There’s a slut in the water, cuz. That’s what the Lebs say as soon as we land on Bondi Beach. Then they take their singlets off and lie down on the sand, a line of bulging noses and chest hair and big biceps. I leave them behind and sway through the waves towards the freckled girl who stands alone and off-balance about three metres from the shore. She is the same height as me, but her hair is bright blonde under the Australian sun and mine is an afro of black, and her skin has pinked like a piglet and mine is browning like a true sand nigger. She wears blue board shorts and a blue bikini, even though she doesn’t look like she needs any upper body support because her chest is a pancake. My chest is a pancake too. Like every Lebo, I had one workout routine throughout all of winter, which I performed with a 20-kilo dumbbell in my bedroom in front of a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Monday: biceps. Tuesday: biceps. Wednesday: biceps. Thursday: biceps. Friday: biceps. Saturday: biceps. Sunday: have a wank. Every day, scream out: ‘big biceps for summer!’
‘Ay give us your number,’ I say to the girl in the water as I approach her. I don’t know why Lebs always say ‘us’ when we mean ‘me’. Maybe it’s because we don’t like to admit we’re alone, we have the Bedouin tribe mentality.
‘No,’ she responds, and then before I turn away from her to look for another chick she adds, ‘I hate the beach.’ She sounds like a typical Marrickville gang-banga, her voice husky and chaffing.
‘Why?’ I ask. I do a fake stretch, curling and tensing my arms above my head so that my biceps bulge before her like brown potatoes.
‘It’s personal,’ the girl whispers. Her green eyes suddenly fix on me as though she’s in a burka and only has her glare to signal for help. I break eye contact from her in that moment and look down into the water, which is turning red against the setting sun, and just while the waves are being sucked back into the ocean I catch a glimpse of her feet. She has her big toes, which seem to be providing her with balance, but the other eight little toes are all missing. Straight away I snap my gaze back up at her and smile gently. This must be the reason she hates going to the beach—she can’t hide her retarded feet here. ‘I never give out my number,’ she says. ‘But tell me yours.’
I’m surprised she makes this offer. Maybe she doesn’t realise I saw her feet. Do I really want to give a girl with no toes my number? What if she asks me for a foot massage one day? Then again, I have a fat crooked nose like Saudi King Faisal. I guess if No Toes is open-minded enough to date Big Broken Nose then I should be open-minded enough to date her. ‘If I give you my number how will you remember it?’ I ask.
‘What, do you think I’m a dumb bitch because I’m blonde?’ she spits back.
I tell her the ten digits and she repeats them to me as though they are her own. Perhaps having no toes amplifies your memory, like the way blind people have amplified hearing and smell and taste. Then No Toes gives me a smug little grin, and pointing her finger in the direction from which I came, back to where my eight Lebo mates from Punchbowl Boys High School have started a brawl with two bogan lifeguards, she says, ‘Now turn around and walk away and don’t look back at me or I won’t call you.’
The following night, No Toes sends me a text message that says, ‘want 2 hook up at auburn maccas?’ I’m in my bedroom doing curls with my dumbbell and Arnie is staring back at me from the black and white poster on my wall. He’s standing on a beach, sand and rocks and water behind him as he performs the front double biceps pose in his underwear like a hairless god. By the time I reach ten curls, my parents start shouting in the corridor, but they’re not angry, they’re just Arab. My father says, ‘She’ll get AIDS from his foreskin,’ and my mum says, ‘They’ll bury her in a box beside the pooftas.’ They must be talking about my cousin Houda, who recently married a Sudanese Christian. I pump the dumbbell to 19 curls on my left arm, and just as I coil towards 20, I scream out, ‘Big biceps for summer!’ Then I let go of the dumbbell and it clanks against the hardwood floor of my bedroom. I can feel the blood oozing through my arms—the veins along my forearms chiselled like Van Damme’s and the muscles along my upper arms bulging like Stallone’s. No Toes is gonna love it. I text back, ‘c u in 20’.
I find her waiting for me in front of the McDonald’s counter. This time she is wearing brown canvas sneakers, which hide her secret completely, and a pair of skinny jeans and a tight white singlet. I’m wearing sneakers, jeans and a singlet too. Now that the pump from my workout has started to deplete, there is a vein appearing straight down my left bicep and it catches No Toes’ sight before she makes eye contact with me and says, ‘Oi.’
We each order a large McChicken meal from the brown-skinned hijabi at the counter. I pay for both meals but No Toes doesn’t say thanks. Then we walk side by side, holding the trays in our hands, to the outside seating where Krispy Kreme and the Golden Arches illuminate Parramatta Road. We’re surrounded by a hundred wogs who are spread out across the car park, standing in groups around their WRXs and RX7s and Skylines and Celicas eating cheeseburgers and Quarter Pounders. Everywhere I look there are Leb boys with big noses and undercut haircuts in Adidas button-up trousers and black Everlast singlets, and Leb girls with big noses and long mascara-filled eyelashes in high heels and tight black pants and tight pink shirts. No Toes finds an empty table just outside the car park. As soon as we are seated and are staring up at each other, I say to her, ‘I know you have no toes.’ Her blonde eyebrows spring up at me and twitch, like she is embarrassed and scared and annoyed all at the same time. I say, ‘Sorry, I saw them in the water yesterday but I came out with you anyway because I don’t care.’
She keeps her eyes on me, but slowly her eyebrows come down and she mumbles, ‘I’m not a ganga.’ Then she unpacks her McChicken and begins to rip through it, taking large caveman bites like she’s never seen food before and chewing quickly with her mouth open, and taking another bite before she has even swallowed the previous mouthful. ‘Ganga’ is short for ‘gangbanger’, and I think she means that she’s not desperate and easy just because she’s a freak.
‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ I ask her, slowly unpacking my own McChicken and taking it in both hands and flexing and tensing my arms as I raise it towards my mouth—even eating can be a bi-workout.
‘The boys that are interested in me, I’m not interested in them,’ No Toes answers while she continues to chew on the last pieces of McChicken in her mouth, white meat and white mayonnaise and yellow bun and yellow chicken crumbs swirling between her teeth. I pause just before taking the first bite of mine. I can’t believe this girl’s confidence. She has no toes for God’s sake, she should be grateful that any boy is interested in her. Across the car park, in front of the entry to Krispy Kreme, a tall Leb with a long mullet is shouting out to his mates as they drive off in a yellow Rexy, ‘Give me that hoe’s number, ay listen, don’t be a dog cunt, bro.’ That’s Lebs for ya, no shame.
‘What happened to your last boyfriend?’ I ask No Toes, finally taking a bite from my McChicken. It tastes like a mouthful of salt and sugar and wood—McDonald’s hasn’t been the same since that white gronk made Super Size Me.
‘His parents broke us up because I wasn’t Muslim,’ she says. This may very well be true but most of my Lebo mates from Punchbowl Boys use that line to get out of a relationship with an Aussie once she puts out. Just last night after we decked those lifeguards and fled the beach, my mate Osama sent his head-jobbing girlfriend a text message that read, ‘I luv u but my mum will never accept u’, and then he offered me her number in exchange for a Blue Slurpee from 7-Eleven.
I don’t tell this story to No Toes—she seems to be convinced that her ex had good intentions and there’s nothing for me to gain from telling her the truth, it’ll only damage my own chances with her. Instead I say, ‘Yeah, Muslim parents are pretty strict about that shit.’ Then I take another bite from my McChicken and chew casually, like a bimbo.
‘Is it the same for you?’ No Toes asks. Suddenly I can hear my father’s coarse voice inside my head. ‘You can drink alcohol, you can gamble, you don’t need to pray, you don’t need to fast, you don’t need to give to the poor, just don’t ever marry that white devil,’ he said the first time I ever came home stoned. It was six months ago and all the Punchbowl Boys went out to celebrate because we’d finished our final HSC exam. I wasn’t even choofing, I was just sitting in the back of Osama’s WRX while the rest of the boys choofed, breathing in their smoke until suddenly I was thirsty as fuck and couldn’t stop laughing. I’m about to ask No Toes if she’s ever smoked pot when suddenly she blurts out, ‘I used to steal cars.’
‘W-what?’ I respond.
‘For fun, bro, I used to steal them and crash them into trees.’
Why is she telling me this? Is she joking? Maybe she’s acting like a hard bitch to impress me. Maybe she’s intimidated by my big biceps. This might be a good time to do a fake yawn and flex my arms again, but first let me try to think of something to say, shit, nothing is coming out of my mouth, shit, it’s too late to do the flex, damn it, I’m just staring at her now. Her fair and freckled face is wincing and her thin eyebrows are concaving and she is staring straight back at me, waiting for me to do something until finally, she sticks her head down over her Macca’s cup and begins sucking on the straw.
I can hear her slurping the base of her large Coke by the time I’ve drunk about a quarter of my own. ‘Do you have any cigarettes?’ she says, looking up at me. Then she puts her mouth over the straw again and begins to rattle through the ice as she searches like an anteater for the last drops of syrup.
‘There might be a packet in my car,’ I tell her. Last year I was taking a piss in the bushes at Greenacre Park, holding a cigarette in one hand and my dick in the other, when I spotted a pus-filled pimple just above my pubes. I quit smoking for good after that but I still had the last three cigarettes from that final pack in my glove compartment.
‘Give me your keys,’ says No Toes, her eyes rolling from her cup up towards me.
‘I’ll come with you,’ I say.
Automatically she springs from her seat and onto her feet—good reflexes for a toeless chick. ‘I’m not gonna steal your car!’ she snaps.
I chase after her as she waddles through the car park. ‘Look, I don’t even know you,’ I plead, ‘and you just told me you steal cars.’ Then I stop beside my ’89 Celica, which is red and has pop-up headlights like the eyelids of an octopus.
No Toes sits inside my car with the passenger seat tilted right back and her canvas-covered feet hanging out the window. ‘So listen,’ she says as she blows cigarette smoke up into the car ceiling. ‘I texted you because I needed a ride home, you’re not one of those horny Lebos who will only do me a favour if I give you a head job, are you?’
The McChicken churns in my guts. What a shifty bitch. Now if I don’t give her a lift home, she’ll say it’s because she rejected me, and not because she’s a racist dick-knob. I think of leaving her here at Auburn Macca’s, stranded on the corner of St Hillier’s and Parramatta roads like a spasticated hooker, but I know that this is not what the Prophet Mohammed would want. I was 11 when I first learned the tale of the deformed midget named Julaybib. After Julaybib had sacrificed his life defending Islam against an army of polytheists, Mohammed stood over his corpse and announced to his followers, ‘This one is of me and I am of him.’
‘I’ll give you a lift home,’ I say to No Toes. ‘You are of me and I am of you.’ Cigarette smoke leaks through her lips. She sighs at me in confusion. As though I am the retard.
Between Macca’s and Berala train station, No Toes says nothing to me except ‘left’ and ‘right’ in a blunt and nasal tone, her head stunted on the road out in front of her. I’ve accepted she doesn’t like me very much, but can she at least make up some bullshit talk just to pass the time until I get her home? I’m not even sure she likes my biceps any more—I’ve been tensing my grip around the steering wheel since I first reversed out of the Macca’s, so that my arm muscles and triceps and veins run from my fingers to my shoulders like a road map, but I haven’t caught her checking them out, not even once.
At one minute past nine o’clock while I’m caught at the lights between Park Road and Vaughan Street, I turn on the radio, which is pre-set to 106.5 FM. Love Song Dedications with Richard Mercer has just started. For the next three hours, boyfriends and girlfriends and fiancés and husbands and wives across Sydney will be calling Richard to dedicate songs to their loved ones. Last week I was listening and this guy straight outta Bankstown called, telling Richard his name was ‘Zeb’, which means cock in Arabic, and that the love of his life was ‘Kes’, which means pussy in Arabic, and that he wanted to dedicate ‘Endless Love’ by Mariah Carey to her.
‘Left,’ No Toes mumbles as Richard takes a call from a girl named Michaela. ‘I want to dedicate a song to my ex, Hassan,’ Michaela says, her cotton-candy voice no older than 16. ‘We broke up last week.’
‘Oooooh,’ Richard responds. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure Hassan is missing you.’ I am always comforted by Richard Mercer—he sympathises with everyone, doesn’t matter if they’re wogs, skips, nips, curries, fags, hoes, junkies, frigids. ‘His parents don’t accept me,’ Michaela whispers. I quickly turn to look at No Toes, to see if the dedication resonates with her. She is still staring straight ahead, unflinching, her canvas-wrapped feet now up on my dashboard. I keep my gaze on her until she exhales loudly and flicks her cigarette butt out the car window. It swirls and disappears into the night-time air like a tiny meteor.
‘And what song do you want to dedicate to Hassan?’ Richard asks.
‘“End of the Road”, do you know it, Richard, it’s Boyz II Men,’ says Michaela. Then as her call fades out, an R & B tune eases in and a soothing black male voice sings gently, ‘We belong together, and you know that I’m right, why do you play with my heart, why do you play with my mind?’
‘Pull up at number 58,’ says No Toes, throwing her thin legs off the dash. I straddle the empty street kerb down Campbell Street, driving past Berala train station and a Woolworths and a charcoal chicken shop and then a long row of old housing commission units until I reach building number 58, which is made of red bricks. Then I turn to look at No Toes, who is breathing so heavily now that I can hear her nostrils whistling beneath the music, and Boyz II Men are singing, ‘Pain in my head, oh, I’d rather be dead.’ I wonder if No Toes will give me a goodbye kiss on the lips, just to trick me into thinking I have a chance with her to make her escape easier, or maybe she will give me a peck on the cheek, a way of making it clear that we are just friends. Instead she doesn’t even look at me, doesn’t even say good-bye, just keeps her head facing the window while she unlocks the car door and slips out. I watch her skinny little bum cheeks convulse unevenly as she walks on incomplete feet towards the entrance of her building.
I speed along Rickard Road, where the Bankstown train line dips towards Punchbowl on the left and Jasmine’s Lebanese Restaurant erupts into the Bankstown skyline on the right. ‘Yeah my name’s Mark. I wonna dedicate “Endless Love” to the love of my life, Janie,’ a young skip with a tight nasal voice says to Richard Mercer. At least twice a night someone dedicates ‘Endless Love’. ‘Oh Mark, she sounds very special, this girl,’ replies Richard, deep, smooth voice like a pimp.
‘Yeeep,’ says Mark. ‘I’m that fool for her, Richard.’
Next door to Jasmine’s is Hadla, a Lebanese ice-cream shop where hundreds of Arab boys stand outside co-licking lemon-flavoured ice-cream with their fiancées. These guys only ever marry imports from Lebanon who are desperate for visas or Muslim girls from Parramatta who are only allowed out with a chaperone. Mariah Carey is singing, ‘My first love, you’re every breath that I take, you’re every step I make,’ and all the way back to Lakemba I sing along with her. I drive at five kilometres an hour down my street, past a duplex that my twin cousins built together and now live in with their new wives, who are also twins; and past my auntie’s McMansion where she lives with her import husband and five sons and only daughter; and past my uncle’s McMansion where he lives with his import wife and eight daughters and only son; and past my grandparents’ cottage, where they have lived since they fled Lebanon in 1974, one year before the civil war broke out. This is what Lebos do—we crash onto a street and turn it into a village.
I slip out of my car and run through the front gates of my house, which is guarded by two stone lions; the front yard, which has been completely concreted; up the front stairs, which have ‘Lebz Rule’ written on each of them in liquid paper; and straight through the front door, which has been left wide open. The corridor is decorated with a canvas of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah on the left-hand side and a clock that is shaped like a mosque and belches the Call to Prayer every hour on the right-hand side. Tonight, the corridor smells like mincemeat and fried garlic and onion and the whole house glows because every light, in the corridor, the five bedrooms and the two bathrooms, in the kitchen and the living room, is switched on. I can hear Vin Diesel and car engines screaming out of the television in the living room, which is down the end of the house and runs 24 hours a day, and I can hear the murmurs of my parents and my older brother and my four sisters, who sit around watching The Fast and the Furious and eat kefta and rice every night.
From the corridor I turn left into my bedroom and pause before Arnie, standing in his undies and shaped like a perfect vagina from waist to shoulders. I pick up my dumbbell and say out loud ‘big biceps for summer’ and I go into my first curl. Suddenly I am struck with a vision of No Toes standing before me with her smug grin and her green eyes and she takes a blow at my nuts, stabbing into my groin with that big lonely toe. The dumbbell slips from my palm and falls onto my foot and I scream out like a stunned mullet. ‘Ooaar!’ My parents and my brother and my four sisters all tumble into my bedroom, their Semitic noses protruding like spears, and they’re all looking around and screaming at the same time, ‘shu saur, shu saur?’ which means ‘what happened, what happened?’ I throw myself onto my bed and pull off my left shoe and left sock in one motion. I hold my foot up into the air with both hands. My sole is cracking between my fingers, my dorsal is swelling like a bloated tomato, my veins are twitching like a beating heart, and my toes, my five hairy toes, are throbbing.