I knew something was odd at home when, after we had eaten our dinner, my dad followed my mum, Carl and me into the living room to sit down. This usually did not happen. Dinner was just an interruption from my dad's jobs around the house. On Sundays after church Dad was always fixing, painting, adjusting or mending. He was always, "in the middle of a job", that required his full,silent concentration and a monkey wrench(1). If I ever asked him what he was doing he'd say, "Fixing something, so don't come bothering me now."[...]
But this was not the only strange thing. It used to be strange for us to go into the living room at all. It was always kept for best with Mum's carefully embroidered runners on the sideboard and school photographs of Carl and me smiling and showingour teeth in various stages of hideous development. [...] Now we were adults, however, we could go in the room any time we pleased, our parents convinced that we would no longer damage one of the glass ornaments or spill out tea on the furry fireside rug. But as I walked into the room I saw six, maybe seven of my mum and dad's boxes piled up in a corner. My eye was drawn to them because they wereout of place and nothing was ever out of place in that room. The boxes were also full, sealed across the top, bottom and sides with wide brown tape.
"What are these doing here ?" I asked, going over to them. I turned round and watched as Dad looked at Mum, Mum looked at Carl, Carl looked at Dad and then back at Mum. But nobody looked at me.
"What's going on ?" I looked at them all one by one.Then another strange thing happened : my dad spoke first.
"Sit down, Faith" he said. He began to finger the knuckles on his hand, feeling each one in turn. He used to do this when it was time to discuss the "could do better" bits in my school report. I began to get scared.
"No, I won't sit down." I wasn't sure why I said that but I felt like someone in a film who was about to be told something thatwould make them scream and pull at their hair. Unfortunately everyone else sat down and I had to stay standing. Nobody spoke so I placed my hands on my hips.
Dad started, "Your mum and me", then faltered. He began again, "Me and your mum", and stopped. He went back to, "Your mum and me." I looked at my mum who was looking at her knees and pulling imaginary hairs off her skirt, while Dadcontinued to stutter his various permutations. He was onto, "We", when I said, "What ?" [...].
"Come, Wade", Mum said, looking impatiently at my dad who had still not completed a sentence.
"Your mum and me are thinking of going back home", Dad said finally.
I thought of our old council flat where Carl and me had grown up. Although we had lived in Crouch End for years, it was the crumbling flat in StokeNewington that I thought of as home. The blue door with the silver number twenty-three and a knocker that could be heard anywhere in the flat. With the drain-pipe in the bathroom, where bathwater from the flats above could be heard rushing through. My bedroom with its council-pink walls and tiny bed where I put my discarded teeth under the pillow and the tooth fairy would replace them with asixpence.
I thought in that moment that my parents had somehow lost all their money. That Mum was having to leave her job as a disctrict nurse ; the old folk cured, the disctrict cutting back. That Dad's business - which he had built up so carefully with sixteen-hour days, including Saturdays and Sundays, and evenings spent writing invoices in his best handwriting in a little blue book - had afterall gone bust. I thought they were having to move out of the house. The house in a proper street that they were so proud of they sent pictures of it to relatives with invitations to come and stay.
"You going back to the flat ?" I asked.
Carl sniggered and I knew I was wrong.
"No, Faith," Mum said. "We're thinking of going home to Jamaica"
And my reaction was, "For a holiday. Fantastic ! How...