Long Street

Long Street is alive with people. The colors are dancing and we are jumping into puddles, gutters, sidewalks, bars. A man outside sells skewered kabobs and the entire block smells like a Persian home at New Years. I feel the base beneath me; baseline on tar streets beating deep and hard as we push our way through the crowds. This is Marvel and it is packed to the seams with people. Alison takes a beer from the bartender and we mingle into the back room. There are sixteen year olds, drunk and rebellious and petite, sucking alcohol through pierced lips and tattooed souls. I remember myself at sixteen, lying my way onto the train, into New York City, into piercing parlors, stoned in the basement of my parents’ home, sneaking, and sneaking, and sneaking.

The guy across the table from us sinks the eight-ball in the corner pocket and the game is instantly over. Taxis line up outside, flashing red and yellow against the wet, black streets. It is nearly two am and the blood is running strong in this African port city.

In Langa, the shebeens are overcrowded and the women are watching, waiting nervously for their men to return—Will he bring home a check? Will we eat this week? Will I live to see my baby grow up? Will he wear a condom?

In Langa the roads are dusty, and the smell is of sweat, of work, of old gasoline and corn meal. A gunshot goes off in Crossroads. A fire starts in Joe Slovo. A home is robbed in Observatory. A street kid is puffing at the train station.

And on Long Street we dance. We dance because we can. Because this is the new South Africa and we are free and it is not just whites running in the streets, wild with youth, but the whole nation and all eleven languages.

We dance because there is victory, because ten years ago this was impossible and because apartheid is dead—the book is closed and we have moved on.

We dance, but only with each other. The white man with his woman, eyeing his black brothers carefully across the room, lest they attempt theft of the last thing he can claim as his own. On Long Street we dance, but only because we can. This is the new South Africa and it is waiting to explode.