Long Time: mum, it’s someone black

Quizzical though it might at first appear, all the tenants in Beswick Road were wont to stop –

for a fraction of a second –

whatever it was they had been doing each and every time the doorbell rang.

Ding donnng… Ding… Dong???

One or two children, wrenched away from their momentary play place in the vicinity of the curtains by an imperative parental grab, unaccompanied by words, were pushed impatiently to some other corner of the room. It might be door-to-door. Or election campaigners. Worse still, it might be Immigrations. Or even the Police…? Not a soul, not even the cat-

moved –

for a fraction –

of a second.

Miss Brown had quite categorically stated that if anyone ever, hever gave the Police occasion to come knocking at her door, that person could pack them bag and she and them would have to part company. So one or two wives shot their husbands a vicious look. And one or two wives were shot back an equally vicious shut-yu-mowt-woman. The doorbell rang again. Truculent ring-a-ding, this time, on this particular, somewhat agreeably sunny London two fifteen, when all the tenants of Beswick Road, and Miss Brown’s cat, desisted from action for that fraction of a second, and Rose happened to be down at Miss Brown’s as she had got into the habit of doing. Notwithstanding her landlady’s inclination to chat-too-much, Rose welcomed the time spent in her company as a real taste from home. The two women cast reciprocal ‘is-who-dat?’ looks from beneath arched brows as the bell was molested for the third time.

“Carmen!”

Carmen emerged from behind the plastic stripey hang-up between the kitchen and the living-room door.

“If is door-to-door, me have it arlreddy. Look like him no mean fi go weh fore him run up me ‘lectricity bill, yaa. Mek haste and get rid a im.”

Carmen went over to the window. Rose and Miss Brown followed with their eyes. Miss Brown tiptoed in the direction of the tv set to turn the volume down.

“Mum, it’s someone black.”

“Black?”

“Yeah. Black.”

“Is who it is?” she insisted.

“How’m I supposed to know!”

“Move weh fram di curtain no mek him see yu!” Miss Brown’s whisper thundered over to the girl and cuffed her.

Carmen rolled her eyes to heaven as she moved away. “He looks like you, if you ask me,” but she had done her bit, so she now walked back to the kitchen, unwilling to perform any more favours, muttering something it was just as well Miss Brown was too preoccupied to pay attention to.

Miss Brown. Staring at Rose, then beyond her, then back at her. Eyes growing wide. Horrified.

“Roy!” She gasped.

Rose’s eyebrows said, Who?

“Car-men!” she whispered as loud as she dared.

Carmen re-appeared in the doorway with her most fed up expression on.

“You did see if him have a bag wid im, like im gwine stay long?”

Carmen shrugged her shoulders.

“Go an let im in.”

“Why me?” Carmen protested. “I don’t even know who he is!”

“Child…!”

She got the message.

He rapped tap taptap tap tap on the living-room door as he wiped his shoes off on the doormat. Roy had not seen his sister in years. Only once or twice since they had arrived in Hinglan, first him, then her, him following his wife’s family to settle in Birmingham, her, Miss Brown, deciding in favour of London. Miss Brown, not at all partial to her sister-in-law, refused to spend her hard-earn money on a visit. And now he was here, in London. After all those years. It has to be said that Miss Brown’s brother did feel a little awkward, after all those years, so he decided: bess ting to do, hact nachurral.

“Miss B?” he greeted her with a chuckle, as with an over eager display of those immaculate teeth that had won him innumerable lady friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Uncle Roy,” His sister stated a fact that could not be stretched to a welcome, no matter how she try. She stood in the middle of the room. “Di door open.”

Stout, cheerful-looking man going on for fifty. Stepped like a dandy into the room. He was better looking than his sister and had helped himself to a taste of almost all of her girlfriends back home, which fact had invariably led to a mash-up of friendships, for which Miss Brown had never truly been able to forgive him. When Uncle Roy followed his wife to England, Miss Brown had hoped that the cold would put him out of action likkle bit. He only ever remembered he had a sister when his wife booted him out and he needed somewhere to put his head. Here he was now; fatter than she recollected, a few grey hairs beginning to make an appearance, and the paunch of good living pressing itself tightly against the waist of his trousers. But where was his bag?

“Come in an sit down,” Miss Brown said indifferently. But she couldn’t help herself, she had to ask, “Is where yu bag deh?”

Uncle Roy made himself comfortable on the sofa. “Marnin,” he said to Rose.

“Marnin,” Rose replied.

“Yu see dis madda a yours, her bradda kyan’t even sit down five minute rest him leg before she want to chase him out,” he stretched one hand along the length of the sofa.

“Is not me daughter dat, but is a member a di family, yu hear wat me saying to you?”

“Is what yu name, lovely…” Uncle Roy sat back. Opened his legs likkle bit.

“Emily,” Rose got politely to her feet. “Miss Brown -”

“Emily. You warng know someting, Emily? These Jamaicans don’t have no manners, you know. Nat like we British.”

“Miss Brown,” Rose tried again. “I best be going.”

“Alright, Rose,” she spoke in Rose’s direction, with her eyes fixed on her brother. “Yu gwine come down later fi a likkle a me stew peas?”

“If you sure is not too much trouble…”

“Trouble? Is no trouble whatsohever,” Miss Brown assured her.

“Well,” Rose turned to the brother on the sofa. “I best be going. Nice to see you.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Uncle Roy replied gallantly.

Miss Brown standing in the middle of the room and Carmen in the kitchen both rolled their eyes to heaven.

“All mine,” he assured the slender young woman. Nice young gyal.

On her way up the stairs, Rose just caught Miss Brown ordering Carmen to look inna di fridge see if Daddy still got a few can a beer, and by the time she had reached the top of the landing, she could hear Miss Brown and Uncle Roy tearing up some raucous laughter about something. Or someone.

‘It’s a pity Jack never gets to meet Uncle Roy, the protagonist’s uncle-of-sorts, who knows a thing or two about food and women himself, although his greatest love seems to be for getting hold of the wrong end of British politics. Simon has been described as a wordsmith par excellence. Rightly so! Intelligent, humorous, tragic and sensual. Contemporary British literature at its best.‘ (A.A., London, U.K.)

walk-cover-w-s

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