By Mia Arderne
The drug lord twists around in his wheelchair with sudden and violent fervor. I can barely breathe. Around his neck are two gold chains thick enough to whack someone dead. I’m in the grimy Northern Suburbs of Cape Town.
I’ve come here for cheap booze after hours. In Cape Town, retailers cannot legally sell alcohol after 6 p.m. and pubs cannot legally sell alcohol after 2 a.m. It is 2:35 a.m. on the Thursday of one shitty week, and so the tavern is my only refuge right now.
Smokkies. Taverns. Yaardts. These are illegal establishments selling illegally acquired alcohol in every dubious suburb, should you venture beyond that line of privilege. The goddam privileged little cushion of central Cape Town is the reason I’m here in the first place. I can’t afford the CBD anymore.
All Hail Cape Town’s Uptown cosmopolitan CBD, the wine-farms and the sea. Table Mountain. Long Street. Beach Road. High-heeled glamour sluts, young Black Economic Empowerment executives, old money hipsters, Maserati-driving retirees, botoxed cougar moms and shore-dwelling cocktail-sippers…
I’ve lived here for twenty-four years and I tell you that Cape Town is what I like to think of as the Third World Bourgeoisie. A place so pretentious, I can’t afford a drink because a drink requires posh boutique clothing and an exorbitant entry fee.
So, here I sit, in downtown Cape Town, in a nameless tavern – All the good ones are nameless. The dingy, rickety building in the declining suburb is identifiable only by the string of expensive cars outside – Mustangs, Hummers, Audi R8’s and even a Ferrari or two. There are similar smokkies in Delft, a few in Ravensmead, a couple more in Belhar – don’t bother with the big, infamous one in Gugulethu – that one was specially designed for tourists.
Rough laughter erupts from the alcohol-soaked. The regulars hold their glasses of brandy while they recline on loose car seats scattered in the yard. Their decor is broken fenders and shattered glass. I watch the drug lord’s potbelly jiggle. I see the three Alsatians follow him around. Mercenaries. At the click of his fingers, three of my limbs could find their way into a different hound’s snout.
The brandy slides down my throat. I consider: What’s the best thing about this place? I don’t have to make conversation about marketing with a hipster wearing a Ramones T-shirt, ordering a R60 Mojito in a club that costs me R50 to walk in.
The kingpin is speaking to a customer. He slams his drink down so hard, I brace myself for the glass to smash and splinter into pieces. It doesn’t
His bubbling emphysema laugh reverberates through the yaardt and seizes everyone’s attention. The drinkers burst out laughing with him. At nothing. Because, in downtown Cape Town, you learn to laugh, genuinely laugh, at nothing.