Happy endings await beyond dim red lights and darkened corners


Happy endings await beyond dim red lights and darkened corners

HERMAN LATEGAN planned an innocent train journey to Kalk Bay, but got derailed and ended up in Adult World in Riebeek Street ...


THE plan was to catch the train to Kalk Bay, take some nice pictures along the way and relive the memories of fishing in the harbour as a child. In my mind's eye I could already see the blue surf breaking, smell the sea air and once more experience the joys of rail travel on a route that hadn't been in use for a long time.

A picture-perfect day full of innocence and nostalgia beckoned. But that was the day the taxi strike began, with shots ringing out and people being killed.

I call Metrorail but no one answers. Probably the strike, I think, so I will have to see for myself if any trains are running. I decide to walk from Green Point to Cape Town station. There, everything is quiet; I don't see any trains.

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As I walk back to Green Point via Riebeek Street, there it is: Adult World. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions; the front door has a logo with a mischievous-looking little devil.

I remember a cartoon in a New Yorker where a man ends up in hell. The devil scoffs at him and says: “Welcome to the after-party.”

Well, here I am.

I read that sex toys became extremely popular around the world during lockdown, and also after the book Fifty Shades of Grey came out. I walk in, and a young man behind the counter greets me with a slightly judgemental look. Or am I imagining that?

I see dominee Du Toit from the NG kerk Drieankerbaai wave his pious fingers at me. He reads from the Bible: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell."


Slap and tickle

The first toys I see (there goes my eye) are colourful light blue and purple feather dusters. Probably to tickle where you're not supposed to tickle. I ask the attendant what the bestsellers are and he points to a glass case full of pills. For men, to put back the lead in their pencils. I see a sex doll (also called a troosdoos in Afrikaans) with an open mouth and a lifeless face.

When I produce my camera to take pictures, the guy behind the counter gets upset. Not allowed.

Another display case is filled with naughty lingerie, made from satin or gauze. There are nipple clamps, harnesses, wigs, false eyelashes, whips, blindfolds, artificial penises, flavoured lubricants, gas masks and many things I would have no idea what to do with. Prices range from about R50 to over R1,500.

I see two young men in the corner giggling over something that looks like a pump. In another corner, a man and a woman whisper while stroking two round purple balls with strings.

A door opens and a man and woman come out, dripping with sweat. This is the sex parlour. There are small rooms you can rent for a quickie. And two lounges where pornography is shown.

These are apparently popular with gay men and straight couples, the latter often keen for a quick tryst over lunch. The rooms (cubicles) cost R80 an hour. You get two DVDs to make the experience more exciting. It's private and clean, with a small bed.


Wednesdays at half price

If you just want to go in to watch some porn, it's R50. On Wednesdays, only R25.

I pay the R50 and enter. It's dark inside, with red lights burning. I see the rooms on the right. One door is open; it does indeed look clean and presentable.

Further on, to the right, is the gay lounge, with some wild pornography on display; someone getting spanked on his bare bottom with a whip while screaming with pleasure. In the glow of the TV screen, I see people sitting on plastic chairs.

The place smells like a mixture of sex and disinfectant. There is a shelf with condoms on it. I walk towards the dark stairs, and with the dim red light glowing I feel as if I'm on the set of the movie Querelle with its scenes of gay men cruising through dark and dangerous alleyways. At any moment, someone could stab you or strangle you from behind.

My imagination is running away with me again. Steady now, I tell myself. Upstairs I see the straight lounge. A naked woman is holding a man's erection and pretending it's a car's gear lever.

“Vroom, vroom, vroom,” she says, and changes gear. It's dark here too, with just the light from the TV. Some men sit around, one with a long coat on; his hand moving underneath.

I turn and see three more rooms, but you don't pay for these. Men are standing everywhere, staring at each other. In one room with even less light, a young man with a hoodie sits while playing with himself.

Two older men come closer; perhaps they are keen to dance some carnal waltz. Or maybe they would prefer a mattress tango on the bed that is also in the room.


The smell of tik

On one door it says: “Please don’t urinate in the dustbins.” I walk to a room in the corner, where three men stand while smoking something from a bottleneck. My first thought is that they're having some kind of orgy.

They slam the door. The smell of tik wafts from under it.

I walk slowly down the stairs again. To the left there is another room. Also very dark. There are several small booths with TVs.

One wall has what are called glory holes. Here you may sit while playing with someone else's one-eyed trouser snake that has been pushed through from the adjacent room.

I remember once in New York I was also in a place where there were “glory holes". One poor soul had to be rushed to hospital after some drunk guy put out his cigarette on the victim's member.

The place is filling up with more young men, of all colours. I call one closer and ask if I can talk to him. He tells me his name is Sipho and he is a sex worker.

He charges R400 for a session, but the Germans easily give him R1,000. His real job was at a supermarket, then he discovered he could earn more money with sex work. A friend told him about this.

Sipho is 23 and no one in his family knows what he does as a side-hustle. He says there are also Afrikaans guys who come from the platteland to look for opportunities in the city, and end up here. Work is scarce.


Working for food

The men from Nigeria are the most popular. Many of them are refugees who arrive in the Cape and have no choice but to earn their bread and butter in places like these. Mostly they do “favours" for men, some of whom are married.

On the way out, I see a straight couple walk into one of the rooms. They lock the door behind them.

Outside in the sun, I have to strain my eyes to adapt to the bright light. Next door is an alley that smells of urine.

A man with beautiful dreadlocks looks at me and asks how he can help. First, he shows me a packet of cocaine, then he touches his penis.

All of this looks promising, I think to myself, but I'm not here for the laughs, I'm working on a story. Don't mix business with pleasure, I remind myself while marvelling at how pious I have become.

I think of humanity's yearning for the pleasures of the flesh, for connecting with each other, of the thirst for liberation, and of the unextinguishable flame that burns in the dark at Adult World and other such places.

The taxis may strike, but the dance of Eros goes on forever.

♦ VWB ♦

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