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Kai by Patrick Cash

Kai was a drug dealer who wore hearing aids. He mostly sold pills, a bit of coke, and he was usually in The Prince of Thieves on weekend nights. Whenever I picked up from him, he led me across the road to an alleyway behind the university building. He’d ask me what club I was going to and I’d invite him out of politeness, but he’d always have another party. I found out we were the same age. 

 

What A-levels are you doing, I asked. Fuck school, he spat. 

 

I once picked up from him behind Bristol Hall and his face was smashed up. Angry red scabs over his nose and jaw, half a front tooth missing. He didn’t mention it and I was too shocked to ask. We talked about a DJ at the Thekla. Kai was really into music. He said sometimes he took out his hearing aids and just let the bass flow through him. 

 

I was at a house party and Kai turned up when most people had left. He’d had his tooth capped. We smoked in the can-strewn living room and he offered me a pill. I had a Saturday job and I should have said no but I wanted to join him. After twenty minutes we concluded the pills must be duds and Kai said maybe we should try and crash. 

 

He went wandering through the house and found some sheets in an airing cupboard. Two people were having sex upstairs, he said. He turned off the light and we lay down. I realised the pills weren’t duds. I was very aware of Kai’s body next to me. His hand found mine in the dark and pulled me to him. We kissed for a while before we heard a creak upstairs. 

 

He whispered we should lock ourselves in the bathroom. He turned on the shower and unhooked his hearing aids, carefully laying them on the cistern. Gonna lip read, he said. 

 

After we lay damp-haired on the sofa. I woke with him holding my hand to his chest. 

 

We hung out cautiously. He introduced me to his skater friends down the Green as a mate. I often saw evidence of his anger. He shouted at a security guard in Tesco: what you fucking following me for? He almost started a fight on the bus telling a couple of kids to get some fucking earphones for their crap music. 

 

He offered little about himself but asked me many questions. He wanted to know what A-levels I was doing, what universities I was considering. You should go for Cambridge he said, and I laughed. I told him about my Mum being ill, my little brother going off the rails. 

 

I skipped lessons on a grey April afternoon to meet him on Brandon Hill and we climbed Cabot Tower. At the top, we could see all of Bristol. He pointed and I stood near him to follow the line of sight. His Dad was a priest, he said. That was his church. 

 

He turned his head and kissed me. We wandered through the park, looking for somewhere to go. We found a nook in the wall at the back of the sports field, and the cold snapped at our skin as we unbuttoned our jeans.

 

I felt less alone: at home, at school. Kai didn’t identify as gay, bi if anything, and sometimes he said I was the only guy he thought was cute. That Friday at The Prince he came over to me. We chatted about nothing, not breaking eye contact. I’d never felt my friends’ gaze so acutely. He asked if I wanted to pick up. The moment we got to the alleyway, we fell against the wall, giggling. It was so rare to see him smile, he looked like a different person. 

 

Where are you going tonight, he asked. 

Wherever you’re going. 

 

We joined his friends in the queue for Lakota. We’d both double-dropped beforehand but inside Kai wanted more: coke, mandy, speed. He did shots and got beers at the bar. I’d never seen someone chase oblivion so purely. He was gurning and lost his caution, running his hand over my back. I noticed bouncers following us and they told Kai he had to leave. 

 

I held him through the back streets of Stokes Croft. You’re gonna go to uni, he slurred in my ear. I’m gonna waste here. I sat him down behind a van and he laid his head in my lap, grabbing at my arm. What if my Dad knew, he said. I stroked his hair, ran my finger across his hearing aid, shushing him like a child. 

 

What are you doing, asked a voice. Kai’s friend had come looking for us. Kai staggered up and spat on the ground. Nothing. 

 

He wasn’t in The Prince the next weekend. He didn’t reply to my texts. Eventually I text asking to pick up and he said the pills were three for a tenner. I met him in the May dusk down the Green. He was with a girl smoking a menthol cigarette. Fi was his girlfriend, he said, not meeting my eyes. I watched them walk away, holding my fistful of ecstasy. 

 

I tried to forget him. One Wednesday night I was woken by my phone vibrating. Kai was calling. He sounded fucked, he said he was addicted to coke. Where are you, I asked. 

 

My family hate me. 

 

I asked him again where he was. Up by the bridge, he said. 

 

My parents had deadlocked the door to curb my brother so I had to climb out of the living room window. I half-ran across the empty streets to the suspension bridge. Kai was still there, smoking, staring out at the million orange streetlights. I sat with him in silence, panting to get my breath back. He rested his head on my shoulder. How long have you got, he asked. Oh, I said. I’ve got a while yet. 

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