Majekodunmi has a crooked nose, not that he let it bother him. He is happy or at least he pretends to be. The car-plane ride is bumpy and the nausea that had been threatening to force its way out during takeoff is now knocking at his throat. He is sad about one thing, Maximilian. The boy was sickly, and Majekodunmi had hated without knowing why.
He recalls the conversation he had with “the judge” as he lay on the hospital bed. Majejokdunmi had woken up could not breathe. His nose was heavily bandaged. The judge was sitting beside the bed studying a cocoa can, his glasses crooked on his nose. He was probably asking the nurses to return the cocoa if it was from China. Afrocentrism and its angel.
“You’re awake. You need to be strong? Are you strong? You’re going to London,” The Judge never knew how to mince words.
“But, I’m okay. I don’t want to go to London. I don’t like London.”
“Essh! You’re going to London.”
“Why?” Majekodunmi was almost in tears. Oh damn that stupid boy named Maximilian. “The white men abandoned you after all. They were your friends weren’t they? And they abandoned the country to military rule instead of being diplomatic as you always say,” he added.
The judge shook his head. He looked impatient.
“You clearly don’t know about politics do you? That’s what you get for running around like other kids.”
“London is so big dad…I’m so small.”
Majekodunmi was close to tears now. His one droopy eye was closed completely.
“You’re not going to travel alone. You’re going to boarding school where there’ll be a lot of ‘small boys.’
“Why dad? Why? I remember you once gave me a lecture about Africanism.”
The judge smiled tersely and took off his glasses. He took his son’s hand and squeezed it.
“Nobody wants to send his son to some far place, but your fight with that boy might just be the best thing that happened to you.”
He leaned in to his son and whispered.
“A war is coming son. A war is coming.”
Now up in the sky, Majekodunmi is not clear about that last part. What war?
His uncle (and chaperone) is reading a newspaper. He is dressed in a grey suit, pink trousers and a pocket watch attached with a gold chain. He looked like a dandy, but he was also Oxford trained and serious—always talking about privatization and global warming, always saying perhaps Churchill was right. He had these sayings: however beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results; men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened; no folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism.
“Are you okay?” dandy uncle asks
“Yeah? Stop making that panicky face. You’re on a Jet-plane. Nothing special….You should be worried about where you’re going. Boarding school is not exactly a bed of roses.”
“But dad went to that boarding school, you also…”
“Things are different now. You’ll see.”
“What do you mean?”
Dandy uncle drops the newspaper.
“You see, when I went to London the first time….I travelled by the old planes and this…”
Dandy uncle spreads out his thin arms.
“This is the golden age. Real change in Aerodynamics and whatnot. Freaking Elon Musk predicted this stuff you know. Long before the year 2080 A.D, a successful Car-plane will take off and come home safe and sound.”
“The space martian man?”
“Yes the space martian man.”
A ruckus is breaking out. A man who had been drinking scotch bottles is now being rowdy. He is attempting to fondle the stewardess. He is leeching towards her, attempting to peer into her ample bosom. He vomits all over her. The stewardess begins screaming, and the man’s gaze is still on her jiggles.
Well she looked at me, and I, I could see that before too long I’d fall in love with her.
Dandy uncle sees Majekodunmi still looking at the stewardess who has now changed into a new dress.
“Well boy, every golden age has its drawbacks, and you should not be giving out free scotch on a car-plane and to think your father wanted you to fly first class to avoid all the ruckus…”
“What other classes are there?”
“What happens there?”
“Real life, and you my boy aren’t ready for that yet.”
The rest of the flight went well because Majekodunmi slept through it. Dandy uncle has shaken him awake now. Majekodunmi rubs his eyes. He had been dreaming. The plane was stuck in the sky, and angels with the name Elon Musk on their forehead would only rescue passengers wearing white. Thankfully, he had a white singlet on. Dandy uncle wasn’t so lucky. He wasn’t even wearing white underpants. The angels told him he wasn’t human.
Heathrow is very clean. Inside, people are all about their business, and the line to customs is orderly. Outside is another case. Majority of the people waiting outside are not there to pick somebody up. They are car-aircraft spotters. They want to see these big cars that fly suspended without strings—the magic of it. The takeoff and landing particularly excites them. Many of them walk miles just to watch a car-plane takeoff. They dream about saving enough money to get on one of those. Lovely things innit? Mary is speaking to John. John is a farmer, and Mary’s employment status is bogus. Inside, Majekodunmi and dandy uncle are on the line.
Dandy uncle is holding Majekodunmi’s hand, and the boy can feels the warmth even through the leather gloves Dandy has on.
“How dirty this place is?”
Majekodunmi looks around. It is anything but dirty. He notices that they are the only black people on the line.
“So am I resuming school immediately after now?’
“Yes…if we kept to your father’s request. But he can be archaic sometimes. As your guardian, I know it’ll be a great disservice to you…you know, handing you straight over to the headmaster without showing you great places in London.”
Majekodunmi smiles. They are at the end of the line now. The woman at the counter is smiling. But her smile looks contrived, like something for a photograph.
The woman’s hand came down on the passports. The insignia of the United kingdom forever scarring the innards of the passports. Far right, there is an uproar. A woman is crying. She is in a sari. Pakistan or India? Dandy uncle guesses. Oh the usual.
“What is going on?” Majekodunmi asks
“The usual boy, the usual…South Asian women have to go through this. They’re going to “check” them. They believe them to be the new face of terrorism.”
“Scary? a democracy rather, mother of all democracies, the fallacy!”
The woman at the counter hears this. She narrows her eyes, but she waves them through, without a smile.
London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. The song is playing through Majekodunmi’s head. Oh London, how beautiful you are! Trafalgar! Mostly trafalgar! Images of the people he had met are moving through his brain. That dancer, that Indian singer with one foot. What about that man with the red umbrella? Dandy uncle had not given either of them any money. He had only given Majekodunmi a shilling for a wish in the fountain of Trafalgar! Silly thing he said, but it’s tradition. It’s tradition my boy.
Dandy uncle and Majekodunmi visit the different sites that Dandy had visited when he’d first come to london.
“But it’s all changed now. I love this world. It changes daily…I was very lucky to have had a very nice guardian, Winston stall. He’s dead now.”
They walk past different antique shops. Piccadilly circus is an eyeopener. The lights are blazing. PRECIOUS COCACOLA. LEMON HART. CHELSEA FC. WRIGLEY’S CHEWING GUM IS BEAUTIFUL. DELICIOUS AND SATISFYING. BP WORLDWIDE. The lights in the street lamps seem to change depending on the way you look at it. If you squat, it is red. If you lean on the railing, it is orange. A couple of Egyptian boys are doing that now. There is a fountain here too. Is that a bird? No, a man that is also a bird? No it’s something like an angel. An angel it is.
Every tourist quotes the legendary Dickens: Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the haymarket and regent street, leftward to Hyde park corner…do you know this was London’s answer to the Parisian boulevard?
Too much people here. Different faces sweating despite the weather.
Past different streets.
It is drizzling.
“Enjoy this boy. It’s going to get worse soon.”
They walk past a bookstore. A big poster. MEIN KAMPH ENGLISH TRANSLATION. ADOLF HITLER AT LAST. SIX HUNDRED PAGES WITH FULL NOTES AND ANNOTATIONS. ORDER NOW.
“The same Hitler?” Majekodunmi asks Dandy uncle.
“But if he was so evil, why do people want to read a book by him?”
Dandy uncle pauses. He stares lengthily into the distance. Then he laughs.
“You my boy will get on fine with the rest of London.”
Majekodunmi likes the blurry images of people, the lorry lights, and the sound of tires on the wet asphalt. He especially likes the gloves on his hands and the scarf bundled around his neck. I look like a snowman from one of those picture books.
Dandy uncle’s house was very dandy. Colorful and paperish. “I am an editor at Transatlantic,” he had said. “We give social minorities a chance, the advancement of communication in an ignorance filled society which in this country is important…People don’t ask questions imposingly. Gone were the days! Now they’re merely curious. It’s like a detached curiousness, a special kind of disdain for the protests of let’s say feminism, for example. Actually what I’m saying is…..NEVER MIND, YOU CAN’T GET IT, YOU’RE STILL YOUNG.”
Camwood is old. It looks old but also regal. In fact the buildings appear to be alive. The students will tell you that. Oh, that Library looks like a grim man. The dining room, however, looks like a princess with her outstretched arms. It was built in the sixteenth century. The driveway is very long and wide. The lawns are shiny, smooth like a football field. There is a gateman. He looks like he could drop dead any moment. The trees are like canopies, four on each sides. The chapel is the first thing you see. The mast is very tall. They say the chapel was built first. It has survived wars and queens. Majekodunmi is scared. It has been an emotional whirlwind. He was scared at first, then excited and now scared.
There is a precious volume
all finger-worn and old
In that little log cabin by the sea
It is the old old bible
The songs are coming from the chapel. Soulful butchering by the young. The church bell rings thrice, then the pupils file out. The boys come out through the right exit and the girls through the left. They shuffle, whispering. Majekodunmi could already see himself among them. Shuffle, shuffle. The grounds smell like pine. Zacchaeus climbs the tree and calls to the master.
“Are you okay?”
“It’s okay to be affected by first day jitters.”
It is not so much different than the schools back home, where a feeling of dread overcomes you immediately you step on the grounds.
Vamoose from here. A smirk is fully plastered on the face of Dandy uncle. Ah Camwood. Oh dreadful place. Spirits of broken souls must swim here at night. The horrible questions. The caning, that has been abolished at least. The british they’re abolition experts. There is a tradition here too. It starts from the father, the official introduction to Camwood, when the parents bring the child. But then uncles and brothers have taken the mantle. Majekodunmi’s daddy, the judge was brought here by his father, a chief who had gotten his money during the copper boom after world war two. Then the judge had brought dandy uncle and now dandy uncle has brought Majekodunmi. Camwood is family.
They walk towards the black door that is the headmasters office. One knock. One barely hears the come in. The first thing you notice is the union jack, then the school flag, then the big portraits, men glaring. Their polaroid eyes seem to follow Majekodunmi. Then there is the array of trophies, hockey, soccer, lots of cricket trophies. Dandy uncle is experiencing a sense of Deja Vu. He remembers the time he broke that window and..
“Welcome,” the headmaster says. In reality he is a bald man. But he has grown to wearing wigs of late, and it makes him look like a rat.
“He is the new boy? And the letter said he had completed primary school…am I right? And passed, especially in English?”
“Yes that’s true.”
“Now, every incoming pupil takes this test, sums, arithmetic and whatnot…It’s mostly perfunctory.”
“Yeah so..right over there to the left is a door to the staff room. The boy will go there to take the test.”
Majekodunmi nods, nervous. The door is heavy. It takes both his hands to open. A fat woman is in front of an air-writer, glasses perched on her nose. Click-clack. Click-clack. Tap. She looks up, frowns. She adjusts her glasses, then she frowns once more.
In a singsong voice, “I’m Mrs. Judy Blume.”
“Mrs. Judy Blume.”
“Strong accent huh?”
“Yes Mrs. Judy Blume.”
“Take this paper and pen. There are two sections in this test. You have the math and the general questions. You understand? Go to the back and sit.”
Back at the headmaster’s office, the two men are nodding at each other, wig and dandy.
“You were here right?”
“Your name and picture is in the black book. You were really unruly. You had the highest suspensions for a student then.”
“Yeah some sod now holds that record. I’m glad you have straightened out.”
If he only knows. I’m not straight one bit.
Majekodunmi squints his eyes against the paper. Really they’re not so different from the ones back home, only longer. A sound from his back makes him jump. The boy is so small that at first Majekodunmi thinks that he might be an apparition. But then he sees the questions. The boy is clutching them so tight. His knuckles are white.
“Are you sick?”
The boy shakes his head, but it looks as if he’s crying. The veins on his neck sticking out.
“I’m…no you first. What’s your name?”
The boy bursts out crying, spittle flying everywhere, even on Majekodunmi face. Oh mum! the boy weeps.
Homesickness? Majekodunmi doesn’t have a mother, and he doesn’t know how this boy is feeling. His dad says things about her, but he wonders who’s talking. Dad or the judge? He never knew her.
Majekodunmi feels himself fall into that river of melancholy. The room suddenly feels smaller. He feels as if he’s drowning. He shakes his head gently. How can I be this sad?
Post image by Michael Korcuska via Flickr.
About the Author: