I remember the night I met Shaheer, right down to what I was wearing: black hipster jeans, a cropped black and white stripe halter neck and black boots. My hair was waist length and parted in the middle, my make up was piled on with a shovel and I practically finished the bottle of Exclamat!on. I sprayed perfume everywhere – in my hair, on my vagina, on my feet, all over my clothes. The sweet synthetic smell hung around me and I reeked of a baby prostitute. Paying to go inside and take part in the ‘disco’ was what you were supposed to do, but sitting in the parking lot in little huddles is what you actually did, and not going in at all and spending the money you were given to get inside on something else was what the cool kids were about. The cool kids would just hang around outside talking to the boys who sat in cars by the tennis courts who were not allowed inside because they were over 18. Now I can see them for the predators that they were, but at the time I wanted me a piece of that over 18 pie. I saw Shaheer sitting on the bonnet of his metallic Astra with its tinted windows and crazy sound system that was usually blaring Puff Daddy or Mase, and my heart skipped several beats. It was infatuation at first sight.
The year was 1997. No more apartheid meant integrated communities, which meant coloured, Muslim and black boys, which meant more to choose from. Hip Hop and R&B was the flavour and all I knew was that suddenly, I was surrounded by dudes that looked like the musicians I was into. Plus, the difference between white boys and those of colour was, as we say in Cape Town, the chise which basically means ‘to chat up’. Coloured boys knew how to chise, they made you feel like the only girl in the room; they made an effort. White boys would sometimes just assume that you were a given or like they were doing you a favour because they were gracing you with their attention. Still to this day, if you are able to fuck my mind then the chances are my body will follow and that is the fundamental workings of a female. But, with the chise, comes all the bullshit. The THINGS they would say to get into your pants! And who can blame them? It worked! They made you feel like you were in control but hashtag #notreally.
That particular Friday night I walked past the gold Astra with a vengeance. He was sitting on the bonnet as per usual. He saw me, hopped off, grabbed my arm and spun me around, ‘What’s your name?’ I tried to act chill but I’m sure he could smell the eagerness, ‘Tammy. What’s yours?’ He smiled, ‘You know who I am.’ Butterflies began to do the Macarena in my stomach, ‘Do I?’ The smile of the Cheshire Cat graced his face, ‘Yes. You do. Wanna go for a drive?’ ‘DO I?!’, I thought. ‘Yes,’ I said. Another smile, ‘Get in’. OH MY GOD I’M IN THE METALLIC ASTRA AND EVERYONE IS LOOKING! I could feel my chest swelling with pride. Our ‘drive’ was around the block before parking in a vacant car park behind the soccer club. We made small talk and listened to music, ‘Do you like Madonna?’, he asked. ‘I love her,’ I said because I did. He put on Like a Prayer and then he started to kiss me and finger me at the same time. I was elated. I had been fingered a few times by 2 or 3 boys before and I really enjoyed it. My first time was actually in the middle of the dance floor in this club called Club Company, which was in the industrial suburb of Parow in Cape Town. My friends and I used to attend on the sly on a Saturday afternoon. I say on the sly because our parents had forbidden us to attend. We were not really allowed to go to ‘coloured clubs’ and not because our families were racist, but because these alleged under 18 matinee shows were pretty relaxed with the rules. Twenty somethings attended and the bar was open. Also, Parow is the neighbouring suburb to Ravensmead which can be described as ‘the hood’ so there were a few unsavoury characters hanging around with a penchant for under age white girls.
‘When do your braces come off?’, he asked me. ‘I dunno, in a few months I think’, I said, covering my mouth. I hated having braces. I’d had them for three years already and if they were about to ruin my chances with Shaheer then I would yank the fucking things off myself with a pair of pliers. We were gone for about an hour or so. We finished what we were doing, spoke a little more and then drove the 50 metres back to where he was parked. We got out of the car and I said I was just gonna go and see where my friends were for a second when he said, ‘You have exactly 10 minutes and then I want you back here, do you understand?’. This startled me after he had been so tender in the car, but I also liked it. It stirred something in me. Turned me on somehow.
I did what he said and spent the rest of the night sitting in silence next to him on the bonnet of his car while he spoke animatedly with people who came over to say hello. He was extremely popular – everybody knew him and wanted to be seen with him. If you were associated with him then it gave you instant credibility. I had to eventually make my excuses because my dad was going to fetch me at 11:30 and I would have wanted the ground to swallow me whole if Shaheer saw that I was being picked up by my parents or worse, if my parents saw me sitting on the bonnet of a tinted windowed car with a man his age.
All Hell would have broken loose if my parents had seen me with Shaheer. Older coloured guys in cars with loud sound systems, tinted windows and reckless driving styles were cool amongst white teenage girls but absolute nightmares to their parents. My parents had no problem with me dating coloured or black guys. The problem was that most of them came from dangerous areas that were unsafe for the locals, let alone naive, sheltered whities who were about as street wise as Minnie Mouse. And believe me, the parents of coloured boys were not exactly crazy about their sons bringing home white girls either. For one, the phone never stopped ringing and for another, white girls meant trouble would land at their doorstep in the form of a parent looking for their daughter who had gone AWOL when she said she was going to the movies with her friends.
The entire week after our first encounter I couldn’t stop thinking about Shaheer. I sat daydreaming in class, fantasizing about sitting in the passenger seat and being his girlfriend. He was a good looking little fucker. A Muslim guy with jet black hair that I could tell was his pride and joy because it was styled in a perfect quiff. His teeth were as sparkling white as his Levi jeans, which were perfectly fitted, as were the denim shirts he often wore and his Caterpillar moccasins. He was quite short, lanky but not too thin and he had charisma that could make your panties disintegrate. I was convinced that I had fallen in love. This was mainly because I thought I had managed to nab someone completely out of my league. But onto more important thoughts…what was I going to wear the following Friday night?
Friday night came and I stood hanging around the fence waiting for the Astra. After a while, the unmistakable muffled ‘doof doof’ of an obnoxious car stereo could be heard above the ‘doof doof’ from inside the soccer club, but both sounded puny compared to the ‘doof doof’ that was coming from inside my chest. After the hellos and small talk was over I was in the passenger seat with a back seat full of guys, zooming down the freeway with Tupac’s All Eyez On Me drowning out any conversation. We pulled up to somebody’s house, and it was obvious that the parents were away for the weekend because it had that no-parents-vibe. I was the only girl amongst 10 or so boys so I was nervous, but because I was just so happy to be with my Islamic Prince and because I am a hard arse, I kept my head up and acted unfazed. ‘Come, let’s go to the room’, he said and I followed.
That night I lost my virginity to Shaheer in a bedroom in a strange house with a bunch of dudes waiting in the lounge for us to finish. I didn’t tell him I was a virgin and he probably couldn’t tell because I took to sex like a duck to water. I took off all of my clothes while he kept all of his on, only pulling down his white Levi’s to reveal a very average sized penis. I didn’t realise that it was of mediocre volume until I started sleeping with other guys but at the time, I thought it was massive. I got totally lost in the act and couldn’t get enough of it. It felt unbelievably good. I forgot where I was, I forgot about the people in the other room and I forgot that I had never had sex before. I insisted on getting on top and if I had any inhibitions they were gone in that moment. Let’s just say that I was a natural. The fact that I was a virgin became apparent when we were finished and Shaheer switched on the light to see the sheets spotted with blood. ‘Have you never had sex before?!!??!’, he said with wild eyes. ‘Um, no. Not really…’
Everything after that happened in a blur. The sheets were ripped off the bed and thrown in the washing machine but not before he called the boys in to get a look. I just sat on a chair in the corner, shell shocked and feeling very sheepish. ‘So you gave Shaheer your flower?’, one of them asked me. I made an attempt at a smile and nodded. My post sex glow was shattered and I felt scared and cold and just wanted to go home. While there was a flurry of activity of beds being stripped, people laughing and talking, beer bottles popping, I sat quietly in the corner and waited while Shaheer blow dried his hair after he had a shower. It’s funny how you ignore the big warning signs and notice the little ones when you’re head over heels about someone. I mean, the fact that he treated me like a disposable razor kind of went over my head but the fact he sat blow drying his hair after he had just had great sex was more of a turn off if I’m being honest. Who does that? Someone who thought he was God’s gift, that’s who.
After a while we all piled back in the car and made our way back to Wild Side and I lost the place of the coveted front passenger seat. Of course, in all my teenage just-been-deflowered naivety, I now thought I was his girlfriend. But the reality of the situation became vividly apparent when we pulled up outside the under 18 disco and he turned and said to me, with the car still running, ‘Get out and don’t let anybody see you leaving my car’. I got out and went to find my friends, drifting in a cloud of confusion. I felt hurt, happy, satisfied, anxious, empty, like a little girl and a like a grown woman all at the same time. I didn’t really know what to make of what had just happened. Did I do something wrong? Why was he being so mean? Was he angry because I bled on his friend’s sheets? Was I not very good at sex? Was I not pretty enough? Should I have just grinned and bared it and given him a blowjob when he asked me to? It was because of the braces…wasn’t it?
Turns out, I was great in bed. How do I know? Because he told everybody and before I knew it, I became very popular amongst the boys and very unpopular amongst the girls. Of course, I didn’t realise at the time that my popularity was increasing because of my reputation. I just thought that I had become irresistible overnight when my braces were finally removed. This, teamed with low self esteem meant that I said yes to whomever wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I began to sleep around because I had never had this much male attention before and I felt too ungrateful to say no. I also just really enjoyed having sex. I never really considered the consequences and ignored the whisperings of ‘Tammy Croucher is such a slut’ because it was easier that way. For the next two years I slept around with boys from school, boys I met at shopping malls and boys I met at a new club we used to go to in Town called Oxygen where another under 18 matinee was held every Saturday afternoon. This was even dodgier than the other place because it was in town and in order for us to get there on the sly we had to catch a myriad of public transport to get there. Sometimes I would even hitchhike.
I also continued to sleep with Shaheer whenever he clicked his fingers or revved his engine. He used to pick me up after school and we would go to one of his friend’s offices, do our thing, and then he would drop me off at home. I used to tell Mum that I had detention.
I always liked having sex. It was after it was finished that I didn’t like so much. I always hoped that they would be as nice to me afterwards as they were before but as soon as the knot in the condom was tied, I became invisible. If they ever saw me out in public I was ignored and sometimes, they would pretend they didn’t even know me. The funny thing is though, I only slept around in an attempt to make old blow dryer jealous. Sometimes it worked and he would get really mad at me and call me every name under the sun. It hurt and felt good at the same time, like one of those deep tissue massages. For nearly two years my reputation began to preceed me and my self esteem fuel gauge was running on empty. I was in a vicious cycle of needing male attention to give me a much needed boost and licking my wounds after it was over. I was too dumb and immature to recognise how counter productive my actions were. Shaheer was always the main prize though. Whenever I managed to nab half a per cent of his attention that would be a very good day indeed.
My actions began to play havoc with all the other facets of my life. I was fighting with my parents because I kept getting caught out in lies. To be honest, this had begun before the Astra came into the picture but it escalated the moment I decided that I had fallen in love with Shaheer. Besides having the sought after car, he also had a cell phone. Calling a cell phone from a landline would run the phone bill up to ridiculous proportions and that did not help the peace at home. One time mum got a print out of the phone bill and decided to call the number that appeared hundreds of times to see who was inspiring all these phone calls. Shaheer acted like butter wouldn’t have melted and assured my mother that he would have a word with me about my excessive phone calling. I. was. mortified. I seriously could have murdered her.
My school work was also beginning to suffer because I hardly ever did any homework and I daydreamed in class. I also became really, really defensive against anybody who called me a slut and got into quite a few physical fights with other girls. They were convinced that I would sleep with their boyfriends and the truth was, I probably would have. Something had to give and believe me, eventually it did.
It was another Friday night and I was hanging out at my friend Catherine’s house. We got wind of a house party just a few doors down at this guy Jason’s house. Jason was best friends with Shaheer so I knew he would be there. I also knew some girls from school who didn’t like me and my friends all too much would be there as well because one of them was Jason’s sister. Not only did these girls not like us, but they were bat shit crazy. Two of them had been expelled for intimidation aka bullying and I don’t mean calling names and spitting at you on the playground – that was child’s play. These chicks were out for blood. They would wait for you after school and punch you as hard as they could in your stomach or glass you if they saw you out on the weekend. They were also involved with the coloured boys except their standard of coloured boyfriends were gangsters from the Cape Flats. The Cape Flats is a place where a lot of impoverished people were placed (dumped) during apartheid and it had become a criminal breeding ground. And even though they weren’t actually dating any of the well known older guys in the area such as Shaheer and the rest of his cronies, they were extremely territorial when it came to them. The boys in turn used this to their advantage and if you were to ever utter a word about any of the shenanigans that you got up to with them then they would set these chicks on you like dogs.
Some of these girls were worse than others. Like all gangs, there are top tier members, mid level members and subordinates who were general dogs bodies. The subordinate girls were ok because their bark was worse than their bite and their bark was pretty yappy at best. What you wanted to avoid were the leaders, in particular one girl named Lola who would stab you without a second thought. I detested her with my entire being. She was tall, thin, had long curly hair and she had removed her top front teeth which was known as the Cape Flats Smile or Cape Town’s Passion Gap which, rumour has it, was to enable better oral sex. It was the style and fashionable amongst impoverished coloured people so if a white person had their teeth removed, it implied that you were ‘about that life’. Lola knew about my dealings with Shaheer. Everyone knew. And before she was expelled she used to give me shit and wait for me after school but I was always one step ahead of her and would purposely give myself detention or try to leave early for some or other reason. I had managed to avoid her up until she was expelled and sighed a breath of relief when I heard she would no longer be attending school with me. Don’t get me wrong, I never took the bullying lying down. When she would screech ‘slut!’ at me, I would screech something just as obnoxious right back. I was wys enough to know that if you looked like a victim then you would be fodder for all the other members of their group and I wasn’t about to be made to feel worse about myself that I already did.
We asked Catherine’s boyfriend who was going to be there and he assured us it was just a handful of the yappy girls but mostly boys. So we decided to chance it. We arrived to a find people sitting around drinking, listening to music and making conversation. Shaheer was there and I became immediately excited. I was filled with bravado and began to show off in front of the older boys by drinking tequila straight from the bottle. I had never really been much of a drinker and I had never been drunk in my life so it wasn’t long before the room began to spin. Every time I took a swig from the bottle I looked over at him from the corner of my eye and at one point I saw him look at me and then gesture at his friend Jason but other than that, my drinking spectacle was pretty much ignored. When I couldn’t find Catherine and I saw Lola arrive at the party I decided to remove myself from the situation and go and find a bedroom to lie down in. I felt like I was going to throw up and I had that feeling of nausea you get before you are about to pass out, which is exactly what happened.
When I woke up again my jeans were around my ankles and Shaheer and his friend Jason were trying to manipulate my paralytic teenage body into a threesome. They weren’t getting very far because I was a dead weight and I had also thrown up on myself. I knew what was going on but I pretended to be passed out because I felt like that was the wisest option. I just wanted them to get it over with so that I could escape out the window and get the fuck out of there. My memory is a little fuzzy about the details. Some repressed memories are just where they belong, I believe. Sometimes I get flashbacks but my mind quickly escapes to a happy place when that happens. When they were finished with me, I do remember that Shaheer at least had the decency to pull my pants up again. Bless. They left and I decided to wait a few minutes before I made my escape and then, just as I was about to try and open my eyes, the door to the bedroom burst open, the light was turned on and before I knew it, Lola was dragging me off the bed by my hair and began to kick me in my head and stomach with all her force while the rest of the party were gathered by the door watching. I continued to play dead and let her do her thing. I didn’t really feel the blows because I was far too intoxicated and still a little numb from what had gone on beforehand. Eventually she ran out of steam and left the room but not before spitting in my face as I lay on the floor drunk, raped and beaten.
Someone switched off the light and closed the door and I didn’t wait this time to drag myself up and make for the window. Of course as we were in a suburb of South Africa the windows had bars on them. All except for the tiny one at the top. I swayed and stumbled and fell off the window sill a couple of times before managing to contort myself through the tiny square. I fell onto the lawn on the other side and suddenly a hit of adrenaline shot through me and I began to run. I stopped a few times to throw up before continuing to run, stumble and fall the 20 minute journey home. I was about halfway when I was suddenly bathed in headlights. A metallic Astra pulled up beside me and drove slowly as I continued to half jog, half walk. ‘Where are you going?’ Shaheer asked. ‘Home,’ I said, completely out of breath. ‘Where are you going to tell your parents you have been?’, shouted Jason from the passenger seat. ‘Just at a friend’s house,’ I replied, still not stopping. ‘If you tell anybody what happened tonight we will make sure Lola fucking kills you next time, do you understand?’ ‘I’m not going to tell anybody. Please just leave me alone’ – and at that, they sped away.
It was only about 10:30pm when I eventually got home and my parents had a few people over. Mom called from the back of the house, ‘Oh you’re home! Did you have a nice time?’ ‘Ja mom, I’m gonna have a bath though and go to bed, I don’t feel so well’. I felt so guilty and didn’t want my mom to come near me in fear that she would smell the booze and see the vomit all down the front of me. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, took off my clothes and sat on the edge of the bath waiting for it to fill up. I was still hazy and drunk but the kicking in of my head sobered me up a little and I inspected the bruises that were starting to appear on my legs and arms. My head hurt where tufts of hair had been yanked out and where I had been kicked. I was so very angry at myself. How could I allow myself to get into that situation? Why had I not listened to the warning signs? Why did I have to drink that vile stuff? I have avoided Tequila ever since. Just the smell brings back memories. A ball of rage set up home in my soul that night and it would only be many, many years later that I would confront and extinguish it.
The next day, Saturday, I stayed in bed all day and all night. My parents just assumed I was sick, which of course I was, but little did they know it was because of a hangover straight from the fiery pits of Hell. I was green and throwing up and my body was aching all over from the dry retching and the bruises. ‘This is what you get,’ I kept telling myself. ‘You brought this on yourself,’ was the thought that was on high rotation in my mind. I never really got to the bottom of why I had chosen obsess over someone who had shown on countless occasions that he was not good enough for me because I was too immature to dig deeper than surface level. I thought quite the opposite, in fact. I never thought I was good enough for him.
I kept my word and never told anybody. Not because I was scared of being killed but because I was ashamed and embarrassed. I never saw it as something that happened to me I saw it as something that I did. I thought I was a bad person and that I got my comeuppance, and because I didn’t get the help that I so obviously needed, I went on to fall crazily infatuated with many more undesirables in my life. Because if you don’t pull out the weeds by the root and just go over them with the lawnmower, they will just grow again, so that when I did find love, the wounds of my past infected the present and it never worked out.
Late on that Sunday afternoon I finally stirred from my bedroom and sat down with my family to have dinner, which I hadn’t done for longer than I could remember. After we had eaten and I had helped clean up, I opened up my school books and did my homework for the first time that year. The rage inside me was the fuel that stirred me into action. My focus now was to finish school and to get as far away as possible from every single person around me. I was in the middle of doing my homework while my dad was watching TV, mom was feeding my baby sister and general Sunday evening household preparations for the week were being conducted when the phone rang. I knew it was him. There was something about the way the phone sounded whenever he phoned me. Of course, this is a ludicrous notion but any girl who has waited by the phone for a boy will know what I mean. ‘Tam! It’s for you!’ I took the phone from my other sister. ‘Hello?’ An aggressive voice came down the line, ‘Have you told anybody?’ I knew it was him. ‘No, I haven’t and I’m not going to’. That is when a stream of swearing and threats were hurled at me in a mixture of English and Cape Town slang. In a nutshell, he was just reiterating what he had said when he followed me in the car on that awful Friday night which was, ‘Tell anybody and you’re dead’. He was mid stream of his monologue when I just slowly hung up on him. Numb, I sat back down and continued with my homework.
This happened in year 11, my second last year of high school. I vowed to myself there and then that I was going to put my head down, work hard and when I was finished I was going to get the hell out of there. I thrived on my fury. It was the energy that drove me and kept me motivated. I finished high school in 1999 and bought a one way ticket to London where I lasted for 6 months with my savings from my part time job at a the chemist. We used to get paid monthly in cash and I used to keep it under my bed in a little tin. Running away and starting over would continue to be the theme for the rest of my young adult life. At the end of 2000 I returned to Cape Town, before leaving for London again – this time for a man – because I ran out of money and had to eat some humble pie and come back with my tail between my legs.
It was during this time that I ran into Shaheer at a pub. I had just got there and he was standing outside having a cigarette. I hadn’t seen him since ‘that night’ because I kept my head down afterwards and stayed out of trouble. He had also suddenly started staying away from high school kids and wasn’t around as much. Wild Side had closed down and the kids who used to look up to him were older now and saw him for what he was – a bit of a creep. Also, people were beginning to acquire their own cars now so they didn’t need him as much.
By this time, I kind of felt sorry for him more than anything else. He was standing outside the bar and instead of being the man of the moment, surrounded by people dying to talk to him, he was standing there alone and looking for friends. When he saw me did a double take and in his defense, looked a little nervous. I walked over to him to say hello. ‘Hello Shaheer, how have you been?’, he tried not to look taken aback and I recognised that look because I had attempted the same kind of bravado with him when I was 17 years old. ‘Hey Tammy, I heard you were in London. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you…can we go sit in my car?’. Curiosity made me say yes and I also realised I wasn’t scared of him anymore. I wasn’t scared of anyone, to be honest. I had zero feelings for him so he no longer had any power over me. Never underestimate the power of apathy. That’s the thing, people can only make you feel inferior if you allow it. We got inside his car, no longer the Astra but something else, I can’t remember. I thought we were just going to sit in his car and chat but to my surprise, he started the engine and we went for a drive. I was a little nervous but I felt ok. For some reason I could tell that he was sorry. Something about the way he carried himself. He had lost that arrogant swagger and his shoulders kind of sloped and his outfit wasn’t as snappy.
We parked up on one of the hills overlooking Cape Town. The view, as always, was breath taking. There is nothing quite like Cape Town and I’m not being biased. It really is such a special city. He turned in his seat, looked at me and said, ‘Tammy, I just want to tell you that I am sorry.’ I used to think that I should have said, ‘For what?’, I should have made him verbalise what he had done to me. But I knew that he knew what he was sorry for so I just said, ‘It’s ok Shaheer, I forgive you’, and I said that because I had. See, I never blamed him. I always blamed myself. I didn’t play victim even though that is essentially what I was. Sure, I was promiscuous and invited trouble into my life, but I never asked him to take advantage of me. I’m not even sure why he thought he had to wait until I was passed out for him to do those things to me when I had always willingly had sex with him anyway. I have stopped trying to figure it all out because it’s pointless. I had to make peace with it happening which, to be honest, was the easy part. The hard part was forgiving myself.
So he said sorry and I said it’s ok and that should have been that, but to my surprise, he tried to kiss me. I resisted by pushing him away and saying that I had a boyfriend but that didn’t stop him. He tried again and I pushed him away even harder. I was getting a little scared now and my suppressed feelings of anger began to rise because here I was again putting myself in a vulnerable position. ‘Shaheer, take me back please. My sister will be looking for me’. This is when he put his head in my lap and began to weep. ‘Please Tammy. Just hold me.’ If you are surprised reading this, imagine how gobsmacked I must have been! ‘It’s ok Shaheer. I forgive you. I’m ok. Now please, let’s just leave’. He sat up, wiped his face, said nothing and started the car.
We got back to the pub and before I got out I gave him a hug, squeezed his knee, got out, walked away and never looked back. I have never seen or heard from him since. I heard that he got involved with drugs and deteriorated into a junkie and people were after him because he owed money. These are just rumours of course, although it doesn’t seem unlikely as he was always a second rate gangster. It’s easy to convince people you are someone when the people in question are just gullible kids but those kids grew up and so eventually he fell off his self made pedestal.
It’s said that you can’t truly love another until you love yourself, and the same can be said for trust. Not only is it important to trust yourself, it is absolutely imperative that you listen to the warning signs and take heed when your gut, your intuition, tells you to change direction. Only then are you able to make better decisions about the company you keep because you will no longer rely on others to feel loved because everything you need in order to feel that way is already inside of you. All you have to do is pay attention. We are all human beings who make mistakes. Just like I needed Shaheer’s love and approval to feel better about myself, he needed mine for the very same reason.
Tables, they turn sometimes.
*NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED IN THIS STORY TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY OF THOSE INVOLVED
Words by Tammy Croucher
Edits by Lucy Morieson
Artwork by Robin Clare