This story contains descriptions of physical intimacy.
“Don’t you remember?” I ask her. We were sitting in our favorite sunny spot on the hill, which gently sloped down beneath our bare feet. Other students milled about, going from class to class, or sat scattered on the hill around us. Arts students were munching on sandwiches or greasy but cheap hotdogs from the university cafe whilst the goths with their dark-lined eyes and pierced bodies were smoking stacks of cigarettes on empty stomachs.
Behind us, colonial-era Howard College loomed large, white and beautiful. It housed almost half a million volumes of books and journals in various formats, medieval manuscripts, South African government publications, early scientific and engineering books, and an African studies collection. In seventeen years from now, it would all be burned down to the ground in post-Apartheid student protests for lower fees and more student residences. For now, we were oblivious, caught up in recounting the horrific events of that night in question.
“No,” she says. “I haven’t drunk that much before. I kinda lost control.” Yes, I think. You did. With your vomit in my boyfriend’s hands. But, I don’t say that out loud. Her vomiting in my boyfriend, Toby’s hands was the least horrifying thing that happened that night. I am so glad that she has no recollection. Toby and I swore we would never tell her the truth about what really happened. It would traumatize her.
“Why? Did something weird happen?” she asks. “No,” I say. “Except that Izzy gyrated to death metal on the cast iron table in the garden and got everyone really excited.” Izzy was dark and luscious. Every pornographic curve and thick-lashed, piercing gaze. Delicious. Everyone wanted her and she knew it. Not only was she a commanding beauty but, as a student of Medicine, she had the brains to match. Why she chose Ben as her partner, no one could figure out. He was an awkward, perpetually apologetic, anorexically bent-over History student, with pale, papery skin. He trailed behind her wherever she strode, ashamed, aroused, and scared. It was pitiful to watch.
“Anyway,” I say, “she yanked Ben by his t-shirt into her pelvic thrust and when he awkwardly danced towards her hips, like a newborn baby giraffe, painfully aware of everyone’s eyes on them, she shoved him back really hard and slapped him across the face. He fell to the ground. She laughed. We all winced and Ben crumpled in shame.”
“Wow!” she says. “That Izzy! How could she do that to Ben?!” I absently smile.
“Meanwhile, I go on, “you were stumbling around muttering to yourself, so Toby volunteered to carry you up to Sophia’s room to recover.”
Sophia was the host and it was her birthday. Her “room” was one of over fifty, rented out as student digs in what was once an 1858 colonial-era estate. It used to be an exclusively White residence, in an exclusively White suburb, but since Mandela brought us to democracy in 1994, it was now inhabited by Black, Indian and Coloured students who either scraped enough money together or won scholarships to study at our previously exclusively White, prestigious university. Sophia, a Malaysian Muslim, won a scholarship to study Ethnomusicology.
“After Toby and you disappeared,” I continued, “I sat around feeling bored and restless. At around 10:45 P.M, everyone else decided they wanted to go clubbing. I said I would go check on you guys because I didn’t feel like going anywhere else with those weirdos.”
Sophia explained to me how to find her room, and soon after, they all left. I walked through the estate’s garden, enjoying the balmy, summer night. I followed the stone path towards the entrance archway, now shrouded in darkness. I pushed the heavy, wooden double doors open, and as they creaked, I felt a shiver pass through me.
Wide, apron stone stairs, weakly lit with wall-mounted night lights, created a deeper feeling of foreboding in me. The shadows on the curved staircase walls jumped like lurid vodun dancers. I decided to ignore the cold pit of fear growing in my stomach. Once I reached the top of the staircase, my eyes followed the narrow, long passage to the very end, where Sophia’s room was.
My heart thumping in my chest, I walked with a frigid gait. Somehow, the closed doors turned into grotesque characters, threatening to swing open and devour me. I sprinted the last few meters, rapidly knocked on Sophia’s door, and didn’t wait before I shoved it open. To my disgust, there was a frazzled Toby crouched at the edge of the bed, with one hand holding her hair back and the other, cupped under her mouth, vomit oozing its putrid stickiness between his fingers and onto the carpet.
“What took you so long?!” he yelled at my horrified face. Without saying a word, I ran to him, my big, black eyes locked on his big blue eyes, grabbed the white, plastic trashcan next to Sophia’s desk near the door, and placed it under his hand. The stink hit me hard in the face. He gratefully flicked the disgusting mess off his hand and into the can, scraping a few clinging remnants of food off along the edge.
He jumped up as she slumped back onto the pillow and ran out the door to the kitchenette a few doors down to rinse the muck off his hand. Alone with her in the room, I realized it was going to be an even longer night. I pushed the trashcan under the head of the bed near her, sighing heavily as I flopped into Sophia’s old, rickety swivel study chair. I looked around. Her room was a sharp contrast to the Draculian, Neo-Gothic estate it was housed in.
It was the size and shape of a shoebox, with pastel pink, peeling wallpapered walls and thin, white embroidered curtains over the room’s only two windows. They were on the wall nearest to the head of the single bed, directly across from the door. Sophia’s old wooden closet sat squat in the opposite corner from the bed, so that there was only enough space for one person to crab walk from the bed past it. Retro pop art stickers of pouting red lips and protruding tongues stuck like used band aids over the closet doors, some peeling off. Around them was a photo collage of Sophia with family and friends. A record of good times.
I swiveled in the chair, when the door opened and Toby appeared. He stood still, gazing at me. My chair at a standstill, I gazed back at him. I felt that familiar warm, sweet feeling spread across my body. With a quick stride, he was already kneeling in front of me on the floor. He pushed my thighs apart, cupped my bottom in his hands and pulled me hard against his torso. I willingly wrapped my legs around his thick, strong back and returned his wild, passionate deep kiss. His hand was holding me around the neck, pulling my head toward his, while the other gently stroked the round edge of my breast, making me tingle and squirm, wanting more, so much more. Our tongues entwined, wanting to devour each other. I felt my wetness press against my tight jeans and into the warmth of his muscled torso. Slowly, he pulled me away from him, groaning, his lips wet with me, his blue eyes blazing with desire.
Now, both his hands were secured around my ribcage, under my breasts, squeezing my flesh, digging into me, saying so much without saying anything at all. I ran my fingers through his soft, dark blonde hair as he buried his face between my breasts and deeply inhaled me in. I was about to whisper what I wanted to do to him, when suddenly, a deep, animal growl pierced the air in the room. It came from the bed. Out of her.
“Did I at least have fun?” she asked, breaking my mental replay of that moment. “My throat was sore enough the next day. Was I singing at the top of my lungs?” She unconsciously tugged at the grass, waiting for me to answer. I smiled at her waiting eyes and said, “Only every, single song and only at the top of your lungs.” She laughed and picked up her psych text book to review for the day’s test.
My mind went back to that night. That growl...it was like a cave animal lurking in the shadow, waiting to pounce. Toby and I clung to each other, speechless. She sighed and fell back into a deep slumber. We looked at each other, sighed with relief and decided to pretend it never happened. We stood there, pressed tightly against each other, hugging, lost in our young, new love. Toby softly and gently kissed me on each cheek, on my nose, on my forehead and told me how beautiful he thought every inch of me was. He circled his hands around my lower back and pressed himself hard against me. I could feel his thickness on my belly and pushed myself into him. We hadn’t yet been with each other in the deep, intimate way we wanted to, so the anticipation was driving us both wild. This time it was me who desperately pulled his mouth to mine. I tenderly pressed his lips open and pushed my tongue between them. I grabbed his hair and squeezed tight. He reached around my back and scooped my bottom in his hands, pressing my thighs apart with his thigh and as I almost mounted the desk under the force, we heard a loud, piercing laughing coming from the bed.
We turned to look, and there she was, sitting up erect on the bed, her legs straight out in front of her. Her eyes fluttered open and closed but when they opened, only the whites showed. She laughed, maniacally, her shoulders shaking and heaving, hair spread wildly around her shoulders. Suddenly, she flopped back down on the bed, like a ragdoll, and passed out sleeping again. This time, we could not pretend it never happened.
“What the fuck….!” exclaimed Toby. I was still too shocked to say anything. I just stayed, pressed against him, suddenly feeling cold and nauseous. Over the next hour, she continued to suddenly shoot up, like a hot poker was pressing into her back. She would laugh that maniacal, hysterical laugh, with something else’s voice, and sometimes, she shouted or growled - speaking gibberish, drool hanging out the side of her mouth, spittle shooting into the air. At the end of each episode, she would flop back down like a ragdoll, and pass out. We tried rousing her, slapping her, pulling her up, anything to wake her and get her the hell out of there, but she was a dead weight.
Pure panic filled our hearts. You see…I knew what we were dealing with. For our entire upbringing, my parents told us four kids about the demon possessions they witnessed. We watched them wondrously as they often left the house to congregate in prayer circles at other people’s homes, called by concerned family members to cast a demon out. They carried anointing oil along with their bibles as they went. We could never sleep on those nights our parents were out on prayer calls like those. We often had nightmares.
When we got older, they told us about these encounters with greater detail at the Sunday lunch table. Our mouths agape, eyes wide, we heard about women who spoke in strange languages, spitting at them or hitting and cutting themselves. They told us about the tricks the demons tried to play. They pretended to be spirits of dead family members, laughing hard through the bodies of the men they captivated. Their energy forced their victim to defecate or urinate on the bed in front of everyone. Sometimes, they would vomit up green bile.
The demons always got madder, wilder and out of control as the prayers reached fever-pitch energy, permeated the air and seeming to rattle the very roofs of all the houses around it. My parents described how the demons would writhe, froth and foam at the mouth until finally, hours later, exhausted, they would evaporate, leaving their victims limp and lifeless.
Those memories flooded my mind as I stood in the middle of the room, tightly holding on to Toby, staring at the innocently sleeping body in the bed. “Toby,” I said, “we have to pray.”
“What?!” he shouted, looking at me incredulously. He was vehemently anti-religious, in spite of his father being an Anglican priest. “We have to pray,” I repeated. “This is a demon.” He looked at me as if I had just ingested two tabs of acid and was tripping like a circus monkey. “My parents have been through this, so as crazy as it sounds, please trust me when I say this is a DEMON!” Toby did not believe in God. Or the devil. We both started to shake uncontrollably as adrenaline coursed through us. It was now around 02:00 A.M. We were so tired. Our eyes felt like sandpaper.
Still thinking about what to do, we looked up to see her ‘awake’ once more, her back erect, laughing wildly. But. This time was the most horrifying. Her neck was starting to twist, unnaturally and scarily to the side. I thought it would snap off. We managed to break out of our paralyzed stupor and into action. Toby jumped onto the bed straddling her from behind, and I straddled her from the front. He held her in a headlock and used all his strength to stop her neck from twisting. I wrapped both my arms around the front of her head and joined Toby. Even with our combined force, we were barely a match for this remarkable, evil force trying to kill our friend.
Out of nowhere and with a strength I knew not that I had, I started to pray, “Lord Jesus, protect us. Cover us all in your divine light and protection. Whatever this is, take it away and keep us all safe.” She ragdolled back against Toby, clumps of her hair coming away in our hands. I almost started to cry but instead, an icy cold feeling of power and surety came over me. Suddenly, I got angry. It felt like a wave of holy anger. What the hell was this thing and how the hell did it think it could take my friend away?
I joined hands with Toby, around her, and said, “Look, it doesn’t matter if you believe or not, just close your eyes while I pray.” Stunned by the last episode, he did as I asked. I prayed with my hands on her forehead like I remembered my parents recounting. The thing woke up once more, and this time it stared at me, getting angry instead of laughing. It pointed at me, and in its dark, animal voice, it spat, “We don’t like you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you believe in God.” It turned to Toby, who by now, was next to me. “But you. We like you.” Why?” I asked again, motioning to Toby not to directly engage with it. “Because he does NOT believe in God!” And then it broke out in the most evil laugh I have ever heard in my entire life. Instead of crumpling in fear, I felt a rush of fire spread through me. Using all my power, I rebuked that devil and told it to identify itself. “I am the God of War!” it announced. “I am here to take what is mine!” The deepness of its voice rattled me.
Suddenly, the demon started to speak in Zulu, the national language of the Zulu tribe in South Africa. It laughed and said, “Your friend is mine, she is no longer here. She was always mine.”
She passed out again as I continued to pray softly, continuously, and faithfully. We got off the bed to stretch our legs and when we pulled the net curtain up to look out the window, we saw the first sign of morning, an inky blue sky. I looked at the clock. 04:30 A.M. She started to stir and this time, she returned. She was groggy. She said, in her own voice, “Guys……urgh!” and shook her head from side to side.
“Amelia,” I said with disbelief. “Amelia, is that you?” She looked at me, sleepy, drunk, and confused. “Who the hell else would it be?!” Toby and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, in cracked, exhausted hoarse voices. “Guys, I need to pee.”
We packed our things up, tidied Sophia’s room, took the trashcan, and left, softly closing the door behind us. Stumbling, we held her up and walked her down the two staircases and into the basement, where the bathrooms were. We unzipped her pants, pulled her panties down, and plopped her onto the seat. She peed, cracking incomprehensible jokes, laughing to herself. Finally, she cleaned herself up while we held the door open.
Riding home that morning after dropping Amelia off, Toby and I knew we had a life-changing experience. The sunrise never looked so good, and we had never been so grateful for the start of a new day,
We did not see Amelia for two weeks after that. Neither did she answer our phone calls. When she finally made it back, she kept a low profile, until that day when we both sat on that sunny hill in front of Howard College. “Hey,” I said, playfully poking her in the ribs. “Do you speak Zulu?”
“No,” she said, rolling her eyes at me before burying her face back in her psych book.