3am, 1st January 2015.
My IQ was leaving the building. It stumbled panic-stricken through the perreo-grinding bacchanalia as the floor heaved and the bass beats thundered.
But I wasn’t quite ready to let it go, not until I’d licked that astronauto clean, sucking the lime dry of the brown sugar and slurping up every single coffee grain before tequila tore my tongue. I lunged between the karaoke kings and golden French legs, one last ditch attempt to grab my IQ by its sensible flat shoes before it abandoned me to the mirrey of the night. Goodbye, it waved, as he twisted my pelirojo in his grip and lassoed me to his face.
10pm, 31st December, 2014. ‘We vote for the party with free food,’ said the Chief and his main local man. The eight of us had been simmering in a low key bar, bouncing our feet until they came to a boil and were ready to boogie. We bought a boatload of booze and made our way, me tipsily snuggled in the cab with my big smoke brother, bohemian sister, an Argentinian queen and a recently arrived Hungarian.
Disembarking at the morgue-quiet house with queasy light coming through the window and a growling dog at the gate, I thought we must have the wrong place. But no. We’d simply arrived at the exact moment the inhabitants had sat down to dinner, cutlery poised, raising their eyebrows as we trudged in single file and sheepishly lined up in front of the hostess. ‘Deberían haber llegado más tarde,’ she scolded, nevertheless hastily laying out extra plates. ‘Bloody hell,’ whispered big smoke brother, ‘where’s the music? Did you know it would be like this? How fucking rude must we look? Right, we’re not eating anything, let’s get out the way.’ With profuse apologies, the two of us, the Argentinian queen and Hungarian dude backed away from the heaving table. ‘Hey, it’s ok,’ bohemian sister patted my arm, ‘don’t feel bad – you know how it is here, there’s always a bit of chaos, always enough for everyone!’ No use – foreigner inhibition levels were shooting through the roof and frantically activating our retreat buttons.
Back at the table, the Chief and local men plonked themselves down to devour. I wondered who were the more inappropriate idiots – the ones eating to their hearts’ content or the four starving foreigners scrunched up on the sofa. I drank more rum. Then some of the Hungarian’s tequila. ‘I’ve been here two months. Is this normal? Do you think they will talk to us?’ he asked, pointing at the diners. I elbowed big smoke brother, who was wooing the Argentinian queen: ‘You see, it’s like Brownian motion – sooner or later unexpected particles will collide and create a reaction in a way not even a nuclear physicist could model.’ ‘Are you talking about the meeting of like minds?’ I asked. ‘Nope, just assessing the chances of me singing banda at the karaoke bar after.’ ‘The what?’ One of my apex phobias. Time to toast the new year.
We all piled out into the garage, 12 chocolate covered raisins substituting for grapes in one hand and plastic cups of cider in the other. ‘5,4,3,2,1!’ Someone shouted excitedly and we all cheered, drank and… ‘Hold up!’ someone else yelled, ‘it’s still too early, wait for the radio!’ I froze mid-gobble, a raisin melting in the rancid cider halfway down my throat. ‘Oh sorry, my bad,’ the second yeller retreated, ‘it’s already the new year. Didn’t you people hear the radio?’
‘Well this has all been very underwhelming, can we go now please?’ I tugged at big smoke brother as tables and chairs were cleared and several people jumped up to dance. I tightened my coat around me. ‘Just get some calories in you and you’ll be fine,’ he said, pelting me with olives and plotting karaoke hell with the Argentinian queen. After several failed attempts to call a cab, our original eight multiplied to 24 (that often happens here) and dragged me on an outdoor taxi hunt. ‘Now I’ve had my five-mile, freezing 2am walk, can I please go home?’ I begged for mercy and bohemian sister hugged me. Animo, amiga, animo! Big smoke brother fed me peanuts and coaxed me towards the highway, hustling me into a miracle cab as the Argentinian queen barricaded the door. ‘You don’t have to sing for fuck’s sake,’ he bargained, ‘just come for one dance.’ ‘You’ll love it!’ the queen reassured me as I sat there, aghast. ‘There’s just one thing you should know,’ she went on, ‘the bar owner, my friend – he really likes the foreign girls. So he’ll definitely come onto you. It’s fine if you just want a bit of fun, but… well, I’m just warning you!’
I rolled my eyes. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m totally immune to that kind of guy. No chance. Plus I’m only coming for one dance. One dance.’
5am, 1st January 2015. IQ sacked, PQ (Passion Quotient) reigning supreme. Two hours in the karaoke bar had culminated with an alien specimen of life landing in my lap – surely it would be blasphemy to blast it away? Even though, obviously, there were some ethical questions to consider:
– Was it ok to accept an invitation to a clandestine VIP nightclub with recent strangers, karaoke bar owner mirrey and his wingwoman Golden French Legs?
- Was it ok to say nothing as mirrey’s socio maniacally drunk-drove us in his faux gangsta car, chucking cigarette packets out the window and mowing down small animals?
- Was it ok to open my coat and flash my best NYE sequinned imbecile look to get into the club while my dear decent big smoke brother, bohemian sister and the queen kissed the door?
– Was it ok to let myself be plied with mystery drinks and prance around like a performing monkey as the other performing monkeys (women) looked coldly at me and the men exchanged no vestiges of conversation other than primal screams and sing-alongs?
And, the most puzzling one of all:
- Was it ok to believe myself so apart from this urban tribe even as they welcomed me in?
Once inside, mirrey was very attentive and presented me to the bouncers, the club owner and random passersby – all his best friends, brothers, compadres – who mostly nodded politely in the general direction of my face before giving me an all-over CT scan. It was only when he started saying ‘es mi novia’, and a couple of the more inebriated characters slapped his back approvingly while gurning at my cleavage that I realised what my role there was. Well. This was new – I’d never been anyone’s overt trophy before. Did it count if I knew the deal and didn’t care? Was I letting the side down or bravely taking one for the sisterhood in a covert anthropological op? I nudged mirrey and asked ‘What exactly does “novia” mean to you?’ He stared blankly at me as though I’d just asked him the meaning of Monday. Another best friend approached. They embraced, cracked shot glasses, chugged and guffawed. Apparently this one was a close relative of the president of Mexico himself. He scanned me more disinterestedly than the others – no doubt I was but a paltry bronze medal compared to the 20-carat diamonds he’s held in his hands – and promptly got back to the bromance while I stuffed my mouth with vodka to prevent it from asking how he’d felt when his kinsman’s effigy was being burned in the central square.
I moved away from them, lifting my head to watch the laser show splicing the predictable pop art collages, feeling the chemicals of joy slip deeper into my head. I thought of my man, my partner in the crimes of honest love who was far from me tonight. I thought of him and glowed, transmitting pangs of desire onto mirrey who was back by my side. ‘Este lugar es chingón, no? It’s the best place in the city!’ he recited. I observed the fixed grooves of his face, perfectly angled to showcase his indigo eyes and draw the gaze down to iridescent skin exposed by his unbuttoned designer shirt. I recognised that groove. It was me, five (I lie, two) years ago, vulnerable to the same mystery beneath ink-stained chandeliers. ‘And,’ he continued, kissing his fingers, ‘I love your dress. It’s perfect for New Year’s.’ I held his hand to show him I understood. The groove softened. We transcended the earthly tribe around us to one far, far older, the lasers catching the tiny vermillion lights of the fabric on my body and refracting us into a prism of PhD-level PQ.
And then Golden French Legs was upon us, as radiant as she was wasted, ping-ponging us madly into the crowd to dance until I was laughing and jumping and being held up by mirrey. His two female cousins approached; Golden French Legs muttered multi-lingual expletives in my ear. It’s true: looking at them was like having a little rain cloud piss just on you while they basked in impeccable sunshine. They greeted me with a disclaimer: ‘you know, we’re really jealous of any girl near our dear primo hermanito, we love him so much.’ I nodded and smiled and said my script to the elder: ‘I hear you’re getting married soon?’ For the next half hour I was regaled with dozens of photos of her dress, engagement party, hot superstar fiancé brooding into the camera and taking her on cruises, and yes you’re right he does need a strong woman like me by his side, I’m glad you understand – you must come to the wedding! I choked on my latest mystery drink as mirrey slurred his assent, listing all the expensive restaurants he would take me to in the meantime – the best! The most exquisite! They have delicious clams, you know those?
At the mention of molluscs, my stomach began to turn. Daylight was creeping in. And the moment of true choice had arrived – would IQ make a triumphant reappearance or would PQ trample it into the ground? ‘Could you give me a lift home please? I live close by,’ I said to mirrey and his socio as we piled back into the pimp wagon. ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll take you home,’ he said, shortly after pulling up at his place where they all lived. Golden French Legs charged inside, tottered back, hugged me, pushed me away, then backed into her room. I tried to back out too. ‘This isn’t my house. I want to go home. I’ll get a cab.’ ‘No, don’t worry,’ said mirrey, earnestly placing both hands on my shoulders, ‘estoy bien borracho, no te voy a hacer nada. Just come up for a bit and we’ll lie down and sleep.’ My IQ was glaring uselessly at me from outside the window. A few minutes later we were indeed in his bed, me foetally curled in one corner as he stealthily approached from the other, battling the sharp sequins on my dress until he was sufficiently exfoliated and backed off. I watched him exhale, sleep, and felt like applauding. Designer shirt crumpled in his arms like a comforter, soft mouth slightly wet. Sweet mirrey. It really wouldn’t do to be ungrateful. I wrote him a note on some toilet paper with my eyeliner: ‘thanks for a fun night. [Name and number]. Kiss.’
And so it was that at 10.30 am on the first of January 2015, I crept out of an unknown house and into the mountain sun. It was hot and I slipped my coat off. I had no idea where I was. All alone on the streets, I wanted to leap into the sky with joy. I decided the best thing to do would be to follow the bougainvillea. Follow the flaming red wherever it would lead – for it could only lead home, in this magnificent monster of a city that had completely bewitched me.
Happy New Year.
-  Perreo: Rather sexual dancing style. Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FoxzVbXT18
-  Astronauto: Alcoholic drinking shot. Not a human being.
-  Mirrey: Mexican slang indicating socio-economically high class male; literally means ‘my king’. Here’s an example: http://laprimeraplana.com.mx/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Hablas-como-mirrey.-Seguro-conoces-este-Mirreyccionario.jpg
-  Pelirojo: Bright auburn hair.
-  ‘Deberían haber llegado más tarde’: ‘You should have arrived earlier.’ Seriously. Awkward.
-  Banda: Mexican brass music. May sound utterly incomprehensible to a non-Mexican. Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXa8LjXNshs
-  Animo, amiga, animo! Chin up, friend, cheer up/stop being a moody cow!
-  Socio: Nebulous term denoting some form of functional bond, e.g. business associate or drug dealer.
-  Compadre: Deeply close friend – literally, ‘the godfather’.
-  ‘Es mi novia’: ‘She’s my girlfriend.’
-  ‘Este lugar es chingón, no?': ‘This place is da fuckin’ bomb’.
-  Primo hermanito: Our little first cousin.
-  ‘Estoy bien borracho, no te voy a hacer nada’: ‘I’m too shitfaced to shag you.’