Constant Gardeners: the story of the blackbird, the junkie, and his dealer

Posted on January 31, 2012

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For a couple of weeks now there’s been a blackbird visiting the courtyard outside of my building every day at 6:30pm. Without fail, he’ll be there when I come home from work: scurrying  around the bushes, pecking here and there looking for berries. He’ll scuttle about the courtyard jumping randomly from bush to bush, eating berries, scratching the dirt for beetles, then he’ll perch on the tree and warble and sing for about  half an hour before moving on. I like its constancy. I like knowing that when I come home  the bird will be there— scuttling, chirping, picking randomly at the dirt in search of worms.

It’s in his nature to return to places where he’s made nests before, to sing to claim the place and keep other birds away. But it’s funny that the warbling I like is a warning call. To me he doesn’t threatening at all, in fact his territoriality is actually kind of cute.

But perhaps the bird knew before I did that it had competition for the ownership of our courtyard’s bushes. Because around the time the bird appeared, another visitor started coming round every weekend at night to pick at the plants.  But this creature is very un-birdlike and methodical in his searching around in the dirt. He, unlike the blackbird, is sure there is something buried underneath the earth. There’s an agitation to his searching that isn’t natural, and there’s an urgency to his scurrying that can be frightening.

From watching this other visitor at nights, I learned that a local drug dealer hides heroin in our plants. Like the bird, the dealer has claimed our courtyard and his junkie comes after dark, also driven by a similar instinct-like urge, to dig up the worms his dealer has planted.

But there’s something strange about the method. Their digging makes no sense. See, the drug network in my neighborhood is so open and so blatantly obvious, it’s become part of the scenery. Dealers hang around a huge open square which is right smack in the middle of town and which is also one of the most popular stops on the public transport system. There’s a wide path that crosses the square where dealers line up on each side in a kind of staggered single file, nonchalantly standing about amid commuters, just waiting for their customers to walk past so they can exchange little plastic bags and cash. Everyone’s seen them, everyone knows what they’re doing there.

But the courtyard pusher lurks.  With so many other dealers hanging out in the open, why does this one bother to hang about the building, to wait till he thinks no one’s watching, and to bury his drugs among the potted plants?  The elaborateness of the plot seems to me a bit absurd, and a bit cruel as well.

Because the junkie comes with his overpowering urge every Friday or Saturday night and spends a good half hour tearing up the plants in his frantic search for the score, and it’s always hidden in a different place. I’ve crossed him several times on my way to pick up my laundry, and though sometimes, like the blackbird, he’s too absorbed in his digging to mind people walking by, other times he’ll pause for a bit, look up, and smile sheepishly at you before getting back to his digging.

The junkie can’t warble, but he twitches. And in a strange way, the residents in my building have become almost fond of him. That’s one of the reasons why no one has really insisted with the police. The guy’s no harm, he just digs that’s all. And things that return tend to grow on us. We become fond of things that are regular like winter, like the blackbird, like a bad habit.

It’s the dealer that worries us. His malice. His hiding behind the pillars in the shadows as if we didn’t know what he was doing there. His sick hide and seek game. Never mind the junkie tearing up the plants and digging in the dirt, the real danger is the one that keeps him coming back.

The building’s administration has set up cameras for surveillance. But somehow our heroin gardener has eluded them, and the police are reluctant to answer calls about a man in a hoodie lurking about this area as literally groups of them just spend their day walking up and down the main street. They have to have hard evidence that the guy has been seen trading before they even bother showing up. So, the administration is thinking of taking the plants away. No plants, no dealer burying stuff, no junkie tearing up the garden and — no blackbird. Though I’m sure the bird will find another place to perch and peck for worms, as I’m sure the dealer and the junkie will find another place for their game as well. After all, it’s a question of survival and territory for them as well, I guess.

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