I wrote to Mother last night with the customary £I0 note to prove how well I'm doing and a photograph of my­self with my hair parted and my studious navy-blue blazer, in front of St Paul's Cathedral to add a cultural dash — it's these personal touches she appreciates. I told her I973 was the best year of my life so far. Zainab says I should stop liv­ing a lie and tell it like it is, but that would be killing Mother a little and God knows she was close enough to death without having me push her along as well. It's alright for Zainab, she's got no parents to live a lie for, no one to account to, as she's fond of telling me. Independence from without is strength for within."

Zainab is a beautiful girl; dark flawless skin, tall (taller than me, but then everyone is), American and bloody-minded; she loves to tease.

Henry, such an ENGLISH name. Change it. I changed mine from Cerise, French for Cherry, and baby I lost my cherry a loooong, long time ago.”

She laughed. The sound was like a deep-throated hiccuppy chuckle; a very bizarre sound.  

“Call yourself Shabazz,” she suggested. “That’s a good name, Shabazz; Shabazz the brown-skinned Englishman.”

She's a political nut and not the type I'd bring home to Mother. She dragged me along the Black militant scene for a while; wearing Dashikis and cornrow hairstyles, quoting Frantz Fanon, mourning the Soledad Brothers, supporting Angela Davis against US injustice, attending free Nelson Mandela meetings with the white left, digging Roland Kirk and Sidney Bechet in the wee hours of the night, re­vering Ali for his front, beauty and skills. It was also about knowing the difference between Malcolm X and Michael X, and clenching fists and shouting slogans at demonstrations in all weathers against police brutality, Portuguese imperialism and the National Front, sometimes all three at once. But my "white upbringing”, as Zainab called it, filtered through. I missed a meeting of the Peckham 4, at which Zainab wanted me to nominate her to be the chair of the campaign. But I was asked to do some overtime at work (time and a quarter) and didn’t make it.

"I like working for Henry Ford, he pays good wages," I pleaded.

She threw an ashtray at me and bruised my shin for supporting my capitalist employer. She phoned a week later to invite me to Tanzania to attend the Sixth Pan-African Congress. I'd taken my holidays already two weeks at Hastings and spent the last of my savings on an old mini.

To fill the vacuum Zainab left on her departure I took home one night from Colombo’s, THE West End black club of the moment, a Jamaic­an mid-wife named Linnette. Smooth-skinned, small and shy, she combined pornography and feminism into passionate poetry and spoke with a cryptic lisp.

"The next methiah will be a black woman," she lisped. She shares a Neasden flat with five other girls, works most of the hours God gives her, loves my Wakefield accent and pointedly refuses to progress beyond middle-weight petting. Until yesterday.  She rang me unexpectedly one night wanting to see me. She arrived shortly after the nine o'clock news.

"I suddenly realised I love you, Honey," she sobbed be­fore taking her clothes off. Her lovemaking was as stimulating and imaginative as her poetry. She heaved and pushed, moaned and groaned, sucked and licked, scratched and dug, took and gave me the sexual time of my life. It's a pity her breath marred the occasion a little. If Linnette had one draw back it was it. Chewing-gum, mints, alcohol, and garlic antidotes were no antidotes at all. When she burped she made your stom­ach shrink and your knees weaken. But what a lover! All the passions of Jamaica seemed to be concentrated between her legs. She swung and jerked, and rocked and rolled like nobody's business.

As we lay naked on the mat sipping strawberry syrup and swaying to the Afro-rock beat from my record-player, there were sudden bangs on my front door.


"I know you're in there, brown-.skinned Englishman, I can hear music."

I nervously pecked at Linnette's nipple with dry lips and silently wished Zainab away. She didn’t of course.

''You son-of-a-bitch! You've got a chick in there. Open this mother-fuckin’ door before I bust it down."

The bolt catapulted off the door as it flew open. She looked magnificent in her African robe clutching a long wooden statue, her face twisted menacingly.

"You look gorgeous when you're furious," I offered with a meek grin.

Dear Mother

This letter contains the most frank words that have ever passed between us. The fact that I am writing these words from a hospital bed is instrumental in my soul revealing. I have had four days to think about it, so these words are not spontaneous or ruled by emotion, they are the product of well rehearsed lucidity.

First things first. I am in hospital because I was attacked by the girl I have hitherto referred to you as Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn is not her name, her name is Zainab. She is not the peach of a Berkshire girl with rosy cheeks and blond hair as I described her to you, but a Black Angel. Yes Mother, she is Black, American and extreme left-wing. I love her madly still in spite of my wounds. She came at my flat unexpectedly from Tanzania (the Land of the Free, she calls it), caught me NAKED with ANOTHER Black girl and set about my head with an African object-d'art (symbolic, wouldn't you say) until I lost consciousness. I woke up in hospital. My head is still pleading for mercy.

Before I continue in this vein I would like to confirm my love to you. I love you as if you were my natural mother, although I deeply resent the upbringing and brain-washing you subjected me to. Although I was born in England, speak and dress like an Englishman, I am NOT an Englishman. English-men are White and I am Black, yes black, not milky coffee as you have been fond of labelling me. I am not half-cast, Mother,  I am black, I am an African. I can no longer accept Winston Churchill as a source of inspiration; Kwame Nkrumah has taken his place as a political figure head and a better choice I could not have made. I have also found a nobler queen than Elizabeth. My queen embodies TOMORROW not yesterday with its imperial antiquity. My queen is richer too as she possesses most of the world's gold and diamonds; her name is AFRICA. Zainab has spoken to me of Africa's beauty and majesty, showed me books and maps. When Zainab and I wed we will live in Africa's wild grandeur.

Can you imagine what your neighbours will say when your little Black grand-children romp in their tree lined streets?

Some black words have crept into my vocabulary of late, words that would probably shock you, words like Bumba-cloth, mother-fucker, ganja. I bet you didn't know the word SHIT can have over a dozen different meanings?

This is a new world I've entered, mother, and it's helped me find myself. As soon as I am discharged from hospital I will bring Zainab up to Wakefield and introduce you to her — you won't like her but she's a wonderful girl nevertheless. I worried about bringing you together, because not only did you think she was white, but Zainab still thinks you are Black. I invented a Black mother for myself, who wore brightly flowered dresses and headscarves, chewed tobacco, cussed like a Jamaican Dee-jay and was named Precious Okara. Don't be shocked Mother dear, you are no more farther from Precious Okara as Zainab, who hails from Detroit's ghettoes, is from Gwendolyn of Berkshire's Downs. It evens things out wouldn't you say. There’s more.

I haven't attended the London School of Economics for six months now, ever since I was expelled for smoking a spliff in the library, instead I've been working at Ford's Motor Com­pany as a Production Operator, which is a technical euphemism for hard labour on the production line. As you know, hard work has never daunted me, and it pays well. I haven’t given up on my studies altogether and I’m seriously thinking of enrolling at the School of Oriental and African Studies to study Swahili. The most widely used African language in the world.

I have never been inside any of the museums and cathed­rals in front of which I dutifully posed for the photographs I religiously sent home to you, but I could tell you about Brixton's shebeens and blues parties and Notting Hill Gate's revolutionary cafes that regularly get raided by the pigs (the Police), if you wanted a run down on such things. I last heard classical music on a passing trans­istor radio; I'm no longer into the stuff but in contrast I could name you and sing the words to the latest tunes Neville King played on his gigantic sound-system.

As you can see Mother, I've reversed all the standard you instilled into me. Although I've become allergic to everything White – the colour, the people – please do not feel threatened as I can see past your white skin to the warm and wonderful person you are. As I am writing these words Zainab has just strode into the ward with a smile on her face. I will continue later …

Zainab had brought a flask full of Bourbon and wore a low cleavage. She looked delectable.         
"Marry me, Zainab"
She showed all her teeth as she laughed.
"Marry me, Zainab"

A hint of desperation crawled into my voice.

"I don't believe in marriage, baby; it's so bourgeois."

Frontal attack was obviously the wrong approach.

"Linnette asked me to marry her."

She poured the contents of the bedpan over my bandaged head and stormed out, head high, to a hushed and staring ward. I grinned sheepishly and buried my soggy eyes into The Black Liberator magazine wishing the embarrassment and stinging ammonia away. Zainab, wild daughter of Amerika, tempestuous sister, why do you hurt me so?”

The bossy portly matron with the bleached hair came charging down the ward hands on hips ready to erupt.

"It's a Kenyan marriage ritual,” I explained.

I went from public nursing to the private nursing of Linnette who tended my wounds and fortified my health with thick soup. She read me her poetry in the nude two hours a day, after work. But the days were mainly lonely and long and the phone maintained an obstinate silence. Zainab didn’t ring. She probably lost my number, she was always doing it. The bandages on my head were so symmetrical they made me look  like a Sikh. I hid away from the world in the safety of my flat, venturing outside only to pick up mail from the ground floor lobby or for a bath across the landing. On the 2nd week of isolation I posted a letter to Mother.

Eventually Linnette removed the bandages only to reveal that my hair had patches in strategic places giving me the appearance of an advanced case of alopecia. My head wounds had healed but the uncomfortable void Zainab had left behind ranked on for days until I persuaded Linnette back.

Linnette became excessively affectionate, rubbing warm oil and lemon juice on my limbs, and cooing pettishly when she came. She talked and talked endlessly, like my mother. And like my mother, some of the nonsensical talk filtered through.

Jah was Linnette's God and became mine. Jah was Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Conquering Lion from the tribe of Judah, direct descendant of Solomon and Jesus Christ and prophesied about in the Bible. A Rastafarian vision was methodically pumped into me in between sleep, succulent Ital cuisine and soothing massages.

Rasta was in the home stretch until I received a postcard from Detroit.

"Hold on I'm coming. Z.

I didn't discard my red/yellow and green cap or cut my sprouting Rastafarian locks, but I quarrelled with Linnette until she left. I waited for two weeks. Zainab never rang or showed. I let Linnette return.

"I was worried about your wounds."

The only wounds I have left are invisible."

Linnette was brewing some perfumed tea in the kitchen while I lounged on my living room settee reading back issues of ‘Race Today’ when knocks rattled the door to my flat.

"Open up, you dirty son-of-bitch."

Zainab was back.

Linnette screamed as the bullet grazed my cheek, spilling blood. Zainab screamed, I screamed. Neighbours came and I fainted.

In the ambulance I vaguely recall Zainab squeezing my hand.

"Don't die baby; we need each other,” she whispered.

Obviously I didn't die or I wouldn't be here to write about it.

Zainab was arrested, charged with all manner of crimes, freed on bail and skipped off to live in Tanzania, because wonderful African socialist things were happening there and nobody would think of looking for her there.

I called her the daughter of passion and the cousin of darkness in my letters to her in Tanzania, while she eulogised the social revolution of the country. It was blissful worshiping each other from afar - and safer.

Mother, in her letters, still harped on the tune of GREAT Britain, Justice, Royalty and Christianity, although I detected a soupçon of self-doubt between the closely-written lines.

"Great Britain is not as strong as it once was only because its best sons were killed during the Wars. That's why there's so much hate today. We never had bombs, kidnapping, certainly no Black and White conflicts like you have today; life was peaceful then."

I replied from firm ground in reminding her of the race riots of I9I9 and I920 and I948 in Cardiff, Bristol and Wakefield when Blacks were savagely killed.

Linnette had stopped visiting me and I never knew where she lived and she had moved jobs; I had no interest in forming a new relationship and just consoled myself with masturbatory fantasies.

Then, like in any good story, all at once it happened. Zainab returned from Tanzania and in her distinctive fashion rearranged my life and thoughts. Haile Selassie, she assured me, was nothing save a tyrannical phoney who kept himself and friends in shameless luxury while his people lived like slaves and were fed on religion. "Rastafarians are the same as Jesus Freaks only they have a white symbol to blow their minds on and Rastafarians a black one. Religion's the oldest and most effective means for masses oppressed.” No compromises, no change. She was back alright. Amen.

One spring morning I took Zainab back to Wakefield. All heads turned towards us as we strolled along Dewsbury Road. Zainab wore her see-through dress and leather-thronged sandals. I wore the bright red jump suit Zainab had bought me for my 21st birthday only for the second time; I had a shaven my head completely bald because some hair patches that Zainab had pulled out in yet another attack had not grown back properly.

Zainab remembers it differently.

 "I cut your religious past away by cutting your Rastafar­ian locks off,” she said. Samson and Delilah. Wow!

We were still bombed out of our heads on the best bush weed that had ever come out of Thailand as we strolled up the short path, arms linked and singing to each other.

When Mother opened the door she didn't recognise me and made to close the door on our faces until I said: “Mother, it’s me.”

She lost her balance. "Jesus, Joseph and Mary," she incanted. "Whatever is it? What have you done to your hair; and those clothes?”

She ushered us in with enough enthusiasm to arouse my suspicion. She wanted us off her doorstep before her neighbours saw us.

The house was as I had left it two years before, shin­ing and dark like a funeral parlour and as clean as a white shirt.

Mother hadn't changed either in her pale green twin-set, tweed skirt and oval-shaped glasses.

"Who's this, the maid or something", whispered Zainab.

"I'm Henry's Mother, Mrs Phyllis Ducker," Mother replied sharply.

"Where’d you get that name from, Mother?"

"Bernard and I were wed last week."

"You never told me"

"You told me your Mother was Black and named Precious."

"Zainab, nee Gwendolyn, daughter of Africa, I presume,” said Mother with that well rehearsed sarcasm of hers.

Zainab was clearly confused.

"Who's Gwendolyn?"

"It's a long story," I replied quickly. "As long as the story about my Mother and Precious Okara."

"How long are you in Wakefield for?"

"A week-end or so."

"And where are you staying, Henry?"

"Here," I offered hopefully.

"And what about your friend?" she replied glancing at Zainab.

"We've past the raping-each-other-stage, Mrs. Rocker, so we won't stain your sheets." "We're married already, Mother."

"When were you married?"

"Last night at my flat."

Mother arched her brows suspiciously.

"It was a Gwai marriage ceremony," I explained.

"A what ceremony?"

"Gwai are proud people from Nigeria, Mother,"

"I shall ask my husband whether you can both stay."

She made us tea and home made rock cakes served in new crockery.

"A wedding gift." she blushed. 


Bernard Ducker had been in the toilet all this time. He looked as if it had been a fight to get it out. He was a large white man with a ginger crown of hair around a shiny white bald patch, a thick ginger moustache and big boots.

"I can imagine him to have a little red floppy dick," Zainab whisper­ed to me behind a cupped hand but loud enough for everyone to hear.

Bernard pretended he hadn’t heard and thrust his hand forward and shook mine vigorously. Zainab just looked at his proffered hand and ignored it.

“It’s alright,” he said to her. “I’ve washed my hands.”

"My husband and I will not tolerate the use of this language in this house, young lady."

"You still make beautiful rock cakes, Mother."

"It's certainly an accurate name for them" said Zainab. "You could break your teeth on them."

Bolts of lightning flashed from Mother’s eyes and pierced Zainab’s skull.

"Bernard, this is Henry. Henry, meet my husband Bernard."

"I'm Zainab; they call me Zee for short."

"I’ve heard a lot about you son and you too young lady," he said scratching his moustache.

Zainab swung her sandaled feet on the glass-topped coffee table.

“And what have you heard, tell me? That I’m passionate, committed, dangerous to know?”

I thought that was a pretty good self description.

Zainab looked at Mother’s disapproving eyes glued on her feet perched on her coffee table. No one had ever put their feet on that coffee table or any coffee table of hers. She was about to voice her displeasure when Zainab began giggling, which turned into a that hiccuppy laugh and dissolved into high pitched squeals. 

She kneeled to the floor as if in a prayer of hilarity. Mother blinked furiously behind her glasses.

"She's got a fantastic sense of humour," I explained but their attention was riveted to Zainab prostrated, shaking body. Ber­nard screwed a finger against his temple questioning her sanity; then, just as suddenly as she began, Zainab recovered and sat down impassively on the sofa.

She asked Bernard: "And what do you do for a living old man?"

Bernard lifted his shoulders. “I’m a  police officer." I nearly fell off my seat.

"A What?" said Zainab looking at me incredulously.

"You never told me that, Mother."

"You never asked."

"Is it. REALLY true, Mr. Rocker. You’re a cop!"

"Yes. I am a police officer. What’s the big deal? Anyway, no need to call me Mr Ducker, not Rocker, just call me Pop, son."

"This isn't true, it can't be, it's too mother-fucking wild. You've got a pig for a pop. I'm going to the toodle-oo. I wanna be sick, baby."

"Is she all there?" said Bernard, after Zainab had left the room, screwing his index against his temple. "I'm going up to fix the spare room for you both. Is that okay Phyllis, “ he checked. “They are staying?” Mother nodded reluctantly. “I suppose they are married of sorts, although not in the eyes of the Lord.


The heavy chains that surrounded my body made it difficult for me to move. Linnette, tits bouncing, held my left hand by the wrist checking my racing pulse and Bernard was clasped to my other wrist with metal handcuffs, his little red dick flopping benignly against his beefy thighs. Mother sang the tune that made us dance as she held aloft a glinting sword to pierce Zainab’s body, which lay naked outstretched on a slab of concrete. Mother’s voice changed from song to an ominous hum; she advanced, soft-footed on the grass towards Zainab carrying the sword with both hands.

"Laugh now you black hyena," Mother said to her, eyes aglow.

Zainab, eter­nally defiant, told her to fuck herself with the sword. “You’ll get more pleasure out of that than from Rocker’s teeny weenies.”

I tried to break loose but Bernard giggled childishly and drew me back firmly. 

Zainab’s second scream woke me; it took a few mom­ents to realise that I was in my old bedroom. Mother had redecorated with that bright patterned wall paper that only she liked. Zainab screamed again. I rolled off the bed, dived for the door and yanked at the metal handle. Locked. I tried to break the door with my shoulder. Then the screaming stopped.

"Zainab! Mother! Zainab!" I shouted.

The only sounds left in the darkness were my own. I fell asleep and woke rolled in a ball at the foot of the door. I grabbed the handle and the door opened. Zainab lay on my bed open-eyed, yellow-skinned and silent. Mother came behind me.

"Henry, go and put some clothes on, you look a disgrace."

"What have you done - you've killed her!"

"This is the best way Henry, believe me. She was an evil being. Her influence was destroying you ..."

"Mother, you're crazy!"

"You'll be the Henry I know and love again; Mother knows best Henry. Have I not always been right, remember the cat and that woman and..........."

I brushed past her but Bernard barred the doorway.

"Listen to your Mother, son," he warned darkly.

"Come now," she said putting her arms out to me.


"Remember what I had to do to you to calm you down over that dreadful cat, Henry, Mother had to tie you all up didn’t she?" her glasses were slipping gently along her nose.

"Leave me Mother, leave me! I hate you! I want my cat back!




Written  Louis Julienne in Summer 1975, published in 1976 in Ireland.