We had done this every summer. No matter who was on, we’d see them. Up the West Brompton end of the big exhibition centre. Near to the cemetery where I’d never seen, but heard that men fondled men on the cold marble stones and lust conquered death in the still of moonlight. At least for now in the innocent seventies, lust was winning this war.
It was quiet down here if you got your timing right. Up the goods ramp to the left of the large panorama of never-used glass doors, and there it was; a small fire utility outlet. It had been made just big enough. We could crawl through and use our outstretched arms to break our fall onto the steps of the concrete fire exit. From here, it was just a short walk down the stairs and into the hall that hall contained for three nights only, the one and only Jackson Five.
My younger sister, Irene, Ian the short member of our gang, the twins; Paul and Steve, and I, had all been looking forward to it. The Jackson Five was the real thing. Fuck the Osmonds. I could hardly contain the singing of my secret song for Marlon. Yeah, everyone else could scream for Michael, I was there for Marlon. I’d been growing my Afro for months, and here it was; the big day, but it wouldn’t stay straight like the Five’s seemed to stay.
Mum had had enough of my constantly wanting her to help me get it just right. It was uncle Sylvanus that eventually helped me cut it into that perfect globe. Sylvanus worked on the underground. He had been here in England for a year less than Mum, but unlike her or his brother or any of my aunts, uncle Sylvanus had never gone home. He didn’t even go back for the funeral of my grandparents. So I could never work out why he always went on about the place has changed now that they had passed.
His only passion it seemed was playing the organ, which he did every Sunday in a church in Brixton. Strangely, I wasn’t shocked when his six-foot-one-and-a-half inches manhandled the scissors like a Harlem Globetrotter handling a tricky basket. Within minutes of sitting over my afro, uncle Sylvanus had it looking like I was the missing member in The Jackson Six.
We didn’t get into the concert. As we got to the bottom of the stairs and opened the exit door to the exhibition hall, a security guard came running up to my afro with a large Alsatian dog in tow. My sister froze at the sight of the dog. So as Steve, Paul, and Ian, disappeared into the crowd, I found myself coming back to her side. “I don’t suppose either of you would have tickets, would you? Come on, out.”
And with that, we were taken to the front entrance on Earl’s Court Road and told not to let our “faces be seen here again.” We started to walk home. Gutted. A drunk pointed at my tank top, bell-bottoms and Afro and in a thick Australian twang as he passed said, “It’s bloody Michael Jackson!” I shouted at his back, “It’s fucking Marlon, not Michael.”
As I turned back, I caught sight of a couple kissing on the stairs leading up to the front door of a big regency house. They were both males. I was transfixed, like a rabbit caught in headlights. There was a part of me that felt good to see this like I’d been waiting for today more than I’d ever waited for buses, or birthdays, or Christmas, or even Marlon. Two men kissing, in public, right before me. Sis’ hadn’t seen them and was now a little way ahead.
I somehow knew it was right for my life. All I had been searching for. All I had been secretly singing for. I knew more than all the world at that moment, and then, like scales from eyes, my mist cleared. The Black one of the couple was tall, about six-foot-one-and-a-half inches tall, with a perfectly formed half-fro and the hands of a hairdressing train driver. “Uncle Sylv?” the question trailed off in my mouth as he and the white stranger disappeared through the door.
At the end of the summer, uncle Sylvanus was cutting off my Afro. School was starting. And mum wasn’t going through anymore “Just hol’ you head still” cries, as knots were combed from my hair. They were talking about my aunt returning home, and why Sylvanus didn’t go with her for a holiday.
He looked at me in the mirror his eyes fixed on mine with a big grin across his lips and said, “Small island living, means too many fool-fool people all up in your biz’ness. You can’t keep no secret in such a place. Is not so junior? It’s like growing you’ hair in a particular style. On a small island, you have to cut you’ hair like everyone else, just to fit in. But you know, I know many a Rastaman who wears no locks, and many a Jackson who is not a Five. Is not so junior?” And he winked at me as my Afro fell to the floor.
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