Blue Sky Thinking

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I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid of the word Nigeria. It was my tormentor, my nemesis and my destiny. Even the word was heavy so heavy that you had to split it into 4 to say it properly – Ni – ger – ri- yah

Destiny was another big word. Ever since Father told me that Des-ti- ny was waiting for me in Nigeria and one day we would all go back the thought lingered in my head like an unwelcome guest but in the eternal optimism of youth I convinced myself that that day would never actually come.

Images of deep dark jungles infested with tigers and lions had embedded themselves into my imagination due to watching Tarzan and Daktari on a regular practice. It told me all I knew about Africa – the place was chaotic; full of bumbling Africans who communicated in grunts and shrugs, fought against each and seemed incapable of any original thought or action unless Tarzan guided them, helped them or saved them from their predicament with his superior problem solving capabilities.

My father walked in and saw me crying. He smiled and came over to rest a hand on my shoulder as mother flung up her hands and said something in their language.

“Don’t worry Lola…..I can understand it’s all strange to you now but you will love it when you get there. Fresh food, lovely weather. He closed his eyes, “A place where people respect their elders and you are part of a family not just some body that fell out of the sky.”

I swallowed and blinked. “I don’t want to go.”

“Nonsense – you have been here for too long. I’ve always told you that this isn’t your country.”

Amanda’s eyes met mine and I bit back my reply.

I lived with the Alison’s – Amanda and Keith and their two kids – Peter and Kate and a big lazy dog called Mutley. Home was a three bed roomed semi in Portsmouth because my parents were studying and working down in London.

Growing up I never questioned why the woman who came to pick me up at school was white and the folk with the heavy voices who came down from London to see me every fortnight were Black. I just accepted it like the sky being blue or like the fact that no matter how far you walked the moon in the sky never seemed to get any nearer…

A kid at school asked me how I came to have a white mum. I told her I had two mums.

“How’s that then?” she asked blue eyes swamping her whole face.

Cause that’s just how it is. I shrugged. Just like the blue sky and the moon.

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Susannah’s Box

boxExcerpt from Susannah’s Box

When I was 8, I got invited to Jenny Pollards birthday but didn’t have a proper frock.  Susanna knew how much I wanted to go and got some pink silk from Brick Lane.  She embroidered the hem, neckline and sleeves with pretty white flowers and even came up with some shiny white pumps.  My sisters pointed out the fact that we didn’t have any money, and how unfair it was that I got a new outfit because I was the youngest. 

 I don’t know why I had to go spoil everything by eating so much that I was sick at the party.  Must have been the sight of that table groaning with all the food we seldom got to eat anymore; cakes, jellies, sausages on sticks, ham sandwiches, and jammy donuts. Mrs Pollard was nice about it though and gave me one of Jenny’s dresses to wear for the rest of the party.  Everyone stared at me after that and I was glad when Susannah came to take me home.

“What happened to your dress?”

Mrs Pollard took her aside for a word and when she walked back to me, her face was all squeezed up as if she was in pain or something.  She thanked Mrs Pollard, yanked me out of the house and as soon as the door closed behind us, looked at me for a long time and made a hissing noise with her tongue.

“Why are you disgracing me like this eh? Do we not have any food in our house?”

I was about to say that we didn’t, well not really nice food any way but the look on her face stopped me. We went home without a word.

I never did get invited to any more of Jenny’s parties.

Sometimes on Saturdays when Susannah had the morning off we would climb on the bed and watch as she opened the trunk and show us her treasures.  There were laces, gauzes, delicately embroidered laces with hand stitched jewels and pretend diamante, rich velvets and chiffon.  Her wedding gown; all cream and embroidered sliver was neatly packed with mothballs and wrapped in cellophane waiting for the first of us to get married.

Maybe it is good that she is no longer here to see us three well into our thirties still unmarried. Marcia and Pete were living together and I and Pam single parents.    Marriage had been her ideal despite her disappointment with Dad.

Don’t get me started on my Dad. The last time I saw him was at the party of his last grandchild. We aren’t a close family but we do try to maintain appearances when it comes to family occasions. He doesn’t look bad for a man going on sixty.  His wife Betty was there as well. She looks rather wizened nowadays nothing like Susannah would have been at her age. Dad’s son Alex was there with one of his baby mammas attached to his arm. She had this ginger weave that made her look like an extra out of the Lion king.

Back in the seventies all we had was the Tele. Nothing posh like theatre productions. Pantos were good though. Susannah took us to see Cinderella one Christmas.

I liked comedies like Rising Damp and Some Mother’s do have them because they made us all laugh. Susanna seldom laughed but when she did it made everyone more relaxed.  For a few minutes she would forget about the unpaid gas and electricity, the fact that we always seemed to be growing out of our shoes, clothes or uniforms or that she had bumped into Dad and Aunty Betty down the High Street pushing their little boy in his new posh pram.

Susannah and Dad always exchanged polite greetings but she would ignore Aunt Betty. You see Aunt Betty used to look after us when Susannah went to work. That is how the whole trouble started.

What’s love got to do with it?

The swell of rousing music fills the air as a gasp of appreciation escapes from some lips.  Others crane their heads to get a better look at what is going on. Photographers hustle, for good vantage points to get a good picture.

The young woman leaning on her father’s arm is accompanied by a train of ten couples dressed in turquoise satin and cream suits respectively. Their steps are co-ordinated as they move in slow steps to the mellow notes of To God Be the Glory for the great things He has done.

The young bride is dressed in a long white dress heavily embossed with diamante beads – off the shoulders and revealing much more than it should, in keeping with the latest fashion. The dress, like her shoes and the pearl and gold tiara is from abroad. It is that kind of wedding where a lot of stuff comes from abroad – the outfit, the wedding cake, the invitations and the guests. There are dignitaries, family, colleagues, old schoolmates, lovers…friends, enemies …everybody who is ‘somebody’ has packed themselves into the church.  They are all present to witness this young couple take their first steps into the well and tested road leading to matrimony.

The old Pastor who has seen so many stand before the altar and make vows that are legally, spiritually and emotionally binding, gives them a reassuring smile as the procession ends and they stand in front of him.

The brides father reluctantly relinquishes his second daughter to her groom.

The Pastor begins to read the vows, those irritating little details that are meant to have an impact on two individuals and that of generations to come, but no one seems to  be listening. The bride is actually a very beautiful girl under the layers of chocolate soufflé powder mask, but it is a hot day and her bridesmaid dutifully brings out her handkerchief to wipe away the sweat running down her face and spoiling her make up. She doesn’t want her first pictures to look anything but perfect.

Someone is arranging her veil and another is making sure that her silk train doesn’t get too rumpled. The Bride is wondering whether all those haters and backbiters that swore that this day would never happen, are getting a good look at her and how beautiful she looks and regretting being so nasty to her.

What about another key player on this life changing event – the Groom?  No one seems to really pay much attention to him, as he stands tall and handsome, clutching the hand of his new bride and looking into her eyes like a man who has just paid dearly for a new car, and wonders whether it’s going to last the distance of a long journey.  He shuts out the voices of his single bachelor friends that are echoing in his head and tries to ignore the rising fears of what might lay ahead, by looking ahead to the honeymoon – no sorry I meant holiday to come.

He is a very modern 21st century kind of young man, so he doesn’t have the delights of the marital bed to look forward to, having sampled and exhausted the charms of his beautiful bride long ago. He is thinking about the tourist attractions in Hawaii, as there is nothing left in his wife that is worth anticipating. He has sometimes wondered in the past, why every woman has to make such a big deal over an event that lasts a few hours, yet alters a man’s destiny forever.

He hopes that she is worth the colossal sacrifice and expense he is making to marry her.  His mother had pleaded with him, asking him to ensure she was pregnant before marrying her but he had decided to go ahead.  He felt a bit guilty and sorry for the girl. They had been together for almost seven years and he had been her first.   So he felt obligated in a strange kind of way to make her his wife.  As for children, she was in her late twenties, a good time for motherhood.  There was loads of time.

There is another woman whose pride and joy on the day is slightly eclipsed by that of the Mother of the Bride. Yes. It’s the Mother in law.  She is a regal and authoritative as a queen as she surveys the crowd in the church.  It is truly a great gathering, one that has cost thousands of pounds and dollars. As she dances down the aisle as her son and his bride make their way out, she sends up a silent prayer to God that this very crowd will congregate here for the thanksgiving of her grandchild, in nine months’ time.

Three years later…

The pretty young bride hardly smiles nowadays. The slim girlish figure is more rounded but the light in her eyes has gone. She had certain expectations when she got married and in five years every one of them has been dashed. She didn’t marry for this. For Better for Worse…and it has been for worse.

Sometimes, she remembers the words of that timeless song from Tina Turner.

What does love have to do with it?

Part two to follow.