“Wow!” exclaims Sisipho as we walk into Xabiso Upstairs in Harare at 5pm sharp. “The sun is still high in the sky and this club is already packed. The party starts early on the 16 December!”

I can hardly hear her over the thump of Facebook by DJ Cleo blaring, “Don’t take my number” from the mega speakers.

The DJ is wearing his sunglasses, dancing as he spins the decks and psyches the crowd. The party spirit in the house is contagious, and everyone seems to be infected, chatting and laughing, twitching and swishing, moving and grooving.

Cellphone cameras flash non-stop, like pale streaks of lighting in daylight, followed seconds later by roars of laughter as everyone huddles over the screens to look at the photos they’ve just snapped of themselves. 

‘Hi Babalwa,” I say to a girl from school who is clutching her blackberry.

She holds her hand up like a stop sign, not taking her eyes from the screen as she says, “Not now, I’m in the middle of uploading my pics to Facebook.”

“Oooph!” I stagger and nearly fall as one of my classmates walks into me so hard I’m nearly knocked off my feet. He’s so hammered already that he doesn’t even notice that he just tried to walk through me like I wasn’t even in the room.

We spot that drinks pool of ours and it’s deep. Tables are laden with ice-filled buckets packed with Savannah and Hunters Gold, Smirnoff Storm and lemonade for J&B’s with a dash. There’s a crowd of Grade Tens buzzing around the table.

And nobody’s been wasting any time putting them back.

“Hey guys,” I say as we walk up to them. My timing is bad. They’re all laughing loudly at a joke somebody’s just told, and they don’t even notice I’ve said anything.

“I think I might need a drink,” I mutter to Siphiso, and she nods nervously.

We’ve never actually gone out and drunk together before. We take a Savannah each and then stand shyly just outside the loud circle of school friends, awkwardly clutching the bottles, and taking small tight-lipped sips from time to time. My neck muscles feel tight.

There are a couple of girls wearing skinny jeans, bright wedges, vests, and glamorous boy’s-cut hairpieces. They’re rocking the look. I smooth down my horrible dress as I try not to think about how much more fun they seem to be having than me.

I sigh.

“Seriously, you really look beautiful in that dress,” says Siphiso with an encouraging smile, reading my mind.

I roll my eyes at her. “You’re kind, but who do you think you’re kidding?”

Her eyes widen in surprise and even I’m taken about by how stressed out and harsh out my voice sounds.

“Geesh Buhle, can’t you take a compliment today? Relax. I really mean it,” she insists.

“Sorry,” I mutter, noticing a small crowd cheering and clapping as Lindiwe and Gugu from school make a show of downing their drinks

It’s weird. I’ve been feeling so excited about today, but now that I’m here I can’t think of anything to say, and I’m not exactly feeling like I’m having the greatest time. I feel like I don’t really belong.

I lift my drink to my lips and put the whole thing back in three long gulps. Then I giggle.

Siphiso doesn’t laugh along with me. She rolls her eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re playing at Buhle. You’re not yourself today. Come; walk with me to the taxi rank. It’s only 5pm. Maybe the fresh air will sort your brain out.”

This is the thing. Siphiso is catching a taxi home to the Eastern Cape tonight. Unlucky for her. She only gets to have one drink at the biggest party night of the year. But lets face it – she’s not really into the partying and drinking thing. Unlucky for me. Once she’s gone, I have nobody.

I trail out of Xabiso Upstairs behind her, my grey dress and mood making me invisible to every happy person having a good time.