There are no sluts on the Bankstown Line. Just as the train is about to leave Punchbowl station, Osama the Indonesian presses his foot against one door and I press my foot against the other, holding them open as the carriage begins to tug. Hot wind blows in our faces as the train jolts past the endless fencing between the train-line and the white terraces on the other side of The Boulevard. We cross over the open stormwater tunnel and then, where the houses of Punchbowl end, Wiley Park Girls High School emerges. The buildings are low and the front gates are open in a way that we Punchbowl Boys see only as a mirage. The carriage clanks along the tracks and I begin to hear the barks and howls of pit bulls and Rottweilers from the rescue shelter that is next to Wiley Park Girls. Osama and I take in the deepest breaths we can at the same time, like we are bracing ourselves for a missile strike, and as we pass the centre of the school building we both scream, ‘Dog Pound!’
I was seventeen when all this happened but it starts over like I’m staring at the world through my rear-view. On the platform of Wiley Park station sits a girl in a school uniform. Her breasts pop from her tight white shirt like she’s hiding a two-litre Coke bottle in there, which sits horizontally. I say, ‘Ay give us your number.’ She looks up at me and she bares her buckteeth and dry white gums and without hesitating she replies, ‘zero, four, one, five…’ Her dark-brown eyes are on me but between each number I notice them twitch toward Osama.
Nada and I speak on the phone later that night and agree to meet at the park on Friday. She promises to bring a friend for Osama but she comes alone and so Osama finds himself waiting in the park amphitheatre while she and I take a walk. My hand is small and sweaty in hers and I don’t really know how to lock them together the way couples do in movies. ‘Stop fingering my finger,’ she says with a snigger, airing the hard flesh of her gums at me.
‘So can I be your boyfriend?’ I ask.
She doesn’t answer, just continues smiling, looking straight ahead toward the pond where Osama and I peg rocks at the ducks on Saturday mornings. I don’t know why ducks come here. The water is black from old bikes and punctured car tyres. ‘I killed one last week,’ I say to her, nodding at the ducks. Still she doesn’t respond. I look her up and down side on. She’s dressed in her school uniform – tight black pants that wrinkle against her thighs and butt and a white school shirt that gets tight around her stomach and her massive breasts.
When we get back Osama is standing in the corner of the amphitheatre, an outdoor concrete slab shaped like a crescent moon, with his blue shirt unbuttoned halfway down. He’s wearing loose dirty-denim jeans and flip-flops. ‘I like your friend’s style,’ Nada says to me. It’s the first thing she’s said in the last ten minutes. The sound of her voice is a turn-off. It’s deep like a cross-dresser’s. She’s staring at the centre of Osama’s chest, which is hairless and bony and gleaming with drops of sweat. I know why she’s attracted to him, it’s because Osama, in contrast to the Lebs at Punchbowl Boys, the real Lebs, looks like a little boy, hairless and smooth on the face and body like a typical Nip. That’s what little girls like, cute little boys. I on the other hand already look like a man, with the permanent shadow of a beard and a chest full of hair. This is a difficult place to be caught in as a teenager, too much like a man to appeal to girls and too much like a boy to appeal to women.
‘Ay what took yas?’ Osama says as we approach. He thinks it’s my fault that Nada didn’t bring a friend for him. I don’t say anything. We’ve only been gone fifteen minutes. I turn to Nada who has let go of my hand and is still staring. ‘Sorry we were just talking,’ she says, her voice easing up so that she actually sounds like a young girl now.
‘Bani, listen,’ Osama says at me, ‘I wonna talk to Nada about her friend, okay.’
I think there is something perverse about this request but if I say no Osama will tell the boys tomorrow I’m a dog, that I’m always putting hoes before bros, and it’s not worth copping that for Nada, who doesn’t even seem to like me. The two of them wander off while I sit in the amphitheatre and stare at the concrete stage and concrete walls arching before me like raw potato wedges. It is here that I come to think again about Mrs Leila Haimi. She left Punchbowl Boys last year to take on a head teacher’s position in Seven Hills. I can’t bear it, the thought that Aussies who are covered in freckles and still have their foreskins will be checking her out all year. On her last day at Punchbowl I whispered to her that I would change schools, that I would follow her, and she said like it was the first time she ever said it, ‘Stay here Bani Adam, it’s good to be at a school with retards, you will stand on top.’ I had never seen white skin in the desert before, but I saw it then on her glowing cheeks, like she was born from the Well of Zamzam. Every day since I have searched for her equal but only find girls such as Nada, who bore me with their naivety and predictability. I pursue them anyway. If one of them will let me be her boyfriend, we might fall in love and I’ll forget about Mrs Leila Haimi forever and put an end to my agony.
For twenty minutes I sit there trying to remember Mrs Leila Haimi’s eyes, which were light blue like a jellyfish, until suddenly I realise that Osama and Nada have been gone for twice as long as they promised. I walk around the park looking for them, crossing over the dirty hilltop where Lebs barbeque chicken with their families, around the far end of the pond where the Viet kids collect tadpoles, through the slides and swings where Fobs smoke bongs at night. My girlfriend and my best friend are nowhere. I am biding my time; avoiding the place I know to find them.
The public toilets in the centre of Wiley Park are what I imagine the toilets in an American prison look like. They’re built from bright orange bricks and sit low with a flat roof. The women’s toilet faces the swings and the men’s toilet faces the pond. Light bounces from the orange bricks on the outside but once I step into the men’s doorway it goes dark and damp. There are hinges where the gate used to be and it smells like pickled piss. Beyond are the faint moans of a teenage boy with a high-voice. The floor is smooth concrete with deep-set marks on it like rings on the stump of a tree and overhead there is a fluorescent light that hums as though it’s a retarded angel. I step past an old aluminium sink that’s had its taps removed and stand between a row of cubicles on one side and a row of stainless steel urinals on the other. The first two cubicles are open but the door to the one that meets the wall at the end of the row is closed. Down the bottom where there’s a space between the door and the floor I see the soles of a pair of black leather boots. They’re worn of all their traction, heels up against the inside of the door and bent where they hit the concrete.
I step towards the second cubicle and slowly lower myself onto the toilet seat. Then I listen. I expect to hear a loud sucking sound and loud groans like in porno movies but instead there’s the light swirl of saliva and ‘eh’ from Osama every three seconds. Then he says, ‘Your teeth man!’
‘Sorry,’ Nada mumbles in a husky whisper, ‘it’s my first time.’ Then a slurping sound as the fluorescent light buzzes from above. Osama giggles and says, ‘He-h, I think I need tissues.’ I can see in my mind the grin at the corner of his thin lips under his pronounced cheekbones. At the sound of public toilet paper chafing what I imagine to be his little brown cock, I stand up and creep out.
Osama and I live at different ends of the same street. As we make our way home I say, ‘So what’d you and Nada talk about?’
He smirks. ‘She said she likes me bro. Don’t worry, I told her to like you instead.’
I delete Nada’s number and start over. Next I meet Alinta outside Parramatta train station. She’s wearing a short white skirt and ugg boots. She’s skinny and flat-chested and has a big forehead. I say to her, ‘Your feet are cute,’ and she smiles at me between purple braces like a five-year-old, her smooth shiny face bulging at the cheeks. As soon as we’re in the under-eighteens club I dance with her. The room is dark with laser lights zapping across the faces and walls. Teenage girls are moaning ‘weeeww!’ and teenage boys are howling ‘yaaa!’ in every direction. Most of the boys are Lebos and they’re all walking around with dropped shoulders and dropped faces like gorillas. I know that face of theirs, the same expression I keep slapped on me, trying to play it chill, not wanting to give away too much, not wanting to come off desperate. Worse, not wanting to come off like the Aussies around here, smiling with metal-mouthed teeth and chatting with the girls as though they might actually meet their wife tonight. The music screams from the speakers, Christina Aguilera whom the boys loved two years ago because they thought she was a virgin like Britney Spears, and whom they love now because she’s come back in mud and a G-string like Lil Kim, only she’s White. The virgin-skank sings about how she wants to get dirty, sweat dripping over her body, while I smell the real sweat of teenyboppers mixed with sugary perfumes and fart and pizza breath all around me. There’s so many girls and there’s so little space that I might accidently rub another guy’s girlfriend and so I dance up against Alinta like a crab, stepping side to side with my arms crossed against my chest. Every few seconds I feel a hand accidently flick against my back and my butt and I’m hoping it was a girl’s but I can’t be sure so I tell myself that none of it counts. I keep my eyes on Alinta and we begin to bob up and down and every other head in the room bobs the same way so that from above we probably look like ants in an orgy.
‘Gonna go look for lowies,’ Osama the Indonesian and Shaky the half-Aussie say out loud at the same time. They’re hoping to find some girls that might be interested in dancing as an excuse to dry hump them. I’m staring down at my white Air Maxes trying to make sure I don’t step on Alinta’s fluffy boots. ‘Let me see that tha-a-a-ong,’ blares from the speakers and Alinta winces at me baring her braces and one tooth of hers that is completely sideways. She steps up close so that her groin presses against my crotch and begins to sway. If there was a gentler song playing I could see myself pressing my brow against her large forehead and really trying to connect with her but instead the music just screams, ‘Baby make your booty go da na da na na na.’ I try to keep in sync with her but instead of moving in while she shifts back, I move in at the same time as she does and my pelvis pounds against hers. She ignores it and comes in again and I’m hit with a whiff of perfume from the bones of her ironing-board chest. I recognise the smell, Britney Spears Fantasy like my sister Yocheved wears, which is nothing but condensed fairy floss and makes me dizzy. My pelvis pounds against Alinta’s again as I try to catch the rhythm, try to dance sexy with her. A small smile begins to flicker along her mouth between the blinking of the disco lights; flashes of glee in her grey eyes as she moves in and out, as though she’s trying not to laugh at me. I collide with her again and again until I’m bathing in her warm breath and body.
Suddenly a brown hand reaches out in front of me and takes Alinta by the arm. I don’t even have a chance to realise what’s happening before Osama and Alinta are up against each other. ‘Just one second,’ Osama mouths at me, beneath the music. He puffs his big round cheeks and raises his eyebrows. There’s a sincerity in his black eyes that makes me feel as though I have no hair on my nuts, like he’s doing this for Alinta’s sake.
Osama sways against her, moving in and out like he’s wanking. He has his left thigh stretched out across her hip and he’s thrusting his pelvis back and forth. Alinta’s sliding against the inside of his dirty-denim jeans. She has her head tilted back and her eyes closed like a heathen. It makes my heart drop – that feeling of jealousy because I’m not the one pleasing her.
I squeeze through red and blue and green lights bouncing off bleached faces, searching between the short skirts and dirty-denim jeans for a lowie low enough for me. Each girl I look at either has her eyes locked onto some other Lebo or stares back at me with indifference. I don’t think girls like my face, not in the way they are drawn to Osama’s baby cheeks and Shaky’s green eyes and fair skin.
Shaky is standing under the white fluorescent lighting of the men’s toilets. He steps from the doorway, solid and tall and evenly chiselled like Michelangelo’s David in boot-cut jeans and a tight black T-shirt. ‘Osama dogged me,’ I shout over the music, looking up at him. ‘That girl was mine man.’
Shaky’s Roman nostrils twitch as he steps in close and says, ‘Don’t be a bitch bro.’
We wander through the congested hall. The darkness thickens as the music grinds into the air. Shaky sees this place only as it is, tight and sweaty and loud. Girls make little invitations to him with their eyes and eyebrows slumped like melted cheese. Why do girls become vague and silent and dumb when they are around a guy they’re attracted to? They move out of Shaky’s way and their short Lebo boyfriends with gelled heads thrust out their chests and give him death stares. ‘Shraameit everywhere bro,’ Shaky screams out, which in Australian-English means, ‘There are sluts everywhere mate.’ I would jump in for Shaky if some Lebo took a shot at him, if only to avoid being called a dog at school, but unlike him and all the other Lebos here, I see this place for more than it is, I see it for what it could be. I know there is a force of nature past the miniskirts and G-strings and push-up bras, that all girls have the capacity to become Mrs Leila Haimi. Sometimes Mrs Leila Haimi let me see the girl in her. On two or three separate occasions, she had walked past me in the corridor of the English block taking little steps with her legs pressed against each other. Then she winced as our eyes met, her lower lip wobbling before she mumbled, ‘I have to pee.’ I had no idea why she was telling me, but the words seemed to come out of her mouth so innocently, like a child telling her mother she has to go potty, and it reminded me that she was only human, perfectly imperfect.
Shaky looks down at the girls and I look up at them as though we are Aristotle and Plato at the centre of Raphael’s School of Athens; to Shaky it is the physical world that matters, the anatomy of each woman he sees, and to me it is the world of faith, the promise that beyond the skin and blood and bones there is a soul. We circle until finally we’ve made a full lap around the hall and are back in front of Osama. He and Alinta have stopped dry humping and are now just standing there glaring at each other like their parents have caught them at it. Before anyone speaks Alinta slides quickly into the crowd. Osama turns to us. His lips are tugging to the right like he’s been slapped in slow motion.
‘What’s up?’ Shaky asks.
Osama mouths something but I don’t hear it because, ‘Come on Barbie, let’s go party,’ is blaring from the speakers. Shaky and I both step in close and Osama says it again. ‘I came.’
I look down at his crotch and just where Alinta had been rubbing against the inside of his thigh is a thick wet stain. ‘Sick cunt!’ screams out Shaky. He takes Osama’s hand and they shake. Then they step in toward each other for a little shoulder hug. I try to hold back my disgust as I stare at them, twisted like two desert cobras having sex. I don’t think Osama is a sick cunt. I think he’s a dirty cunt. I’m supposed to be a bitch but why isn’t Shaky calling him a dog. Osama grass cut me, not the other way around.
The strobe lights begin shooting across the faces again and I find myself tasered by visions of Alinta. I see her under the fluorescent lights of the female toilets, pink beams bouncing from her pale forehead and purple braces as she washes Osama’s cum from her skirt and feels sorry for herself. I feel sorry for her too. There is no way I could have shown her that all I wanted to do was press my forehead against hers.