Let’s rather not give this club a name. The one where he’s standing now. Does it matter? Tomorrow he will wish it doesn’t exist but even nameless it still does, and what happened here happened.
30 minutes ago he was downstairs, waiting with Gideon to draw money. There is a queue of people, as drunk – or maybe drunker – than they are.
“But listen buddy, explain why you won’t make a move,” he’s saying. When his friend doesn’t reply, he pats him lightly on his bearded cheek – as if this will force out an answer.
“Steve, I hate it when people do that.”
He drops his hand immediately. “I’m sorry, bro. Didn’t mean to… I just can’t understand why you didn’t make a move – when you like her.”
The money is drawn. To get to the stairs, do you have to enter the pub on the ground floor, passing the bar, and its glassy-eyed drinkers? Perhaps. These are details, surely unnecessary, surely lost on Steven (and for that matter Gideon too).
At the top. A cover charge? Probably R20, administered by a tattooed girl sitting on a stool, chewing gum – of course. Inside it’s busy but not cramped. There’s a screen, a video animation looking like it was made in Microsoft Paint (can you make videos in Paint?). The music is loud and sexy, beats slamming, fucking, and forcing themselves apart.
Steven goes to the bar – doesn’t ask what Gideon wants; it doesn’t occur to him. There’s a sign on the wall – R22 for a double and a mixer – you can choose from brandy, vodka or cane. No whisky.
He gets a brandy and coke because it’s the closest thing to whisky and he doesn’t know how much a double Bell’s will cost.
The notes, coins, disappear. He looks around, sips, sees Jane and Phil dancing. In 20 minutes from now, when this is all over and he and Gideon are outside, they will have disappeared without saying goodbye. But now they dance, dance like it’s Friday, almost midnight, like they’re young and beautiful and this night is forever.
Steven dances too. Kind of. His body has relaxed now – he is drunk enough to let the rhythm swim through him and ripple out into the room. There is movement but it is not articulate or intentional. Just movement.
He is horny – perhaps it’s the booze and the couples and the frisson of sex which charges the air like a whiff of ganja.
He looks. His eyes meet another pair.
The man is stocky, swarthy, in a fitting tee and loud jeans. Maybe he has a chain. He’s Lebanese or Italian or Greek or something.
Steven smiles and the man smiles back and somehow they drift towards each other.
“How’s it going?”
The man’s reply is a mystery to be teased over tomorrow – it sounds like “Good, but I’m having a hard time finding a threebie.” Perhaps he said freebie. Perhaps he said something completely different.
Whatever he said, Steven thinks he wants a threesome, and this disgusts him. He wonders if it’s with a woman. But he’s not sure. What he is soon certain of, though, is that the guy wants him.
The man introduces himself as Brad. He’s from Joburg. He looks like a cuntfucker, to be honest – he looks like the guy who brags to his friends about cherries and pussy and blonde-platinum expendability.
But no. Brad is gay and wants to either fuck or be fucked by Steven (he never manages to establish his preference).
Do they talk more? Perhaps. It is inconsequential. This is about two men, about sex. What are words? Not even foreplay.
Brad offers to buy Steven a drink. He declines with a polite smile.
“Come on,” says Brad.
And Steven, who is thrilled by the attention and by the opportunity to drink more (his cash has finished), accedes.
“Just a drink, though. Nothing more,” he says.
He has to speak close, almost shouting, into Brad’s left ear: “Because. I’m old-fashioned.”
He doesn’t tell him that he’s scared. It’s not cool to be frightened of fucking men you meet in clubs. But surrounded by architects and art directors and packaging designers and videographers, he is destined to feel uncool. At least Brad is an accountant – and plays soccer on the weekend at the Hellenic Club (probably). He’s as much of an outsider as Steven is.
He smiles easily.
“No worries, bru. What do you want to drink?”
Steven asks for a gin and tonic. Brad hands it to him and they hug like they’ve just played a tennis championship: two fags adrift in straightness.
And does Steven put his head in the crook of Brad’s shoulder? Do his lips briefly gaze his neck as they embrace? Tomorrow he will wonder this and worry, and trace his tongue around the ulcer in his mouth he hadn’t noticed before.
Brad floats away. Steven is near Jane, near Gideon again. Dancing. But this is not over. He sees Brad, sees the other olive-skinned guy (kind of sexy) that he’s with. Wonders if they’re lovers or just friends.
Deliberately he dances near them, his arm brushing the other guy’s slightly once or twice.
“Dude, that’s my brother,” says Brad coming up to him.
The music interrupts, surges in between and around them.
“Get the fuck out of here,” yells Brad suddenly.
Steven looks at him, shocked. “What?”
“I said – get the fuck out of here. That’s my brother. You said you were old-fashioned but really you’re just –”
The music has swallowed up his words. What is he? Steven doesn’t care. Or does he?
“Don’t come here with your Joburg attitude. I can be here if I want.”
“What did you say?” asks Brad.
“I said don’t come here with your Joburg attitude.”
Gideon is suddenly by his side.
“Come Steve. Let’s go.”
He looks at him in shock. How can Gideon be capitulating like this? He had a right to be here. No matter what this fascist fucker says.
Tomorrow when Gideon and Steven are walking down to the waves on Clifton Second, Steven will thank him for pulling him out then. He will thank him for saying “Let’s go. Let’s get a cab.”
But right now his friend is just a coward, a traitor. How did Gideon know? What would have happened if he hadn’t appeared? Steven is a lawyer – careful, attentive, watchful. He wouldn’t have thrown the first punch, would he?
As he writes this now he can see two hands pushing, his own responding quickly with an even harsher shove, and the first swipe coming for his nose. He would’ve walked away then, right, as the blood trickled and sparks crawled across his eyes? Or would he have swept back, fingers scratching, a knee aimed at Brad’s crotch, intent on vanquishing? Vanquishing.
On the beach the others will see Steven dive into the waves, staying submerged in the glassy turquoise for five seconds, six. He will leap up wanting to scream, feeling not wholly purged.
But here he is, at 12.07, on the stairs, smiling at the ink snake writhing on the door-girl’s arm, tripping slightly.
Here he is, telling Gideon it’s fine – he can walk home.
Gideon shakes his head. A cab slides up to them and they climb in. The driver is Zimbabwean and Gideon is chattering away to him in Shona. Steven watches the city’s glowing geometry beyond the window – rows of yellow squares, the fallen triangles of open doors, a traffic light’s amber sun.
When he gets to his flat he thanks Gideon. Does he apologise? Maybe. The door slams shut; the taxi groans forward.
In the lobby the security guard is sleeping. Inside the lift Steven blinks and almost falls asleep himself. He tries to unlock the flat’s front door. The key won’t turn – his flatmate must have left his key in on the other side. He sinks down, snoring.