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  • Jack Hubbell

My Neighbor Nugza

Late night, before we relocated the studio from my apartment, Saba and I were jamming some new track ideas on the old hardware synthesizers. It was one of those nights where the extra beer gives you more courage to push the faders up and let the bass shake the walls. The extra volume was becoming a regular occurrence, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I would get a knock at the door.

"Did you hear something?" Saba asked as he pulled back the master volume slider on the mixing board.

Six rapid knocks cut through the sound of the muted music.

"Ah shit," I exclaimed, and I walked out to the next room to get the door.

Fearing it to be the cops, I reluctantly opened the big steel apartment door. The man on the other side, however, was not in uniform. He had a drunken smile on his face, which eased my worry immediately. From behind his back, he produced a large bottle of beer. As he held the bottle forth, it was finally made clear that this man was not here to shut us down; this man was here to join our humble party.

There were few words needed as most thoughts were conveyed from his dark eyes peering from a face that is either 40 or 70 years old. I'm still unsure, but maybe he has just lived more years in a shorter amount of time than most of us do.

The late-night quickly became a later-night as we drank the beer, rolled a joint, and laughed as Saba did his best to translate for everyone.

My neighbor Nugza. I would see him almost every day. When I would step out to get groceries or go almost anywhere, he would never be far, squatting on the corner with a small group of friends in black leather jackets. There would always be a "hello" and a "how are you," Sometimes in the summer, I would stand with him and his old friends on the street corner. We would drink a beer or homemade wine.

Sometimes late at night, I would hear him outside in the ally, typically loud and very drunk. Yelling at the world and the other neighbors or at nothing at all. It's the kind of sound that makes your eyeballs feel hot when your mind tunes to that particular emotion.

"He was such an amazing dancer," my other neighbor Marisha said, whilst looking out into the ally. "You know that he can't anymore? He is no longer able. I can't recall what happened, but once he had to quit, he began to drink more and more often. Now it's nearly every night."

"What kind of dance, I asked."

"Georgian Ballet," she responded. "He was a ballet dancer. Can you believe that?"

At some absurdly late hour, there was a knock at my door. Nugza stood at the entrance with another large bottle but without the jovial expression from the past. He was visibly drunker this time, and I invited him in for a joint, hoping that a strong puff would take the edge off and possibly calm him down before the rage gripped him for the night. We drank more together because it's better to drink with others than to drink alone in sadness; that's what I told myself anyway, but perhaps I just wanted to drink, too. We communicated mostly in hand gestures, yet we managed to make each other laugh. We smoked some more, and we laughed harder. We laughed until Nugza's false teeth fell out on my coffee table, and then we laughed even harder. And then suddenly, he broke right down and cried and hugged me, and I felt like crying, too.

"Chemi dzma, chemi dzma," (my brother, my brother). He told me again and again.

We drank more and turned on the music. Everyone be damned; the music was as loud as it could go. Endless glasses of beer filled our hands, and the apartment was flooded with the smell of a thousand ashtrays. Nugza danced drunkenly around on his lame leg, and I did my best in my condition to keep him from falling into the furniture.

"Jack," He said before finally staggering towards the door. "Jigari Khar."

Every time I've seen Nugza since, we say hello and follow it with "Jigari khar." We never spoke of the drunken night, but he brought me a really good bottle of wine some days after.

I asked Saba what Jigari meant one day.

"It's actually a really cool word that isn't really translatable, but it literally means that you are my liver or guts but it roughly means a man of honor or, mostly, someone with integrity."

I'll never forget that moment of realization that I was so incredibly lucky to be in a community like this, with people of such substance and love.

I moved from the apartment and didn't return to the neighborhood for some time. It was a year before I found myself on the same street again. I didn't see Nugza around, and he wasn't home, so I stopped by Marisha's house.

There was new art on the walls and a kitchen stocked of wonderful wine, which we enjoyed on the balcony as we had many times before. I naturally asked as to the whereabouts of our friend.

"I don't think his health is doing particularly well, but I do know that he quit drinking some months back."

I returned to the neighborhood a few times after that. I never received a response at his door each time I dropped by, and I began to fear the worst until one day, while walking to the local photo lab, I spotted him walking home. I almost didn't recognize him at first as he looked fuller in the face with much more color in his skin.

"Jack," He exclaimed. "How are you? Where have you been?"

I could tell the man was in a hurry, but we caught up quickly. Another former neighbor of mine, Tamara, and her son, Andrea came out. Andrea looked so much older, gave me a huge hug, and began to ask about my camera. I had had few interactions with the boy other than occasionally picking him up to sit on my motorcycle, which he always adored. It melted my heart to see that he remembered me; as a matter of fact, everything in that moment melted me. My friends all looked so well as we stood and chatted in the warm autumn sun. Lately, I had been feeling immensely gloomy, but there is simply no replacement for talking about nothing with good people on a beautiful day.

Everyone had somewhere to be, and there wasn't much time, but Jesus, there never fucking is.

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