The JRB presents an excerpt from ‘Ecstasy’, a short story from Sifiso Mzobe’s forthcoming collection, Searching for Simphiwe.
Searching for Simphiwe will be published by Kwela in April 2020.
Extracted from an uncorrected proof.
A gust of warm air makes me take a step back as I open the sliding door of Mlu’s red VW Microbus. The heater is on full blast. The edges of my earlobes feel like they are on fire. House music from the Pioneer music system bangs heavy on my chest; the body panels and windows of the Microbus rattle with each thump of the bass. Mlu turns in the driver’s seat.
‘Lizwi!’ he shouts.
His smile melts into a cringe when the cold outside air that wafts in through the sliding door hits his face. There are two women on the seat behind Mlu, and another one in the front passenger seat next to him. Their shiny, glossed lips shiver when the breeze hits their heated bodies.
‘Get in! Close the door!’ says Mlu.
Mlu points me to the seat with the two young women—one tall and thin, the other plump and short. They shift to open up a space between them. I become the meat in the sandwich. The women close in tightly from both sides and lay their heads on my shoulders.
Manicured nails caress my face and chest. Mlu speaks animatedly over the thump of the bass. The pupils in his eyes are dilated. He chews gum with large quick movements of his jaw. I can see the gum roll around in his mouth as he chews and talks. His words drown in the loudness of the sound system. I wrestle one of my caressed arms free from the plump girl on my right and point to my ears. She ducks under my raised arm and snuggles into my armpit and side.
‘I can’t hear a thing, Mlu!’ I shout.
Mlu turns down the volume. He reaches for a bankie in the ashtray. All three women stretch out their hands to Mlu.
‘No! Get your hands out of the way. I’m pretty sure the hit you took hasn’t worn off yet because I gave each of you a pill just thirty minutes ago.’ Mlu slaps at their outstretched hands. ‘This is a taster for Lizwi.’
The girls shrug and lean back in their seats.
‘It’s bitter so don’t taste it,’ says Mlu. ‘Chuck it to the back of your throat. Wash it down with water.’
I hold it up to the glare of the street light outside the parked Microbus. A dolphin jumping out of water is carved into one side of the ecstasy pill.
I say, ‘I only want to sell ecstasy, Mlu. I don’t want to taste it.’
‘Take it,’ Mlu says, his smile wide. ‘So you can relay a first-hand experience to your customers.’
‘I’m not a pill person, Mlu. I can’t even down a Panado when I have a headache’
‘This is no Panado,’ says the thin girl with her head on my left shoulder. ‘Taking this blue dolphin is the best thing you can ever do for your soul.’
She feels the fabric of my t-shirt with her cheek and proceeds to gently caress her face against it.
‘Listen to her, Lizwi. I’ve never been this happy in my life. These are my happy pills, man. And they bring me money, which makes me even happier!’ He closes his eyes, bobs his head furiously to the house music, bangs his hands on the large steering wheel of the Microbus.
The woman in the front seat next to Mlu turns to me. She has large eyes, full lips, cornrows and dark skin. She looks at the two girls snuggling me. Then she glances at Mlu as he dances in his seat with his eyes closed. She crouches in the space between the two front seats. Her short floral summer dress rides up. I gawk at her thighs. She snatches the blue pill from my fingers. Her long, vampirish canine tooth cleaves into the pill.
‘There,’ she says. ‘You take half, I’ll take the other half.’
I wince at the bitterness of the pill on my tongue. She climbs on top of me to reach for the cooler box in the backseat. Her breasts dangle in my face. With the bottled water she gives me, I down the pill. This girl has the softest hands, the juiciest-looking lips. She shoves her tongue into my mouth and briskly returns to the front passenger seat.
The ecstasy pill hits me hard, it hits me true. I feel, and imagine in vivid detail, half of the blue pill dissolving into my bloodstream and scattering as bursts of blue clouds. The girls on my sides have their hands all over me. I kiss the tall one on my left. Her one hand caresses the plump girl’s face. She turns my face towards the plump girl, who kisses me ferociously.
I open my eyes just a sliver and see Mlu has stepped out of the Microbus and is now in conversation with two older men outside. Through a curtain of light drizzle on the windows I see the leaves of palm trees like long fingers reaching towards me. I realise I recognise one of the men with Mlu. His name is Sgubhu. He masterminded a cash-in-transit heist some months back. News reports said robbers left with an undisclosed amount of cash. It is known in the township that the exact amount was five million rand.
Sgubhu dresses like a man who has that kind of money. His black and gold floral silk shirt flutters in the breeze. The golden flash of his Rolex hits my eyes as it reflects the glare of the streetlight.
I close my eyes and feel thick lips devour my mouth. It is the plump girl again. I let the ecstasy take me. When I open my eyes again, Mlu’s girl is crouching in the space between the front seats. She caresses her thighs with the tips of her nails. Her eyes say she longs to be part of our sandwich.
‘Join in,’ says the tall woman.
‘No,’ she exhales pure lust. ‘Mlu will kill me if he sees me kiss this guy. Go on, I’ll watch.’
I can’t keep my eyes open. Behind my closed lids I see a background of blue and the black and gold of Sgubhu’s floral shirt. The red and blue flowers of the floral dress worn by the girl in the front seat also make a cameo appearance. I float in this land of blue and red flowers for a while. I have never experienced such joy.
I open my eyes when Mlu says, ‘Has it hit him yet?’
He is back in the driver’s seat.
I say, ‘It has hit me but –’
But right then it hits me some more. I stretch out my arms and legs.
‘There it is,’ Mlu laughs. ‘There it is!’
Mlu is still smiling after we dropped the women off. I am in the front passenger seat now and turn to look at him. He truly seems to be having the time of his life.
‘I’m so excited for you to get into this business, man, Lizwi,’ he shouts over the sound system. ‘So excited! When life gives you shit, get shitfaced.’ He laughs and throws his left arm around my shoulders. ‘Hey, did you watch the game, yesterday?’ he asks and proceeds to give his analysis of every goal.
I am glad Mlu is back to his old cheerful self, the way I remember him being in boarding school when, as beardless teens, we bonded over soccer and fine clothing. There was a time, however, after his mother died, at the end of our first semester at different universities, that he seemed to lose himself. Mutual friends told me that he was acting out in rage and pain. But that was to be expected after losing an only parent. Then I heard Mlu had left his girlfriend black and blue after finding her in another man’s car. I couldn’t believe it because this was not the Mlu that I grew up with. I immediately boarded a bus to go see him.
He welcomed me in his dorm room that autumn afternoon with a lit blunt. But he didn’t want to talk about his girlfriend. ‘We broke up, that’s all.’
‘But what happened?’
‘Forget about it, Lizwi.’
He was more concerned about a certain mechanic he’d had a run-in with.
‘He told me straight to my face that he is not giving me the car,’ said Mlu.
‘Ma’s car. You remember the white Corolla? The ‘Kentucky Rounder’?’
‘Your mom still had that ‘Kentucky Rounder’?’
‘Yes, she did. I told the mechanic I’ll pay him bit by bit for fixing it because I need to use the car to take my sister, Mbali, to school. She is only twelve but older boys are hounding her because she is tall.’
I took a long drag of the blunt before I replied.
- Sifiso Mzobe is a writer and journalist based in Durban. His debut novel, Young Blood, won the Herman Charles Bosman Award, the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the South African Literary Award for a First-Time Published Author and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Follow him on Twitter. His collection of short stories, Searching for Simphiwe, will be published by Kwela in April 2020.