Another extract from Malleable – novella

Like every other kid in America I’ve seen those old newsreels of black folk and a few whites marching down Alabama or Mississippi streets through a wall of hate and police looking the other way when things other than the barrage of insults get thrown. Things like old eggs, and soft, squishy tomatoes and maybe, sometimes, something harder, bigger.
And like some of us I’ve wondered would I have the strength and will to walk with those black protesters, to have my face soiled with egg and muck and spite. Would I? Would I take a hit from a truncheon, a club, would I? I never think of being anywhere other than with the people walking, protesting; I guess that’s just what I am like, lucky to be born a bit capable of thinking outside my own shoes (thank you Atticus Finch). I liked that book at school. I’ll always be with the people walking those streets and not part of the wall of hate.
And now I know.
We walk down Luther King Drive, gravity pulling us down hill from Windsor Park where we assembled; two hundred or so Hispanics, quite a few of them Mexican (more Mexicans in Burris than I’d ever imagined) and others from Puerto Rico and Honduras and Colombia and Cuba, coffee tinted most of them and there is Frank who is black and his family and there is me and my Mum and Dad and Ash and her folks and I see the Carlyles and Mr. Caine, which makes me think nice things about him, briefly. Mr. Caine is standing holding the hand of a little whip thin Mexican lady, not so pretty but she has a lovely smile when she looks up at Mr. Caine and gestures at all the people who are marching and I think, she thinks it is for her. And it is. There is also Mr Verdure who comes from France, and rumour has it he has old French aristocratic blood in the family tree somewhere. I figure there are maybe 20 white people marching. It shouldn’t be about colour but it always is, and the TV when it looks at this will sweep across and kind of count the different groups. Show faces that don’t fit the mainstream.
We’ve got signs with slogans like ‘Remember the constitution’ and ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…’ and ‘We stand together’. We are carrying the flag and some of us are holding bibles and some Korans, and one boy is holding both, together, because I forgot to mention that Abdullah Fariq from my science class is also marching, along with his sister from North Dakota who’s come home from university and his Mum. I wonder if his Dad is around.
For a while we march along pretty quietly. It’s a beautiful day, warm with a zephyr breeze and with flowers kind of nodding at us from people’s houses and municipal gardens and outside trendy business premises, and later I remember how my Uncle Steve said he visited Auschwitz once, on just such a beautiful day as this and was never ever able to feel anything there other than cold. But at first I rather enjoy this walk. I feel I am doing something good. Moving away from Windsor Park we walk mainly among houses and I get the sense that people are looking at us out of windows but there’s hardly a soul on the streets. There are no cars. We’ve got permission for this march and the police have cleared the way. Then, as we get down towards the city which is our destination (Town Hall), there are more people and cars in side streets and the mood changes.
We’d tried to get up a chant, way back near Windsor Park; “what do we want – Our rights – when do we want them? – now”. But that didn’t really get any momentum until we are suddenly faced with a lot of people lining sidewalks and glaring at us. We chant now, meaning it, and I’m feeling nervous.
‘Commies,’ someone calls out. ‘Greenies,’ someone else says.
‘Wrong cause,’ I say to Frank. Ash is walking with her folks.
‘They can’t get anything right,’ Frank says.
Closer in to town and near Main Street the noise from the sidewalks grows and now they are calling us Mexe lovers and commie whores and fucking puta (Penny tells me later what puta means). Near the Post Office someone throws an egg at someone up from me. I don’t see who it hits but I smell it, it is rotten, weeks old, specially kept, I guess, just for this occasion. More eggs come but none of them hit me. The stink is bad though. The noise goes on and we chant harder trying to get over it, like a refugee trying gamely to climb a wall. Noise on noise and more eggs and tomatoes now and the police just watching, seeing men and women and kids on the sidewalk wind up like some St. Louis pitcher and hurl stuff straight at some Mexican or Colombian or Negro face or lob whole cartons of old eggs up to drop like some gaseous hand grenade. The police just watch. We get to the town hall, most of us bespattered.
Our leaders, among them Raoul, have a petition which they take out of a briefcase. There’s a cleared bit of sidewalk, roped off, allowing them to go unimpeded into the town hall but someone from the crowd lobs a soft as tomato which lands splat on the bag, throws bloody debris on the petition which Raoul has drawn from his old advertising days briefcase. A police whistle blows and the crowd goes absolutely silent. No more eggs or tomatoes or any other missiles come. Raoul and two other men walk towards the hall entry and another police whistle sounds and the crowd on the sidewalk all turn their backs on us. Raoul and the two others go in and we wait three minutes. That’s all.
In silence we march out of town and we don’t really listen to the report from the three who went in. Ash and I are feeling miserable.


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