Marco walked back into the kitchen and opened the fridge. I followed and looked in over his shoulder. There was a bag of carrots, a box of orange juice, and some mineral water.
“Hungry?” He asked.
“A little,” I said. I was starving.
“Well we ain’t got shit for food.” He pulled out the carrots and set them on the table. Then he looked in the cupboard above the stove and pulled down a can of tuna. “You like tuna patties?”
“Good, cause that’s all we got.” He started pulling down the salt and pepper, and pulled out a small cutting board then set them all on the table. He then took out a frying pan from under the sink and put it on the stove. He grabbed a knife and sat down at the table and began dicing the carrots.
I sat across from him.
“I know it’s not much,” he said, “but it’s home. It’s a hell of a lot better than our last shit hole.”
He stood up and grabbed a lime green salad bowl and dumped the tuna into it adding salt, pepper, and the diced carrots. With a fork he mixed it all together. “You know that street that we were looking at where I showed you the non-stop?” he asked.
I knelt down by the CDs to look through the music. I found an album I hadn’t heard in a long time possibly since I left the states three years ago. “Can I put this on?” I held up a CD by Erykah Badu.
“Yep,” Marco said with a nod as he poured oil into the frying pan. “That was the street that we lived on, the one with the non-stop. If you think this is the ghetto, it ain’t. That’s the ghetto. Francisco and I lived in this apartment that only had two rooms. A kitchen thing like this, and a bedroom or front room or whatever — a room. I don’t know. It was crazy.”
He dropped a patty into the hot oil. It sputtered and popped. The sizzle and scent of the fish and oil reminded me how hungry I was. It had been hours since I had last eaten.
I blew the dust off the CD and snapped it into the player. The hiss and scratch of the disk hummed as I pushed through the songs till I found the one I wanted. The sizzling of soft brushes against symbols, the deep plucking sound of the electronic strings of a bass, and Badu’s mournful round voice eked through the speakers like thin wisps of smoke, and the song, Tyrone, hung at our knees.
I sat in the chair behind Marco as he danced to the music with synchronized tuna patty rolling. It was nice to be around him. It was good to be with a friend. We had never been romantic, but I wouldn’t say we were like siblings. We were friends. We’ve always had some kind of a love. We were a family. That’s what it was like to become friends with Marco, you became a member of his family, and that family had a bond as strong as blood, at least that’s what it felt like.
“Is this your furniture?” I asked.
“No. It came with the place. I guess most of the places are furnished, stuff left behind from people that were actually able to own property after the Velvet Revolution, which they still show on TV. A lot.” He flipped the patties over. “You got any money?”
“Not really. Only about three hundred dollars and a hundred marks.”
“U.S. dollars?” he asked. He grabbed a couple of plates and set them on the table. “Well the going rate is 32 to 1 so you are okay for a little while, but it will go fast.”
“I know,” I said arranging the forks beside our plates.
“Especially since you just came from the west and all these muthufuckers you be meetin’ know that, and they will be hittin’ you up to buy ’em drinks n’ shit cause we’re all broke. He grabbed the pan and plopped them onto our plates without taking a breath. “An’ you’ll want to buy ’em drinks cause you don’t wanna drink alone, and you think it’s all cheap an’ shit, ‘til you check your fucking bank account and find out you’re fuckin’ broke.”
He put the pan in the sink and turned on the water. It crackled and steamed. “A thousand U.S. dollars and 500 marks. That was so much money here. I was sportin’ Francisco, and then all those other assholes when they all ran outta money and needed a place to crash. I’d feed them and shit. I would buy rounds of drinks, buy drugs, and share them with everyone, then buy more drugs, cause I didn’t really get to have any, cause I’d given ‘em away. He walked over to the fridge to pull out the juice and the soda water, and he set them on the table. He then pulled down two glasses. “Next thing I fuckin know. I’m broke, can’t pay rent, can’t buy food, and no one is sportin’ me cause they’re all broke, and I gotta get a job. An’ they ain’ got food stamps here.” He poured a quarter juice in each glass and then filled the rest with soda water.
I took a bite of my patty then washed it down with the soda juice. “You’re teaching right?”
“Ya,” he said, sitting down across from me. “High school kids. But they hardly ever pay me on time.” He took a bite of his patty then stood up. “You gotta let me finish telling about the other flat cause it’s a fucked up story.” He began moving his fingers and hands like a conductor with precise rhythm. He held up the palm of his hands like he was about to frame a picture. “Now, shiit, Francisco and I were livin’ in that two-room place, and there was an absurd amount of muthufuckers crashin’ there but everyone’s broke so you gotta help your friends out.”
He stopped to take a bite of his patty.
I finished off my tuna patty as he took another bite. I looked longingly at my empty plate, I felt a bit like some Dickens orphan, hoping to make another patty appear. My stomach rumbled.
Still standing Marco placed his fork on the plate then held his finger up as he took a drink. He set his glass down. This was all part of the dramatic pause. It was making me hungrier. I just wanted him to finish the damn patty so I didn’t have to look at it any longer.
“You like the drink?” he asked.
“Ya. Is this the way they drink juice in Czech?”
“No this is the way we drink juice in Czech because we can’t afford to drink juice straight, and we needs our vitamins,” he said.
“Oh. Right.” I said.