A fridge dropped out of the hellish night sky, shattering as it hit the asphalt. Shrapnel rained over us and I instinctively turned away from the detonation. This was nothing unexpected, although in hindsight I really should have remembered to stay vigilant.
Johannesburg’s city centre on New Year’s Eve was a whirl of chaotic, mindless fun. This quest for exhilaration was the reason I ventured out every weekend back then. The imminent prospect of death was an ever-present albeit acceptable risk which added to the adrenaline rush. Or so I’d thought at the time.
A row of nightclubs bombarded us with their eclectic musical vibes as we passed. We held hands, grinning likefools, absorbing every gift that life had to offer. A carload of hooligans drove past with the windows lowered—hardly a surprise in the insane December heat—and one of them unloaded an entire magazine from his automatic rifle. Bullets sprayed overhead, drawing a jagged line of holes in the brickwork. A couple of bouncers emerged from a darkentrance and returned fire, cursing as they did so. The car sped off, laughter and rap intertwined with the dissipating gunsmoke.
We took shelter in a cafe, one I used to frequent as a student some years previously. It was a Portuguese-owned franchise called Fontana’s, on a neon-bright corner in a seedy area called Hillbrow. We sat there enjoying ice cold beers and a hot bowl of cheesy nachos coated in mayonnaise and mustard. A good way to celebrate New Year, we figured. The fridges, microwaves and various other kitchen appliances were still raining down outside. The city’s poorest citizens, living in squalid high-rise tenements, obviously couldn’t see the folly in this annual tradition of hurling white goods from their balconies. Why they did it I still can’t fathom but, as God is my witness, it’s the truth.
I’d met her at a nightclub the previous evening. The clubwas called Alcatraz, and it was as filthy as it was dark andforeboding. But the beer was cheap and the music was brilliant. It also attracted hordes of black-clad waifs, beautiful in their angst and rebellion. Metallica screamed at me from speakers six feet high as I slammed my body into fellow revelers. I was usually one of the last people to leave, dragging myself off the dance floor and out into the new morning’s dim light. That night though, as I made my way towards the murky stairwell, a small voice spoke from the shadows.
I glanced around and spotted a diminutive veiled figure lurking in an alcove to one side. Since I was raised to be a gentleman it would have been churlish to refuse such agenerous offer, so I replied in the affirmative. It was a bit of a gamble based on the club’s clientele but fortune favoured the reckless on this occasion; she was a stunning redhead dressed in purple and black lace. She later told me she’d been watching me for weeks and had decided at the last second to stay behind when her friends went home. It was only a few blocks’ walk back to her flat anyway. Nervous and uncertain, she’d blurted out the first thing that came to mind. We returned to her small apartment, worked ourselves into a stupor during the next couple of hours, and spent the rest of the day sleeping. That night, New Year’s Eve of 1993, we were back on the streets, dodging fridges.
“What holds your heart?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
A gum-chewing waitress ambled over and glanced at us with disapproving eyes before dumping two fresh beers on the table and heading back into the grease-spattered kitchen.
“I mean what makes you shine? What gives you joy in this corrupted, shitty world?”
“That’s a pretty bleak outlook.”
“Says you, the archetype Goth girl.”
“Don’t judge books by covers. And besides, you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Point taken. But you didn’t answer the question.”
She smiled, an almost childish grin, and in it I saw stars. “Dancing,” she replied. “Dancing holds my heart.”
We finished our drinks and paid, heading back out into the chaos.
A fridge dropped out of the hellish night sky, shattering as it hit the asphalt. Shrapnel rained over us and I instinctively turned away from the detonation. I thought I’d shielded her sufficiently. Turns out I was wrong. A sliver, a razor-sharp projectile, sliced into her neck. She bled out in my arms, staring silently up at me. Her pale eyes reflected confusion and fear. Then the ambulances, the police, the questions and the flood of emotions, and the end of so many things.
What might the future have held for us? All these years later we could have been happy, maybe had a couple of kids, maybe been a family with a home in the suburbs, the nine to fives, the white picket fence and the sensible shoes. Hell,maybe I even would have found out what her name was.
Martin Webb was born and raised in Africa and now lives in England. He was an editor for DC Comics before writing for Penthouse magazine. Since then he’s had a number of feature articles published in a variety of magazines. When he’s not busy editing his second manuscript, Martin writes flash fiction. His most recent piece, “Dreams of War,” has been published in the anthology Today, Tomorrow, Always: Volume 1 by Margery de Brus LLC. You can find him on Twitter @MWebbAuthor.