I couldn’t really quite believe it when Flora rolled into Selina’s Hotel at 3 a.m. carrying with her only a small backpack and her unmistakable presence. It’s something about her energy that made it impossible to overlook her but certainly also the fact that she’s an absolute babe. She parked her daring little body next to mine on the king-size outdoor bed sidelining the pool and took off her jacket with air hissing out of her lips and wiping away sweat pearls from her forehead. Mexico’s Caribbean coast was hellishly hot even at night.
Hysterically, she started gushing out the story of her travels. One of my friends gave her a ride to the airport in Mexico City, a flight assistant from the airport in Cancun to Selina’s, and a police car escorted them on that way. I held out my arms wide open. Flora fell into them and made herself comfortable. She could relax now. Her arrival was real. She was actually there.
After exchanging about what’s been going on, I said that we could not enter my room because I hadn’t paid the night for it. “What do you mean, you didn’t pay for it?” she asked, and I explained that I wouldn’t sleep all night so that I would be able to pass out through the 12-hour-long flight to Istanbul. She understood though the question remained how we’d be able to drop her things off and access mine throughout the night.
Just at that moment, three stumbling chicks came by, loud as outlaw motorcyclists on a run, and sat down next to us when they saw Flora. All three of them stared at her severely and fired compliments about how beautiful she was. Only one of the girls looked at me and said hello; for the others, I was nonexistent. They were my roommates, and upon me asking whether I could come into the room with them quickly, the Colombian girl of the group said, “Here, just take my card and give it back to me tomorrow… At least one thing I can tell my mum tomorrow that she can be proud of.”
Although we agreed that there are few things more uncomfortable and annoying than people freely running around under the influence of such heaps of alcohol, it was amusing to hear one of the girls yell in the dirtiest street Mexican at the other that she was molesting us and that it was time for her to come to bed with them. The other ignored her and just continued mumbling things that only she understood. It was fascinating; the three of them were trying to have a conversation with Flora though, in the end, Flora did not speak a single word until they continued their three-person-in-one stumble toward the bed and left us alone. Alcohol is such a pitiful substance when taken to the lengths of delirium.
Flora and I spent the rest of the night fooling around in the hotel zone. We performed beer tapper at the deserted bar, pretended to play billiard without sticks or balls, and stayed up until dawn in a treehouse that we made the crow’s nest of our own pirate ship, arguing sheepishly about who was Captain Jack Sparrow (of course she was, and I was Davy Jones, trying to twizzle my tentacles around her youthful flesh). “Let’s go to the beach!” she said with her eyes gleaming in excitement. I said that we’d navigate our ship there if the captain says so. We worshipped the moon that formed the cheeky smile of Alice in Wonderland’s cat before materializing its body. Shrilling and peeping loudly from the mangrove just across the hotel, the different-colored birds who had just awoken greeted us. Shit, we weren’t tripping on psychedelics, but everything was so wholesome and left alone by impurity. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t have asked for anything else to make existence any more fulfilling.
I sat leaning against the tree with Flora on my lap, her hands hanging down my neck and her mocha eyes hanging deep in my face. She told me that she came to Quintana Roo to sort out her current situation, where she found herself scattered between Tepoztlan, la Roma, and Guadalajara. “I came here to align my energies once again and make decisions, you know?”
I realized how little I knew about Flora, and it saddened me to leave her. Despite my initial insecurities, I wanted to get to know her better and see how far we can take that curious synchronicity. At first, I just couldn’t believe that she liked me that much – and her sluggish virtual communication seemed to confirm that assumption – though when we were together, she made me feel like her king. It sounds so absurd for me to put that cheesy kind of thing on paper, but I felt acknowledged and appreciated and seen and loved around her. She gave me the feeling that I was the one and it was clear that she was my unsullied jaguar, my uncontested queen of the Mesoamerican jungle, who had me categorically mesmerized, “Amor, let’s go to bed, I want to lay down just 15 minutes,” – “Nah, I’ll stay awake,” – “Please, amor!” – that’s all it took.
In the bunk bed, we hugged each other and rubbed our bodies closely and tightly to get warm, then hot, and then we made love in the most wildly promiscuous way, yet infinitely intimate. It was necessary to change the room, for people were sleeping, and the clapping and gasping were just too loud to feel comfortable, although Flora claimed otherwise. After hushing into the bathroom, we felt like we could let hell loose for we were outside the sleeping facilities. Though, the bathroom was right in front of the sleeping room, and we went at it like it was the last time we ever could (which may have been true). In hindsight, changing the room made absolutely no difference – the entirety of Cancun’s hotel zone had heard us.
We probably spent a total of three hours in that bathroom because when we got out, it was almost time for me to leave. “Come sit down with me on the grass for a bit,” Flora said – “Babe, I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to miss that flight,” – “Not even for five minutes?” – “Nope, not even five,” – “Please?” – so, of course, we sat down and held each other for some time. How right she was. I was not yet ready to let her delicate energy go, and – leaning against a palm tree with my legs spread out and her back leaning onto my chest, both facing the ocean – my embrace held more than just her body dear. I wished her Godspeed and that all planets in the universe would align for her, at least for the duration of her trip, and she responded that we’d see each other soon, and I said, “Sometime, someplace,” and, as I jumped on my skateboard, “I would be constantly sitting on top of your head if I wasn’t leaving the continent,” upon which she blew me a kiss, and I rolled off.
Despite not having slept, I hopped onto the plane to Cape Town without major complications. Turkish Airlines made all honor to the extensive marketing and PR work that I had done for them when they were my client at the mc Group: No cues at the check-in, lush baggage policy that allowed for my skateboard to go as second luggage, a hygiene pack upon entry with a toothbrush and green tea lavender lip balm, and a second pack with earplugs, sleeping mask, damn, even cozy cotton socks, a blanket, and house slippers – all in Turkish Airlines corporate colors. No one in the plane could have possibly used the latter pack with the gratification that I did. I crashed in the middle seat in the center of the plane, wrapped myself into a woolly shell with all the homey utensils, masked myself with the blindfold, and passed out for good.
A bang and the subsequent clapping of people woke me up what seemed like a moment later. Twelve hours had passed, making it 9 a.m. in Istanbul time. The plan to avoid jetlag worked out wonderfully: Not sleeping the night before my flight departed in Cancun at 1 p.m. Mexican time, jetting over to Istanbul which was 7 hours ahead of Mexican time, sleeping through the entire 12-h-long flight, and waking up the next “morning” in Istanbul.
When I connected to the airport Wi-Fi, I was bombarded with Fıstık’s messages about telling her at what time I would land, that she was waiting for me outside of the airport, if I had arrived well, if everything was okay, that she was worried, that I should reach out, godammit, that she’d called Zorlu to ask if he knew anything, that she’d call the cops soon – a classical Fıstıkian dramaturgy paired with the mothering caretaker inside of her.
I received an abundant Leo-hug when we finally got in sight of each other. “I missed you! It’s been like two years,” she said when she headbutted into my upper body. Dampening the recoil, I said that I missed her too and asked her whether she remembered the last time we had met. “Of course I do – how could I forget? – You gave me your visor, and I gave you my necklace, and we thought we’d see each other in Berlin like a week later.” We were in Tbilisi at that time, and I had just gotten into my M.A. and had to leave the country in a rush to enroll. It was the sudden end of a short-lived romance that was too intense to last, anyway. One and a half years had passed since then. After a hesitant moment of eye contact following the hug, we greeted each other again, this time we met with a passionate kiss, and she pulled me by her hand into the car.
The New Istanbul Airport, for which I had done so much PR work, was 45 kilometers outside of the city center, and it took us a good conversation’s time to wheel back. She asked me to tell her about my travels, and I went into a whole monologue about my adventures in every single state of Mexico: Diving in Quintana Roo, my first raves with Leuhan, the Acid-infused road trip to Chichen Itza with Uzen, taking Ayahuasca in Palenque, the breathwork and Midnight club in San Cristobal, surfing in Chacahua, the abandoned beach rave in Puerto Escondido, and underground parties in Mexico City. She listened attentively – too attentively almost, for she nearly wheeled us into the grave a couple of times – and asked a whole set of questions as follow-ups to my stories.
“What about you, though? How have you been?” I asked her after realizing that I talked a lot and that it had cost me a lot of energy. She put on a sad smile and said, “You know, not much has been going on. The same old thing. Trying not to lose my shit in Istanbul, basically.” While I was able to go out and see the world, Fıstık had been stuck in Istanbul throughout the pandemic, without much space to escape. She told me about the first few months, where basically no one left the house, and how difficult it was to be around her dad for so much, her exploitative relationship with Bejou, and about cutting out toxic people from her life.
“The only thing I can tell you about in length is my trip to Kyiv,” she said. A label had invited her to her first-ever international gig in one of Kyiv’s ragged techno bunkers. “Yo, I never felt so disrespected in my life. The organization was the worst! I mean, they booked me a place in the middle of the ghetto, I didn’t feel safe going out at all, no one took care of me, I basically didn’t sleep for three days, and yet still, I managed. And I did everything with a smile. I feel like I can do anything on my own now; it really required me to take over responsibility. Oh, and you bet, I blasted the crowd away.” I did not doubt that in the least. Fıstık is one of those rising star techno producers who really played from the heart. Her heart can be pitch black at times, and so her music: Relentless, high-energetic, terror techno that bursts eardrums and accelerates the pulse. In that sense, Eastern-European hardcore scenes hold her in good hands.
Before we arrived at hers, we stopped at a bakery in her neighborhood that made Turkish delights. Attentive as she is when she holds someone dear, Fıstık remembered that I had a weakness for sweets and pampered me with the crème de la crème of Turkish pastry. My mouth watered up like a golden retriever’s tongue on a sunny summer day. I was in Willy Wonka’s sugar wonderland and couldn’t even wait until we had paid before giving in to my guilty pleasure. By the time we got home, the first box of sweets was already deserted.
In a way, entering Fıstık’s house felt a little like coming home. Her cat Sisi was lying just outside of her house, rolling around in the dirt. There’s a picture of us two curled up together in Fıstık’s bed the night before we flew to Tbilisi; I always had to share the bed with Sisi; she was the boss of the house. Fıstık’s sister sat on the couch and greeted me cheerfully. She had grown. The dog-trio Luna, Nova, and Eva collectively slurped my face – Nova had also grown, and Luna did not hysterically bark at me upon first sight. Even Fıstık’s father greeted me after she reminded him of who I was. We sat at the kitchen table with Turkish coffee and dipped simit into salted olive oil as naturally as if it was our everyday breakfast club.
Thereafter, Fıstık and I disappeared into her room and made ourselves comfortable on her bed. Without speaking, we held each other. It had been a minute, and the physical proximity in shared silence seemed like it could bridge time – like it could undo the period we spent separated from each other and directly tie the here-and-now to the time we were watching Rick and Morty while slurping a Georgian mushroom soup in one of Tbilisi’s Airbnb beds after a 40-h-marathon of raving.
Zorlu’s sensitive nose for sexual energy must’ve picked up the scent from kilometers away because he timed his arrival perfectly with Fıstık and I’s exuberant arousal. It wasn’t the first time that the three of us had gotten down on each other, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Though, as of that moment, the priority certainly wasn’t venturing out into the lands of sensual stimulation. So, we fell into each other’s arms, and his tall, trained body held me in a tight embrace. “So, you preferred going to the gym over picking me up in the morning?” I said mockingly. He immediately went into a defensive mode and justified himself by explaining that he worked with a “PT” (personal trainer) and that he couldn’t miss any session. I waved it off and told him that everything was good and that I was happy to see him.
Zorlu gave me a quick update about his life, telling me that he fine-tuned his post-production photography skills with the Adobe Creative Cloud so that he could find a job once he finally got his Portuguese passport. “You have no idea, bro, it’s been one and a half years, and I’m so ready to leave. The day I get my passport, I’m out,” he said with big eyes. He’d paid a lawyer to do genealogical work for him, and they found out that he had some Jewish ancestors. Given the European history of systematic persecution of Jewish people, having Jewish ancestry is reason enough for Portugal to grant citizenship regardless of one’s origin. “Yeah, I remember it when you started the whole process,” I said. “Your family was hosting me at that time.”
“I was so stressed back then,” Zorlu responded, and I said that I noticed more determination from him compared to the last time we had met. “Definitely, man! I am so ready to leave. I don’t have those insecurities anymore. Back then, I didn’t even know how I would survive two more years in Istanbul. Now, it’s just half a year left, and I feel calm and ready to leave.” Fıstık smiled, I wrapped my arm around her, the other one around Zorlu, which fused us into a single fuzzy ball of body and warmth. We were united once again.
“So, what is it you want to do today?” Fıstık asked me. I said that it didn’t matter to me as long as the three of us were together. I hadn’t been in Istanbul for Istanbul’s sake, but to see them, after all. Eventually, we decided to grab a drink around Taksim square, where I could also buy the Miah Dahab scent from the Maa Althahab perfumery that had become such a benchmark for my identity. The store only existed in the Middle East, and I had been dying to get a hold of it.
Istanbul then reminded me of how terrible it could make traffic. An hour and a half later, we arrived at Taksim square, and Fıstık had gone through one of those moments where she switched to intense stress mode, and there was little to be done about it. She lashed out on Zorlu when he suggested that we went to a birthday party of his friend’s, double-daring him about where he took the guts from to suggest going elsewhere when we had literally just parked the car. It reminded me of so many moments where I either walked on eggshells around her, made it worse by trying to be cute, or didn’t know how to react to her mood and just gave her space. It reminded me about the complications with Fıstık and that our tough love wasn’t always as innocent as we’d like to paint it in our memories.
We went down the main strip springing from Taksim square and branched off into a little side street full of graffiti and cafes, probably one of those where the leaders of the 2013 Gezi Park protests met to organize their resistance. By the time we swigged our first gin tonic, Fıstık had chilled down, and the beef felt like it was long gone. Zorlu bought popcorn from a street trolly, and we imagined what this hip little street would look like from the second-floor window where the bohemian-looking chick was smoking her cigarette.
By the time we ended up in a premium Turkish restaurant in an abandoned factory that had been reworked into a cultural meeting hub for Istanbul’s progressive youth, I thought that I was tripping. An eye-blink ago I’d been in Mexico, next thing I knew, I was cruising over the Bosporus. Things went too well to be true. Literally, all my desires had been fulfilled, up to the most particular ones: visions of us three having Rakı and meze and heart-to-heart conversations on a locksmith’s table.
Indeed, as stories go, something was foul. Fıstık told me that she wasn’t comfortable driving me to the airport because driving had driven her crazy that day and at night something eerie happened to her vision that prevented her from feeling safe behind the wheel. That would have usually not posed a problem, because airports tend to be well-connected to public transport, especially in megacities. We’d just wheel to her house, I’d pick up the things I had forgotten there, and take off in time – all good.
Though, at that moment, everything wronged me at once in a single celestial crackdown: First, images of media clippings I had to camouflage during my PR job flashed up, spotlighting that the New Istanbul Airport wasn’t connected to a metro line yet. According to Google Maps, it would’ve taken me a solid two hours and thirty minutes from Fıstık’s house to get there with public transport. That meant we’d have to zoom off immediately to Fıstık’s. Second, Istanbul traffic was unusually busy on the second bridge, the one that crossed from the European side to Fıstık’s house. “What does that mean, one point five hours delay? I don’t understand,” Fıstık said when she looked up the way home on her maps application. The only flight I’d ever missed in my life before that day was in Istanbul because of traffic. Lord, unprecedented Friday-night traffic had materialized out of nowhere, “It means I’m fucked, Fıstık,” I said calmly, and went into full-on stress mode.
Against my general nature, I become a religious stoic whenever I get into hazardous situations. What was the worst possible outcome of the situation, and how could I consolidate that? “I don’t know what it means,” Fıstık said, hurling me out of my head, “but I don’t have a bad feeling about this.” From experience, Fıstık’s intuition was more reliable than sensory perception; she was linked to some unworldly spirits that manifested in her prophetic intuition. With gentle and comforting eyes, she took my hand. I hissed, threw my head into the headrest, and said that I couldn’t afford optimism right now and that the worst thing that can happen is that I miss the flight and lose money from buying a new one. She turned away from me; my stress had infected her. “As long as you don’t wheel us into an accident like you almost did five times already today, that’s a reasonably fair outcome,” I then added with an ingenuine smile, not believing a word that I said but hoping that it came across authentically. I was broke, neither of my two scholarships had sent me a cent for two months because of bureaucratic piss-hurdles and a work ethic that prioritizes the killing of time over productivity (so much as to “rational bureaucracy,” Weber). I put on the album “Sakura” by Susumu Yokota and smoked one cigarette after the other.
Eventually, traffic thinned out and we made it to her house in time. The taxi to the airport was already waiting outside. I grabbed my hat, my laptop, my jacket, and a Turkish coffee cup, said to Fıstık’s mum that I love her upon which she gave me a motherly hug, and drifted off with Fıstık in the taxi. She would get off at Taksim square again. “I told you that you’d make it,” she said. I smiled. I should’ve just trusted her.
To make a closure, I felt like I needed to know what Fıstık was hoping for the next few months to happen, what her vision was, and to wish her all the best I could for that purpose. “I want to get out of Turkey and do my Europe tour,” she said. I saw her eyes gleaming for a second. It was one of the only moments where I could sense her inner fire crackling. The way she looked at me after that, with that burning dedication pulsating from her vision, brand marked our last interaction and printed itself as my last image of her before she hopped out of the taxi. Almost relieved to have seen that in her, I leaned back and enjoyed the cab driver gunning me back to the New Istanbul Airport with a constant 30 km/h above the speed limit.
I found myself again on a Turkish Airline flight and again, I firmly planned on passing out for most of it. After all, the entire trip starting in Mexico around 30 hours earlier was planned around sleeping through the flights. Zooming through Istanbul for a day left me dog-tired, and I fell into my seat next to an elderly lady who didn’t hesitate to start a conversation with me. After talking at me for some time and me just politely grinning at her with tired eyes, she commented that she was glad that I was “having a conversation with her,” (“listening” would have been more accurate).
In her monologue, she unearthed all her existential conflicts to me: That she was from a village in Eastern Poland, that she was caretaking her even older mother who was suffering from Alzheimer and that she left her to visit the rest of her family that was based in South Africa, where a little baby was waiting to see its granny after a year and a half of absence, and that she was torn between moving her life to South Africa and staying with her mother in Poland. I said to her that I was sorry for her mother being sick and pointed out that Alzheimer patients tend to expect a relatively short life span after being diagnosed and suggested that the lady took care of her mother until she passed away in peace – upon which I knocked on wood three times – and then moved over to the rest of her family in South Africa. If she was so direct, why not be honest with her?
Then she presented me two classical “fear” narratives that had me pondering for a minute. She said that she liked Eastern Poland, mentioned how beautiful it was, and described the forests and the mountains and the village life in detail. “But there are more and more migrants,” she then said, “Europe is full of migrants.” That triggered one of my inner alerts, and I asked her why she mentioned that. “It’s just not the same anymore. They are dangerous, and I don’t feel safe around them.”
“Has any migrant ever done anything immoral to you?” I then asked. She said no, but that in cities like Berlin there is a lot of crime done by migrants. I countered that I would’ve probably noticed that as a Berlin resident – until that moment, she thought that I was South African – and asked her where she had that information from. “Well, the media,” she said, upon which I asked her whether she thinks that media representations of migrants are accurate, especially in the context of Poland, where the media landscape is starkly polarized, with one media conglomerate presenting what’s in favor of maintaining the current government in power and the other one simply denying everything the government-driven media conglomerate published. “You’re probably right,” she then said, and jumped into a different fear narrative, “but in Cape Town, you really need to be careful. Oh, dear! It’s very dangerous there.”
That was the second time that I had heard someone telling me to be careful in Cape Town. The first time was in Puerto Escondido when I went to Cactus Club on a Friday night. It was an overall lame tropical house music night in a club by the beach that hosted a boring crowd of Acapulco-shirt-wearing white tourists and the few ladies they competed over in their primitive mating showdown. When I was waiting by the bar to buy myself water, a South African guy started talking to me, and I asked him a few questions about Cape Town. He told me that it was great, “but you really need to be careful.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked to tickle more information out of him.
“Yes. After the sun sets, you don’t go anywhere on foot. You literally get into the Uber, get into the place where you want to go, order your Uber home from inside that place, and only get out once it arrives.”
“Oh wow,” I said. We were in Mexico, which is considered a “dangerous” place by mainstream Global North society, and there he goes pulling up with a statement like that when I asked him about an introduction to Cape Town.
“Yes, dude, it’s dangerous. You don’t talk to people on the streets because they mug you. They’re really good at it. One would talk to you and not leave your side and catch your attention while another one empties your pockets. It’s rad.” He then continued explaining that it was an otherwise great place to be and that I would have fun for as long as I took care of myself. He said that I could hit him up and ask for more information once I was there, for which I thanked him, though he never answered my text.
After I explained to the Polish lady that I was tired urgently needing to rest, the flight was similar to the one from Mexico to Istanbul: I plugged my ears, covered my eyes, wrapped myself in the blanket, and slept for the entire flight. Another eye-blink and I was in Cape Town.
The very first thing I realized was that people of color were working in service: As airport waiters, cleaners, and taxi drivers. Two taxi drivers almost got into a fistfight right in front of me, arguing about who would give me a ride. In the end, a Mexican guy had ordered an Uber to the airport which we shared, and none of the two got the ride. Though, that meant taxi drivers didn’t have a too comfortable salary in one of South Africa’s three capitals.
In the supermarket, I then had my first interaction with a homeless person. “Hey Mister,” he said to catch my attention, which I gave him, and then he showed me a plastic packed set of three tacos and explained to me that it was food for poor people. “I am hungry, Sir, could you maybe buy that for me?” I didn’t hesitate and said that I would buy him the food, adding “I don’t think that anyone should be hungry.” The man then came really close to my face and thanked me, then he rested his forehead on my shoulder and excused himself for asking for food, water flowing from both eyes and nose. I said that it wasn’t his fault and that we should get going.
Little did I know that Cape Town was one of the most unapologetically economically unequal places I’d ever been to and that, therefore, the homeless man – who happens to be a person of color – was not an isolated case. One hour in the city sufficed to clarify that class structure strongly correlates with the politics of race and that the colonial continuities of Apartheid position large strata of people of color in underclasses, whereas white people were very likely to end up in upper classes. That was not surprising, though the degree of normalization of that indiscreet power relations felt somewhat unnerving. After buying food for three homeless people that day, I figured that my ethic of lavish sharing of my personal resources with whoever was hungry was not sustainable in Cape Town. No hour in the City Bowl passed by without being asked for help by a homeless person.
On the other hand, areas such as Sea Point, where I went for an apartment visit, showcased tower next to tower of five-star luxury apartments to which white folks segregate themselves. The guest house I scouted was owned by a British old man and his German wife of the same age group and had a 57-year-old Dutch lady as the only guest. It had differently themed rooms, the one that was presented to me ran under the motto “Africa,” and had a rustical overall look with a cheetah-striped carpet, a gazelle skull hanging over the bed, and a sleek abstract sculpture of a black body in the corner. My toenails curled up. The old Brit and the Dutch lady spoke about having a walk in the park with me and about flowers. I felt flattered, and they were kind of cute, but after what I’d just experienced, I told them that I would think about the offer and let them know shortly. “Thanks a lot, I’ll see you soon in the park!” the lady screamed after me as I surfed the hill down on my board.
The way back to the hostel took me all the way up High Level Road, an endlessly long uphill stretch that cars pass in a matter of seconds. I cursed myself if I lived on that of the mountain; no way I would do that up- & downhill every day; we were talking 300 meters difference in altitude. As many mountains, though, the top held a little surprise for me that overwrote all the damning and cussing on the way up. Without a warning, Table Mountain stretched itself out in front of me like a wanton model on a bed, with clouds hanging so deep, deep enough to wrap the Table Mountain’s edgy plateau in their playful embrace, making it seem like the model was covered in an opaque veil. My brain could not possibly trick me into seeing anything like that – never could it construct a false reality that could dream to be as sublime as that view – though I still did not feel like I had arrived. It still felt alien. Like I could just close my eyes and open them again to realize that the last five months had been what seemed like a really long dream, maybe the time I lay in an overdose-triggered coma or something like that.
I got back home to the hostel after another apartment visit and met my roommate. He had his camera material scattered around the room and was listening to hip hop snippets posted on Instagram when I came in. His name was Blaizer. “How’s it going dawg?” he greeted me and held out his right hand for a wide palm check with a subsequent shoulder hit. “I like your style, dude, are you in fashion or what?” he went on.
“Yeah, I like fashion. Any recommendation for some local labels?” I asked. He said that he was my man and showed me a couple of fashionable influencers with fresh styles. I liked that cat’s vibe, he had soul.
Blaizer then asked me if I liked going out. “You bet,” I spat, which drew a big smile on his face, and he invited me to go out with his friends that night to some event they organize. Apparently, they were producers of some South African genre and swiftly rising to fame. “Count me in,” I said, “It’s Saturday and my first night in CPT.” He said that I’d hear from him later upon which I disappeared to grab dinner at Madam Titou, the artsy Ethiopian restaurant on Long Street that had no empty spot on the ceiling, walls, or cupboards because of the paintings, handcrafted jewelry, sculptures, posters, books, and other fantastic objects shown there.
After a lush dinner, I moved to the table outside with a fresh thyme tea and a fresh pack of cigarettes. I started reading, but my surrounding quickly caught my attention. Long Street on a Saturday night around the time when curfew started was charged. Within the time of finishing a tea and two cigarettes, around a hundred people rushed by – some in groups, some alone, some dressed up, some in ripped clothes, some drunk, some high, yakking, shouting, running, seeking for friends, or an after-party somewhere hidden inside, trying not to get caught by the police who was attempting to clean the streets because of the curfew. I was in undercover mode, with the visor deep in my face and the hood even deeper. Many a passenger turned around and stared straight into the shade that covered my face. One guy even sat down next to me and babbled on with his friends, like he was the owner of the restaurant and I was just a ghost, upon which the Ethiopian lady came out and shushed him away with a disappointed head shake. “We’re closing now,” she gently reminded me, upon which I paid the bill and left for my hostel.
I couldn’t find Blaizer, and he hadn’t responded after telling me that he’d send me a location, so I sat down on the sofa by the reception and started reading. “Hey, do you have a lighter?” someone asked me. I looked up and saw a short, slim guy with the hint of curly hair if it wasn’t cut stubby, goggles, and a distinguishably Arab accent. “Yes, let’s have a smoke,” I said, and we went outside.
He said that his name was Shakir and that he was an Egyptian student at Stellenbosch University. From his shadow sprang two German chicks who were also students at that university. “Are you down for a party?” Shakir was quick to ask. “What music are we talking about?” I said.
“Techno and house.”
“Techno and house?” I inquired. After my Mexico experience and the false identification of techno as some genre that it simply wasn’t, I approached the whole thing with a healthy dose of cynicism, “At what time are you leaving?” – “The Uber is here in three minutes,” Shakir said. I couldn’t reach Blaizer and I had one minute to decide, so I just delved into the innocent space of spontaneity and followed a group of strangers into their Uber that carried us into the curfew-restricted night.
Our group consisted of a total of six; three Germans, two Italians, one Egyptian. They all studied at the same university, and the vibe reminded me of the international student community from when I had studied in Mexico five years back. Not a circle I would want to get into again, but usually a decent crowd for parties. The two Italian chicks arrived at the car last. “We literally arrived an hour ago,” one of them excused them in an Italian accent that could not represent the general idea of Italian temperament transmitted via language any more accurately.
Both their names were Erminia. It wasn’t hard to distinguish them from one another, for when calling out for Erminia, one usually meant the one that talked a lot, whereas the other was more reserved and did the quality assurance against the background of overhearing everything. “It’s my birthday tomorrow, let’s go and have some fun!” talkative Erminia yelled – she was hyped for the night. I mentioned to her that I had also arrived that same day and that I was equally psyched to see what the scene in Cape Town had to offer. “You know, after four months of extensive partying in Mexico, I can comfortably say that the last locos on Mexican dancefloors who were still around at ten in the morning when everyone else had long gone home – holding up the flag of hedonism – were either French, German, Argentinian, or Italian,” I said to the two somewhat daringly.
“Oh, you bet!” Erminia yelled, “I haven’t slept for like two days, because I was at a party and then I realized that we had to get a negative PCR test to enter South Africa, so I asked everyone at the party if they had made a negative COVID test that we could use as a template, and eventually, I found one, and then I had to find someone else who knew how to edit documents with Photoshop, and I fed him Ketamine all night long, telling him that he was doing great, and then I went to print it, and then I came to the airport, took the flight, and now I’m here, on the way to a party.” The pace at which she talked was unreal; no point or comma between her machine gunshot of phrases. Her energy was enough for five. One thing I did not understand was why she fed the guy who faked her PCR test Ketamine – a dissociative – instead of something that increases focus; but little did it matter.
None of us had any idea where the Uber was heading. Shakir was the person of trust that led us into the night, and we didn’t ask many questions. We were dropped at a petrol station upon which someone immediately yelled at us from down the road, “Come over here, quick!” so we got into a shuttle as part of the party organization that transported us into a gated property. The gate closed behind us, and the driver yelled, “Okay, run over there!” – “Where do we have to…” – “RUN!” and we jumped out of the car in the direction of a man waving us into a door that led inside the building complex. The door shut behind us, and no one could enter or leave the place until five in the morning.
That was how people wiggled around the curfew in CPT. The precondition of an event as such was that all participants were fully conscious that what they were doing was illegal by the mere fact of being present in that space to that time. Because official club spaces remained closed due to the COVID pandemic, organizers jinked to abandoned spaces in warehouses or housing blocks. The venue we visited was apparently called “City Club” and ran in full accordance with the DIY-roots of UK rave culture. Originally, it might’ve been the terrace of a student housing block that had a three-room mini apartment for the janitor on top. The club team roofed parts of it, hammered a bar into the corner, emptied the apartment completely, and filled the corridor with provisionary lighting and the other room with a DJ controller between a mediocre sound system of which the rear speakers did not even work.
No one expected a creamy setup anyway. People just wanted a space to release, and they did. Never in my life had I been to an event where people talked as much as there. I hadn’t even reached the dancefloor, and already three different people had babbled at me. The pretext was usually a well-intended compliment or just the crossing of an eye that in Cape Town’s underground would naturally lead to a personal introduction. “Yo,” said a short black girl with golden, finger-long dreads that suited her golden glasses, jewelry, and outfit, and checked me out sarcastically. “Yo,” I said and checked her out in the same manner. “Doin’ good?” she asked. “Doin’ good. What about you?”
The verbal conversation was painfully meaningless in that interaction because all poignant communication happened non-verbally. We got a step closer to each other on every change of speaker, and grinned, and eyeballed the opposite daringly. “Follow me,” she then said. We passed the bar, and I followed her down the corridor.
The end of the corridor turned left to the bathrooms and right into a room that was by then unknown to me. A man of steel with folded arms stood there unshakably like a mountain – obviously, a bouncer. The petite girl pulled me straight into the bathroom and invited me into a booth with her, which the cleaning lady prevented. She said that we couldn’t do that. Just seconds later, when she turned around, the chick pulled me into the booth and, unsurprisingly, another second later, the cleaning lady knocked and screamed, “Open the door! You know that this is not allowed!” The girl just shushed me and yelled that she was alone, pushed the dope into my hand, and made a head move to indicate that I should get going with the lines.
“Jesus,” I thought, “does she really think she’s gonna get away with that?” Obviously, we got busted doing something forbidden, and she tried speaking us out of it by pretending that what the buster had just observed was all a hoax? “Open the door!” another voice yelled with more persistent door hammering – the bouncer had arrived. There wasn’t even time to open the baggy, let alone crushing the shit and preparing evenly distributed parallel lines.
Eventually, we opened the door and went out. The cleaning lady went to have a chat with the cat that had gotten into this trouble, and the bouncer had a sober word to share with me: “You don’t do that kind of shit here, understood?” I said that I did. He was dead serious: “Didn’t the lady tell you that you weren’t allowed to enter with that lady?” I said that she did. “What could you possibly do together in there, anyway?” I just shrugged my shoulders. It was obvious what we were going to do in there. “Listen, Sir,” I then said, “I really don’t want to get into trouble. Deep apologies for this. I have no idea how things work here. I just followed that girl around, I swear.”
“Fuck off,” the bouncer replied.
“Get the fuck out of my face,” – and that was that. The big black man didn’t have to tell me twice to get away from him.
Waddling down my walk of shame back the corridor had me realize that I still hadn’t been dancing but already almost got kicked out. Before I reached the entry to the dancefloor, someone grabbed my arm and threw me around. “Come with me,” the same chick said with a newfound determination. The exact same sequence of movements, just that time we were left in peace. “I gave the cleaning lady a hundred rand,” she explained, “do you have a phone?” and she pressed the dope into my hand again.
My question about the nature of the drug we were using remained unanswered. Sitting on the toilet floor with her back leaned against the booth wall, she instead mumbled something in a language that I didn’t understand while rolling up a money bill. I scrutinized the baggy to find crystalized, hard, matte rocks that resembled MDMA more than anything else that is conventionally taken in clubs – at the least the ones I’d been to. Barely able to crush the crystals, I asked the girl if she spoke English. She kept speaking and looking at me with those expectant eyes, but I didn’t seem to understand anything she said, so instead of responding, I just stared back at her idiotically. It could’ve been a thick accent, or she could’ve spoken an altogether different language. “I prefer to use non-verbal communication,” she then said.
“Oh, do you?” I replied and asked if she’d seen the magical realism movie “The Lobster” with Colin Farrell in the leading role. She hadn’t. Laying out the synopsis in a sentence, I got to my point: “Eventually, the protagonists came up with an intricate system of non-verbal communication so as not to blow up their cover.”
“Well… They get busted anyway,” I said, realizing that my comment hadn’t fulfilled its intention of further entertaining the thought of communicating non-verbally.
Why were we unable to maintain a conversation? It was just 11.30 p.m., was she already so far out there? It certainly seemed like it. The urgency with which she acted suggested that there was nothing more important in the universe right now than her persecuted intention, a behavior frequently observed by people under the influence of plentiful stimulating energizers, such as MDMA, Amphetamine, or Cocaine. There was simply no time of the high to waste; everything had to be done quickly – bam, bam, bam – and back to the dancefloor.
Crushing up the rocks into a powder, I still wasn’t entirely sure what it could be. It was too hard for Cocaine but also for MDMA. Plus, MDMA usually has a different color. Those crystals were washed out matte white. It looked like R-Ketamine, but I doubted that someone would bring such amounts of that to a place like this. “What are we taking here?” I asked again. She said that she thought it was Cocaine. “You think? Didn’t you buy that shit?” I hooted.
“I don’t know, man,” she answered and shook her head.
I licked my finger and pressed it onto the part of my phone screen where one of the lines ended. “It tastes like salt,” I said. No response from her. Not like that it would have changed our decision to shoot the powder up to our nostrils one after the other, but I tend to like my drugs served with certainty about how they’re spiced.
“Hoooooooly shit!” I screamed.
“Damn! That burns!” she tuned in with a hellishly contorted face.
“Whatever that shit is, it’s not Cocaine. Blow’s not supposed to feel like that in the nose,” I said after enduring the burning sensation for a full minute.
“Do you dance?” the girl said out of the blue.
“Of course I do,” and we made a move to leave the bathroom.
After washing my hands, the same bouncer that had before scared the shit out of me now laughed a genuine, loud laugh and asked: “Did you enjoy yourself?”
“I did,” I said. “Sorry again for earlier, I literally just don’t know how things work here, and I was just following someone around.”
“Don’t worry, champ,” the bouncer said. “Just keep following her around.”
Unlike narcos in Mexico, there was something about the bouncers’ presence in the space that suggested a subversion for violence. They didn’t seem like they were looking for beef or willing to get shit cracking if they saw a chance for it. No real threat came from them, although they looked like they could swing their arms left and right, and uproot mammoth trees as easily as King Kong.
As it later turned out, the bouncers were actually the ones selling dope in the club, Suddenly, the reason for their Orwellian control of the toilet was evidently their interest in avoiding people to use drugs bought elsewhere. That you pay by card was as normal as buying a croissant and an espresso on a Sunday morning – they’d simply charge it as Gin & Tonic. Surprise number two was that if you purchased your shit from them, you had access to the room to the right of the corridor, a room specifically designed for drug consumption. From the dark, raw DIY space you suddenly entered an extravagantly renovated living room with warm, bright light and various couches to sit on. The contrast could’ve hardly been more pronounced.
After a while, I finally ended up on the dancefloor to find a DJ who played without any coherence whatsoever. First, he played EDM songs from 2012 – Will Spark, if I am not mistaken – followed by a Mike Will Made It production that boosted Erminia into her birthday, then some mainstream house – all within 20 minutes. “So much as in ‘House and Techno’,” I said to Erminia.
She grinned at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Shakir then said, “They have no structure here. They just tell DJs to come and play, and they play whatever they want.”
“I guess that’s part of the DIY attitude,” I said.
“Let’s hope that the next DJ is better…”
We spent the rest of the night moving back and forth between the drug-taking room and the dancefloor. One thing was for sure: Either place would be dominated by a zig-zag of voices that lay over another and wiggled into infinitely intricate invisible canals of sounds that filled the entire room with palpable noise. Everyone was talking. Everyone. Nonstop. A description of all the people I chatted with that night would correspond to the character book of a 1000-chapter-long manga… and most of them actually were as exuberant as Japanese manga characters.
At some point, Erminia cut up a whole gram of powder in the junkie room which gave me a second to lean back and let everything sink in. How did I end up there? It had been just half a day in the city, and I was already looking at two guys leaning over to do lines on a table, revealing their animal egg pincher underwear that flashed through cuts around the butt cheeks of their color-pattern-matching, skin-tight pants. In a society where presumably conservative norms regarding sexuality prevail, spaces as City Club, where people can safely construct and perform any identity they feel without major external judgment, are usually hard to find. Normally, it takes time to create access to the right people who then slowly introduce you to such spaces. Either my initial assessment about the number of nightlife venues that allow for outward freedom of expression was wrong, or I was simply a lucky fuck. Probably a bit of both.
We’d taken our last lines at 4 a.m. and got out the room to hear Psytrance music blasting from the hall. “Oh my god, I can’t believe it!” Erminia shrieked and disappeared to the very front.
“It’s your birthday gift,” I yelled over the bassline in her direction, which made her smile.
She and I had a playful thing going on. Every here and then, we checked each other out with cheeky looks. Whenever our eyes crossed, we synchronized our body movements, while our tactful steps drew us closer to each other, further away again, then circling each other, maybe close enough for our thighs to touch, though never our lips. That was clearly reserved for later.
That last DJ was the only acceptable one from the technical perspective of using the many-featured decks and coherence of musical genres anchored in an understanding of basic music theory. He was the only one who made the crowd break out in sweat and yells and caused poopers who just sat around to swing their bodies for the last dance.
By the end, the dancefloor had all the benchmark personalities present at once: The shorty who got me into trouble at the beginning was still there, whiplashing shouts into the room that slashed straight through the beat and fired up the crowd. There was the group of topless muscle machines who reserved the spot in front of the DJ deck, their wide backs forming something like a human wall of riot shields. Some in the back couldn’t stand the physical proximity closer to the front and sought more space in the back of the room. Someone standing by the side just nodding their head to the beat. Of course, a party veteran could not be missing at such an event. He was taller than anyone else in the room and skinnier, with long grey hair that fell deep beyond his shoulders and suggested, in symbiosis with the wrinkles marking his face, that he’d seen the first-ever drum machine kick off before either of us newbies had seen the light of this world.
When the organizer made it clear to the DJ that he wouldn’t let him play another encore, the DJ bowed his head to thank the crowd, which was received with explosive applause. His set compensated for all the crap that had been playing before and made it a night worth dancing to. As usual, there were a bunch of people looking for an after-party, and I sought out the ones I most liked to see what they were up to. Muscle-man Miles had just popped another XTC pill and would certainly want to continue. Veteran-uncle was now wearing a fur coat and would take it easy at his home with some wine, coke, and Whiskey Blues. That trouble seeker was all over the place, God knows where she ended up. The DJ would let his magic mushroom trip ease-out somewhere in nature. Shakir, Erminia, the other Erminia, and I would go to our hostel, smoke up, sleep a bit, and eventually go see the penguins. Yes, the penguins, because they apparently hang out not too far away from Cape Town at some beach. Not a bad idea – Especially after adding various prefixes to it: We’d go and see the “Kinder ChamPenguins.”