'That Night' - by Melita Vurden
Weird how the freezer only makes that noise at night, like something comes alive. I used to pretend it was the little people, tinier cousins of the oompa loompas. I imagined them busy in there with little ice picks and thermometers, managing the chill factor.
Though of course it was Ma who had to chip out the ice when the oompas went on leave, wherever it was they went. Surely somewhere tropical. Defrosting was always Ma’s job, her hands all red like that, bowls of boiling water set inside the ice box, layers of newspaper for the weepy spills. Breadknife at the ready, to hack off those thick, resistant chunks. Shhhit. What a mess. You wouldn’t catch me doing that. The Cashbox at The Ice Rink was bad enough, and when I wasn’t trapped in there working, my job was being cool.
It was morning, but not yet light, the sea breeze still warm from the night before. We’d only ended up at Suncoast because Jess and I needed the toilet and those were the cleanest we could think of. We pulled up to the drop-off zone and ran in, racing past a zombie gambler wobbling his way out, and the dark blue uniform of a slow sweeper trying hopelessly to shepherd dust, paper and popcorn kernels. Relieved, we exited just as the others entered the entertainment world, all looking a little worse for wear after the night we’d had. We wore our go-with-the-flow outfits. Casual-like. The guys we’d met, they were in Raybans and BVDs, except this guy Randy in a blue and red Detroit vest, and some Mikey person in a powder-blue soccer shirt. Us girls were cute as usual in white vests and checked shorts. Carla in her fave black and pink pumps.
Who could have known that the concert would spiral into something bigger than the last Sunday session at the rink? Or that a bottle of Hennessey would spark the desire for more things nice, causing the moon to shine so brightly on ‘80’s’, the club too empty to charge an entrance fee but still keeping the faith with their 'buy one get one free' promo. All those 500ml bottles. All that sweaty, liquid gold. We soon lost interest in the game on the big screen and found focus in the 3.2megapixel window of a Sony Ericsson. Posing, posing, like we were promoters and getting paid. And now here we were at our local Las Vegas, hungry.
Three hours earlier:
The guys are whispering. I’ve never met them before so I figure they’re soft spoken or suffer from some collective speech impediment, or maybe there’s some secret headed in my direction. Spot on, Kevo calls me aside and makes a proposal I can’t refuse. Well, whether it’s the thrill of the proposal or the promise in his green eyes, I’m still not certain. Either way…
A couple of pavements, a few turns, we enter a busy street. People hanging around outside a club. Looks Jamaican.
First buy: zol.
I drive slowly. Sense some action at the back. Voices. The rear window rolls down.
“Come with the Swazi, my man.”
The window rolls up. I drive away faster. What are we getting ourselves into here?
I still didn’t know where I was going. I turned where they told me to. I wanted to turn back. Carla and Jess were busy exchanging numbers with the boys in the backseat.
Second buy: ekies.
Randy tells me to switch off the car lights as we approach - things are going down. Mikey sits comfortable in the front seat, sipping on a drink he’s hustled out of ‘80’s’, pulling on a Winston. The rest are squashed in the back.
I drive slowly. It’s dark. We’re all looking out for a guy we don’t know. Then Randy’s phone rings and he shows me to pull over. The back window rolls down. I check the rear view mirror. Have to make sure I’m not being followed.
“Where’s this ou?”
"How are we supposed to know who he is, ha?”
“Just relax, we’ll know him when we see him”.
“How bra? How!”
“I have a not-so-good feeling about all this,” Carla mumbled to Jess as she held her hand. I kept looking around. For what, I don’t know. Police? This Guy? Left view mirror, right view mirror, rear view, left again. Ok. My heart started to pound… just a bit.
“I think we should go now…” said Jess.
And right there out of the washed down peach building in front of us came a dark, round, black figure. Busy on his phone. Head down.
“There’s the ou,” said Randy.
But how did he know. What kind of intuition are these boys drinking?
Randy jumped out. We watched him. Was this what a stake out felt like? He gave the dark man a heads-up. Street code for ‘whatkind’. They shook hands, then walked towards the car. WTF! Why was he bringing this guy here? They both squashed in the back. Carla hopped on Jess. The shadow man stared at her thighs.
“What kind my man,” said Kevo. “Let’s see what you got.”
And he showed them a few tiny pills wrapped in a cream-soda-green tissue.
“Aweh! Top stuff. How much for six?” asked Randy.
“Don’t fuck around. I’m from South Beach my man. How much?”
“That’s it, laaitie.”
“Who the fuck you calling laaitie!”
And with that Randy punched him in the face so hard his head cracked the window. Veins of glass spread in an instant. Have you ever seen someone go from zero to red-eyed, vein-popping one hundred percent angry? Like that? His rage grew in the back seat. Punching. Swearing. Choking. Jess and Carla on top of one another. Screaming. Kevo trying to hold Randy, but all he held was the force of an elbow in his face. Swearing. Choking. Punching.
“Who’s yar laaitie ha!” screamed Randy.
“Drive bra! Drive!” Mikey pushed me.
I panicked. I turned the car on. I was in a high speed chase, except what was I chasing? I didn’t want to chase. I want to run!
“Turn down there,” yelled Mickey.
Really? You’re gonna navigate at a time like this?
Carla and Jess were screaming louder now. I glanced over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of glass veins turned red.
“Right stop! Stop here!” Mickey instructed. “Throw him out! Throw him out!”
Kevo leaned over and yanked the door open. Carla and Jess were bawling their eyes out. Randy breathing heavy pushed the dark man out the car and slammed the door.
“Fuck this ou, I’m not his laaitie!” He sat there, still enraged. Staring ahead.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, bra!” Mickey shouted, “You wanna get us in shit?”
“Haai no stories bru, he won’t remember fuckol. I smashed him.”
“No bru, there’s ladies in the car. You wrong!”
“Ay, sorry everyone, but no one calls me a laaitie. No one. You still got the stash Kevo?”
“Ay fuck you and your cream sodas. Take them! Pop them yourself!” Kevo holding the left side of his face.
South Beach was even more of a labyrinth at night. Every street led to the next and the main streets had become one-way or were under construction, plus Mickey could only give blurred directions so I drove down this one and up that one, through every side road there was. We even took the pedestrian route, ignoring the signs.
Two turns later, a road block.
Suddenly everyone sat up straight. Mikey stashed his bottle. I turned down the music. Another shadow to deal with.
Of course the officer pulled us over. A man wearing that particular dark blue isn’t going to bypass the opportunity to tell a female driver to stop. I stopped. Rolled down the driver’s window and stared at him. He stared back.
“Your lights?” he pointed out. “You know, usually people drive with their lights on in the dark.”
And I swung easily into action. “Oh man! Sorry sir! I just left the flat now-now. I was in such a hurry I must of forgot. Stupid me!” (I was taken aback for a moment. Did I just say that?)
“Have you been drinking?”
“No! Nooo,” I smiled a smile of total disbelief. (What a question! Did he just ask me that?)
“Your licence?” he said.
And like a good girl I handed it over. He looked closely, poring over the small card. Looked back at me. “Very pretty.” I smiled too broadly. Was he being serious?
He bent down slowly and peered into the quiet car, all of us perked up bright-eyed and bushy tailed, clean as a whistle.
He shook his head. “Kids!” And then he waved us on.
Suddenly set free, in the clear, the car exploded with sound. Whoops. Exclamations. “Yoh bra! Fuck!’ ‘You got the things?’ Voices remixed and mashed up between us, the celebratory house music pumping.
Can we take it slow,
There’s no need to rush, nothing baby.
If I let you take control,
With the promise you won’t enslave me.
We could do this all alone.
Coz I know, of a place we can go if you,
Let me set the tone,
I will show you my mind and my soul if you let me know,
Tasting like a paradise, where you can make believe.
Anything is possible and all aint what it seems,
Place your mind away in time and never disbelieve.
Life is like a fairytale and love is just a dream.
I was still so quiet I could barely breathe. As we drove down to the beach I found myself thinking. How sometimes you go through a hold-your-breath situation, you know, when your short life flashes before you? Clichéd or not, that’s what happens. Sometimes, you don’t think you’re gonna make it home. And when you do, when everything’s just fine after all, when you come out alive the other side with a bunch of people you hardly know, then there’s that click moment and you realise these are your bras. Your homies.
So what now, you wonder, where’s the move? I sat there a long time, wondering for a long time. And I’m still thinking about it now, right here in my little ice-cube Cashbox.
Bio for Melita Vurden
Born and swayed by Durban, I graduated this year with a Master of Arts degree (English Studies), specialising in Creative Writing. I have no previous publications, however, "That Night" is my first submission on record and the story itself is based on personal experience of the North Beach area while working at the Durban Ice Rink during my undergrad. I currently tutor English Studies and a writing skills module for engineers at the University of KwaZulu- Natal, and as a creative I co-write a blog titled ''Making Lines'' which also features my photography of ballet dancers. My zest, however, remains in the completion of a short story cycle which aims at putting an often overlooked area of Durban, that is North Beach, on the (literary) map! I'm an observer first, and enjoy status updates and journal noting the swift episodic, yet intriguing life of a city.