Trigger Warning: The story contains strong language, underage drinking, mentions of alcohol and drug use, and some blasphemous remarks.
Black leather, destroyed denim, and pale skin inked with chthonic designs filled the packed crowd outside the music club. Rhythmic shouts of Caucasian male rebellion, manic drums, and screeching guitars blasted through the doors. Tobacco smoke and street lights polluted the night sky. Alimah balanced on the toes of her Chuck Taylors, trying to peek over the multi-colored mohawks spiked like the metal studs on her leather jacket. She landed back down on her heels and stumped her foot.
“What’s taking them so long to let us in?” Alimah cried to Desta, who was standing beside her.
“I don’t know,” Desta repeatedly flipped her cell phone in her hand. “I think it’s overcapacity.”
“It’s fuckin’ crammed in there.” A guy in a denim vest with anarchy patches butted in the girls’ conversation. “Somebody in one of the bands performing tonight got a birthday.”
“Yeah, the lead singer of Psychokunt, Celia,” said Desta.
“You know her?”
“She’s a high school friend.”
“It’s too cold to be standing out here,” Alimah cried. “And I’m startin’ to cramp. I mean, can I at least…”
“Just lean against the barricade,” Desta pointed at a space between a hefty, purple-haired girl in a leather dress and a gangly man in a Sigil of Baphomet shirt. Alimah held her stomach, slightly bending over and cursing herself for not packing Midol. The girl in the leather dress observed Alimah long enough to offer her a Tylenol. Alimah, only fourteen at the time, was leery about taking those pills since she understood why most of the attendees had dilated pupils. Still, she thanked the girl and stuffed the tablets in her coat pocket.
“There’s concerts at the other bars,” the vested guy said.
“I know.” Desta backed up enough for him not to notice. “I just wanted to see Psychokunt since they’re the only all-female band on the line-up.” Desta pointed Alimah out. “This is my sister’s first time at a live punk show. She wants to perform rock, so I brought her to see Psychokunt.”
“That’s cute.” He scoffed to himself, wishing his shit older brother had been a mentor instead of serving life for murder.
“I was going to take her to a metal concert, but it got canceled. Then, my boyfriend told me about this concert since he’s Celia’s cousin.”
“So, your boyfriend couldn’t make it?” The guy scanned Desta from her Doc Martens up to the roundness of her breasts underneath her Sham 69 band tee.
“He had to do his MMA training tonight.”
“Mixed-martial arts.” Desta cut her eyes at him. “He’s a black belt.”
The guy got frostbitten by her iciness and turned on his heels, accepting that his plan to experiment with a Black chick had failed. Desta walked over to Alimah, sneering and shuddering.
“I saw him give you googly-eyes.” Alimah stuck her tongue out in disgust.
“Oh my god, he was so musty.” Desta wiped her nose. “I can still smell him.”
Suddenly, a wave of drunken hoots and hollers snatched the girls’ attention. Ten people rushed out the front doors, struggling to walk upright. Walking out behind the crowd, two men helped a portly girl cackling like a mad hyena. Once they let her go, she dry-heaved and barfed on her combat boots. Seconds later, two guys burst out the front doors, hands clenching each other necks. A girl in a Hot Topic outfit dashed out after them, shouting for them to stop.
“Kick his fuckin’ ass,” someone screamed from the drunken group. “Kill him!”
Two security guards rushed out and struggled to break up the two drunken, testosterone-filled animals. Desta noticed how distracted the waiting line and the bouncers were, so she climbed over the barricade while holding Alimah’s hand.
“C’mon!” Desta pulled Alimah’s arm, forcing her to climb over the barricade. Then, Desta made a beeline towards the entrance while the bouncers were still trying to break up the fistfight.
“Hey, bitch, stop cutting in line!” A woman shouted at Desta.
“Make me, hoe!”
Desta waved her middle finger at the woman. Alimah muffled her laughter behind her hand. Then, other people followed Desta’s lead, climbing over the barricade to push their way through the crowded entrance. “Hey! What are you bastards doin’?” shouted one of the security guards, noticing the chaos Desta started. Unfortunately, his voice only caused the line-cutters to pick up speed and barge their way into the club.
Alimah submerged into a rough sea of swinging hair, devil horn fingers pumping the air, shattering beer bottles, and heads hanging in intoxicated stupors. On stage was Feck XX, a local band that was ‘legendary’ in the New York City underground punk scene. Goosebumps tickled Alimah’s neck when she heard the shrieking electric guitar that sent shockwaves of distortion, fuzz, and frustration. Desta and Alimah took a seat at the bar. The bartender approached Desta while wiping down spilled vodka and melted ice.
“I’d like a vodka shot.” Desta slipped the bartender her fake ID given to her by her twenty-one-year-old boyfriend, who was three years older than her. The bartender glanced at the photo and the year, raising a brow. Desta pursed her lips, holding back a laugh.
“Uh-huh…” he muttered, giving her a half-joking leer.
“What?” Desta held her hands out with a chuckle. “I’m twenty-one—slow aging is genetic in my family.”
“What about you?” He jutted his head at Alimah.
“A chocolate milk,” Desta spoke up.
Alimah sneered and sucked her teeth at Desta. Desta snickered.
“What? You’re only eighteen.” Desta narrowed her eyes at Alimah’s pocket that held her fake ID.
Desta’s boyfriend also made a card for Alimah, showing 1984 instead of her actual birth year 1987. Eighteen was only enough to get her through the doors. And it was more believable to pass her off as eighteen instead of twenty-one. However, Desta snuck and shared more vodka with Alimah as they wandered into the head-banging crowd. The liquor eventually ousted the chocolate milk from Alimah’s gut, sending her flying to the restroom.
“Alimah, damn!” Desta held her sister’s curls back as she puked into a toilet. “I’m not taking you home before Psychokunt comes on.”
“Can we leave after they finish?” she slurred.
As Alimah rose on her feet, wiping her mouth, she suddenly felt a brush of ecstasy, like the triumph of completing a painful initiation into adulthood. Despite the tipsiness and overall ick, Alimah still thoroughly enjoyed Psychokunt’s performance. Alimah became an instant fan when she saw a heavy-set black woman on the drums. Her blue dreadlocks hung from the middle of her shaven head, draping the side of her cocoa brown face.
“Look at that Black girl up there!” Alimah shook Desta’s arm, pointing at the drummer.
“See?” Desta’s face glowed. “That’s why you shouldn’t give a fuck when people rag on you for being a rocker.”
Alimah concentrated on the rapid-fire motion of the drumsticks, the manicured nails shredding out gritty chords, and the growls of women fed up with toxic patriarchy. She was dying to jump on stage and jam with them.
“I wanna meet them afterward,” Alimah said to Desta.
“I thought you wanted to go home.”
“I mean…we can leave after we meet them.”
Celia ended the final song with her guitar neck in the air, giving a grand finale of a shred while whipping her hot pink hair. After the band left the stage, the sisters headed outside to the back lot where the musicians had parked their vans and buses. Celia was leaning against her band’s club wagon, holding a can of beer and a cigarette in the same hand. The drummer helped the other girls pushed the last instruments in, then gave them double hi-fives for a badass performance.
“Happy birthday, girl!” Desta whooped with her arms in the air, catching Celia’s attention. Celia stomped out her cigarette and leaped into Desta’s arms. Desta turned to Alimah, placing her arm around her shoulder. “Here’s my sister I told you about.”
“What a cutie.” Celia folded her arms and tilted her head to the side as she looked at Alimah. “Your sister told me you’re already a guitar pro.”
“Yeah, I am.”
“When did you first start playing it?”
“Nine years old.”
“Wait…and you’ve already mastered it? And you’re 14?”
Alimah’s cheeks slightly reddened as she smirked, but at the same time hoped that no one else at the club knew her real age.
“Holy shit…” Celia took a swig of her beer. “It took me fifteen years.”
“I was so happy to see a Black girl in your band.” For a second, Alimah felt that was too awkward to mention.
“Oh yeah! That’s Daisha. She helped me start the band. She writes a lot of our stuff, too.”
“Can I speak to her?”
Celia fulfilled Alimah’s request and walked her over to Daisha, sitting in the van’s cargo space. Alimah got a closer look at Daisha’s lip rings, the safety pin piercing in her left eyebrow, and her earlobes elongated by round gauges.
“This is Alimah, my friend’s sister,” Celia patted Alimah’s shoulder, “and she wants to meet you.”
Daisha examined Alimah, feeling in her gut that her status as a token was being put to use—like it always was in the world of punk and metal. If it wasn’t her being used to prove how liberal her bandmates were, then it was her being relied on to bring an ‘ethnic edge’ to the band’s sound. Alimah noticed Daisha fighting to keep her eyelids wide open, so she tried to make it quick.
“What advice do you have for me—a black girl—who wants to succeed in alternative and punk rock music?”
“How successful do you want to be?” Daisha asked.
“I want to be big. A platinum-selling rock artist.”
Alimah’s spirit began to sink when Daisha sniggered, taking a sip from her water bottle. But that didn’t hold Alimah back from pouring her heart.
“A lot of people keep telling me that I shouldn’t do it because nobody’s gonna buy rock music from a Black girl.”
Daisha’s round face softened before warm water welled up in her eyes. She deeply inhaled as painful childhood flashbacks resurfaced. She remembered the bullies thinking she was too black to play rock, the whites thinking she was too dark and fat to be in a punk band, and her parents thinking she was too queer for them to love her.“Fuck people!” she barked.
Daisha opened the guitar case beside her, revealed a hot pink Flying V Gibson model, and handed it to Alimah. Alimah held the guitar in her hand, staring at it like some alien object.
“Show me what you got.”
“You mean here?” Alimah glanced a few feet over at Desta. She was deep in conversation and tobacco smoke with Celia and the other bandmates.
“Yeah! Go ahead and play.”
Alimah draped the guitar strap across her body like she was trying on something exquisite. She thought of a song from one of her Jimi Hendrix albums, rolling through a list until she mentally landed on “All Along the Watchtower”. She nodded to the opening notes in her head, positioning her fingers on the cold strings. She annihilated her shyness by attacking the opening riff with machine-gun style shredding as if Hendrix’s spirit had entered her fingers. She ended with a range of complex vibratos, adding her own twist. The entire parking lot fell silent, and she found herself surrounded by amazed stares. Over her shoulder, she saw the members of Feck XX gaping at her in astonishment. Desta cheered and clapped, with everyone else joining in the applause.
“If you don’t ever become a rock star,” Daisha said, taking the guitar from Alimah, “then there’s definitely no God.”
End of Part 2 – Alimah, in her early 20s, is the protagonist of Ungrateful by Kenya Nelson is available on Amazon.com.