Becca swung her bakkie up in front of Althea’s stoep at nine p.m. sharp, in the eerie, lingering daylight. Malcolm’s gut filled with relief.
“Ready?” she asked, and popped her gum.
“Ja,” he replied and smiled, taking her in with his eyes. She had changed into a tight pair of black jeans, and a black leather jacket, with a white T-shirt underneath. The little cross drew his eyes downwards, like a Christmas beetle to a bulb, straight to her unrestricted breasts. Malcolm wavered between being pleased and disturbed that she remained bra-less.
She laughed. “Well, come on then.”
There was a band set up in the middle of the forest, with guitars, speakers, microphones, and a set of drums – the works! The river rushed behind them, adding its sound to the already throbbing amps, while kids took turns spot-lighting them with their vehicle headlights.
“Lekker,” Malcolm breathed.
The place was packed. Not an adult, elf or fairy in sight. Just teenagers, more than he had ever imagined could be lurking in the vicinity. Had the trees spit them out for the night?
Becca opened the cab door. “Come on, we both need a drink.”
Malcolm followed to the rear of the bakkie, scanning the sea of white faces in the dimming light. Everybody appeared to be drinking beer, and some were clearly smoking.
“What d’ya think?” Becca yelled over the noise.
He nodded, not sure what more could be said.
She pointed to a big cooler box near the band. “Wanna beer?”
Yes, he thought. But he shook his head. His mother had lectured him over and over that he could be deported if he was caught doing anything illegal. As much as he wanted to go home, he knew that was not the way to achieve it.
“Yeah, me too. I’d have one but there is nobody else who can drive tonight. Cops around here are not too mean if they catch us drinking, but the world ends if you’re caught drinking and driving. I mean, like, life is over. I wouldn’t be able to drive and I would die.”
Becca leaned over and began to dig around in the cooler then popped up with two cans of cooldrink and handed him one. “Hey, you got a driver’s licence yet?”
“Was supposed to get my learner’s but we came here instead.”
“What? How old do you have to be to drive?”
He took a gulp from his can. “Legal to drink at eighteen, though.”
“OK, now that would be cool. Waiting til twenty-one is ridiculous. I mean, next year I could join the military and like, shoot people. But walk into a bar and order a beer? They’d freak.”
People began drifting up to introduce themselves. Malcolm wasn’t sure if this was because they were friendly or if he was the local freak show.
“Did you ever meet Nelson Mandela?” one girl asked.
Another girl wandered by. Becca introduced her, but Malcolm couldn’t catch her name. “South Africa, wow,” the girl said. “That apartheid was some crazy deal.”
“So your people are allowed to live in the same areas as whites now, right?”
“His mom is white,” Becca hollered.
The girl’s pale face went bright red. Could’ve used her instead of the headlights.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”
“Hey, no problem,” Malcolm said. He’d been explaining his family his entire life. Becca tossed the girl a cooldrink, which she quickly opened and began to gulp down. But the flames in her face remained. He felt a certain satisfaction about that.
The music’s volume increased with each song. The base began to vibrate inside his skull. By the time another guy wandered over, Malcolm had to lean over to hear. “I said, would you like a beer?”
“Hey, no pressure,” the guy yelled, popping open his own can. “Did your parents name you Malcolm after Malcolm X?”
“Oh.” He looked very stoned and disappointed. “Be a big name to live up to and all, I guess.”
“Better to be your own person.”
Malcolm nodded, and kept drinking. Then the speakers went dead.
“Excuse me,” the guy slurred. “I’m the one supposed to take care of this here operation.”
The guy looked a little startled, “Um,” he started, then clunked his against Malcolm’s raised can. “Yeah … cheers.”
Watching the guy stumble off, Malcolm felt Becca leaning in to him. “You’ve got the cutest accent. So when you say ‘Cheers’, you mean, ‘Good-bye’, right?”
Malcolm kicked the dirt with the toe of his shoe, feeling like an idiot. They sat there for a few minutes in silence, except for Becca shouting out, “Hi!” or “Hey!” to a few, or twenty, people milling about. She tossed a can to a girl after she offered Becca a joint. Becca had declined: “You know, they’ve got that random pee test now for cross-country.”
Malcolm was confused.
“You know, long distance running? Our stupid coach is paranoid – always making us pee in a cup.”
Running … Malcolm wondered if she put on a bra for that. An image of Becca jogging bra-free flashed through his brain. He shook his head, annoyed.
“Hey, you OK?” Jumping to her feet, she held out a hand, “Come on, let’s get some air.”
This struck Malcolm as funny, given they were already outdoors. He said so.
“Oh, you know what I mean – this air is full of weed-stink and smoke.”
Tell us what you think: Should we raise the legal age of alcohol drinking to 21, like most states in America? (This has been proposed by our government.)