Drum and bass, frantic bodies and arms swaying this way and that. A sweat box throbbing with freedom. It was all beginning to seem more than worth it for Steve, plagued with fear and doubt since he’d taken a job in a place everyone had warned him about going to. He’d just turned from the fray to drape his jumper over a chair, the wool muffling his ears for a vital couple of seconds.
Combat fatigues, balaclavas and uzis. An abrupt halt had come to the track which had been galvanizing everyone to such a mad, consensual jostle, its high-energy staccato arrested before it could accelerate beyond control and towards an even more unbridled frenzy.
Steve turned to interrogate the party pooping. A posse of burly men, kitted out for serious violence, had stomped their way past face control and the bouncers and were headed in Steve’s general direction. Their swagger and weaponry demanded obedience.
They brusquely shepherded the clubbers into x-shapes against the wall to await a frisking. Erstwhile dancers wiped brows and accepted their new role as parts of the herd, as if this clash of cultures: paramilitary force and youthful hedonism, was integral to the clubbing package: as real to it as pulling and getting off your face.
Terrified, Steve followed every move until he too was leaning frontally against the club, in a direct inversion of what he had been planning to do: slouch back on the chair against his jumper, chill out and watch others break into a sweat to the music. With his back turned, the party had slipped into this parallel universe. Now he sweated to his own sounds, the loudest in the room he felt, the percussion in his chest easily matching that of that last manic number, beat for beat.
The masked men ushered their charges to do their bidding without resorting to the major aggravation their get up threatened, the stoicism with which they’d been met stealing their thunder somewhat. In an instant, the hedonistic had become the meek. Among the discordant jarrings in Steve’s head were countless protests at all this injustice, which he couldn’t contain properly yet also couldn’t express. The language barrier stopped him to begin with, and he allowed himself to be comforted by this knowledge and ignorance.
Not that fluency would have made him any braver. Were this to happen again, after an intensive course in the language, he still would not have roused himself to dissent; certainly not if the locals weren’t up to it themselves. They seemed to understand power utterly. Questioning it in the here and now was completely out of the question.
The paramilitaries hadn’t explained the purpose of their visit and no explanation had been demanded of them. Back home, you were almost guaranteed that some drunken prat would stand up and insist that the gatecrashers account for their behaviour, guns or not. And all that righteous indignation would get their teeth smashed in, and some.
But it never happened that clubs were stormed by armed men in uniform where Steve came from. You might get blokes with guns in some clubs (which Steve had never been to) and shots might well be fired but that lot would hardly arrive dressed head to toe in exactly the same gear. This, obviously, was state-sanctioned, that wasn’t. No bystander had been on the receiving end of an arbitrary whack, for instance, just to let the gathered know that business was meant. These guys assumed that was already a given. And this wasn’t about to get funny, with any hoodlum, pre-violence wisecracks, as you might see in a film.
(c) Colin Graham
(c) Colin Graham