Our neighbourhood took a radical turn the day Betty
moved into the house next door to ours. That house had been vacant for a long time, so I was really surprised to find
a mound of empty boxes and bags at the road-side in front of the house one afternoon. I saw no-one, though, so I went
home to start dinner. Since my wife and I both work, that chore goes to whoever gets home first.
My wife, Tara, arrived about half an hour later.
She checked the pot first and gave me a hug after. Everyone has their own priorities. Then she broke the news.
"We have a neighbour," she said.
"So I gather," I replied.
"I just talk to she," Tara continued. "Is a nice creole
girl. She well pleasant and friendly. She name is N’daya. And I tell she to come for dinner here,
because she was asking where she could get some fast food to buy."
"Well, I better put up some more rice," was all I could
It was over dinner that I got to know that my neighbour
was a Black Power woman. It started off when Tara asked what kind of name is N’daya. The girl launch into
a lecture about how when she was born she was given a slave-name, and how that was an insult to history, so she take a name
from her African heritage. After that, the talk went on to exploitation, equality and justice. When our new neighbour
went home that night, my wife summed her up in one sentence:
"That girl is
In the weeks that followed, N’daya proved to be
a good neighbour with one bad fault. On the good side, she continued to be pleasant with everybody, and was always willing
to help out if she could. But she had this way of giving you a political education when you least wanted it. That
woman could lecture! And always the same story: white people exploiting us, and we must fight back.
On the personal side, N’daya really aggravated
me by calling me "brother" and "comrade". Somehow, that always used to get me vex. I don’t know why.
But one day, luck run with me. Her cousin come to visit, and spill the beans that N’daya real name is Betty.
After that, it was an even fight. Any time she called me "comrade", I answered back with "Betty". It was enough
to make her mad-vex.
By the time August
holidays came around, Betty was part of the neighbourhood. When she took her two-weeks holiday "to straighten out the
place", she invited her niece to stay with her. Needless to say, Gloria was "in school", not on holiday. Every
day we cold hear Betty indoctrinating her in the ways of Black Power.
Independence Day dawned on a sleepy neighbourhood.
We working folk enjoy the luxury of a late sleep whenever we can. I was lazing around in the bedroom at around nine
o’clock, and Tara was making breakfast, when Betty’s voice drifted in through the window.
"It only have two kinds," she was saying, "Whites and
Coloureds. So they easy to separate."
"What she teaching that poor child now?" I asked myself.
I was surprised to hear her use a word like
"Coloureds". Normally, she would have said "Blacks". Maybe she was trying to include Indians like me in the bunch.
Tara came into the room. I quickly told her "sh-sh"
and she came to listen at the window. Next door, the lesson continued.
"The most important thing is to keep the whites and
coloureds separate," Betty was saying.
"Lord!" Tara muttered. "That poor child."
Betty went on.
"Some whites so nasty, you does have to rub them out."
"You hear that?" I asked Tara. "Is murder she preaching."
"Is true," Tara replied.
"That poor child," I said.
Worse was to come.
"If is intimate whites, don’t trust nobody else,"
Betty instructed. "Rub them out with your own hand".
Tara started to cry. I get vex.
care if is politics or not," I said. "You can’t teach a little girl to kill she own boy-friend and them just because
they is white-people."
We listened in horror as Betty made Gloria repeat the
lesson to memorize it.
"Keep the whites and coloureds separate, rub out the
nasty whites and rub out the intimate whites myself."
The sound of her young, innocent voice was too much
"I going over there and give that criminal a piece of
my mind," I declared. "I going right now!"
As I got up to go, I heard Betty’s voice again.
"You learned your lesson will. Your mother always
saying that I only putting nonsense in your head. Well, you could go home tomorrow and tell she that is I who teach
you to wash clothes!"