A little boy experiences the emotional pain and suffering inflicted by class and color ...
|It was a great privilege for him. He was going to grow up and be a special man—so his mother reminded Corey loudly, as she brushed him down for the umpteenth time that Saturday morning. He thought she seemed very happy today, and noticed that she answered his father, for a change, when he nodded to her and left for work, already looking sweaty and hostile. His siblings, in their ‘yard clothes’—old, dirty, khaki school uniforms—stood diffidently on the other side of the front room and stared. Corey himself was dressed in the second-best of everything his mother could find, the best packed away and waiting beside him in one of his mother’s old travelling bags. He was wearing a twice starched and close-fitting black shirt underneath an even smaller jacket that visiting Salvation Army workers had brought for children in the area a few months ago. His shoes—and these were stuffed with toilet paper—had just this morning been borrowed from one of his older brothers.
Corey glanced at his brothers and sisters and looked away quickly. He was looking forward to going to school in a big, expensive car and living in a house with warm water in the bathrooms and color televisions in the living room and bedrooms. He had been to such a house two times before when his mother went to talk to the “white lawyer man” who was going to be his new father. He was beginning to feel a little white already. He promised himself that when he grew up, he was going to have enough money to make his mother and his brothers and sisters—and, perhaps, his first father too—all white, so that they could all be rich and have big houses and nice cars and pretty clothes and pretty, shampooey-smelling blond hair. He would give some thought to the colour of their eyes later, he promised himself. For now, they weren’t such a problem, but it bothered him a bit that their eyes, and his, too, were all a very dark brown—a little too dark. He wondered if blue or light green, like, Jeremy’s, would fit their complexion. Jeremy was in his class at the upper-class school where he had gotten a scholarship because of his mother’s diligence in attending parent-teacher meetings.
All of a sudden, another feeling of sadness—only for a few seconds—swept over him. He would not be able to play with his brothers and sisters in the evenings. His mother had told him that he would not be able to visit them again. She said something about his getting a new name. But maybe the white lawyer man wouldn’t beat him for running up and down and playing. Plus, the lawyer man had a son about his age, who had shown him his train set.
The white lawyer man would be arriving soon, and Corey wondered why his mother would let such a nice man come and find his brothers and sisters standing around in dirty clothes. He dreaded the number of flies in the room. Most of them swarmed his thirteen-year-old sister. He didn’t want such an important man to change his mind about taking him away. At least his father had already left for work, so he couldn’t embarrass Corey with his khaki uniform and sweaty face.
Corey had seen the lawyer man for the first time, months ago, when he went to the Norbrook Acres house in the foothills of Kingston with his mother, who worked there. The lawyer man had asked Corey’s mother, with annoyance, who gave her "the right to bring that boy here”. After what seemed countless hours locked in an upstairs room with his mother, the lawyer man emerged, talking happily, patted him on the head, and offered him a sweetie. On the way home, his mother explained to him that the lawyer man wanted Corey to come and live with him since he was a “good boy” and because she had so many other children. On the second visit to the Norbrook Acres house, Corey had seen a little boy about his own age, who the lawyer man introduced as his son. He had longish, curly yellowish hair, almost like a girl’s, and when he spoke, Corey thought of the children in the Enid Blyton storybook his mother had somehow managed to get him for his last birthday.
Now, he looked at the clock on the wall to see how soon his white lawyer man father would be arriving. His mother had said he would come at twelve o’clock. It was two minutes to twelve, so he knew the lawyer-man should be outside at any minute.
“Go in the other room,” he said to his siblings. “A white man coming here to take me away. A white man.”
The younger of his two sisters started to cry and asked, “Where?”
“Don’t worry, one day I will come back for you”. And he turned his attention to the front door.
At twelve-fourteen, Corey wondered whether the lawyer man had lost his way. He was feeling uncomfortable inside his clothes and a few of his sister’s flies were beginning to flirt with him. Soon afterward, his mother came into the room and told him to take off his jacket. She put it on the dingy, oblong sponges that they used as a sofa and asked him if he wanted anything to eat. Corey wasn’t feeling hungry. One of his siblings came over and started to caress the jacket. When Corey wasn’t looking, he put it on and slinked away. The rest of them gathered around a small, cluttered table, noisily eating their “turn cornmeal”, a summer holidays treat made of coarse cornmeal, cooked slowly in oil and water, with bits of chicken back or pork skin, and seasoned with small tomatoes and scallion. They always kept the door shut because turn cornmeal was also the favorite food of stray neighbourhood dogs, who would not hesitate to sneak inside and do whatever they must for a bite of the chicken back or pork skin. Corey thought his siblings looked like a bunch of street fowls and watched them with a sense of relief for himself. In the coming weeks, he would be eating hamburgers and Doritos and drinking Tang and other nice things the lawyer’s son had told him about.
At one-thirty, Corey wondered if the white lawyer man had decided to go and collect a better boy than himself, one who had lighter-colored skin and a better family. He heard his mother quarrelling under her breath and noticed that she was constantly looking through the window toward the street. A few minutes later, she told him to take off his shoes and not to get them dirty, the lawyer man would soon come. Reluctantly, he took them off. He did not want the lawyer man to have to wait around and be swarmed by flies and a bunch of street fowls. Also, he wanted to get to his new home in time to catch something nice on the satellite TV. He went to the window and looked out to see if the lawyer man was coming down the street, perhaps having trouble finding the gate. When he came back, he saw one of his brothers disappearing with his shoes. He did not run after him. The lawyer man could come at any minute and he wouldn’t mind buying his new son a pair of new shoes.
Over the next three hours, Corey became truly concerned, to the point where his eyes were constantly filling up with tears. He wondered if the lawyer man was sick or had to go to work. He wanted to watch the colour TV before he had to go to bed. That way, he could tell his friends at school about it on Monday. Sunday, he knew, was not a day for TV watching.
After a while, he sat down and fell asleep, getting up suddenly, to hear his mother say:
“All of them alike. Take off your pants and shirt, you goin’ need them for Sunday School tomorrow.”
Figuring she was telling him that the lawyer was coming very late, Corey quickly took off his clothes and went back into the front room, wearing only his briefs—the one without holes—looking his eyes out, searching the darkening street. Until he heard his mother shout:
“You is a idiot? Haul you black ass go ‘round the room and put on some yard clothes. You think that damn white lawyer man could be you real father? You think him would mek a mawga black t’ing like you come an’ stay where him live?”
Tears overwhelming him, Corey tried to pass, unnoticed, to the nighttime room he shared with his siblings, hoping to sleep forever or until they woke him and told him the lawyer man was there to pick him up. But one of them, sporting his jacket, spotted him as he was going through the door.
“Nobody don't want the white boy,” he taunted, and ran.