grown beard and white socks for paws. Spike was lean and black. He reminded me of the hyenas from Lion King and would always be pulling Spud into driveways they didn’t belong in. We never petted either of them because they were working dogs, placed in our neighbourhood to scare off whoever may come knocking when Probably Sixty would lock up his gates. I don’t think I ever even got a glimpse into what the front lawn looked like at Probably Sixty’s. In my head, I imagine a trampoline, one with a net for safety, a large pool filled with inflatable rings and topless women. There was an old tree stump close to the fence that separated our home and Probably Sixty’s. In the summer, my best friend and I would climb atop of it and peer with a new-found height at what lay beyond that fence. Each attempt was as disappointing as the last. Probably Sixty’s property would remain a mystery.
In all my years living between these men, I never saw them interact. Twenty Something stuck to the right of me and Probably Sixty, to my left. I often imagine if they had some unspoken oath, a scripture written on aute parchment hanging in a foyer framed; its conditions signed at the bottom in blood and sprinkled with holy bong water. I envision the agreement would have prophesied that two drug dealers could coexist in peace as long as they kept to either side of a small girl's childhood home. That if they did their business in their own yards and did not venture beyond them, the world would continue to spin and fireplaces would remain stoked. This ancient bond would declare that if the drug dealers promised to keep their eyes out for the young girl, her younger brother and their single mother, the balance in the universe would remain. I've always made sense of it this way; but as I get older, I understand that perhaps it is the role of these small town drug dealers to be good neighbours first. Maybe it isn’t all high speed and violence, but instead silly old dogs and Bob Marley’s 'No Woman No Cry' on a stereo. A community is nothing without people who give back to it. That’s how it was for me, raised by a street of strangers. Drug dealers, drug users, drug abusers, we were all just neighbours and it meant something.