I’m at Blouberg, a beautiful beach in Cape Town, hitting a joint with my high school friends. It’s my first bad decision of the day, and I can’t wait to make more.
It’s a leisurely affair, with a few drinks being passed around — a tribute to all the time we have to waste. None of us are 18 yet, so we can’t legally drive, but that doesn’t stop us from having three cars and five motorbikes between us.
The day done, we fire up our respective vehicles. I hop into Bailey’s trusty 1997 Honda Civic hatchback, which has never failed him. Others fill the better, sleeker 2000 Civic hatchback, which is new on the block and eager to prove itself. Some lucky few climb into the coveted BMW 3 Series (the E36), which is almost certainly the lovechild of Gino’s ties with the Triads. A hefty friend from Taiwan, Gino has always been quiet about his involvement in the Asian mafia, but actions — and possessions — speak louder than words.
We’re all a little buzzed and a little high, but what does that matter? We’re teenagers. That’s all the excuse we ever need.
Bailey revs his engine, flashing his trademark grin. Always the troublemaker of the group, he’s got that familiar look in his eye; he wants to do something stupid. We all do. It’s dusk, with nightfall fast approaching. We’ve got a house party to get to, 20 minutes away. Judging by the atmosphere in the air — growling engines, shrieking girls — we want to cut that time in half.
It’s a race, with nothing but pride at stake.
The newer Civic immediately pulls away, tires screeching, and we follow suit. These cars were bought for speed, and we never miss an opportunity to flaunt it. The BMW in the back quickly gets in line, and the motorbikes soon form the vanguard. Without saying a word, we all come to the same conclusion. It’s a race, with nothing but pride at stake.
Bailey’s driving like a maniac while I sit in the back, smoking a cigarette, ecstatic. Engines rev, lights flash, tires squeal — suddenly your life and a movie converge. Cars honk as we speed past, and suddenly our car swerves into the oncoming lane. With a triumphant handbrake turn around a corner, we’re in the lead. We’re invincible, and the idiots around us don’t know what life really is.
We’ll always be young and free.
It feels like it will last forever. Not just the race, but everything. Like we’ll always be young and free. That no matter what, we’ll always be friends, and we’ll always be together.
Hitting 130 km/h, swerving through traffic, I hear a knock to my right. Chris appears next to me on his Suzuki motorbike. He’s the craziest person I’ve ever met, and I know he’s not just saying hello. I roll down my window, and he lifts up his visor, revealing his freckled face. Black hair streaming in the wind. I pass him my cigarette — he takes a long, deep drag and gives it back to me. He salutes, I return the gesture, and he goes back to weaving through traffic.
We hit suburbia, and it’s still anybody’s game. The motorbikes — the TC125 Suzukis, the XR125 and CRF250 L Hondas, and a rusty, yellow YBR125 Yamaha — are trailing behind, but we know they’ll catch up going off-road through the parks and sidewalks. They’re all extensions of their owners — brash, loud, and daring.
Approaching the house, we all split up, each thinking we know the best shortcut. Speeding through tiny streets, we glance through the trees and see our friends neck-and-neck on separate roads, motorbikes kicking up dust.
It’s the final corner. The roar of the engine clings to our ears. It’s deafening. We take the last, terrifying turn. Our breath is gone from our lungs. Gino’s BMW screeches towards us, and the bikes swerve as the car gets closer and closer. That’s when the other Civic screams in, twisting and spinning end-to-end, so close we can touch it.
The Civic mounts a curb and almost crushes every inch of the rusty Yamaha’s existence.
It felt like we roundhouse-kicked God in the mouth.
There’s a flourish of metal and the sound of smoking tires, and everything stops. We’ve all come to a nearly-crashing halt at the same time. The engines tick, tick, tick — they sound like they’re out of breath. We look at each other, our eyes pulsing with adrenaline, ready to burst. In sync with each other, we let it out: screaming and laughing and cheering. It felt like we roundhouse-kicked God in the mouth.
I don’t really see them anymore. Not Bailey. Not Chris either. We’ve all paired up with our respective partners, gotten jobs, grown responsible. Our old toys — the Civic, the Yamaha, the Beamer — aren’t ours anymore. They were sold to a new generation of reckless, rubber-burning teens.
As I put down my little porcelain espresso cup, I hear it.
I’m thinking about the good old days, sitting at a cafe in Bo-Kaap, one of Cape Town’s hippest neighborhoods. As I put down my little porcelain espresso cup, I hear it. At least five blocks off, but unmistakable. The high-pitched whine of motorcycles, the rougher rumble of car engines, the screech of a dozen tires slanting around a corner.
The sounds grow louder, building to a mechanical frenzy. I try to pick out the makes — is that a Yamaha? A Suzuki? — but it’s been too long.
I lean over the wrought-iron railing of the cafe and watch the pack of cars and bikes round the corner two blocks up. They’re coming right for me, weaving through traffic, the sound of engines and tires leaving a row of angry faces thrust from apartment windows in their wake.
They fly through a red light and screech down the block. My little cup jitterbugs on the saucer.
The grease armada passes the cafe at breakneck speed. But as they go by, time stops for a moment. The kid on a yellow Yamaha — no helmet to hold back his full head of hair — turns and grins at me.
There’s pure heartache in watching them blaze by.