The party was pumping and there were dancing bodies everywhere. Ntombi was dazzled by the strobe lights and couldn’t see anyone clearly. She had to hold onto Mzi to stop getting crushed in the crowd. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, and wasn’t fazed by the bodies or the noise. They wove their way between the dancers to the bar, where Mzi ordered a cider for her. Ntombi had tasted beer before, and a sip of wine, but she had never drunk a whole drink on her own, and she didn’t know if she should, or could.
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t have any fun,” said Mzi, picking up on her hesitation. Ntombi took another sip. The drink was really strong and burned all the way down her throat. “That’s better,” said Mzi. “I don’t want a girlfriend who’s an imathakazi.” Ntombi took another sip. This time it went down easier. “Good isn’t it?” Mzi laughed. “Get used to it, baby. This is just the beginning.” In the time she had a few sips he had finished another beer. “Come on baby. Let’s dance,” said Mzi. He took her glass from her and said something to the bartender. “Don’t worry it will be there waiting for you,” he said, pulling her close against his body. He was warm and strong, and it felt good dancing with him. She could get lost in the music and just the feel his arms around her. It was a slow number and she wanted to stay like this forever. But the song ended, and soon they were back at the bar. Mzi handed her the cider again. She closed her eyes and drank it down in big gulps because she wanted to get it over with. The taste made her feel a bit sick, but she couldn’t tell Mzi.
“Wow,” he said, “that was quick. I didn’t know you had it in you.” There was a new respect in his voice and Ntombi felt confident suddenly. It wasn’t so bad. In fact she could even drink another if she had to. Just then one of the boys Ntombi had seen with Mzi down at the shed swaggered up with his girlfriend. She was wearing incredibly high stilettos and the tightest jeans Ntombi had ever seen. Ntombi smiled at her but she didn’t smile back.
“So this is how it is going to be,” thought Ntombi, and scanned the crowd for her own friends, but they were nowhere to be seen.
“So, this is your new girl,” said Mzi’s friend Vusi, running his eyes over Ntombi from top to toe, appreciatively. Mzi leant over and kissed Ntombi’s cheek. His lips were soft and the kiss was tender.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” said Mzi. “Don’t get any ideas,” he warned his friend. Vusi laughed but his girlfriend gave Ntombi a withering look.
“Hey, there’s something I want to show you,” Vusi told Mzi. “Can I prise you away from Ntombi for just one minute? It’s important.”
Mzi turned to Ntombi: “You’re a big girl,” he said, winking. “I won’t be long. Priscilla here will keep you company.” Priscilla opened her mouth to object. But the two guys were gone, weaving their way between the dancing bodies until Ntombi couldn’t see them anymore. Ntombi smiled at Priscilla; perhaps she was just shy, and with the guys gone maybe she wouldn’t feel so threatened?
“So, do you also go to Harmony High?” she asked Priscilla. “I don’t think I’ve seen you.” Priscilla made a disgusted sound.
“Do I really look like I’m a schoolgirl?” she asked Ntombi, then she turned to the bartender and clicked her fingers. Ntombi saw the longest, reddest nails she had ever seen. “Bring me a Spin,” said Priscilla and turned back to Ntombi. “He’s going to dump you – know that,” she said bluntly. “Have you asked yourself why Mzi’s going out with a little schoolgirl like yourself? He wouldn’t have picked such a mama’s baby without a good reason.” And with that she was gone, leaving Ntombi alone at the bar.
Ntombi’s chest suddenly felt tight like she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get enough oxygen into her lungs. It was a horrible, panicky feeling. Her palms started to sweat and her head began to spin. It must be the drink, thought Ntombi. She had to get out into some fresh air before she fainted. People would dance over her, stand on her face, crush her fingers into the dance floor. She thought of Priscilla’s spiky stilettos and started to push her way through the bodies. But she didn’t know which way the exit was. There were so many people and it was dark. The only lights came from the spinning silver disco balls, which she suddenly hated. This wasn’t fun any more. She needed to get out. And where was Mzi? He said he would only be a few minutes, but it seemed like he had been gone for hours. She pushed and fought her way to what she thought was the exit door, but when she got there, she saw that it was the ladies’ toilets.
At least she could get away from the noise and the crush. But the smell was overpowering and suddenly she felt sick. She ran into the toilet and threw up. Then she began to cry. She just wanted to be at home, and wash herself clean. “Take a deep breath,” she told herself. “Pull yourself together. You are stronger than this!” The survivor in her began to take over. She washed her face with cold water and looked at herself in the mirror. Then she took a tissue from her bag and cleaned the running make-up from around her eyes. That was better. She took three more deep breaths and made her way back out into the party, sticking to the wall to guide her around to the exit on the far side.
She was nearly there when she saw Mzi. He was standing with his back to her. She went closer and saw that he was chatting to a girl, and that the girl was laughing at what he was saying. Ntombi saw, with a sinking feeling, that the girl was very pretty and was obviously flirting with Mzi. As she watched in horror, Mzi stroked the girl’s cheek and leant and whispered something in her ear. She pretended to be shocked at what he was saying, then giggled. Ntombi froze. Part of her wanted to disappear into the crowd and leave. Part of her wanted to confront Mzi. The choice was made for her as Mzi, as though he sensed her, spun around.
“Hey babe, there you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” Ntombi’s eyes flicked between the girl and Mzi.
“Meet Thumi. Isn’t she cute? She’s Vusi’s younger sister. I was just telling her about you.” Thumi looked like the cat that got the cream as she smiled at Ntombi, all innocently.
“I need some air,” said Ntombi, feeling faint again. “I’m going outside.”
Ntombi pushed forward through the crowd. She didn’t know whether Mzi was following her. She didn’t want to turn around; she just wanted to keep moving forward. When she was outside in the dark she felt a hand on her upper arm, gripping her so hard that it hurt. Mzi spun her around. He was angry and drunk and they were all alone out here in the parking lot. She leant against the car behind her, to steady herself.
“What was that?” He spat the words out. She looked at him unable to speak. He shook her. “I said,” he hissed between gritted teeth, “what was that in there? If you are going to behave like a jealous girlfriend…” His face was close against hers and she could smell the beer on his breath. The other, sweet, charming Mzi was gone, and this violent stranger had taken his place. Then he stood back, like he was trying to compose himself. He slammed his fist into his palm.
“Mzi?” she said. She could see he was trying to control himself.
“Just give me a minute,” he said, taking a breath and walking away from her. She stood there shivering. Then he turned to face her again. “I’m going inside to get you a drink. I want you to wait out here for a few minutes. Give me some time to cool off. When you come back in, we’ll pretend this never happened. Understood?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Good.” Then he came up and hugged her. “You have no reason to be jealous.” He tilted her head up with his finger in a gentle gesture. The scary Mzi was gone. “Thumi is just a friend. And she’s got a boyfriend. In fact they are probably dancing in each other’s arms right now. She’s been going through a rough time and I was just trying to cheer her up and make her feel good again. That’s all.”
Then he was gone. Ntombi felt bad. She had been rude to Thumi – she hadn’t even greeted her. And after Priscilla, perhaps she had mistaken Thumi’s smile. Perhaps she really was trying to be friendly, and she wasn’t after Mzi. This was so complicated – and it had got complicated so fast. Love wasn’t meant to be like this with all this insecurity and jealousy. Why couldn’t it be like the words of those songs where it’s all happy ever after, always.