Life is tough enough as for a stranger in a foreign land, but when luck chews you up and spits you out, primal need can spin your moral compass.
Savage Night by Scott Daughtridge
You wish you had a bed to go to. It is past midnight. You looked for churches because they are safe, but didn’t see any with a garden or driveway to provide adequate cover away from the street. There are fewer people out now. Most people think it’s dangerous to be out after midnight. They’re right. A pain creeps up your neck and you rub it with your dirty fingers.
A drunk guy who looks twenty-one, stumbles out of a bar onto the sidewalk and, without looking at you, slurs, “Sorry ’bout that.” He’s American, which you could have guessed by his boat shoes, which are popular with the preppy kids in the states. He’s wearing a blue gingham shirt and khakis. In his back pocket you see his wallet. For two blocks you follow him as he stumbles along. You imagine bashing him in the head and taking his money, which would carry you for days. You could get a hotel room and an expensive meal with good beer. Just the thought of doing it makes adrenaline course through your veins. You sync your strides with his and you feel a foul connection with him, like you are both cursed.
The fourteen-hundred dollars you saved washing dishes at Ernie’s Steakhouse evaporated faster than you planned. Two days ago, you emailed your aunt from the public library computer, asking her to send you money and she wrote back, “You know we don’t have anything to send you. We did all we could when we helped pay for your plane tickets. You were supposed to budget your money better. I’m sorry.”
You wanted to breathe a foreign air, to taste a foreign tongue. You wanted to feel fully emerged in this place and here you are, fully emerged, broke and alone. You’re glad your shoes have held up. Your jeans, which you’ve worn everyday for months, are stained and holes spread on the knee and cuffs.
There are two alleys ahead, one to the left, one to the right. You tell yourself if he goes to the right you will do it. If he goes left you will leave him alone. Earlier in the night, you thought about stealing one of the skiffs on the canal, steering it along the Amstel to the IJmeer, then abandoning it, or sleeping on it. You kept your hands in your pockets and continued walking. You called yourself a coward for wasting so many opportunities to make legendary decisions.
The preppy guy slows down and looks left. Under his breath he mumbles, then turns right.
You get close enough to him to smell his cologne. You ball your hand tight like your brother taught you when you were young: Tightly tuck the fingertips against the base of your knuckles and roll your fingers down. Before you can tell yourself to stop, you pull back and WHACK him above his right ear. His head feels like a brick. He staggers left. “Go down,” you whisper. You don’t want a fight, you don’t want a mess. You just want his wallet. You hit him again, closer to his jaw. He falls in a heap near the wall. This is the proper representation of your trailer trash family. You pry open his back pocket and take his wallet. He looks asleep. The billfold in his wallet is empty. You look around to make sure you’re still alone. In his right front pocket is his cellphone and hotel key card, which you set to the side. You look in his shirt pocket, but it’s empty. There are voices coming from down the block. You lift his left pant leg. Nothing there. You lift his right pant leg and see a bulge in his sock. Clever fucker. The voices are getting closer. Your hands are shaking. You grab the folded bills, put them in your pocket and hurry out of the alley with your head down. You keep walking and when the street opens up you are relieved it is empty. From your pocket you pull the money and count two-hundred and eighty euros. You stop, take off your shoes and put half of the money in each.
On the side streets, there are faces and red lights from cigarettes scattered throughout the shadows. The thought of someone accosting you and taking your newly acquired money is enough to make you want to run, but that would draw attention so you walk normally, trying to look bored.
After zig-zagging through a dozen blocks you find a covered mall. There are four people already sleeping there. The street is cobblestone and steel gates cover the store entrances. The temperature is mild but you know you’ll wake up cold when the dew settles on your skin. You wish you had a sweater. The other people are in sleeping bags or covered by blankets. You wait to see if they become agitated by your presence. Nobody moves. There is a siren in the distance. You see a doorway wide enough for your body. The concrete is cold and covered in soot. It is a relief to rest. You cross your arms and lean your head back against the door frame. Sleep comes quickly. Your parents have passed along to you loyalty, wit and passion. You had wanted to present some of your family’s positive traits to these foreign people, but you have unraveled and, instead, it is the desperation, anger and poverty, also born into you through genetics, that is on display here.
When the police officer kicks your feet, he says something in Dutch. He is wearing clunky black shoes. Down the lane, the other sleepers are exiting, casting long shadows that jostle side to side. They drag their blankets behind them, and the cotton sweeping over the concrete makes a sound like wind through trees. The officer keeps talking. You hold your hands up and say, “Sorry,” and try to leave, but he steps in front of you. The inside of your body jolts awake. Running doesn’t seem necessary because he let the others go, so you think he’ll let you go also. Running is also not possible unless you trample the man, but he is tall and thick necked.
You say, “I’ll leave, I’m sorry.”
The bills press against your feet. Your hand is sore and you want to see if it’s bruised.
“You speak English?” he says.
He asks to see a visa or passport and you hand him your passport. He holds it by your head, looking back and forth from the picture to your face.
“Why are you sleeping here?”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Do you know it’s illegal to sleep here?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I don’t believe you cannot afford a room,” he says flicking through the stamped pages of your passport. “You are here from the United States. You have no money?”
“I ran out the other day. I’ll be able to get a room tomorrow. I just couldn’t tonight.”
“Where will you get money if you have none?”
“I’ll get some wired.”
“Where will you go until then?”
“Somewhere else. I won’t stay here.”
“You know it’s illegal to sleep here.”
“Yes, you said that. I’m sorry. I’ll leave.”
“I should take you to the station so you don’t trespass anywhere else.”
Your heart rate increases. You try to control your facial expression. You’re sure the kid you robbed never saw your face.
“Please don’t. I’ll keep moving,” you say.
“I think I need to take you with me. Many crimes are committed by people who walk the streets all night. Especially if they do not have money.”
You imagine yourself knocking the cop unconscious and fleeing. His radio blares with a Dutch voice. He says something into it, then looks at you with renewed interest.
“I’m sure there are, but I’m not a criminal. I just needed a place to rest.” A voice crackles through his radio again. He reaches to his back pocket. “I’m writing you a citation for vagrancy.”
“Okay,” you say, surprised and relieved.
He copies the information from your passport onto the citation. There is a court date.
“This must be resolved by this date. Do you understand?”
The officer hands you your passport and the citation, and ushers you back onto the street. The sky is milky gray. The sun will be up soon. You want to lay on the nearest bench and fall asleep. You wad up the citation and throw it down a sewer drain. You’re not sure what to do with yourself. You head toward the hostel, hoping they’ll let you rent a room. You think you hear footsteps behind you, but when you turn around the streets are empty.