By Mark Burrow
- 1003 reads
Brixton was lovely until the blacks moved in.
Len Smith was confused when he heard his parents and grandmother talk
His grandmother would say, 'Bloody darkies, I can't stick them.'
Len told his dad that he liked a girl at school.
'What's her name?' said his dad.
'Selina,' replied Len.
'You don't wanna go out with a Paki, son.'
'Oh,' said Len, but he did. He had really had dreams about Selina and
her long dark hair and her dark skin.
His dad said to Len's mum, 'Our boy's a Paki lover.'
'You're not?' she said. 'You don't ever do that to me,' she said.
'Do what?' said Len.
'Marry a darkie. I couldn't bear it. Imagine having a baby that wasn't
white. I wouldn't want to know.'
'Why not?' said Len.
'Just don't do it to me and your father. The smell of their
cooking?Urgh?.What's it called, their cooking?'
'Curry,' said Len's dad.
'Can't stand that muck.'
'Have you tried it?' said Len.
'Tried it, are you mad? The smell of their muck is enough for
Len tended to do what his mum and dad told him. But when he sat next to
Selina in class at school he realised his mum and dad didn't know what
they were talking about.
She was great.
Selina and Len would spend play times together. Classmates teased them
and said they were boyfriend and girlfriend. In a sense, they were
right. She was the one who suggested they should meet after school.
They both lived on the same estate but their parents didn't share the
walk home together or, for that matter, try and make
The parents would walk back to the estate, but keep their distance, not
speaking. Nevertheless, Len's mum would see him looking at Selina and
would say, 'You're not with that Paki are you?'
'No,' he would say.
Selina wanted Len to teach her football. Len lied to his mother and
said he was going out to kick a football against a wall by himself.
Instead, he was going to the far side of the estate, where he wasn't
allowed to go because of the bullies, to knock for Selina.
Selina's father was a tall man with soft white hair who wore a suit and
tie. 'Who are you?' he said.
Len explained himself.
'What do you want?'
Len said he was going to teach Selina football.
'My daughter does not play football.'
Selina ran along the hallway and asked her father to let her go and
play with Len.
'No,' he said.
'Fifteen minutes,' he said. 'And be where I can see you, don't leave my
'Yes dad,' she said.
As they walked down the flight of stairs of the block of flats to the
ground floor, Len said, 'Fifteen minutes.'
'I know, but I can't believe he let me,' she said. 'I thought he would
be at work. Mum wanted it to be a secret.'
Len thought about asking her why it should be kept secret from her dad,
then he remembered the lie he had told his mum to come to this side of
When they reached the groundfloor, Len had twelve minutes to teach
Selina how to play football. He wasn't in the mood and neither was
Selina. They sat on the bottom steps of Boswell block. 'My dad wants us
to go back to India,' she said.
'It's where I come from. Bangalore. It's in the south.'
'Is it hot?'
'Can we stay in touch?'
'Okay. But we're not going until next year.'
'That's alright, then.'
'When are you moving classes?'
Selina was too bright for the class she was in so the school was
shifting her up a year. There was talk of her being sent to a private
Len and Selina sat on the stone step. All Len tended to do with
himself, provided it was light and he was not in a classroom, was play
football. He said, 'Shall I show you how to do kick ups?'
'Okay,' she said.
She watched as Len, in his blue shorts and white tee-shirt, performed
his kick ups. He could only do ten. He lived and breathed football, but
he wasn't skilful at all which was why he was always put in goal.
Selina tried and completed three.
'You're good,' he said.
'Thanks,' she said, holding the football.
Len looked at her face.
'I've got to go back now,' she said.
'My dad is?' she couldn't finish what she was saying.
Wearing her red polyester track suit, he watched her go up the stairs
of her block of flats. He checked his watch. They had spent fourteen
At school the following day, Selina was sitting at a different table.
He tried to speak to her but all she said was, 'I can't talk to you,
sorry.' He caught her looking at him a couple of times, but when he
turned to look at her, she looked away.
The next week, rather than next term, she went to a class in a higher
year and then one day, not long after, she wasn't at school.
Len asked where she had gone.
A teacher, Ms Brench said, 'She's gone to a private school.'
'What's a private school?' said Len.
'It's a school where clever people go.'
He missed Selina and after a few days the urge became too strong. He
couldn't help himself and he lied to his mum about where he was going
and he walked to Selina's flat. He knocked. Then he noticed there were
no net curtains covering the kitchen window. He looked into the flat
and the kitchen was stripped of furniture. Wires and pipes and a square
patch of clean floor appeared where the cooker had been. It looked sad
and lonely in there, cold. Selina was gone. She told him a year but
less than a month had gone by and now, he thought, she was in India. A
place called Bangalore, where clever people went to private
Where the sun burned strong.
'Whatever happened to that little Paki girl?' said his mum one day when
she picked him up from school.
Len couldn't reply.
'You never do that to me,' she said as they crossed Lansdowne Way,
passing the huge, domed bus station. 'I could never love a brown baby.
Len yanked free of his mother's hand and started running. She called
after him. He kept running as fast as he could. His head and heart and
breathing full of Selina and her dark hair and dark skin and three kick
ups and he was crying at why he didn't ask for her address so they
could be pen friends.
He never saw her again.
- Log in to post comments