Strange Fruit

I’d met a few,  but circumstances of  childhood meant that I didn’t really know a
black person until I was seventeen.  I was known throughout the Lilliputian  mill and pit towns of Leigh Atherton and Tyldsley  as Chalky White. This became shortened to Chalky. And apparently I had a “lovely smile”.   I was reminded daily that  with a smile like
mine you could   “see me in the dark”. Many wondered whether the lighter colour of my hands and  the soles of my feet, was because  my  feet had been  on the floor and my hands on the wall, when god sprayed me.  I reacted in the only way I knew, I laughed, and along with the nickname “Chalky White” took all these misappropriations as a confirmation of popularity acceptance and therefore identity.

One day I wondered what would happen if I didn’t  laugh?  The thought was as clear
as that.  I wanted to know what would replace the space were laughter/ridicule had spawned.  The result of this experiment was like a collapsing of the mines. All the tunnels built on rotted supports buckled under the weight. The ideas that had mined themselves into my core found themselves trapped and airless as the rock collapsed. Seismic changes afoot. I took the laughter away and saw pure festering darkness, fear and loathing of people who looked like me, inside me. I woke up one morning in shock. Who am I and why am I asking these questions.  

It was not long after this that I went barefoot for an entire year.  When I left the childrens homes the government as a legal obligation had to give me my birth certificate. It had another name on it. My name was not Norman Greenwood as I had been led to believe. Norman was thename of the social worker who had stole me from my parents.  Greenwood was the name of the foster parents who belived that I was possesed by the devil – this after my being with them from three months old to twelve years old.   It was
Lemn Sissay. Immediately I referred to the only truth I had ever known, my name.  Now people truly thought I may be mad. Barefoot with a weird name and dreadlocks.

Unbeknown to me until my final year in “care” there was another boy eight years younger
who had been told about this Chalky White. He wwas somewhere in some childrens
home in the Wigan area. This boy was Andrew McGinty. And he became known as “Chalky two”.   Throughout my adult life I have had sporadic contact with Andrew who grew into a six foot three giant of a man. He was mixed race and lonesome.
Throughout my travels I realised there are lots of us  single Black boys in small villages outside the cities of Britian. We were either jokers or fighters, very rarely between
the two. Always extremes. A year or so Andrews girlfriend sent me an email asking
that I attend his surprise thirtieth. I couldn’t be there. Andrew like myself had been fostered and dragged unceremoniously through  childhood inthe care system.

His stature led him to become a bouncer/doorman at places like Wigan Pier.  But later on he became a Care Worker in an old peoples home. Quite amazing.  They loved him there, his gentleness and humour. He had a relationship with another care worker in the same place. I see him carrying a tray of tea, or wiping some spittle from the corner of a milky eyed woman called Hilda. 

I have said this for years and I will say it again. It is no coincidence that child of an inadequate care system go to work in the care system because it is what they know. It is the twisted version of a miners son going to work in a mine. Or a teachers son going to
university.  I am reminded of the man who lives on Robben Island and shows visitors around the prison where he and Nelson Mandela spent twenty one years.
  Today I
received an email from a kind stranger  of which this line was a part.

“Sorry to bring these things up but just wanted to jog your memory.  Unfortunately I wanted to let you know that Andrew tragically died last Saturday Morning.” After a few drinks he had a argument with his girlfriend and hanged himself.  He murdered himself.   I’ve never been to a funeral. This will be the first.

4 thoughts on “Strange Fruit

  1. Cheers Lemn for your thoughtful words of Andrew. It's Jacquie, Andrew's eldest foster sister – Amanda mentioned that she contacted you last week to let you know of the very sad news. He'd have been so pleased that so many remember him so fondly, Thanks so much and all the best to you.

  2. I’ve only just found out that Andrew had passed away. I met him in a children’s home when I was young called Gregory ave in hagfold. He was someone I looked up to and made memories with. I am deeply saddened by this & needed to write something. gone but never forgotten.

  3. Only just found out about Andrew passing away. I met Andrew at children’s home called Gregory ave in hagfold. He was someone I looked up to and made good memories with. I am so shocked it’s took me so long to find out . Gone but never forgotten.

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