In My Shoes

November 11, 2010
By TheLizBird BRONZE, Suffolk, Other
TheLizBird BRONZE, Suffolk, Other
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

21st February, 1961.

A deafening boom bellowed from the depths, and we started to move; gliding over the moonlit, glistening water and into the unknown. The world swarmed before my eyes and my head ached with dizziness as I firmly swallowed a fragment of nausea crawling up my dry throat. I turned over, but found myself on the floor with my eyes wide open.
“Ouch!” I croaked.
“Tallulah?” murmured a sleepy voice.
“Damerae,” I began, “Where are we?”
“On the ship,” he responded. As quick as a flash I remembered. My brother was staring at my face, his soft dark eyes full of anxiety. I grinned, and then jumped athletically onto my narrow bed, staring out of the window in excitement. I fixed my eyes on the tiny lights in the distance; my home getting further from me. I had never left the country before, so my feelings brought somewhat of a dread. What would it be like? I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime; a journey that would take me from my beautiful tropical home, across 4,000 miles of ocean, and into the undiscovered. I smiled, fighting back the tears. I squinted through the thick blanket of darkness to my Jamaica, and uttered a final goodbye with a vow of returning home.

The ship was at first an unwelcoming monster looming out on the sea. I had not known how burly or packed full of people from all the Caribbean islands it was until daylight the next day when I went up on deck, with the fresh salty sea air fingering its way through my wild hair, and the deep blue water splashing against the sides of the great sea beast. All through the journey, Damerae was the loudest out of all the young boys on board, even though he was convinced every minute that we were about to collide with some unknown object. He fretted obtrusively in poor mummy’s ear!

“Land Ahoy!”
I was in the middle of a conversation with mummy when Damerae rushed over to us, hollering boisterously.
When I at last set foot on English soil, my feelings were such a queer mixture that I knew I had to think about them.
Above the throng of people, the sky was darkening, and a freezing wind bit at my face. I scanned the rows for my daddy, spotted his infectious smile and frenzied waving, and beamed.

The trains were comfortable.
Everything felt so fresh, new and undiscovered.
The scenery intrigued me – the grass was so green and I was captivated by the pretty fields and quaint villages we passed.

Birmingham was dirty.
I had to weave in and out of the people to keep up with daddy. I wished I could have inspected the colourful shop windows and restaurants whizzing by in a blur.
But people stared at us like one scrutinising a group of derelict insects.
There were towering blocks of dull, grey apartments soaring above our heads.
Graffiti was sprawled over walls.
A lady swore at me, babbling something I didn’t understand.
In contrast, Jamaica was paradise!

Daddy paused before hesitatingly twisting the stiff key. My excitement almost bubbled over. I had endured this city for four long hours and felt exhausted. I peeped into my new home and observed in a daze the few furnishings that decorated the microscopic room. This is what I had travelled so far for! My heart began to break inside me. I knew my soul had been left in Jamaica. I blinked back my tears, knowing that my father had toiled for us to be here together. What I didn’t appreciate was that most of his struggle had been to make himself accepted in a country where he was rejected and despised for something he had no control over.

On the first day, I stayed inside except when curiosity triumphed over my fear, and I bounced downstairs to open the front door. I shyly retreated, however, when I was greeted by the postman’s sleepy gaze settling on my face.
But after a week, mummy insisted we had better go to the local schools. And that that was the most traumatic ordeal I had ever been through.

Day one, I came scuttling home like a frightened hedgehog in pure shock.
Day two was better.
Day three, I bolted back in baffled tears because the teacher had bellowed at me for my accent. I was proud of my idiom - it distinguished me from the other pupils. Mummy suggested that I learnt how to speak the Queen’s English.
Day four, I tried to imitate the English accent.
Day five was when it started happening. Until now I had kept my head down and was too self conscious and timid to talk to anyone. I didn't notice the stares. Now I did. I was more assertive, so people began to spit rude words in my face.
I came home and asked mummy what it meant. I was told to call Damerae. She then explained with difficulty to her children, who knew so little of the world outside their own limited but blissful knowledge, that because of our skin colour some people would hate us.
I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t they welcome us and smile and be friendly? I would if I were them... wouldn’t I?
Maybe I wouldn’t. The realisation had dawned. Most people in the world saw me as a colour, and not as a person. If I was one of them, I’d be the same. I recognised that hatred was being instilled in these children at home from a young age and I was powerless. I didn’t belong here. I belonged in the country where people were never-endingly demanding I go back to; the one place, it seemed, where I wasn’t bullied for my identity. No one had ever bullied me in Jamaica, so why should they taunt me now? I felt so determined that no one would. I would have to challenge this type of persecution. The teachers thought I was stupid because they couldn’t understand my Jamaican accent. The other children thought I was someone to torment and I came home each day with a new story of rejection. But I was living here now, and I was going to have to train myself to be brave. I had to put cowardly schemes of running away behind me, grab my family’s hands and take a big leap. Mummy reminded us daily to “Go into school with your head held high. Don’t care what they think. If they have an issue with the colour of your skin, it’s their problem. Don’t let it become yours too.”

That was easier said than done.

1:15pm. A High School, the centre of Birmingham.

All the boys shouted abuse at the top of their voices. I was accused of being “one of my kinds”. I was made to feel like a novelty, something to make fun of, while the teacher in the playground just watched. I stood a trapped animal in the corner as they continued to taunt me.
“And what makes you call yourself black when your colour is more brownie?” sneered a boy.
I looked down at the rough concrete ground. I felt ashamed of myself, but I wasn’t going to let salt-water tears slide down my beautiful brown cheeks. My mind flashed back to when I had first had that determination to make everyone see that I was a person. I reached to the back of my mind for an answer.
“Well, why do you call yourself white when you are pinker in colour?”
They stood gaping at me, as if stunned that I could say something that made sense. I smiled. I was overcoming my lack of self-confidence. A girl called Lucy passed, uttering a racist comment about going back to my own country. I looked at her glaring, angry face and deep into her cold, grey eyes, gathering the courage to say something.
It came out in a defiant rush: “Why should I?”
The girl’s expression changed to curiosity.
My heart was beating fast, as if it was thumping for my life, for my future. It seemed to understand the importance of this moment.
“Being ‘black’ is only a colour, just like being ‘white’,”
I was beginning to sound like my mother.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,”
There was silence. Their expressions were a vast mixture; interested, bored, thoughtful, hostile, searching, and even ashamed and respectful. Lucy’s eyes still bored into me.
“My granddad fought and risked his life for you in the Second World War, only to be forgotten! Many of ‘my kind’ died for you; you ungrateful things.”
I then became conscious of the teacher’s attention.
“Y’know,” broke in a boy called Jack, in a neutral tone. “She’s got a point..."
I darted home as fast as my little body could carry me. I skipped into my petite flat with a huge grin on my face.
“Spiffing!” I cried to my family in a posh English accent, bursting through the familiar door of our apartment. “Mummy, I have great news...”

The author's comments:
This story is dedicated to my grandad, who moved from Mauritius to Britain in the 1960s and encountered racism.

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