by Norman Samuda Smith
Tony rolls onto his stomach, spread-eagled across the bed, his eyes open. It didn’t feel as though he had a good night’s sleep, more like he just finished playing two hard fought basketball games in succession and lost. He rolls onto his back and tries to get up, but fatigue weighs him down, preventing every twisted sinew and his aching limbs from moving; what makes things worse is the splitting headache hammering between his eyes and spreading to the back of his head. The heat from th e radiator doesn’t help matters; it slowly sucks the air out of his bedroom.
The pirate radio station operating from the flat next door is in full swing, giving it large. The drum and bass penetrate his bedroom wall as the MC’s verse their concrete jungle psalms, free-styling with anger, joy and passion – wailing – "Wheel and come again selecta!" – Ecstatic when a wicked lyric is thrown down. Here come the knocking, banging and stamping from the neighbours above and below him – their way of complaining about the up-tempo rumpus that’s goin g on. Tony reaches for a spare pillow and covers his head; trying to smother the noise…
"I should complain ‘bout dis…"
His flat door is forced open; seven black guys rush in, tooled up with baseball bats. They burst into his bedroom – BOOF! - The first blow shocks him; the seething pain that follows, ripples through his structure and instinctively forces him to curl up and protect himself. The other baseball bats reign in all over his body as one attacker yells…
"Dat will teach yuh fe openin’ yuh big mout’ bwoy!"
They run out, leaving his battered body for dead. He manages to drag himself to his bedroom door; he opens it, seeing smoke and flames raging in the hallway blocking his only exit. As the fires blaze, the fumes overcome him; he loses consciousness and slowly suffocates…
…Gasping for air, he wakes and sits up; sweat pours from his body as he battles with the duvet, managing to drag it from over his head, the music’s stopped.
"Mom always seh…"
"Listen to yuh dreams, no matter how bad they sound…"
"…So I better not complain."
The inter-com rings…it rings again, continually this time for what seems like forever. Forgetting his aches and pains, Tony springs out of bed heading for the receiver to cuss the individual who’s causing the disturbance…
"Hello…Hello!" - No answer.
In the bathroom he washes his face, brushes his teeth then prepares the bath for him to later have a long soothing soak. In the kitchen, he puts the kettle on, while it boils, he gazes fourteen floors down out the window of his high-rise coffin and sees four little children repeatedly slide up and down a huge puddle that’s frozen solid in the middle of the car park; they're having big fun. Around and about them are the frosty residential rooftops, the back and front gardens and frost-co vered parked cars in the surrounding streets of north Aston, beyond that, a clear view of Aston Expressway. His eyes follow it north as it spirals onto Spaghetti Junction to where it joins the M6 Motorway. He sees the landscape of eight districts of Birmingham to the point where the horizon kisses the clear blue sky and as the sun shines gloriously through it, the frost lay as thick as snow on the rooftop of the H P Sauce factory. He takes a sup from his cup of tea and exhales, then like what most Englis h folk do when they are stimulated by the steady flow of caffeine through their system, he convinces himself "That feels so much better." Park Lane and the surrounding streets are almost void of cars on what is usually a bustling part of town. Tony gives thanks to Jah and Sunday for this near stillness, coz only on this day does the roaring traffic that leaps out of the expressway and into his flat every day stops.
There’s a knock at the door. A quick glance at the clock chilling on the kitchen wall reads about 10.30am. Jehovah’s witnesses usually come sniffing around about this time; the idea of reasoning with them doesn’t appeal to him. They bang the door and a voice shouts through his letterbox…
"Yow! Open de door nuh blood! Cha!"
Definitely not Jehovah’s witnesses; Tony is vex when he peers through the spy-hole, seeing seven black youths loafing around, donned in their baseball caps and hoods. They bang the door again. Wearing a screw face he opens it and snaps at them…
"Yeh, sorry t’disturb yuh bredrin, me and d’mans jus’ come
t’do our slots in dah studio – Yah get me?"
Confused and irritated, Tony barks at them again…
"Dah radio station star. We come t’do it."
"Which door yuh usually knock when yuh do yuh radio show?"
The youth points to the next-door flat …
"So why yuh knockin’ my door?"
There’s no answer from the youth. The others stand around with their hands in their pockets, their shoulders slouched forward, all of them waddling from side to side like nervous restless Penguins…
"Look, get one ting straight right. Don’t knock me door again.
Seen? - And stop ringin’ de inter-com. Yuh understand?"
"Cha, no need t’gwan like dat bredrin. Like I said, me and d’mans…"
Tony slams the door. In the kitchen he prepares the traditional Sunday rice and peas, roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables. When his kids come round later, they will eat, drink and be merry, he smiles at the thought of this. While the food simmers in the oven and on the stove, he makes his way to the bathroom to have that long awaited bath; the phone rings…
"Hello yuhself. Where’s Mickel?"
"What yuh mean where’s Mickel Marcia? He’s at your yard enit?"
"No he’s not. His bed wasn’t slept in las’ night…"
"Jus’ check yuh spare room and see if him in deh please."
"A’right, hol’ on…"
In the spare room he sees Mickel curled up and sleeping peacefully on the bunk bed…
"Yeh, he’s here…"
"Yuh see? And I bet yuh don’t even know what time him sneak in las’ night. Do you?"
"Cha, don’t start now Marcia…"
"What yuh mean don’t start now Tony? He’s only fifteen and him out til all hours! I blame you f’dis!"
"Yes you! Yuh too laid back man. Yuh don’t phone him and ask him wha gwaan in him life. Some father you are!"
"Me and him talk las’ night…"
"Yeh, yeh whatever! When he wake up, talk to him right, coz he too cheeky toward me…"
"Yes really! You tell him from me dat he better change him ways and attitude, or me gwine t’row him out!"
"Yuh wouldn’t do dat. Would you?"
"Yes I would…and he can live wid you when I do. So talk to him right – man to man! Ba-bye!"
She hangs up; Tony stares at the receiver, and then puts it down before retreating to the bathroom…
‘Bwoy, dis is one shit day already.’
In the living room, Mickel is sprawled across the sofa with the remote in his hand channel surfing. He stops at Sky Sports One and concentrates on the live football game between Manchester United and Derby County.
"Yes, me safe like de Crown Jewels. Is what time yuh sneak in dis mornin’?"
"I went to Uncle Isaac’s birthday party, y’know d’one yuh wasn’t invited to."
"Oh yeh, I f’get. Was it good?"
"Yeh, t’was a’right."
"Good, glad to hear it. Phone yuh sister and find out what time she comin’ over."
"Oh, erm, she ain’t comin’ Dad. She’s plaiting Mom’s hair t’day."
"I see, and as usual me ah de las’ one fe know. So is just me and you then?"
"Well you can stop watchin’ football fe a start, go and have yuh bath, then vacuum de flat."
"Oh but Dad…"
"Oh but Dad me nuttn. If yuh quick enough, yuh will catch de second half...MOVE!"
He vacuums the whole flat and has his bath, before the second half starts. Manchester United win the game comfortably 2 – 0. Later that evening Tony irons the clothes he’s going to wear to work on Monday. Michel has just finished his homework and chills in front of the T V watching ‘The Box’ "De music station dat oonoo control." – There’s a knock at the door, Tony peers through the spy-hole and sees two of Mickel’s bredrins waiting.
"Yow, Mickel! – Yuh bredrin dem at de door!"
"Can they come in Dad?"
"Only fe a likkle while." Tony sighs "Coz me nuh in de mood fe entertain yuh bredrin dem. Ok?"
Tony hears Mickel and his friends laughing and joking in the living room. He chooses to give them space by staying in his bedroom to watch TV and to do some reading. An hour passes by; thirst niggles away at his throat, he heads for the kitchen to pour himself a drink. He takes a sup then stands by the kitchen door looking into the living room. Mickel and his friend Colin watch their bredrin Tyrone build a spliff. Tony decides to observe and see how far this situation will go.
Mickel turns up the Hip-Hop tune playing on the stereo...
"Dis is a bad tune y’know star!"
Tony recognises the album, Slick Rick consciously rapping The Art of Story Telling...
‘Track eleven – Impress the Kid.’
The slow hypnotising bass vibrates the family photo’s hanging proudly on the living room wall – followed by a rhythmic drum section that compels Tony to rock in time to the beat. Mickel and his bredrins nod their heads in synchronised unison – not a word said – drawn to ‘The Ruler’s’ powerful lyrics...
"Let me tell yuh star, when yuh smoke dis, you’ll end up on cloud
ten. Y’get me?"
They laugh along with Tyrone in expectation as their eyes fixate on the long well made joint. The track conveniently fades to an end...
"I hope yuh not gonna smoke dat in here Tyrone." Tony intervenes; he strolls into the living room.
"I don’t t’ink so y’know."
"What’s your problem?"
Shocked by his reply, Tony turns off the stereo and responds…
"You’re the problem Tyrone, look at what yuh doin’!"
"Cha, yuh waan fix up star!" Tyrone rebels.
He puts the spliff between his lips, producing a defiant smirk. Colin sniggers, Mickel is embarrassed, Tony is irate.
"De two of yuh, come out me yard! – NOW!"
"If yuh seh anyt’ing to defend yuh friends Mickel, yuh can leave with dem!"
"Cha, what’s that about man!"
"It’s about respectin’ yuh elders Tyrone, now step!" Tony replies moving threateningly closer toward him…
"I think yuh better go star." Mickel suggests.
"...Ok – Yuh comin’ blood?"
Mickel steals a glance at his Dad…
"…No, just go."
"…And don’t come back!" Tony roars.
Mickel sees them to the door then returns into the living room and sits on the sofa. Tony stands glaring at him without blinking; the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. Mickel slices through it, sucking his teeth…
"I know what y’gonna do Dad."
"…And what’s dat exactly?"
"Y’gonna cuss me enit?"
No Mickel, I’m gonna talk to you articulately and intelligently. Coz somewhere between dem ears of yours, yuh have a ting call a brain."
Mickel rolls his eyes and produces an arrogant smirk…
"Yuh better wipe dat smile of yuh face right now bwoy!"
Mickel does so immediately …
"Is dis de kinda life yuh want to live? Smokin’ and loafin’ around wid yuh no hope friends?"
"So what yuh wanna do when yuh leave school den?"
He shrugs his shoulders …
"Well yuh better hurry up and know. When you leave school, yuh best start tink about college. Coz me nah subsidise your sky-larkin’. Yuh hear me?"
"Yeh, yeh." Mickel dismissively replies.
The uneasy silence returns as Father and son throw daggers at each other; Tony’s sigh breaks the ice. He looks to the heavens for divine inspiration and his prayer is answered when the cool breeze blows the spirit of his ancestors through the opened window in the living room. They sit on his shoulders and whisper their immortal words in Tony’s ear…
"In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty."
"What y’talkin ‘bout dad?"
"Yuh poor grandmother must be rollin’ ‘round restless in her grave right now when she see you, born in dis country, where they throwin’ education at yuh – and yuh nuh want it!"
"Dad, school’s ok – Y’get me? It’s the teachers, they borin’ and stupid man! They argue wid me over stupid tings star!"
Tony chuckles at Mickel’s urban lingo…
"Y’know, just over fifty years ago, yuh grandfather sacrifice everyting fe start a new life here on England’s streets."
"Why did he leave paradise in d’first place?"
"Coz he didn’t want me, yuh uncle and yuh aunties to live de same tough life he was livin’ when he was fourteen."
"Y’mean tough like when he used t’live and work d’land at your Gran’parents house?"
Through his squinted eyes Tony steps back and gives Mickel a long probing stare…
"Who tell yuh bout dat?"
"Long time. He always tell me stories ‘bout Jamaica."
Tony smiles, sits in his ‘Easy Chair’ and folds his arms…
"Ok. So what story he tell yuh?"
"Dat he used t’live in a small house wid his Mom ‘n’ Dad, and their back garden was massive. Dat they used to grow vegetable, Yam,
Sweet Potato and Banana, and they raise chickens and a couple cow and ting."
Tony nods his head and smiles...
"Mmm-hmm...So yuh have been listenin’ den?"
"Yeh. Gran’dad’s a good storyteller man."
"Did he tell yuh ‘bout him donkey?"
"Yeh. His Dad give him a donkey when he was fourteen enit? - and when he was able t’ride it, he would load up de donkey right, walk ten miles to market, set up a stall and sell him tings. Then at de end of de day, he would ride back home."
"Did he tell yuh what he did wid the takin’s?"
"He gave it to his Mom."
"Was yuh Gran’dad happy with dat?"
"Erm...I dunno. He never told me dat bit."
"Well let me tell yuh dis. He was happy makin’ money ah market and helpin’ his Mom when he was young, but when yuh Gran’dad reach his twenties, him seh to himself one day – Is this it? – Is this all life have to offer me? – Then England start callin’ West Indians to come..."
"...So he pays his fare and comes to England and d’rest is history enit?"
"Seen – but how did he raise de money to pay his fare?"
Mickel shrugs his shoulders...
"D’money he made from market I s’pose."
"No. Yuh Gran’dad sell him donkey to raise the fare to come over.
His Mother, your Great Grandmother hold down three job to help him financially."
"Is a serious ting Mickel. This is where you’re coming from yout’ man. Sacrifice – and all because he wanted to see the future generations of him family have a better education than him, and we have and you have; but yuh nuh finish yet. Yuh over stand?"
"The way I see it Mickel, yuh have these choices, either yuh leave school without any qualifications, get a job and cuss the man who can afford a Porsche car and all mod-cons – Or yuh educate yuhself to do the job he does. You can drive that Porsche car as well. You can go to an interview where yuh future employer tell yuh, dis is how much you will earn and these are your duties – Or yuh can be educated to a standard where they head hunt you and they ask you – how much do yuh want us to pay you? – Which one yuh like?"
"I like d’educated one man."
"I thought yuh would. My Mom used to tell me ‘The greatest thing is to know what you don’t know’ My Dad still seh ‘Knowledge is power...’ So when I tell yuh fe stay in school – Don’t do it fe yuh Grandparents, me or yuh Mom, do it for yuhself – and when yuh come through the other side – graduated and ting – give thanks and respect your ancestors for givin’ you the opportunity for livin’ in dis land. Coz if it wasn’t for them, yuh wouldn’t be here.
Yu understand me?"
"Yes Dad. I hear you."
"Good. One last ting.
"Hear the instruction of your father and forsake not the law of your mother...Tell me who write dat?"
Mickel frowns and shrugs his shoulders...
"King Solomon, The Proverbs verse eight and nine. Stop bein’ cheeky to yuh Mom. Yuh hear me?
"I haven’t been cheeky to Mom!"
"Yes yuh have?"
"No I haven’t. Is jus’ dat she moans all d’time – Y’get me?"
"Moans about what exactly?"
"If I don’t wash the dishes and if I don’t vacuum d’house straight away and..."
"Look – I’m not gonna run no competition about who seh dis and who seh dat right. Rules are in hell too, and the fact of the matter is, yuh Mom have reason to complain to me ‘bout yuh attitude – seen? - Simple tings Mickel. Yuh Mom tell yuh fe wash de dishes, wash dem. She tell yuh fe vacuum de house, vacuum de house, don’t ask no question or tell her to wait, just do it. Right?"
Mickel sulks, but nods positively...
"Good. That way life will be much easier. Ok?"
Tony feels he’s given Mickel enough food for thought; they chill and watch TV for the next two hours.
"Dad, I’m gonna go now a’right?"
"Yuh goin’ straight home?"
"Yeh, I got some more homework to finish off."
"Ok. Yuh want a lift?"
"Nah it’s ok, I’ll catch the bus, there’s one due in five minutes."
"A’right den, tek care and remember, be humble and wise – Yuh hear? – It’s all about respect – Seen?"
"See yah Dad."
"Yeh, see yuh."