fault the institutions. He just keeps smallrngrudges, as if they are all he can afford.rnHe was shorted at the bus station. Thernnurses didn’t listen. Most of his time hadrnbeen on auto theft.rnDaft, innit?rnWhen he advises me not to get intorndrugs, it is the only moment in the conversationrnthat comes close to levity. Thernrelentless stream of the cheerful dancernmusic favored by the Scots churns merrilyrnalong. Someone shouts to turn it offrnBoy you got to carry that weight…rnAn old Beatles favorite has been redone.rnMercury tadpoles of rain streamrnover the window. He continues to talk.rnI remember the ex-cons I lived with asrna volunteer in a halfway house. It is familiarrnto me: the distrust that borders onrna survival instinct, the impulse to help.rnAs with the ex-cons, “f— ing” is the staplernof his speech, a choking sincerity. His isrnindeed a world of things rubbing uprnagainst each other, clashing, grinding,rnmaking more, a violence of machineryrnthat is (gratefully) alien to me. But hisrntalk of sex isn’t a particular crudib,’. I realizernthat he loved a girl once. I’m certainrnof that much.rnI couldna e’en shag me bird; I’m threernmonths waiting on the AIDS test now.rnI imagine what it would be like. I tryrnfor a while. I turn from it. I cannot pretendrnto imagine. My life has been good.rnI have this peculiar curse. I am a localrnwherever I go. People joke with me inrnthe pubs and then try to hide their disappointmentrnwhen I speak. Foreigner.rnHow could it be? I cannot talk to others,rnbut they can talk to me. I am so inoffensivernthat I am a shadow. I am good at beingrnthe figurative fly on the wall.rn. . . carry that weight.. .rnHe has 80 pence. I know. I watchedrnhim count it twice. Not to make a point,rneither. Orange asters unfold in his hazelrneyes like dead, pinned starfish. His eyesrnare unrevealing, absent. He is talkingrnabout how methadone addiction is worsernthan the heroin. Something about thernliquid food and medication given in lockdown,rnI have set aside my book. I note inrndetached fashion that his hands arernsoiled. But they are not strong. A set ofrnnicotine stains on thumb and forefingerrnmatch the parchment of his lip. My ownrnhands are still shabby, tan, hearty, foldedrnas neatly as shirts on my lap.rnPut you off your book, haven’t I?rnThat’s all right.rnHis speech continues. It is like hearingrna set of demons chammering on, arnhurt so fragmented that it has torn itself tornoblivion and grown eerilv calm, contentrnwith its own diminishing noise. A spentrncinder. There are others. He admires arnman who is sering six years. Slit a throat.rnI wonder if he admires the man or admiresrnhis suffering. The two are liable tornbe inseparable for him. There is muchrnnodding between us. We have little inrncommon. We have everything in common.rn. . . a long time . . .rnI cannot sort out all the drugs, andrnwhat does what for him, and why. Therernis no innocence in the precision of thisrnlitany: meta-, -mine, something or other.rnThere is a certain terrifying f—ed-upnessrnabout it. This is not a word I use lightly.rnIt is not a word I use.rnHe has mastered the chemistry of hisrndying soul. Where I come from, I wasrnnot made to worry about it. The onlyrnpanhandlers were downtown. I didn’trnhave much business downtown. And alcoholrnseems simple.rnI have that peculiar aching sympathy,rnunique to foreknowledge, that what I dornwon’t be enough. But there is somethingrnI can do. He thinks I am local. I do notrnspeak. I have nothing to say. Speechrnwould be as superfluous to me as tears tornhim.rnAfter a time, I stop trying to read. Orrnrather, stop holding the book open. Irnthink that he admitted that part of hisrnchat came from withdrawal from one ofrnmyriad substances. It seemed to be out ofrnhis hands, as if he were under the sway ofrna tiuth serum. Maybe he was. There isrnanother reason to blather with a stranger,rnthough. Words are free, like the wind,rnvirtually effortiess. He was rememberingrnthat he still existed. Everything was emptyrnin memory. He could sound himselfrnthrough me, though. Something mightrnbe gained. Something might unfold. Irnam hoping against it.rnThe radio is singing. It will not shutrnup.rnYou never give me your money . ..rnInevitably, he comes around to it. Irnhave been waiting for it. It is a little betiayalrnbetween us, a little dirt. He knowsrnit. I know it. It can’t be helped. I want tornhelp.rnDon’t suppose you could spare a quid?rnI reply in Scottish slang.rnSorry, I’m absolutely skint.rnIt’s true. I have £20 (HI me, enough tornbuy a return ticket and eat with myrnfriends. It isn’t quite satisfactor)’, though.rnyou only give me your (inspiration?)…rnJust before the bus arrives, he asks if I’llrnhave a few pints with him. I wouldn’trnmind buying him a pint. But I knowrnwhat will follow. I cannot sort him outrnwith a pint. That’s what I tell myselfrnSorry.rnTha’s a-right.rnWe are at the station. He uses that peculiarrnconclusive Scots expression.rnTha’s me, then, awee.rnRising, he looks at me for the first time,rncalmly, resigned, without malice. Empty.rnHe winks and vanishes into the station,rnvanishes in the wa’ that someonernwho lives in stations can disappear.rnThere isn’t time to reconsider. He isrngone. That’s him, then, away.rnOn the wa^ to my friend’s flat, I lookrnover my shoulder from time to time.rnI passed a woman begging in the rainrnone night in Glasgow.rnSpare 20 pee?rnI didn’t reply. It was not a time for hesitation.rnI went to the nearest chippy andrnbought a bag of fries. They steamed inrnthe night, sharp with vinegar, lovely crstallinernstarches lumped in the thin brownrnpaper. Starch. Warmth in hand. Nourishment.rnI returned to the stoop to give thernwoman the parcel. I found the alley, glisteningrna little in an oil slick of fresh pavementrnunder streetiights.rnBut she was gone, disappeared. Toornlate.rnI have tiiis odd curse on me. I’m a localrnwherever I go.rnBryan Ciemza writes from Chapel Hill,rnNorth Carolina.rnLIBERAL ARTSrnTHE MONEYCHANGERSrnARE BAGKrn^^Tsrael’s National Parks Autiiorityrniapproved a project at Capernaumrnon the Sea of Galilee that will allowrntourists to walk on water just like Jesusrndid. A H-foot-vvide, 28-foot-long, crescent-rnshaped floating bridge will be submergedrntwo inches below the lake’s surface,rnaccommodating up to 50 people.rnIt will have no railing in order tornenhance the effect of walking on water,rnbut lifeguards and boats will be ready inrncase anyone slips off The attraction isrnpart of a host of projects approved forrnthe millennium, when authoritiesrnexpect 4 million pilgrims to visit.”rn— from the Syracuse New Timesrn(August 25-Septemher 1, 1999)rn40/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn