The Ice-Cream Thief

The blazing rays of the sun hit my face as I stuck my head over the balcony rail of my house to take the last drag of my morning cigarette. The day began with a nasty quarrel instigated by the fact that my mother realized there were two tenners (ten-euro notes) missing from the wallet that she kept in her all-time favorite, black leather purse. A lot of time has passed since I lost track of how many times I had to face the heat of being a domestic thief. Being a full-time junkie means that you become the absolute master in rummaging drawers, closets, handbags and, generally, whatever could potentially contain money. There were many times I thought that I was able to tear the floor up if I suspected that I would find some small change underneath. This tendency exhibited by all addicts becomes so etched on the DNA that even dictates a particular body posture that one can observe in every place where drug dealings take place around the world; hunched back, and the head always held down, looking like you are examining your own feet. However, the reality is entirely different. The reason why we all choose not to look straight ahead but downwards is that there is always the hope that you will be lucky enough to find a bag of heroin that slipped from the back pocket of a druggie who was too stoned to take notice or some stray benzo pills that slithered from a dealer who felt so nervous at the time of the transaction that let his precious supply slide in the pavement. This habit, of course, follows your every step regardless of where you are and if there is not a chance in hell you could find something of value down there.

But let's get back to my rough morning, one of the many, and the altercation I had with my mom, who seemed unable to cease the incessant bickering, a trademark of hers, I could never quite stomach. After delivering her long-winded spiel, she returned to her room, and now she is sitting in the wooden desk with her hands touching on both sides of her head, seemingly struggling to keep it in place. I didn't utter a word, that goes without saying. I have long since grasped that there is no point in retorting to a person who is so far away from your everyday reality and doesn't show even the remotest of interest in getting to know you a little better. Plus, I was practically, once again, caught red-handed, so I was undoubtedly guilty in her eyes. There could be no excuses. As she always liked to point out, my father, dead for more than a decade now, taught us to live with our head kept high and protect our dignity at all costs. For my mother, this was an argument that could potentially make me think again about my actions, feel ashamed, and eventually steer away from the bad influences, eventually rebounding back to normalcy. Such a crock of shit. It was another proof that the woman who gave me birth and saw me grow up from a little boy to a man, was impossible to even begin to imagine what substance abuse and dependency entailed and how it affected every single aspect of the addict's behavior. There is something else too. My mother is literally a daughter of a bitch, my grandmother, who throughout the last decade never deemed me worthy of hearing a single kind word from her lips. Instead, she used to show me her extreme contempt for me by constantly deriding me, belittling my masculinity, and explicitly stating that I was nothing but a burden for my heroine mother who struggled to keep our family afloat after her husband's untimely death.

So, perhaps my mother's idiocy has its roots in being unlucky in the genetic lottery, but this thought didn't in any way make me feel less exasperated about her overall attitude towards me. Her inclination to cry each time we had an argument only made me livider, as she liked to play the victim so much. She may even believe that through such means, she could make me renounce drugs. I simply abhor that line of thinking and I firmly believe that it is a crystal-clear indication that a person is as petty as one can be, let alone slow in the mind. However, our morning fight left me with only four euros and some change in my pockets for the day. That amount of money was not enough even for an appetizer, that is a few milligrams of meth to clear my head and plan the rest of the day. There were no other nooks and crannies to ransack, so I had to invent something quickly to at least scrap together another five euros to score a more decent amount of the notorious "shisha" which radically changed the city’s drug scene since it was introduced by the Afghan illegal immigrants. I put on a T-shirt, a pair of grey shorts and left, slamming the door behind me to make a statement of my nervous disarray.

Outside, the summer sun burned my white milk skin as I started walking toward the tram station to get downtown. Surviving summers in Athens is a tough feat but today felt more like Kairo or Mexico City. When I reached the station's steps, my T-shirt and underwear were soaked in sweat, something to be expected as I hadn't managed to sleep even for an hour during the last two nights due to yaba's intense effects. Moreover, I was out of Suboxone, and the profuse sweating was primarily an early symptom of opiate withdrawal. There is nothing more vexing than waiting when you find yourself in such a predicament. Delay, under any guise, shreds my nerves to little pieces, and the tardy tempo at which the tram was moving made me so nervous that I couldn't help swearing under my breath now and then. At times, I felt like getting out and start pushing it to go faster. Finally, we made it to Syntagma Square, the last stop, and I got out to take the bus that would take me to the only place I truly wanted to be: The Park. It took about twenty minutes to reach the front gates of the city's largest municipal garden that was now occupied by a motley group of misfits from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds who, nevertheless, shared a common trait: an omnipotent impulse for self-destruction. As I entered, I immediately spotted my man standing near the bench in the corner closest to the gates, speaking with someone I didn't recognize. Naim, the emaciated Afghan who had become the most popular supplier of skag and meth in the whole park during the last few months, flashed his distinctive toothless smile and began to take out the small shisha Ziploc bag from his blue shirt pocket as he saw me coming.

I told him that I only had a little less than a fiver and I asked him to give me ten euros worth of product as I was a solid client who never owed him a single cent. I simply had the right to make such a request, and I was one of the very few addicts in the park who could do such a thing and not be treated with utter apathy and scorn. He took a short piece of straw that he used to transfer the shisha from the bag to a piece of paper I was holding with hands that were shaking so bad I thought I might have the most terrible accident imaginable: lose the stuff by my own mistake. Fortunately, I managed to contain it, haphazardly sealing the makeshift package and then I took a few quick steps to reach a middle-aged Pakistani who always sat alone and created glass pipes for shisha smoking which he sold at the price of one euro a piece. He always had a sizable piece of marble stashed that he tended to offer to those who wanted to snort -a hard surface is a must when you want to smash a rock of junk or large pieces of crystal as in my case. He gave it to me, and I spread the tiny amount of meth on it, stomped it with a payphone card and snorted it. The burning sensation of snorting meth is about fifty times more intense than that of breathing heroin. You feel like your nostrils are on fire. That was one of the reasons why I’ve gained a kind of notoriety among the Park's patrons; I was the only meth-head who snorted the drug instead of smoking it. There were countless times that I was approached by others, asking me if that was even possible or if I needed a benzo to slow down my overly accelerated heart rate.

As I made my way to my favorite bench, one of the most remote ones in the area, my eye caught the miniature frame of Irene, a 4-year-old girl who frequented the Park, accompanying her total wreck of a mother, Sandra, in her drug binging escapades. Sandra was perhaps the person I loathed more than anyone in the Park and the reason was that she preferred to treat her child as a doll, definitely not as a little kid who should never and under no circumstances be allowed to be even near to this filthy place Here, you could find semi-lunatics, wannabe heavyweight criminals, decadent male and female prostitutes, even elderly men sporting ivy caps who were on the prowl for young flesh. What was most impressive about Irene is that, even though I've seen her several times here, I’ve never heard her speaking, not even once. I've even wondered if she suffers from some kind of speaking disability. I often tried to attract her attention in various ways and the few times our eyes locked I used to spell the letters of my name (D-i-m-i-t-r-i-s), sotto voce, hoping that perhaps she would be able to read my lips and one day I would hear her calling me by my name.


It was the moment I sat down that I saw the mystery man sitting in one of the central benches located around the middle-area of the Park. He wasn't a junkie, I could easily tell as he didn't exhibit any of the telling signs, and wondered what he could be waiting for. The Park was not the ideal place to be a stranger. It was like asking for trouble. If nobody knew you, your presence there became suspicious, perhaps you were a cop or a desperate fag on the hunt for a boy to suck his cock; you were, above all, a potential victim of mugging. As these thoughts were churning in my mind, I didn't see him getting up and approaching the bench on which I was sitting. When he came close enough, he politely asked me if he could sit next to me. I told him it was not mine bench and he sat down immediately. We stood in silence for a few minutes and then he turned his head towards me and told me:

-"Would you be interested in a job?"

-"I am not queer", I quickly responded.

-"It is nothing like that. Do you see the kiosk nearest to the statue of Leonidas right outside the Park?"

-"Yes, so?"

-"I want you to go there and take an ice-cream from the fridge. The frozen ekmek one. Don't pay for it. Pilfer it and then bring it to me. I'll be waiting here."

-"Why would I even consider doing that", I asked him frowning.

-"Because if you do it, I will pay you five times the price of the ice-cream."

Hold on, I thought. That particular ice-cream costs 2 euros. So, I would get a tenner for a simple swipe. Piece of cake. I didn't immediately accept; I didn't want to come across as desperate. But eventually, I stood up and told him to wait in that exact spot for me.

I exited the gates and, for the umpteenth time, admired the imposing statue of King Leonidas. I was always inclined to think that if the sculpture had something of the man’s soul, it would be incensed at his descendants for honoring him in the most depraved area of the whole city. Anyway, I approached the kiosk, and took my time studying its structure, searching for its blind spot. Every kiosk in the country has a place that cannot be inside from the inside, where the owner sits and sells his goods. You just had to be meticulous enough to spot it as quickly as possible. I was lucky, for once, and the upper half of the fridge couldn't be visible from  the station where a young, pretty brunette was sitting, reading a paperback. The next most important thing is to be decisive and not waver for a long time, battling your hesitation and committing the deed in the flash of an eye. Thus, I took two long steps, and I opened the fridge's glass. The ekmek ice-cream was packed in a mid-size carton box at the corner closest to me, so I took it and closed it into my palm, it was a rather little piece of gelato. I started to retreat towards the Park, with confident strides, a way of walking which only suits the innocents. As I reached the gates, I was certain that the owner didn't pick up on the petty theft as, by now, she would have come running for me.

I opened my step as I got in the Park and I was quickly back to my bench where the man was waiting as I told him to. I gave him the ice-cream, and he, without any delay, got out a ten euro note from a tiny wallet he kept in his trousers and handed it over to me. I instantly went to score meth again and this time I would get much closer to my daily dose. It took me about 5-10 minutes to make the purchase as well as snort a shady line of shisha. Afterwards, I headed back expecting not to see the slippery gentleman who relished ice-creams. So, I was somehow surprised when I noticed that he hadn't moved an inch from where he was sitting when I left him. As I was getting ready to sit again, he held his hand up to show me that I should remain standing. I looked at him, anger building in the inside. Achieving reputation in the Park milieu impelled you to adjust your attitude in multiple ways, however the first and foremost rule was one: Take no shit from anyone; obey nobody. Look everyone in the eye and if the situation evolves to a one-to-one showdown, never be the one who looks away first. Supposing it comes to a full-blown physical fight, there is but one law: Hit first, hit hard. A perpetual tug-of-war between weaklings. He told me:

-"10 ice-creams and I pay you five times their price."

I have to admit I was stunned even though the man’s attitude has become a bit too much for me to tolerate. 20X50=100. 100 euros in my pocket. It was every junkie's dream. Easy money. However, I had to devise another plan that would certainly have to involve the owner's distraction for a brief amount of time. I told him OK, and I scanned the Park for a person I could trust. Of course, nobody does anything for free here, and whoever I finally selected should be offered a cut of the money I would get. I spotted Kostas, a short, bulky young man from the mean suburb of Gyzi, a rather good-looking lad you couldn't tell he was was a user, at least not at first sight. He was sitting with a young woman who seemed to be at the first stages of heroin addiction. Her face had not evolved into a wax mask yet, her limbs were still fluid, and her eyes were not glassy. I approached their bench and told Kostas that I needed to talk to him — now. He instantly understood that it was about a "job" of sorts, so he gently notified the girl that he would be back in a few and followed me to the gates.

-"I need you to do something for me. If everything pans out well, I will give you a twenty," I told him."

-"Tell me."

I pointed to the kiosk.

- “You will go to the kiosk and tell the girl who sits inside the booth that your pregnant fiancé had a hysterical fit because she believes that her father is dead. She is out of her mind on yaba. Your cellphone is out of juice, and she can’t find hers, she is that upset. You need to call her father at once to talk to her in order to ascertain that he is still alive. Ask her to come with you inside the Park for the phone call but also to try soothing your girlfriend. You will both enter the park through the central gate on Alexandras highway because that’s exactly where you left her. Run towards there and tell her that she was right here just a minute earlier. Look frantic and panic-stricken. She will not leave you immediately, I hope, as she will try to help you look for your strangely disappeared amore. I need no more than 3-5 minutes to do what I want.”

It was one of the oldest tricks in the book, but I believed that it would work. You don’t have to be inventive or imaginative to dupe a charitable stranger. You simply take advantage of their benevolence.

Kostas seemed to contemplate the whole shenanigan and then smiled a little. Without saying anything, he began walking towards the kiosk. I followed behind him keeping a short distance and saw him uncap the bottle of water he was holding in his hand and then carefully applying little splashes of water on his face. Then he took out a little plastic bottle from his pockets. Eye drops to make him look like he was crying. Bravo! A man in duress is always sweaty and misty-eyed, liquids running from every pore of the body. From where I was standing, I didn't have a clear view of the kiosk's front, so I was waiting to see the girl running away with Kostas to clear my mission. And there they were, the two of them rushing to Alexandras highway leaving the kiosk all for myself. I couldn't carry all ten ice-creams at once, it was simply impossible, so I took two sets of fours in each hand and stashed them haphazardly at the stepping of the Leonidas statue. When I took the final two, I felt like I was finished, already feeling the rush of the massive impending meth high. Of course, I will also score 2 8mg. tablets of Suboxone to be on the safe side for more than a week. I followed the same strategy to sneak the loot into the Park area. When I was done, I sat down on the bench beside the fishy man who, out of the blue, made my day. When I handed him the ice-creams, he patted my back and I instinctively recoiled in disgust at the patronizing nature of the gesture. This was exactly the type of behavior that set my nerves on fire. As my body turned away from the man, the corner of my eye caught Sandra and Irene sitting on the bench right next to us. Then he took three of the frozen bars in each hand and threw them away in a garbage can right next to our bench. When he did the same with the remaining four, he slowly returned to his seat, wearing a smug smile. Then I listened to his voice, cold as anything:

-"This was your test, and you passed it with flying colors. Now, let's move on to the real thing."

I looked at him as I didn't understand the meaning of his words.

-"In Alexandras highway, you will find a black Mercedes-Benz 200, an older model, which is parked right out of the Eco gas station. Take these", he said and handed me a set of car keys that I've never seen before in my life. Sensing my not yet formed question, he explained.

-"They are the Mercedes master keys. They open every model produced made until 2002. Take them and get into the car. Act natural, so anybody watching will think this is your car. You will drive to the National Museum; park there and then call me on this number."

He handed me a small piece of paper with a number on it. I took it and stared at it for what seemed a long time. Then, I stood up and tore it apart in front of the man's eyes. I moved right in front of him, so now his face was at the height of my genitals. I cupped my balls over my faded blue jeans, unequivocally letting him know what I really thought about him, another aspirant soul-abuser preying on human weakness and desperation; lesser than nothing. But there were numerous others who would do anything just to get a fix -a small army of victims for hire crowded the Park and their number was ever increasing. Human doormats. This was all that was left from the so-called revolution of the 1960s when a bunch of bullshit preachers and self- proclaimed prophets roamed around America, spreading the venomous doctrine of their pseudo-philosophy: “Live fast, die young”, the pithiest recipe for decay and premature senility that was ever voiced in human history. It parasitically fed upon a notion shared by all youngsters, regardless of cultural and ethnic diversities, since time immemorial: that the true meaning of living must lie in some mystic territory which shall reveal itself only to the chosen ones, meaning those who are willing to succumb in a life of excess, a feast of exuberance, forever trapped in a merciless machinery of debauchery. But something has to be sacrificed anteriorly and that is whatever ties them to the scruples of the enemy, the bourgeois conformists: modesty and moderation.

"I don't drive," I told him. "I don't know how."

He looked at me, dumbfounded.

"And besides," I added and raised my voice just a bit, "I am only an ice-cream thief."

After delivering my final line, I turned away and started walking towards the Park's exit. It was after my first two or three steps that I heard her voice. A high-pitched, clear utterance calling me:

"Hey, ice-cream thief!"

I turned back and saw Irene, innocent as a lamb, looking at me with a beaming smile lighting up her cute little face. I smiled back in a way that I didn't know I had in me until then. It was the best compliment I've heard in my whole life.



Dimitris Passas is a freelance writer and the editor of the online magazine Tap the Line, in which he reviews books, movies, and TV series while also featuring articles, news, and Q+As with authors and artists. His academic background includes bachelor studies in sociology and a master’s degree in philosophy. His work can also be found in ITW’s legendary magazine The Big Thrill and various online platforms such as DMovies, PopMatters, Off-Chance, and others. His latest book reviews have been accepted for publication in the esteemed film journals Alphaville and Bright Lights. Dimitris recommends Books Through Bars.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, January 14, 2024 - 21:55