“Zebra” (2003) by the John Butler trio
“Zebra” (2003) by the John Butler trio
By and large, the white people around me never make me realise I’m black. Only on the most oddest of occasions.
I was going to meet my gf's parents for the first time, had a shower and was about to leave with her. I asked whether I looked okay, spinach in the teeth, etc. She said, ‘you're fine’. And just as we were about to lock the house she mumbled, ‘oh by the way, um, my grandmother, she's, um, she's a, she's a little bit racist, have you got the keys for the car, let's go!’
She sprinted to the car, leaving me with this psychological hammer that she just malleted in my head and passed off quickly, like Usain Bolt and a baton.
I got in the car. ‘Whadaya mean she's racist?’ She's driving btw, I don't have a license. She said, ‘You don't need to worry about it, she's a bit cuckoo in the brain, she's got mild dementia, just pass it off.’
I'm stuck in a conundrum, because I'm trying to impress her folks, but her folks, SEEMINGLY, are the Ku Klux Klan. While she was driving, I really didnt what to do – she seemed pre-occupied driving and singing to Robbie Williams on the radio. I can’t argue. Now is not the time. Let’s take it as it is – one step at a time.
She saw me worrying. ‘Just pass it off, coz it’s, like, cute.’ ‘Whadaya means it’s cute?’ ‘Y'know it's kinda cute and adorable and endearing, coz its subjective, she really doesn't know what she's talking about, she's lost it in the head.’
One step at a time? I could pass it off. But this is different, because this is personal and this is the potential in-law family for my children. And I really don't know the circumstances yet, before I examine the Nazi Skinheads, in order to pass it off. I can forgive Paul Henry for his racist statements, because of the circumstances of how long he's been in our Lounge, every morning, for how many years. There’s a rapport that’s been created with him and I. But this?! This is different because I don't know these people. I've never met any of them before. Hence, I have no parameters to judge these people. Worst yet, it's me trying to impress them! Not the other way round. And why the fuck did she leave it to the last moment to explain or mention this before. And why the fuck would I want to go out this woman who only leaves it to the last moment, and could potentially be a Grand Wizard herself. She could feel my eyes on her. ‘Let meeee entertain you!’ She put her hand on my leg. ‘Relax, you’ll be fine.’
So we arrive at the house: mum, dad, little brother and nana. And they all seem cool (by the way, her mother in fuckin' fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine, spitting image of my gf. Just bigger tits.) Mum is cooking dinner with my gf. Me and dad and lil brother go outside and talk about the Ashes. And nana is in the living room watching Coro. Nana, btw, hasn’t talked at all yet, but she's very, very, very smiley. She has the thickest spectacles I've ever seen – almost 10 mm wide. So I wouldn't be surprised if she hadn't noticed the colour of my skin.
Dinners served. We're eating. Everyone’s at the table and guess who I'm sitting next to? Nana’s digging into that soup, y'know, with shaking hands trying to aim for her mouth but getting her chin instead. And still she hasn’t said a word. From what I was told before arriving, I would've dunked that bitch into the fuckin soup and let her drown in it. But no one else in the family noticed Nana and nana hasn’t really noticed me or anyone else at the table for that matter. Soon, everything I was told about completely vanished and was forgotten.
Anyway, I felt confident to tell them a joke. And why not?! Y'know, um, that's the first thing I think of when trying to break the ice. The only difference is the audience I’m speaking to are the in-laws I’m trying to impress. I wasn't stupid enough to tell a blue joke. I wasn’t stupid enough to tell a political joke that could spin their conservative heads round. And yet of course, no brilliant joke, just in case they'd brand me as that funny guy joker who must always pull out a brilliant joke at will for the rest of my life with them.
So I said to the dad, ‘Um, mate, d’ya wanna hear a joke?’ Dad nodded and lil brother too. ‘That Indian cricket team. Came so close to winning that match. They could’ve Haddin!’
Dad and lil' brother giggled and smiled. Nana understood that since the boys were laughing at it, rather than the girls, then the joke must’ve been sports related. She leaned over to my gf and whispered, ‘what's Haddin?’ My gf loudly said to her, ‘it's a pun on a cricket player's name, whose name is Haddin.’ Nana understood and smiled. Mum smiled. My gf looked at me thinking, that was a nice and easy joke to earn their smile. At best, the joke went down well. Y’know, it was just my 2 cents to add to this conversation – not too much, not too less. My job is only to be her trophy.
Then guess who decides to have a fucking confident word right at that moment!?
She's sitting right next to me and said, ‘CAN I TELL A JOKE?’ out of fuckin nowhere, never said a confident word until fuckin now. I looked at mum and dad. They were looking down into their soups and said nothing. Something was coming. But my gf was egging her on. ‘Go head, nana, tell us your joke.’ Nana said, with a huge smile on her face, she said, ‘There was once a coon ….’
If there was doubt before she started her joke, it was undoubted when she began it. The smiles and good vibes I created with my joke disappeared. It was only a fuckin millisecond in how it all changed. But immediately it became clear that nana's brain noticed quickly what she had done, as there was a sudden and wrong silence overcoming the table. Obviously her ears were working.
But as she looked up behind those thick glass walls on her face, eying the people in the room, I saw a flicker of shame cross her face. It was then I realised, it was of no conscious fault of her own. It was probably not only her upbringing, but it was most definitely her dementia. I could see the early signs of Alzheimers. The total loss of control behind those eyes. I had an Aunty suffer the same horrible disease. I did not wish it upon the worst of my enemies. I felt sorry for nana right then and there.
Nana said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t remember the rest of the joke.’ ‘That’s alright, nana’, my gf said.
I’m positive that nana didn’t continue the joke because I was there - I’m positive she truly didn’t remember the rest of the joke. I still don’t think she knew I was coloured. As a matter of fact, I don’t think she knew I was there.
Nana drooled back into her soup. Mum waved her hand at me gesturing some form of apology about nana’s racist remark. I waved my hand back gesturing, ‘don’t worry about it.’ Dad broke the awkward silence to talk about his new lawnmower.
That was a memorable evening. Nana died the following year.