Milktooth and the Mother Country
It was a shiny, damp night amongst the factories and terraced houses of Handsworth. It was to be Lenny’s first encounter with Milktooth. Lenny dodged over the road. He could make out the malevolent shapes of youths beyond a streetlamp. Teddy boys. Trouble.
Lenny was walking down to The Regal to meet his mother. She was working at the cinema as an usherette. Times had been hard for the Merchant family since they sailed from India to austere 1950’s Britain. As Anglo-Indians they had always dreamed of an idyllic Britain; the home they had never been to. The glorious mother country. The reality was far different.
Lenny and his family hadn’t felt welcome in India after independence. But they found they weren’t warmly greeted in their mother country either. Times were difficult for them. Lenny’s father’s successful career in the Indian Telegraph service was not recognised in Britain and he had had to take a low paid, factory job in Birmingham. His mother’s teaching qualification meant nothing. They had found it hard to find rented accommodation because of their darker skin colour and Indian accents.
As Lenny walked down the other side of the road, one of the Teddy boys crossed over. A figure in a bright, long Edwardian jacket swaggered nearer like a gunslinger. “Leave him alone Milktooth,” shouted one of the gang from over the road. Milktooth raised a hand dismissively at his friend and strode closer. His feet were clad in thick crepe shoes, his hair greased forwards into a thick pugnacious roll on the forehead. Milktooth was carrying a packet of chips wrapped in newspaper in his left hand. As he got close he offered the chips and smiled. It was a beautiful smile, full of hope and friendship. A gold incisor gleamed.
“Hello” beamed Milktooth. Lenny was confused. He didn’t want to take food from a stranger but then he did not want to cause offence. Lenny decided it would be best to take a chip. He put his hand forward. Milktooth screwed the chip wrapper up in his left hand and drove his right fist hard into Lenny’s face. Incandescent points of light drove into Lenny’s skull. His lip split and he bit into his tongue. He could taste blood thick in his mouth.
“Fucking darkie,” Milktooth’s face had changed, his eyes had grown, his head was tilted back and cocked to one side. He spoke again “What are you doing on my street, Darkie?”
Lenny said nothing, uncertain. His silence earned him another solid, driving blow, this time to the orbit of his right eye. Lenny felt his legs slacken and collapse. He fell to the ground. A kick to the abdomen winded him and he tried to find air. Tears glazed his eyes and even in the pain and terror he noticed how they created beautiful sparkles in the streetlamps.
“Leave him alone Milktooth,” someone shouted again from over the road. The other teds were walking off now. Lenny lay there wounded. In their brief encounter, the smile and greeting -even the violence, he felt a bond with Milktooth. It was completely disorientating; like entering a mother country that did not want him.
Milktooth knelt down and started patting Lenny gently around his pockets. He found the wallet containing five shillings. He carefully removed the Avia wristwatch Lenny’s parents had given recently on their son’s sixteenth birthday. It had been paid for from carefully nurtured and dwindling savings. Milktooth softly stroked Lenny’s cheek.
The youth stood up. He unwrapped the chip packet and gently released the contents from their Daily Mirror covering. The remaining chips scattered over Lenny’s prone body like petals over a fallen comrade.
Milktooth swung his foot and kicked Lenny again, this time in the ribs “ Go home you dirty wog, you’re not wanted here.” Milktooth crossed over the road laughing and joined his friends.
By Warren Chapman