Long Time Walk on Water by Joan Simon
James Dunbar. Jack is what he answers to. Picking his way through the mucky incidents of life, he consoles himself that things will get better.
They happen to meet at a bus-stop, Emily and Jack.
An account of the black immigrant experience jostling to find its place among the white working class. A tale of how the humble live whilst waiting for their dreams to come true. A virtuoso performance in which the protagonists slip in and out of names like garments to the same measure that Time shifts like the plates of the earth, Long Time Walk on Water is, above all, an unforgettable love story: the story of a mother’s love and the price her family must pay for generations to come.
Once you get off that bus that puts you down before the council estate, it’s the daunting anonymity of fifteen-storey, twenty-storey monsters jutting out between the multitude of low-rise blocks connected to each other by a dizzy web of bridges, stairs and alleyways. After a battle of more than two years, the residents had finally managed to persuade the local council to paint the doors to each ‘house’ a different colour, since not only relatives but the residents themselves were forever losing their way. Consequently, Lyndon House doors had all been painted a dark green, Havelock House a light blue, Clarence House an optimistic yellow. A placard at the top of the main road leading into the estate read: Welcome to spaghetti alley, otherwise known as the hall of mirrors. Please leave your faces in the foyer. Thank you. Management.
“Someone reckons he’s a real clever dick,” mutters Jack as he winds his way through the estate; past the first two low-rise blocks, past the newsagent’s, the fish-n-chip shop, the launderette, the post office, the betting office and the off licence. A short queue had formed in the chippy, and through the fluttering multicoloured strips of a plastic curtain hanging in the entrance to the betting office, men’s voices joke, shout, hope, swear. Post office being next to the betting office and the off licence, a fair amount of welfare probably never made it to a man’s front door, thought Jack, such is life. He turns another corner: Where do the fucking architects live, eh, some urban artist wanted to know. And underneath: In a house like you do you ungrateful bastard. Workers of the World Unite had been crossed out and replaced by: All you need is Love, the universal imperative embellished by crudely sprayed peace-flowers.
A couple of houses in the block are boarded up. Amazing, how quickly a place can run down. It hadn't been that bad when they had moved in, Jack remembers. If everyone were to plant a few flowers on their balcony in the summer and make sure their kids went to school, he didn’t want his kids turning teenagers in this environment but what could he do? His feet smack the concrete floor. The sound carries far, far enough for gangs lurking behind pillars yards ahead to know you were on your way but he lives there and isn’t afraid. Boys trying to be men. He’d smack their bloody heads together if they ever tried to mug him or anyone in his family. In a parallel house an old lady is sitting by her window, her curtains pushed aside. She looks out over her mug of tea. Further along, rock music blasts from a bedroom window. Elsewhere, a mother, fraught, fed up; “Daniel! Come ’ere before I give you one! Come ’ere right now... you fink I’m joking?” Silence for a while, then, “Daniel!” Jack can hear the impatience brewing in her voice. “Right that’s it, you’ve had ya warning.” Whack! A toddler screams out that wet, gargling scream. Father storms into the room, starts effing and blinding, but Daniel’s mum gives as good as she gets. Maybe it will come to blows. The old woman shakes her head as she withdraws from the window. From the profanity. Jack takes a shortcut past the playground; two car-tyre swings mope from the branches like carcinogenic fruit, a metal slide, a see-saw and a sandpit, or at least it had been, before the sand had been pinched. Another left turn, and Jack is home. Lift’s not working again. He begins to climb the stairs to the seventh floor.
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