Reluctantly Dancing on Space Cakes
“The game is called Presidents,” one of the French girls is saying, gesturing excitedly the way people explaining card games do, her words coming to me through a haze of smoke. “And the aim of the game is…”
But I can’t catch what she’s saying. Right now, I’m the dumbest, slowest version of myself, my mind feeling like it’s been submerged in tar from the 1.5 space cakes I consumed earlier in the day. “I can’t feel anything yet,” I had said to my friend while observing some of Amsterdam’s gorgeous architecture.
And here I was now, back at this stinky hostel, flanked by rowdy, wide-eyed travellers, desperately trying to understand an extremely straightforward card game.
“So we all get one turn?” I ask.
The game lurches forward at a glacial speed, constantly interrupted by my stupid questions. I look down at the table and listen hard to the instructions for the fourth time.
I look over at my friend, who seems to be having a hard time with reality itself let alone this game, and gesture towards the door, making a tiny walking man with my fingers. He nods.
We walk towards nowhere in particular. The air of the nation’s capital feels thick and hot, even after nightfall. The buildings and the streets seem to collapse into each other, creating an unsettling urban blur, and I try to latch onto just one thing that I know for sure, a tiny granule of truth, something to ease a fractured mind, but truths are hard to come by. I fail.
“Hello, my friends!” comes a voice in an indistinguishable European accent.
A man in his 40s appears, with slick black hair and a leather jacket. His face shows a lifetime of hard times and a warm smile.
“Where do you come from?” he asks.
I open my mouth to answer, but the words fail to come out.
“Australia,” my friend says.
“Australia!” he loudly repeats. “Kangaroos, eh. You know, everyone talks about Kangaroos, Kangaroos…but I think the koalas are the best! Tell me, do you have cities in Australia? You know like, city cities?
I stare at his eyebrows, crude bushy things like evil caterpillars. They spin gently.
“We have cities,” I manage to say. “Melbourne is a city.” I pause. “Melbourne is my city. I’m from it.”
“We’re from the Melbourne city,” my friend clarifies.
“Very cool, very cool,” he smiles.
He brushes something off his pants. “So, why did you guys come all the way to this place? Why come to Amsterdam?”
There were many reasons I came to Amsterdam, yet in this hazy madness, I cannot articulate, let alone think of, any of them.
“Clubs,” I say.
“Clubs?” he asks.
“Yeah,” we both say in unison.
“Like party places?”
“Yeah,” we say again.
“Well if you love clubs, you must love dancing.”
“Well, sometimes. I don’t…”
Suddenly, the man breaks out into a sprightly groove, clicking his fingers and stomping his shoes on the cobblestone streets. He is performing not one specific dance, but a grotesque combination of all dances of the last century. Large beads of sweat form on his face, and his smile, though initially appearing permanent, now morphs into a frown of deep concentration and tenacity.
“What are you waiting for? Start dancing!” he roars.
“What…why do you want us to dance?” I ask.
“Just fucking dance,” he says.
The urgency in his tone forces me into a light sway. I close my eyes. Dancing is hard at the best of times, in a club shrouded in darkness with thumping dance music. Here, almost two cakes deep and with no music at all, it is close to impossible. I look down at my feet, which have settled into a slow, miserable shuffle. My hands, loyal servants my entire life, now seem unnecessary, excessive, getting in the way like a dog during backyard cricket.
“That’s it! There you go!” the man laughs.
I look over at my friend. He is utilising his hands more – is it a double fist pump, or a slow elbow roll? I have a theory that when it comes to dancing you’re either a cutter or a crafter. Cutters are sharp in their movements, like they are slicing through the air – they are visceral, in-the-moment movers. Crafters, on the other hand, use slow, sweeping strokes, like painters creating their masterpiece; crafters truly are people with a story to tell. He’s somewhere in between here.
“Ok, ok, fantastic,” the man says, gesturing for us to stop. I slow down, and then stop. My friend is still moving.
“Hey buddy, it’s ok, you can stop now!”
The man goes over to him and places a hand on his shoulder, looking into his eyes.
“Wow, my friend. You were really feeling it.” He loses his posture to a roaring laugh.
“Now you have practised some, go to the clubs!’ the man orders, still laughing. He starts walking alongside the canal, and raises his hand to wave without looking back.
We don’t answer, or wave back. ‘Let’s go,’ I say, and we start walking in the other direction.
“What the fuck just happened?” I ask my friend after a few minutes.
He looks at me with a hundred mile stare.
“I have no idea,” he says, feeling his pockets. “But I think that guy just stole my wallet.”
Cover by Nuno Alberto