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Escape from the Marquee

This letter, I’m afraid, is something of a kiss and tell, and I would imagine, for adults only. It’s about when my ex-girlfriend and I briefly infiltrated Jo’burg’s swinging community.

“Swinging” is described as “lively, exciting, and fashionable” … and “sexually liberated” in my Compact Oxford English Dictionary, but what it really comes down to at best is wife-swapping!

We were experiencing some relationship problems, we had both been buggering around, but we still loved each other, and we needed a solution. We were both desperate, but the idea was mine. On making contact with Jo’burg’s swingers, we learned that many couples are drawn into their circle for exactly the same reason — to “spice up their sex lives”.

We started out in the obvious place, the internet. Just type “swingers South Africa” and there’s all you need there to initiate the innocent.

We found some websites that are set up for swingers to meet each other and to communicate further. The people, their intentions and requests varied: some were “soft” swingers, others were “hard” swingers. At least, that’s how it was explained to me. Some people just wanted to hang around naked with us, others wanted to sleep with us, and then there were those fence-sitters; shy to tell us exactly what they wanted.

We met some citizens who just wanted photographs of us — naked. Others wanted us to describe ourselves, in detail. These descriptions, which were to be enriched with adjectives, could take either the form of a telephone conversation, or the written word (naughty emails) — Different strokes for different folks.

We also found that there are two main nightclubs in Jo’burg that facilitate the “life-style”, as it is referred to: Pharaoh’s and The Marquee. Eventually, we met a couple online whom we both agreed on. They were friendly, from Pretoria, she had big boobs, and they didn’t ask us for nude pictures. They offered to mentor us. They offered to meet us at the Marquee, and to sit with us, so that we wouldn’t feel shy, or embarrassed. We agreed to meet them, and we had a date arranged for Saturday night.

Saturday night arrived! Silently, we dressed together in front of the bathroom mirror; the air was heady with the smells of Opium and Aqua Velva. She had bought new white fluffy boots and fish-net stockings especially for the occasion. We had absolutely no idea as to what we should expect. In retrospect, I realise that neither did we know what we wanted. I asked her if she would like to change her mind, but she declined my offer. We agreed that since we had come this far, we’d at least just go and have a look. So we drank a few whiskeys and left the house.

Soon we were travelling up the gravel road, quite a way down, and then into Rowles Road, and there it was, the Marquee, not appearing very intimidating from the outside.

Our newfound friends met us at the entrance as they had been waiting for us. They looked normal. It costs R400 per couple to get through the door, and that includes a buffet dinner, five free single drinks each and the use of all the facilities.

Immediately after shaking hands, “our couple” (they were actually very sweet) gave us the tour: A dance floor, a bar, the toilets, a huge heated indoor swimming pool, and a labyrinth of “playrooms”: each playroom was decorated in a different theme, and each room had different rules of engagement (in some rooms, you could “touch”, and in other rooms you couldn’t, and so on).

There were rooms that looked like bedrooms, then there rooms that were empty of furniture but scattered with cushions. There was one completely dark room that, if you walked into it, “whatever happens, happens”. During the tour, the “house rules” were explained. The culture was matriarchal. Basically, “women are in charge of all approaches and interactions, men take a back seat”. Pharaoh’s, I am lead to believe, is very similar in their ways.

The place was full of patrons: everybody was white and mainly Afrikaans-speaking, and polite.

Our couple introduced us to yet another couple, who claimed to have driven all the way up from Scottburgh just to enjoy an evening there. He told me three times, at three different times, that they had booked into the nearest Protea Hotel.

The three couples dinned together, and the dinner table conversation was bright and happy. The husband of the lady with the big boobs told me that many religious people frequent swinging nightclubs.

I wanted to ask whether any of them thought that living the lifestyle was really a responsible way of conducting their marriages? Didn’t spouses ever get jealous, or hurt, by their partner’s encounters? But I didn’t ask.

The couple from Scottburgh informed me that swinging is “rife” within Durban’s Indian community.

The lady with the big boobs told me that her husband and herself “do this nearly every weekend”, but that they “only play together, with other couples, in the same room”.

While we were dinning, there was a male stripper prancing about on the stage and twirling lit torches, playing with fire.

After dinner our friends invited us for a little bit of skinny-dipping in the heated “fantasy pool”. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a voyeur, but I’m not opposed to skinny-dipping.

After drying our bodies off, the drinks were flowing. We were at that stage dressed and seated at the bar, thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and throwing caution to the wind like there was no tomorrow … at least for a while! The idea I suppose, though, is not to go there and get rolling drunk, which we did. The idea I imagine, is to go there and get kinky, which we didn’t do.

I don’t know what it was exactly: but there was something … strange … there. Something that we were not ready or prepared for. A feeling. I don’t want to be a judge here, but there was something there that we had both felt was incorrect. I felt that there was a lack of love in a place where there should have been. I mean, love in plural! (is it really possible?). It didn’t feel right. When the initial novelty wore off, neither of us was comfortable anymore.

She started crying. And she couldn’t stop; it was just all far too much for her. I had also overreacted with the drinks, and I was certainly not fit to drive. It was irresponsible, I know.

Our couples disappeared, or got lost, somewhere, somehow, in the mix. It was a mess.

One of the staff members showed me to a bedroom where I could lie her down. The staff handed me a huge Coke glass full of Bell’s, and instructed me in no uncertain terms that I was to stay in the room with her. “We don’t want you gallivanting around here pissed.” And then they gave me a briefing of their matriarchal house rules.

Anyway, in bed, together we gulped down the Bell’s and fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The night passed.

We woke up just before sunrise, and we both needed the toilet. Outside of our bedroom, the passageway was pitch black, neither of us could see a thing. We found the light switch for the bedroom though and turned it on. This soft light filtered gently down the passageway.

When walking through the Marquee, just the two of you, just before dawn, and the place is silent and emptied of its patrons, it’s quiet a spectacle. It’s like walking around the inside of a magical palace comprised only of erotically decorated bedrooms — some looked like fairy’s bedrooms, some looked like dungeons where the horrible trolls sleep. The place looked like the pictures inside of a fairy-tale book.

Together we explored each room , sometimes spooked, and sometimes giggling. In between, we found the toilet and we had our pees.

We returned to our room, to gather our shoes and so on, and then to leave, but to our surprise, we found all the doors and security gates locked. Prince Charming and Cinderella were locked in.

On another tour of the magical rooms we discovered that all the windows were barred, except for one. There is a window in the passageway, outside of which is an enclosed alleyway with no roof. In the alleyway is a drainpipe that runs from the bottom of the wall to the top of the wall.

I climbed out the window, and pulled her through after me. I climbed up the drainpipe, and on to the roof, and pulled her up on to the roof, too. Hand in hand we tiptoed across the roof top. The sun looked like an egg, poaching itself for breakfast on the edge of the world, and the birds were chatting madly about our heads. The air was morning fresh and we were relieved to be released.

There’s a wall on the one end of the roof , behind which they keep their dustbins. From the roof to the wall and on to a dustbin was the way out.

I dramatically caught her in my arms as she jumped off the wall, and I kissed her. I was her hero again.

Once in the car, and safely back on the road, I felt very irresponsible, and she told me that she did too.

Swinging was not for us.

I wonder sometimes: when couples try out “the lifestyle”, do they always have a fairy-tale ending? I doubt it.