Emily Thompson, Rose to her friends, emigrates to the motherland, England, in search of a better life. It will be hard work for the young mother in this rich man’s country; above all she must also come to terms with this unknown phenomenon; di Hinglish dem.
James Dunbar. Jack is what he answers to. Picking his way through the mucky incidents of life, he consoles himself that things will get better.
One job was not enough to get by. After cleaning the offices, Rose makes haste to job no.2. On her way, she meets, for the first time, my other hero. Jack. Her first impression of him?
Rose slipped the letter into the postbox as she turned the corner to the multi-storey office block where she was employed as an early morning cleaner, a little sideline she had found without help from anyone. Six weeks on, after reading the ad in the local paper – cleaners always wanted. Good rates! – after pulling open that heavy red door to the public callbox, stepping into it for the first time, explaining who she was and being offered the job there and then, six weeks on, and Rose had slowly fallen into the routine of rising early. The voice on the phone informed her she had to be on the premises by a quarter to six, would earn an hour and a half’s pay, for which she would have a specified number of floors to clean. Rose nodded her consent. Miss Brown then explained how to get there, and because Rose had a good head, she nodded once again to everything without needing to write any of it down.
She had got up at four-thirty, moaning. “Dem sleep underground, wear wig pan dem head even wen dem got a head full of hair, an dem get up go work inna di middle a di night. Bwoy, is wat a race a people dis is…”
“Sorry, girls!” Lou would say in a breathless hurry and a clank of her keys as she came rushing up to the main entrance, outing her fag, accepting, without rancour, the stern regard of her grumbling, frost-bitten workmates. “We’ll ’ave to give it a bit of elbow grease this time, won’t we?”
The managerials started turning up around eight. A cleaner or two, whoever wasn’t in a hurry, might still be indulging in a chat in the tea-room over a mug of tea and a custard cream, though on a late day, the women would still be dashing around wiping away dust and setting files with a brisk irreverence back on their shelves.
“Another night on the town, Lou?” one of the managerials would always end up joking as he walked in with a newspaper folded under his armpit, or removed a tie from his jacket pocket to hang it up on the coat stand for later.
“Wish it were, wish it were…”
At the bus-stop, her hour and a half done, Rose’s mind running through the things she had to do before her main job in the pie factory started. She could do a quick bit of shopping and have a look in at Pollard’s to see if their children’s underwear had come down in price. Oh, and the rent had to be paid. Miss Brown, though friendly, was strict, she’d send Carmen to each of the tenants on a Thursday evening – rent due tomarra – before they had the chance to squander it over the weekend. Four or five people, waiting at the bus-stop. Always the same faces, engaged in small talk about the weather. About the prices. One particular man had smiled at Rose a couple of times before, had said “Good morning!” to her once. Rose just look him up and down, is what im tink im doing?
“Bet it’s not half as nice here as it is where you come from, is it?”
“I beg yu pardon?” She span round, irritated by the sudden voice so close to her ear.
“Said it’s probably much nicer where you come from, ain’t it?”
“Sunshine all the year round, white beaches, warm sea, lazy days… That’s wot we fink anyway, but if it was such a bed a roses, you lot wouldn’t all be here in the first place, right?” he winked at her. “Where you from, the West Indies?”
“Yes, if yu must know,” she said, giving him no encouragement, unused to people – to white men – just marching up and making conversation with her like that.
“Yes, I must know. Gotta be careful wot I say, don’t I? Africans and West Indians don’t like to be mixed up, do they?”
A man of about forty, or so she guessed, she could never tell. Roughly her height, fair-haired, slightly ginger, he had those watery blue eyes and that pale skin. Rose could see the veins in his head, thumping greeny-blue. He looked like a fish.
“You from Jamaica?”
She eyed him critically, “That’s right.”
“That’s important to know too, you see. I can’t well talk about ‘small island people’ if I ain’t sure you’re not one of them.”
Rose had to laugh in spite of herself.
“Oh yes. I know a bit or two about John Small and him got money. That’s wot you say, innit?”
Kuya! Rose nearly dead laughing.
Other people in the queue turn round. Turn back.
Good Lord, this long long time she never laugh like that! Not since she leave home. A deep, deep-from-the-belly laugh, petering out against her will, leaving behind the embers of a smile to flick at the corners of her young, cupid lips, too tender, too pretty to harbour the hardship they had grown to know.
“Kuya! Lord have mercy!”
“Oh yes! I’ve gotta few Jamaican friends down at the docks where I work. Nicest bunch, they are, really nice bunch. Livened up the place no end, if you ask me.” He smiled into her bright, moist eyes.
“Yu work in the docks?”
“That’s right. Used to be a taxi-driver. Know London like the back o’ me hand, I do, but, well,” he sniffed, “that’s anovva story. Hated it in the docks at first but as I said, oh, here’s me bus,” he shuffled forward with the others, “anyhow, my name’s Jack. See you again sometime, I hope.” He got on, took a seat near the window, nodded to her as the bus pulled away with a hiss, then a purr.
‘Strands of fate magically interwoven to give you a reggae-type experience full of pain, sweat, suffering, pride, poise and grace.’ (Goodreads)
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