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Songs of Bliss


bowl and carefully fills the first sachet. Then he r uns his finger along the grooved seal at
the top and places it in a plastic Tupperware box next to the tray. There are two Tupperware
boxes.
The girl stares straight ahead and says nothing. Her hair, which is shoulder length
and mousy brown, is matted and dishevelled. She is too thin to be healthy, a sign of the
times, of squats, drugs and the occasional meal.
"Not so loud today? Good. Face the facts. You live a shit life, yes? Sleeping in
doorways, begging, thieving, getting bad stuff. This is a chance to clean yourself up.
You?re dirty, your hair is a mess. After a shower I?m sure you?ll look much prettier. So,
we?ll make a deal. You won't scream or try to run away. I?ll feed you, and I?ll provide drink
and free happiness. You help me, I help you. It?s lonely here sometimes."
Arbnor Jasari looks up from his work and grins. He is not seeking permission. This
is a one sided deal. The house wins again.
"If you make me mad it will be very bad for you. I?m sorry I hurt you last night, but
it was necessary. It?s like training a dog, you have to learn the rules. A dog is only as good
as its trainer, and I?m a good trainer. You understand? You help me, I help you. We make
money, we go away, far away, no more shit."
The girl rolls onto her back and pulls the blanke t up under her chin. She is slowly
getting to grips with the slight modulations and vowel deflections in the man?s voice. In
another place, at another sunset time, with sangria and the sound of waves breaking on
clean white sand, she might even find it attractive. Holding the blanket in place she raises
herself up into a sitting position, adjusting the pillow so that her back is protected from the
cold stone wall. She watches the doctor as he continues to fill sachets with yellow powder.
There are needle scars along her right forearm. Waking is agony. She needs a fix and there
is something gnawing away at the back of her mind; this man, a strange taste in her mouth,
lights, sounds and the smell of unwashed bodies.
The doctor carries on chatting, making small talk. "In my country I also had a very
bad time. I was a bright student, expected to do well, but for me it was drink. Then drugs. I
was a doctor in a small town, Gjirokastër, built by farmers. It?s an old Ottoman town and I
hate it. Very boring. So I dra nk and made good drugs. Then I had bad day. I was
performing a minor operation, a wart on a woman?s neck, and I had a muscle spasm." He
mimics his right hand locking and makes a slashing movement. "Big mistake. They arrested
me, locked me away in prison Three Hundred Two, Tirana."
He has the girl?s attention. In spite of an urge to bury her head deep under the
covers, to run and run and run, the girl is fascinated and she finds herself listening to his
story. Self-preservation. So long as he talks, so long as he works, she can keep him at a
distance. She tried screaming for help last night. She tried to fight him, tried to make a run
for it, but the door was locked. He looks like an eight stone weakling, tall and weedy, but
he is strong and sinewy, like a cat. He plays with you. His eyes are cold and calculating.
Sudden movements, she has learned, make him extend his claws.
"But prison wasn?t so bad. I have skills and I sold them, making simple drugs for
the other prisoners." The doctor stands up and looks at the girl. He has a far away look in
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