Chapter Sample

Chapter 1

Muzi

 

His birth certificate reads Muzikayise McCarthy, but nobody calls him that except his grandfather and anyone looking for a busted lip. Though right now, you could curse his name a million times, and he wouldn’t hear you.

He’s too busy mourning the fate of his dick.

It’s not that he’s overly sentimental about his foreskin. It’d be nice not to be so self-conscious in the locker room at Clarendon Academy, since all the guys on his rugby team have parents who are living in this century and had the decency to do the big snip right after birth. That’s Papa Fuzz for you, hanging on to age-old Xhosa traditions tooth and nail, never mind that Muzi’s three-quarters Irish and could pass for white on an overcast day like today. But Papa Fuzz and Mama Belle had all girls, and as the firstborn grandson, Muzi’s been the object of Papa Fuzz’s living legacy since the day he popped out of his mother’s womb.

And now, the neighbors can’t be happy about Papa Fuzz slow-roasting an entire goat out in the front lawn. The smell of cooking flesh goes on for blocks, and it’s enough to make Muzi want to vomit. Then again, he’s already been a nauseated mess worrying over the fate of his manhood these past few weeks. He swallows back the urge and frowns at the charcoal pit that has to be some sort of fire hazard, especially with the dead fronds from the neighbor’s palm tree hanging so seductively close. But every time anyone from the Richmond Hill Civic Committee says anything to Papa Fuzz, he’ll start ranting about how important it is to protect the practices of his ancestors, and that’s an argument that nobody’s about to win.

“Come here, son. Let me show you something,” Papa Fuzz calls from across the yard, beckoning Muzi with a slender finger. Sweat glistens against Papa Fuzz’s wrinkled brown skin. He’s worked hard to make this weekend perfect.

Muzi leaves the comfort of his shaded porch and ambles over with both hands shoved deep into his pockets. He’s having second thoughts.

And third thoughts.

And fourth.

But it’s too late to call the party off. His aunt Lindi and cousins are already driving down from Joburg, and four dozen of Mama’s to-die-for deviled eggs are crammed into the fridge, along with enough potato salad to feed the entire South African Army . . . well, obviously not including the robot infantries.

“Gotta keep her moist,” Papa Fuzz instructs as Muzi approaches, giving the baster bulb a little squeeze. Melted herb butter squirts out, rolls over the goat’s hindquarters, and sizzles as it hits the coals of the pit. A tacky plume of garlic-scented smoke wafts right into Muzi’s face. “That’s the secret. A good goat you can’t leave unattended, not even a few minutes. It’s a labor of love, but people will be talking about this nanny for years to come.”

Muzi nods and stifles a cough. Papa Fuzz hands him the baster, then points Muzi at the goat. Muzi’s too drained to start up another argument. It’s pointless since Papa Fuzz can’t even grasp the idea of being a vegetarian.

Besides, it’s sort of comforting knowing he’s not the only meat being cut up this weekend.

“You know I’ve invited Renée.” Papa Fuzz nudges Muzi in the ribs. “I’ve seen the way she makes eyes at you. Such a pretty girl.”

“Great,” Muzi mumbles. Why not just invite all of Port Elizabeth while he’s at it?

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Muzikayise. You’ll be a man soon, and that’s something you should be proud of. Sing it from the rooftop!” Papa Fuzz raises his fist into the air and yells something in Xhosa, of which Muzi can make out the words chop and axe, enough for him to get the gist of this ancestral chant. He cringes.

His alpha bot chimes like church bells being played by a certified maniac. Muzi smiles at the hectic blare of the ringtone. It’s Elkin calling. A distraction is just what Muzi needs right now.

“Sorry, Papa Fuzakele, but I’ve gotta take this.” Muzi hands the baster back to his grandfather, taps his alphie on its sleek, domed head, then they both scamper back toward the house before Papa Fuzz can object.

The alphie’s screen blinks a couple times as encryption protocols are exchanged, then Elkin appears among the backdrop of limited edition rugby union posters, some of them even signed. He’s at home in his room, eyes glazed over from a lazy Saturday afternoon smoking dagga and grazing on junk food.

“Hey, bru. Howzit hanging?” Elkin says with a smooth grin. He scratches his nose, then rubs his hand over cropped golden-blond hair. A hopelessly permanent tan line runs across his forehead from where his rugby scrum cap sits.

“That’s not funny,” Muzi mopes.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to come off like a prick.”

“Elkin, is there something you want?”

“Come over. I’m bored.”

“I’m not smoking dagga with you. Not today.”

“Not dagga. I’ve got something new. This stuff is prime!” Elkin extends his arm and stares at it like it’s the first time he’s ever seen it. He cackles—yes, actually cackles—then pulls his alphie up so close that the camera only captures his gray eyes and most of his crooked nose. “Seriously, bru, they could cut your whole dick off tonight and you wouldn’t give a rat’s puckered ass.”

“Seriously?” Muzi has to admit the offer sounds tempting, better than watching a goat turn on a spit for the next few hours.

“Check this. I think I’m turning into a . . . a fucking purpose, man.”

“A purpose?”

Elkin leans back and flaps his arms. “Ja, you know. With a bottlenose and fins. Like a dolphin.”

“A porpoise, you mean?”

“Damn it, Muzi. Stop correcting me and get your quarter Xhosa ass over here.”

 

#

 

They bump fists when Muzi arrives, and their alphies bump heads, like a pair of shiny black footballs with spindly, meter-long spider legs. They chirp back and forth like they’re happy to see each other, but it’s just the exchange of data, ones and zeros—basic information that could prove useful to their respective masters.

“Look at them. They missed each other,” says Muzi.

Elkin frowns and kicks his alphie in its head. It whimpers and retreats to its dock in the corner. “Piece of shit,” Elkin mutters.

Muzi’s alphie goes to the corner, too, navigating around piles of dirty cutoffs and pit-stained practice jerseys. The bot settles, retracting its legs into its base. Muzi joins them, pressing his thumb on the port cover on his alphie’s underside. It slides out of the way, revealing a tangled Dobi-12 wire, which he unreels and connects to the input port on Elkin’s alphie. Direct interface is so much more efficient and secure, swapping all sorts of juicy tidbits, at least those not password protected. And Elkin doesn’t even seem to know the meaning of the word.

“You shouldn’t treat it so rough,” Muzi says when he’s done. He pats both alphies on their domes.

“I’ve got a five-year warranty.” Elkin rummages through the dresser where he keeps his stash, rolled up tight in a pair of plaid boxers. He pulls out two vials of indigo powder and shoves one into Muzi’s palm. “Now stop messing with those things. You’re killing my buzz.”

“What is it?” Muzi asks. He plops down on the foot of the bed, loosens the laces on his tackies, and kicks them off.

“Godsend, my cousin calls it. He gave me some samples—wants me to spread the word, build up some hype. Says it’s gonna drop on the streets in a couple weeks.”

Muzi turns the vial over, his thumb rubbing over the smooth glass, and then bites his lip. He’s not so excited about being a guinea pig, but Elkin’s cousin Rife has always come through for them, giving them loads of free dagga, the good stuff, not that crap the guys on campus deal. Rife supplies to the stars—all those celebrities who go through the revolving door of rehab faster than even the trashy gossip rags can keep up with—including brood band drummer Leon Duffy, former premier Blile Nkogosi, and most recently, pop sensation Riya Natrajan.

Still . . .

“Muzi, I swear if your forehead wrinkles up any further, I’m going to get the iron and sort you out myself. Now do you want to blow or what?” Elkin dumps a bit of powder into his palm. Feeling flushed and befuddled, Muzi lets his mouth drop open, but before he can reply, Elkin balls a fist and blows into one end. Indigo dust shoots out the other, lingering and shimmering in the air. “Breathe, dof!” Elkin says.

So Muzi inhales deeply, then closes his eyes. After a few seconds, he tingles from head to toe. It’s not a completely pleasant experience, more like someone’s trying to forcibly shed his skin. He tries to wiggle feeling back into his extremities, but his fingers are all fused together. He panics and coughs out his breath.

Elkin’s busy snorting a dab of godsend right from the meat of his fist, then he leans back on the bed, arms propped behind him. “Huh,” he says before letting his head loll back, “a crab.”

Muzi looks down at his own arms, and sure enough, they’re rough and hard like an exoskeleton, ending in two rust-colored pincers. Muzi snaps them and they click—the most realistic hallucination he’s ever had. When he looks back at Elkin, he’s only Elkin from the waist down. The top half looks a lot like a dolphin, eyes too close together and fins way too long, but a dolphin nonetheless.

“Oh, man,” says Muzi. “This is bladdy sick.”

“Hey, Piece of Shit,” Elkin calls to his alphie. “Play artist Riya.”

The alphie obliges. Ambient music from one of the tracks from Riya Natrajan’s latest album, Midnight Seersucker, fills the room.  The discordant beats cut right to the soul, and her shrill voice sounds like a couple of horny tomcats in a blender, but oh man does it hit the spot. Muzi claps his claws to the rhythm of the snare drum, and just when he gets it down pat, his arms and hands become his own.

“Snort it. It’ll last longer.”

“How much longer?” Muzi asks, imagining how pissed Papa Fuzz would be if he had to circumcise a five-foot-ten crustacean.

“Maybe an hour. Two at most. Relax, guy. You’ll have plenty of time to make it to your penis party.”

“You’re still coming, right?”

“Can’t. Got a thing.”

“What kind of thing?” Muzi raises an incredulous brow, but he’d had a feeling Elkin would back out at the last minute. Burned again, but damn it if Muzi doesn’t keep coming back like a moth to a flame. He tries not to take it personally. Elkin and Papa Fuzz don’t really get along, and neither of them is afraid of letting the other know about it. Papa Fuzz thinks Elkin is a bad influence, and Elkin thinks Papa Fuzz is a tired old windbag, certifiably obsessed with cultural traditions, never mind what Muzi has to say about it.

Sad part is, they’re both right.

“Eish, Muzi! If I’d’ve known you were going to sit around asking a million questions, I would’ve gotten gaffed by myself.”

So Muzi zips his lips and pours out a bit of godsend, wondering how it is that he and Elkin are having the same hallucination. He sniffs hard, and a wildfire rages up his nostril and systematically through his brain until all that’s left are charred worries and a crab’s desires. And funny thing—as gaffed as he is, he feels more like himself than he has in his whole sixteen years of life. By the time he remembers to exhale, all inhibitions are gone. He watches Elkin, envious as he bounces on the bed doing dolphin flips. So graceful. All Muzi can think to do is skitter side to side on his four pairs of crab feet. He falters each time Elkin lands back on the mattress. Muzi clips at Elkin’s dorsal fin when he gets close enough, and then they’re play fighting, all claws and snout.

“Hey, we should go take a dip in your pool,” Muzi huffs, nearly out of breath. “Or we could bike down to the seawall and check the waves.”

“It’s too cold out for that,” Elkin says, and even though he’s a porpoise, he has that jag look in his eye he sometimes gets when they’re wasted out of their gourds.

They both pretend not to remember, but they fooled around maybe a month ago—a kiss on a drunken dare—but what Muzi had intended to be a closed-mouth peck had quickly escalated into more. He tries to forget, tries not to read anything into the sideways glances held milliseconds too long, tries to ignore the palpable tension that’s brewing between them.

But it’s too damned hard.

“Ja,” Muzi says, his crab heart pounding against his carapace.

“Piece of Shit, volume up.”

Riya’s screeches blare loud enough to rattle the orange, handblown bong sitting atop Elkin’s dresser. Elkin’s too wasted to care though, even if it is his most prized possession.

“You really should give it a better name,” Muzi shouts.

“It’s just a bunch of metal and wires. What does it care what I call it?”

Muzi fumes, then out of reflex, clamps his claw down on Elkin’s flipper, and not in a playful sort of way.

“Eina!” Elkin screams in pain. “Fine. Piece of Shit, rename Bucket of Sunshine.”

Muzi grins.

“You know I’m changing it back after you leave?”

“Ja,” Muzi says. “Wouldn’t expect otherwise.”

“Good. Now come over here and check out what I can do with my blowhole.”

Muzi isn’t sure if that’s supposed to be a euphemism or not, but he skitters sideways across the bed anyway, fantasizing all the different ways a crab can make love to a porpoise.

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

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