About two years ago I found myself in the company of a breathtakingly beautiful lady named Kylie. She was petite. Her frame was slight; her skin, porcelain. Her features were dainty and her hair was spiderweb-white. She was a fairy incarnate. Not surprisingly, she attracted the eye wherever she went, yet she was kind to everyone. When asked where she came from she would patiently tell them that she was from Austrailia, and that she was only in town for a few days. She was travelling around South America, you see.
She always smiled. She was patient with the slurring, uncoordinated men who were so obviously fawning over her. When asked if she was travelling alone, she’d airily tell you that she was travelling with her boyfriend, and then glance around to indicate that he was somewhere in the vicinity. It wasn’t a lie, or a defence. Kylie was not the type to mislead or to manipulate. She was simply stating a fact. When it came to Kylie, there were never any ill intentions.
As ethereal as Kylie was, her boyfriend was the opposite. Brian was a man carved directly from the living rock of reality. He was so very much present. He was broad-shouldered, bearded, and solid. He moved with well-coordinated strength, yet he did not intimidate. He was the type of man you’d feel compelled to ask to help you set up your camping tent. Not because you needed the help, but because there was an attractive energy about the man and because he looked like the type of person who would be able to do it in a trice. Brian oozed competence, and he was a fine match for Kylie. There was opposition in their physicality, but in their conduct they were twinned. He was a happy conversationalist. He moved among the crowd like a Superbowl-winning footballer meeting the press. When asked where his girlfriend was he’d glance around and say “Oh she’s somewhere about,” not because he didn’t care, but because he knew she could look after herself. It was clear that he loved her. When they were together he would lightly touch her – on the shoulder, on the back – not to say “You are mine,” but to say “I am here.”
I liked this couple very much, and by the grace of good fortune they seemed to like me too. But then again, they seemed to like everyone. They were like a good-natured celebrity couple. I could see myself getting to know the two quite well in the short time that they were in town. I felt that a strong bond was on the verge of being forged. I imagined us developing our own very special inside jokes. Although geography would separate us, I could see a future where we’d write to each other often. I’d be the first to know about proposals and pregnancies before the rest of the world did. It would be a special circle consisting of only us three.
It was a happy night, and I remember clearly the way Kylie extended her hand and put it on my arm. It was an offer of allegiance. A gesture crossing continents to bring us together. By touching my arm she was inviting me into the most intimate circle of her friendship. It was a symbol of welcome, a message that said, “You don’t have to be alone.”
She spoke just then, her voice the texture of candyfloss. A silken whisper that somehow carried over the hubbub around us, as if she was very carefully placing her words directly into my ear.
“Do you like cocaine?” she said.
In the second or two it took me to reply, many things happened. Billions of synapses burst through my body like light-speed Paul Reveres, galloping along my nervous system and crying, “Keep your cool! Keep your cool!”
The mist that had been clouding my skull vanished in an instant, and I became aware that I was in a rowdy bar at 02.00 in the morning, waiting in a line that wasn’t moving in order to buy an overpriced beer that I didn’t want. The music was awful too.
At the same time, I thought about my philosophy of saying “Yes” to everything, and in those immeasurably brief yoctoseconds before the mist cleared entirely, I had one last rather lucid thought:
This is it, isn’t it? This is the night I do cocaine.
An answer was expected, but I didn’t know what to do. It was as if my brain had accidentally clicked “Print All” and had, in a panic, decided to yank the computer out from the wall. To buy more time while things rebooted, I said, “Well, you know, I’ve never really tried it, to be honest.”
“Oh, you’ll love it,” said Kylie. Her hand had not left its perch on my bicep. Beside her, Brian smiled his encouragement. There was no need for him to speak. It was clear that Kylie was voicing the words that he himself was eager to say.
My brain, meanwhile, overwhelmed by the colossally dramatic shift in direction that this night had taken, had decided to step out for a cigarette.
“Ah…” I offered.
And then I turned and walked away, and I never saw that lovely couple again.
That was my first passing encounter with cocaine. Up until that point, I’d only ever seen it in movies or heard it spoken about, but I’d never had it enter my personal space. So I suppose it was the thought of the thing, rather than the thing itself, that surprised me, and that’s not a bad thing. Things that challenge your perception have a tendency to shock. I had always thought that cocaine was something that other people did. I had been raised to fear it. Educational media told me that it would ruin my life. Getting too close to that white powder would put me in jail. Touching it would get me killed.
Since that night in the bar I’ve seen the stuff several more times over the years. For me, it’s definitely more prevalent here that it was in South Africa. Like someone who grew up fearing spiders, and who later learns that they are mostly harmless, I still have an aversion to cocaine, but I tolerate its existence.
Now, I realise that I’m in dangerous territory. I don’t mean to condone the use of cocaine. I don’t. I’ve never touched the stuff, and I don’t think I ever will. But you know what? Sometimes people take cocaine and it doesn’t hurt anyone. If the most beautiful couple in the world think it’s okay, then I’m okay with that.