There’s a rhythm to rolling, once you get good, a tempo, a clock ticking out the seconds you have left before you can light. Your fingers grind, sprinkle, smooth, hypnotic anticipation flows, chasing something pure that has no face, no sound, no shape. Your name begins to escape you, if you get it right.


I got so good at rolling, I had three different grinders. Lime plastic with a Ying-Yang lid from a hippy shop in Camden, steel with meticulous teeth for breaking down gluey skunk clusters and a carefully crafted rosewood cylinder with two elephant trunks entwined from a Brazilian guy whose name I kept forgetting, Luca or maybe Leo, a guy I’d agreed to marry during Notting Hill Carnival stoned.

It was a blistering summer, and I kept our tin of herbal relief at the side of the single bed we shared above Papa John’s Pizza, smoking until our heads went numb enough to match our dripping limbs, reducing each other to feeling.

Psychedelic trance magazines covered the floor, a hazard I had to navigate when I stumbled from bed to the bathroom and skid all over the electric beats, walls sweating, the streetlight humming, and crawled to the bathroom instead. He pulled the sheet up over his ears and mumbled exotic affection – amorzão, lindeza, paixão da minha vida – slipping back into sleep.

I slept in his boxers and wore his bandana to the off-licence on the rare occasion I left his gaze to stockpile crisps and Rizla. We played bi-lingual strip Scrabble which didn’t make any sense sober. We stuck to four letter slang once we lost sight of the dual dictionary, laughing and falling, near naked, willing our carefree neurons across, up and down, into the corners of the board until the celebratory passing, inhaling, smothered the letters with ash.

I was nineteen, Luca maybe twenty-six. He said he smoked to see he was alive—his breath transmogrifying the smoke on the exhale into impeccable rings.

We smoked our way around the city, passing out at squat parties in Stockwell, chowing picanha off skewers in Willesden, drinking cashew shakes on the concrete banks of Brixton skate-park – filming his friends, flipping and flying – downing a bottle of cachaça at some gallery somewhere in Shoreditch where some hot new graffiti artist was making Brazil proud, always laughing, always spinning, drifting from smoking to bed.

I learnt to roll after school on the roof of a multi-storey car park, where tramps hunt the corners for abandoned trolleys discarded by jittery mothers too busy to claim their pound coins. I bought two types of paper – the silver packet and blue – and weighed each in my hands to see which felt right. I went for the thicker one first, raised an eyebrow at Rigby for approval who shrugged his shoulders and bent over the railings keeping watch, resting his elbows on the wall, Superman pants on display, fixing his khaki hoodie and picking the skin off his fingers.

He endured my desire for perfection with bemused frustration, grunting as I unpeeled another crumpled joint, starting all over again. Thinner skins, smoother lumps, less spit, a fatter roach to help it breathe more easily. Consistency is essential. With the wrong paper, poor wrapping, spilling soft tobacco that doesn’t weave right with the resin, the spark will let you down, and in your throat anticipated velvet turns to disillusion as you suck, light, squeeze, spark, chasing illusive relief. Rigby didn’t get it, his cravings were too weak.

We parted ways twelve hours later after I had given him my virginity. A night on the floor at his Mum’s to stop the bottom bunk squealing. He said stay – but I slid out of bed, washed my legs, went home, rolled another joint, threw my schoolbag into the wheelie bin and bunked a train to The Smoke.

There’s a rhythm to rolling, once you get good, a tempo, a clock ticking out the seconds you have left before you can light. Your fingers grind, sprinkle, smooth, hypnotic anticipation flows, chasing something pure that has no face, no sound, no shape. Your name begins to escape you, if you get it right.

On Ilhabela, a volcanic utopia off the coast of São Paolo, there’s a bar called Estaleiro’s where toucans perch and capuchin monkeys dance up on the roof. We celebrated our nuptials in the courtyard dazed, Seu Jorge, Natiruts pounding through the speakers, a waterfall soaking our senses outside, the man I’d accidentally married showing me how to crack a coconut. I got the knack, rehydrated then melted slowly into a sea-green hammock, thoughts oscillating wildly between more chemicals, slumber or home.

At bar close, we climbed over the fence and cut across the jungle, toward the tropical tree-house with the scorched stairs and the cluttered counter of buds. We wove our way through eight days, two ounces, then he started on rum.

Now it’s near dawn, and he’s splayed out like a starfish, naked and snoring in the sweat-drenched sheets. He shifts, sighs, turns from his side onto his back. Before he fell asleep, he said, Never disrespect me again, ok?, I said, Ok and lay there syncing my thoughts to his breath.

As soon as I see his face soften, his lower lip tremble in dream, I slip out of bed, down the steps, onto the street, swinging my straw bag, running to forget the feel of his rage, past the locked gates of pousadas and bars, his name escaping from my breath as I board the first ferry, feelings blurring, shoulders hunched against the heat, chemicals sweating through my tongue. I can’t ever forgive him.

I move through routine and escalating chatter, searching my bag for reals to the sprawling monster skyline and find a joint zipped up, once lit, now desolate, crumpled in half. I walk to the back of the boat and fling it as hard as I can against the breeze, but it shoots straight back and lands on my shoulder. I peel it off, watching a group of Paulistas flash their phones. I turn back and cradle the joint to shore, walking until I disappear, searching for peace, space and shade, wondering if the paper will spark, if it’s worth fixing.