The tiny club reverberated with claps, whistles and chants of "More! More!" as the last clash of the cymbals died out. Zed was flushed with excitement as he tossed the last of the souvenirs to the audience. It took the band another 15 minutes to take their bows and leave the stage while Hadi, Muniz and I began unplugging and putting away the speakers, mixers etc backstage. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find Tee grinning at me, rivulets of sweat turning his bootleg Happy Tree Friends t-shirt transparent.
"How did we do?" he shouted. I flinched and removed the earmuffs protecting my sensitive ears from the blasting music. His breath was like bellows, adrenaline from another great gig coursing through his veins.
"Superb, except the third set when you lost your drumstick," I grinned back at him. We finished packing all the instruments in record time while Zed and Layla finished their discussion with the club's manager.
"This is why I love having you as a roadie, Shortstack," said Hadi as I stowed the last of the speakers in the van. "I don't get back aches."
I made a face at him and slammed the van's door shut. Silent Muniz handed me a frosty bottle of water that I gratefully chugged down.
"I mean, seriously, what do you eat? If I don't see it with my own eyes, I'd never believe a midget like you could heft so much heavy equipments with your own bare hands," he tugged the hem of his Grateful Dead tee to mop up his sweat.
"Quit calling me shortstack, Bean Pole. And I ate all my vegetables, just like my mama told me to." That bald-faced lie was greeted by a whoop of laughter by the guys. Everyone knows I'm a notorious meat eater; no greens ever made past my lips. Layla was fond of telling people that I'm the proof that the caveman diet works; I was born to consume the wooly mammoth.
"Hey, hey everybody, we got paid tonight," Zed waved the cheque that the club's manager cut for the band at us. Layla snatched it from him and stuffed it into her large tote.
"Gimme that. You always forget to bank it in or threw it away with your cigarette receipts," she groused. Zed was well-known for his absent-mindedness in things not concerning his guitars or song-writing. He grinned at her unrepentantly, a flash of teeth more glamourous than a Calvin Klein underwear model.
A couple of teenage girls hovering near the van tentatively approached us, CDs and marker pen in hand.
"Hi, Zed! Can we have your autograph?" they chorused in unison. You could almost see their knees melt as Zed directed his megawatt smile in their direction. A few other fans loitering nearby also crept closer as Zed chatted with the girls, signing their CDs and posing for pictures. Muniz obligingly took a few shots to be included in the band's website.
I slipped behind the wheels of the van and cranked the engine. The 12-year old Unser roared and then purred as the engine idled Hadi and Tee slipped into the van; with all the equipment crammed in there was only enough space for 1 person in the back. The Unser belonged to Tee's dad, but I drove it more often than he did.
"See you guys at Raju's!" I hollered. Layla raised a hand as she walked with Muniz to his well-loved Mitsubishi Lancer. He souped up the engine himself, rebuilding parts of the body with his siblings in his uncle's workshop. His sister, Manisah, designed the flames decorating the hood and side panels of the lime green pimp mobile.
"Hey guys, wait for me!" Zed ran to the Lancer after the final photos were snapped by the starry-eyed fans and hopped into the back seat.
It was our post-gig tradition to have supper at Raju's and rehash the good, the bad and the ugly that happened during the gig. Hadi would take down the technical notes in his rubberband-bound notebook, the lined pages filled with his neat script. Muniz would be snapping photos to be added to the webpage photo album in-between putting away at least 2 paper tosai, 1 roti telur and teh tarik. The discussion and laughing arguments would carry on for at least an hour before we make our way home.
I walked slowly to my flat, the half moon illuminating the stretches of pavement where the streetlight had given up the fight. My Doc Martens barely made any sound. I shoved my hands into my pocket, jangling my keys. The air was cool and sweet, the usual city stench barely making its presence felt.
A lot of people would call me foolish for walking home in my neighbourhood at all hours; just two streets over there was a knifing between two rival pimps the night before last. But I never felt frightened walking among predatory types.
After all, why should a tiger be fearful to stalk this concrete jungle?
(Picture stolen from here)