image © Dirk Skiba
Sonnet for the British-Born
And suddenly, new language: ‘British-Born’, for kids who grew up on terraces in Leeds or tower blocks in Bow, and at weekends tied their bootlaces for footie on the lawn and went to college to study Sports or Business or Car Mechanics and spoke with accents thick as Yorkshire mud or London bullet-quick – bare good and innit – and were as British as a pack of salt-and-vinegar, and no, his teacher hadn’t noticed him withdrawing and no, his mother hadn’t wondered who he called at 2am in the blue lit bedroom of their bungalow, though despite her scrubbing, the words still clear on their garden wall: ‘Go Home’.
The Only English Kid
When the debate got going on ‘Englishness’, I’d pity the only English kid – poor Johnny in his spotless Reeboks and blue Fred Perry. He had a voice from history: Dunno-miss, Yes-miss, No-miss – all treacly-cockney, rag-and-bone – and while the others claimed Poland, Ghana, Bulgaria, and shook off England like the wrong team’s shirt, John brewed his tea exclusively on Holloway Road. So when Aasif mourned the George Cross banner swinging freely like a warning from his neighbour’s roof — the subway tunnel sprayed with ‘Muslim Scum’ — poor John would sit there quietly, looking guilty for all the awful things he hadn’t done.
The Only Black Girl
The kids flicked names at her like Ludo counters, not just for being black, but for living, like I did, the wrong side of the tracks – no million-quid mock-Tudors in Forest Gate or Ilford. Scrounger, jew-girl, sponger. But Natalie was a fighter, a whadyou-call-me poke-and-puncher. She smacked and shoved her way into a tighter crook – the office – where a gang of teachers caught her and that was that. Then later, when some mother- or-the-other saw my dad parked up, I caught a blow or two – oi pick-n-mixer! white wog! But I had skin the kids forgot and none of Natalie’s fire: there was no wallop or slap in the hands I clenched inside my pockets.