Excerpt from ‘Understanding English’ from StoryTime spring 2011


Understanding English



At first he thought the cold winds were going to snatch his heart out of his body.  Nothing he had heard or read had prepared him for this.  His favourite books on England eulogised about log fires, and crimson cheeked families drinking wine and eating lots of meat whilst singing hearty choruses.  The cold was just a backdrop to all these stories – this cold that went deep into the parts a thousand jumpers and heavy coats could not keep warm.

Yet he was not one to complain – was it not his desire that had carried him here?  The desire of most young educated Nigerians to study abroad and join the ever growing ranks of the new breed of African – the one who had bagged the ‘golden fleece’ – a British or American education.  Sometimes when the cold was especially biting he would think about how he would go back to Nigeria one day, with his qualifications and show his brothers and sisters that he had done well, without the family wealth.  Let them stay there in their crumbling palace and continue to feed on each other like maggots.  His father had shown little reaction when he told him of his plans to go abroad, but then the old man showed very little interest in anything he did.

After his first sharp catch of English air, his eyes adjusted to the grey and bleak shadows in the morning light on the dock, as the ship got nearer, until he realised that they were people.  He shivered and wondered how he was going to survive in this climate.

He got his second chilly welcome a week later, when he went to the corner shop next door and greeted the woman who stood behind the counter watching him the way a deer watches a panther, little green pig eyes buried in a round face, head wrapped up in a scarf, curlers pointing out all angles like the Medusa, he had read about in his Latin classes.  The Beatles crackled out of the tiny red stereo player on the shelf.

Money can’t buy you love. Can’t buy you love ……