November. It's November already. It's wet and cold when I step outside the brightly lit blue building into the dark streets. I should be elated with my freedom, but I know it's only temporary. It's not real. They're just teasing me; keeping me in their little fence. It's eleven, at night. I feel a little demoralized and I've got a pounding headache. Another day of nodding my head and listening while I take the gentle abuse of smiling strangers and people paid to keep me in line. I can't argue- it wouldn't do anybody any good. My headache is getting to me.
The smell of the rain is fresh and intoxicating, washing away all the dirt and debris from the streets. Try as it might, it'll all somehow still be there in the morning. Every day is the beginning of the same futile cycle, and I can't think straight with this pain in my skull. I walk slowly down the street, enjoying a pacing I set for myself before I stumble into the market. The halogen lights reflect off of every surface and I find myself squinting to try to hide from it. It's too powerful. Everywhere I look, there's another advertisement, or message, or creed. They make damn sure I see them.
I wander down the aisles toward the pharmacy, passing hundreds of prepackaged products. Each is made by the same company, made of the same materials. They lie. They put names and faces on each product. Mr. Copper's Chicken and Gravy sits next to Jose Castillino's All Natural Taquitos. In the bottom corner of the side of the box however, you see that old familiar logo. These aren't the homemade products of industrious entrepreneurs; it's all a front. I finally see what I'm looking for.
There's only one brand name, but what an assortment. Extra strength, non-drowsy, night time, children's, pills, capsules, and liquid gels. It's another illusion. The same product, sold by the same company. I grab the extra strength. But I need something to wash it down with. I make my way to a wall of colorful beverages, confronting me with a choice. I can take my chances with a drink made of chemicals and acids, I could settle for simple sugar water, or I can pay the additional fee for something made of actual fruit. My finances aren't exactly in order, and this extra strength stuff is already a few dollars more. I feel sullen at the thought of paying my bills late again, and eating that fee. It'll be the only thing I'm eating. I stand in line with my drugs and my sugar water, watching the other sad patrons getting processed and then it's my turn.
"How are you?" The clerk asks.
"I'm fine," I reply, like I've been trained to.
"Did you find everything you needed today?" She continues, with a saccharine cheer.
"I found what you had, anyway." I say, too irritated to match her polite niceties.
She seems dismayed, if only briefly, and asks nothing else. I pay, with the card they gave me, and then quickly crack the seal and ingest the maximum recommended dose. In fifteen minutes it'll take one pain away and replace it with another. My stomach is empty, and the drugs will wreak havoc on an empty stomach. I walk my bicycle home, because the rain and darkness make it too dangerous to ride. I've got a box of barigold noodles waiting for me, if I can make it. If I can make it.