I did not understand resistance, until the existence of my brother was challenged, until the foundations we stood on forcibly vanished until our family were seen as savage until the pigmentation of our skin made us a target of pain and violence and hurt and silence.
Dinner was at 7
Dinner was at 7 o’clock like it always has been like it always will be. We were having ackee and saltfish, I didn’t like ackee and saltfish. The ackee was too soft and the saltfish too salty, but it was mums’ favourite. It reminded her of home.
Dinner was the only time of the day my family were all together. At breakfast, mum was just coming back from work and at lunch me and Wayne were at school.
I had already set the table like mum had asked and I sat, opposite an empty chair, waiting for the table to be filled. Mum walked in with the rice and peas and set it down on the table. The smell never failed to put a smile on my face, the pungent bay leaves, the creamy coconut milk, the faint scent of garlic.
I heard the door open and close. Prompt and proper. It was my dad coming back from The Railway. He hung up his coat, walked through the dining room into the kitchen came up behind my mother and put his arms around her, she jumped and laughed even though she knew he was coming. It was the same every day.
They came to the table together, with my dad helping with the last bowl, placing it down while pecking my forehead. I was waiting until everyone was sat, and grace was said before asking about his day. That was our tradition.
The clock on the radiogram cabinet struck at 7. We all looked at the empty chair, then looked at each other, I looked at the food, then back to the chair. He wasn’t here. He had only been late twice before, when he went to Manchester with his friends and when he argued with dad before dinner was served.
We sat in uncomfortable silence for exactly 3 minutes and 27 seconds before someone finally spoke.
“Perhaps sometin’ ‘appen to ‘im at school”
“Don’t be makin’ (h)excuses fa ‘im Pearl, him know wa time dinna fi start”.
I stayed silent, there was no need for me to interject, all I wanted was to eat dinner, but Wayne was stopping me. I tuned out the conversation, I watched as the steam ceased to wisp above the food, I sighed as the aroma began to fade.
I observed the hands of the clock which moved painfully slowly. It was exactly 24 minutes and 49 seconds past 7 when we heard a fumble at the door.
Silence resumed between my parents, work talk evaporated and became unimportant as our three heads whipped around so viciously black dots invaded my vision, blurring the outline of my brother in the doorway. As he proceeded down the hallway leading him directly to the open doors of the dining room my view of him sharpened. The dots faded and his face became clear.
His cheeks were swollen, his lips were blue, his uniform was bloodied, his shoes were scuffed; he had rage on his face, but the fear shone through.
The chairs my parents sat on scraped back, making a high pitch screech that sent a shiver down my spine, they ran to him. My dad repeatedly asked Wayne what had happened, getting more frantic with every word. My mum ran her hand across Wayne’s face gently touching his bruises and scars.
He ignored them both and looked directly at me, twisted around the chair with my neck cramping trying to get a good look of my hurt big brother.
He walked to me and crouched so we could see eye to eye. He slowly raised his hand and wiped away tears I didn’t know had fallen.
“I’m sorry I missed dinner”.
Father Lover God
It was a special day at church, women’s day/relationship day/ prayer day/ youth day. I don’t recall. But we were at a different venue, Manchester Academy (Mojosda Aboadagou), not Manchester South which meant it was a special day.
That day so many things happened. So many things that felt significant. My dad wasn’t answering his calls, call after call after call he wouldn’t respond. I was with all the kids, Sarah, Omar, Amira. I was responsible. Accountable. I was 15/14/13 I don’t recall. Years later I was told it was Anxiety/Depression something that got in the way of him being a father, at a time where I had no mother, I was a mother. I was told he had a trapped nerve from a friend/relative/stranger
he was in the hospital that’s why he couldn’t, wouldn’t reply
Why did they lie
This was the day I resented my responsibility
All of my friends
The boy… I liked…I loved…I liked
Was having sabbath lunch at his house
And I was invited
I was delighted
When my entourage was spotted
The brothers, the sisters
They rushed into the car
I saw from afar
As they left me
And then I recognised what I was
We were late that day
Our entrance was delayed
Not during prayer
Not during sermon
Not during song
I pushed my sister in
She linked arms
With my cousin
But I stayed behind
And turned around
So many rooms were closed
And so many were open
There were babies and parents and sabbath school and children’s talks and teenagers avoiding the auditorium
So I hung around spoke to people that intimidated me
And people that aroused me
I went down in lifts and walked up stairs and avoided pious sisters and brothers eager to assimilate me into the body of Christ to eat stale bread and drink alcohol-free grape juice
This was the day I chose to walk backwards, not forwards
To be free
Instead of Christian
To be found
Instead of lost
This was the day that men betrayed me,
Father, lover, God.
This was the day I realised,
I was divine without them.
The day, I became me.
(I went to Morocco as a Moroccan I left reminded I was not)
if the ants ceased to scurry
you would never know there was a hole present
one by one, like an army
from the crack in the wall
across the cold floor
to the fridge
I watched the ants
as my Senegalese twists were tugged
and pulled, by the handful
as words and phrases
were said by the mouthful
I forgot to understand
It didn’t hurt
but before it had been issued
the style wouldn’t suit me
It was made for straight hair soft hair silky hair
not my hair
instead of thinking too deeply about the oxymoron of my competing hairstyles as a physical amalgamation of my internalised cultural dispute
I looked closely at the uniform ants
all aware of their place
along the cracked white tiles
I looked closer still
one wasn’t quite in line
Trying to recall a memory that seems so far away. I think my ankle was sprained. I was playing a game. Sitting on the class computer. We were learning about the Romans so it must have been year 3. There was a group of 2 or 3 or 4, all boys. They gathered pencils from the tables. Yellow and black stripes freshly spiked.
They gathered around me pushing the pencils forcefully, painfully into my hair. I locked eyes with a boy amongst them, he was brown like me, his hair not kinky but curly. He couldn’t hold my gaze he had to look away so he could play their game. He laughed because they were boys and they were white and they knew what was funny, they always did.
I shook my head
The pencils fell
they started the game
All over again
I was tired
I still am
I was no more than 6. My mother went to college in the evening’s so we went to kid’s club. I ate snacks and played games and watched films. The year 6’s were cool the girls wore platform shoes and rolled up skirts had high socks and unbuttoned polo shirts. They gazed at their prey as I walked across the room, they stood like a barricade blocking my way to the exit.
The coolest girl made a grab for my head. It was the beginning of the week so the hairstyle was fresh, my scalp sore, the partings exposing my flesh. A parting from my forehead to the nape of my neck another from one ear all the way to the next.
I was trapped by hands I admired. I didn’t make a sound.
‘It looks like the English flag’.
They all laughed. They were cool girls, they were white girl, they knew what was funny so I laughed with them.
I don’t know when but I know I cried.
This is one of my earliest memories.
I begged my mum every Sunday night to save me from this dreadful plight.
She never listened.