Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 2

A continuation of Grovel Greg, Grovel - Greg moves to London. It is 1976. Greg is a shy and naive 19 year-old, who has decided to take his chances in the big city. He must pitch his wits against racism, unemployment, and people who want to take advantage of his inexperience. But things don’t go well, and by the Autumn, he has disappeared from the face of the Earth. Or has he? In Part 2 Greg moves to London, and takes-up residence in the strange lodging house, "Turbot". Part 3 is set in the present day, as his sister sets out to discover what really happened. One chapter will be published on Movellas each day, until the story reaches its gripping conclusion.

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3. The Party

It is 8.00 pm on Saturday. Derrick is in his flat, waiting for people to arrive. No one else is there yet, except  Clive, the elderly eccentric, who sits on Derrick's low, black leather sofa, watching telly. Derrick is not worried by the current lack of guests; he knows they will come eventually. In any case, the bright daylight outside makes it feel too early in the evening to start the party. So Derrick potters, re-arranging the little snacks with his large hands, testing the hi-fi, and having a drink.

            Above the reggae, Derrick thinks he heard the doorbell. Derrick glances at Clive, who does not glance back, but carries-on watching telly, mumbling to himself now and then. Derrick goes to the door.

            "Greg man, come in!"

            Greg is nervous. He hands Derrick the vodka. Derrick gives a big slow nod of approval at Greg’s choice of liquor. Greg can hear the reggae from within the flat. Greg heard reggae like this booming from a passing car a couple of Saturdays ago in Stockwell. This reggae sounds smoother and bassier than the reggae that Greg knows (like The Israelites, by Desmond Dekker). Greg assumes that the party has already started.

            "Are there lots of guests already?" he asks, hoping that there are not. Derrick, sensing the opportunity for some fun, says “its really swinging”.

            Timidly, the ashen-faced Greg walks into Derrick's living room, towards the source of the reggae. Derrick, smiling, walks behind him, his smile turning into a boom of laughter when Greg sees that the room is empty, other than for Clive.

            In the kitchen, Derrick tells Greg that Clive is alright- he does not say much, but he does not mean to be unfriendly, that is just his way.

            Eventually, other guests do arrive. But by this time Greg's nerves are quelled by several doses of Derrick's special rum.

            At first, Greg finds the young men at the party very insular. They laugh and joke among themselves and he cannot understand what they are saying. He is reminded of his French classes at school: he had learnt the volcab, he had learnt the grammar, but as soon as the teacher played a tape of a real French person talking, Greg was lost. It was too fast for him to understand. And so it is with these West Indian voices: he is convinced he knows the words, but they are coming too quickly at him to follow. From time to time, the young men eye him suspiciously. Greg thinks he knows what they are thinking: 'he's not one of us- what's he doing here?'

            So Greg contents himself by talking to Derrick, and drinking more rum. Then he talks to a friendly woman, who Greg classifies as too old for him to go out with, but attractive enough for her attention flattering to him. Sometimes it is difficult for Greg to hear what she says above the music, but, by-and-large (and although she has a West Indian accent), he finds her far easier to understand than the men. She explains that everyone at the party knows eachother; they are a close-knit community. Greg finds it amazing that someone could know so many people: back in Bury, he could count his family's acquaintances on his fingers. She says her name is Marcia. Greg tells her that  he thinks the men at the party are ignoring him. Marcia replies that they are not unfriendly. Once they have got used to Greg being at the party, they will start to talk to him, she says.

            Whilst Marcia is talking to Greg, she makes an aside to one of her friends. She does so in the fast style that Greg cannot understand. It is then that he realises that there are two forms of West Indian English; the Anglicised one that helps West Indian people get-by in the white England, and the authentic Caribbean version which Greg's English ears are not attuned to.

            After a while, Marcia melts-away to another part of the party, leaving Greg on his own. But Greg does not mind this too much, now that he has broken the ice and spoken to someone new. Besides, the rum is dissolving the last traces of his shyness. He wanders off to the kitchen to try to find more rum.

            In the kitchen, one of the men that Greg thought had been ignoring him, starts (to Greg's surprise) to talk to him.

            "Why are you drinking so much man?" he asks. But before Greg has the chance to reply, he continues, "Your head'll ache worse than Dennis Amiss tomorrow morning!" Greg asks him what he means. He explains that Dennis Amiss, England's 'other' Great White Hope (in the absence of Boycott), has been hit on the head by a bouncer from Michael Holding in the M.C.C. game.

            “They had to sew his 'ed back together man!" he says, making no effort to conceal his amusement. Greg explains that he is drinking the rum because he likes rum. After an interlude, Greg realises that this is trite, so he adds that the other reason is because he is upset over a woman. The man appears interested, so Greg goes into some detail about Nadia. As he talks, the man nods his head gravely, which encourages Greg to add further pitiable strands to the tale. As he talks, other men, including Derrick, gather around to listen. They all nod their heads gravely. Greg rounds-off his tale by admitting that he has not lost his virginity yet. The men agree that that this is serious indeed.

            "What you need is a battabout," says one of them. The others agree. Greg does not know what a 'battabout' is, but he hopes it is a word for some sweet girl that a young man in his situation can cherish.

            "We'll find you a nice woman.... tonight!" proclaims Derrick, smiling. The others laugh. Greg is pleased because they are going to help him.

            At that moment, a new group of guests arrive at the party. As they enter Derrick's living room, a lull descends over the party. The music is still playing, but the happy chatter is suspended. First, a tall black man confidently strides-in to the room. He is dressed in a smart suit. Then, two less smartly-dressed men follow. They are not as tall as the first man, though stockier in build. And following them is a woman, the most beautiful woman that Greg has ever seen.

            The other guests are anxious to be cordial to the new entrants, though none look happy at their arrival.

            The woman who has caught Greg's eye is very young. She looks younger than Greg himself. She is more girl than woman. Her skin is neither black nor white: rather a gorgeous honey colour. Greg thinks she is even prettier than Nadia.

            "She's nice!" Greg proclaims to Derrick, rather loudly.

            "You like the browning," observes Derrick.

            A heavy 'Glow' has come over Greg, now. He drifts in and out of conversations with ease, completely void of the shyness he had felt when he rang Derrick's doorbell at eight o'clock. Outside, it is getting dark. Greg thinks he has been at the party for ages: he has talked to Derrick, talked to Marcia, emptied his heart out, drank a lot of rum, and seen a woman who makes Nadia look plain. In fact, Greg has been here rather less than two hours: the alcohol has made him lose track of time.

            Greg wanders out of Derrick's kitchen. His brain is floating, pleasantly detached from his body, moving effortlessly around the flat as if on a magic carpet. His legs, however, struggle by comparison. They stumble into people and furniture, revealing Greg's drunken condition to anyone who cares to observe him.

            Greg's aim is to get closer to the honey-coloured girl. In his current state of mind, he is confident that he will impress her. He manages to organise his increasingly clumsy body into the corner of Derrick's lounge-diner- the room where the tall suited man and his entourage have encamped.

            From his vantage point, Greg gets a pretty good view of the honey-coloured girl. He is keen to ascertain whether she is the girlfriend of any of the men she has come along with. She sits a curious distance from them: near enough to discourage other people from talking to her, yet far enough to suggest a lack of intimacy with any of her group. She never smiles. She just sits, virtually motionless, staring ahead.

            Eventually, Derrick comes-by and offers her a drink. She accepts it disinterestedly, then sips at it in the same manner. Greg thinks he heard Derrick call her 'Shaccara', or something like that- it is difficult to tell above the noise of the party. Greg tries to repeat this name to himself, but under the influence of drink it comes out as 'Shackrurura'.

            "Greg. I have a lady that wants to meet you," says Derrick. Once Greg has absorbed this comment, he becomes excited, in anticipation that Derrick is going to introduce him to Shackrurura. Greg's eyes light up for a while, despite his drunken condition. He obediently follows Derrick in the direction that he leads. But he does not lead Greg to Shackrurura, (or even Shaccara). Instead, Greg is lead to an imposing black woman. She is taller than Greg and has broad shoulders and a ramrod-straight back. And she is black: not just 'black' as in the description of her ethnic origin, but ‘black’ as in the rich, deep blackness of her skin. She looks blacker than Derrick or any of his mates. She is many many shades blacker than Shackrurura. She is wearing a long dress made of a cloth printed with large flowers in vivid colours. She is standing alone in a corner of Derrick's flat, unsmiling, and unintegrated with the party.

            "This," announces Derrick proudly, "is Leomi." Then Derrick, satisfied by his good deed of introducing the pair, disappears, leaving Greg standing gawping in front of her.

            Leomi is not exactly the kind of girl Greg was hoping to meet. She is tall, statuesque and imposing, rather than small, cute and pretty. But Greg is too drunk to be disappointed. He attempts to speak to her. Whether it is because he is drunk, or for some other reason, she does not appear to understand him. She just looks at him with an expressionless face. Eventually she says something; Greg does not understand her, either.

            It is at this moment that the rum catches-up with Greg. A giddy, queasiness comes over him. He leaves Leomi without explanation and struggles towards Derrick's front door, swaying, and colliding with people as he goes. Once outside, the fresh air makes him feel a little better. But the relief is short-lived: he vomits suddenly and massively in the shared stairwell that leads to the flat. Some of it accumulates in lumpy puddles on the concrete steps, more of it flows over the edges and drips down to the landing below.

 

 

Madge is now fifteen. She is a little shorter than her brother, and, like him, her hair is an unremarkable dark brown. Unlike him, however, she does not have a tuft. Her hair is straight and tidy, and long enough to cover her ears. And the dissimilarities do not end there. Whereas Greg has an undefinable, curious aspect to his appearance, his sister is, well, 'normal'. She is rather good-looking, in fact. And she has started a campaign to get permission to go and see Greg. She does not (really) mind whether she goes with her parents, or on her own. However, she suspects that her parents will not want to go- she knows that, to them, the idea of travelling from Bury to the streets of south London would be equivalent to the journey through the gates of Hades.

            Madge is clever. She is subtle. She plans things. (Greg plans things too, but unlike his, Madge's plans sometimes work). So Madge craftily places certain thoughts in her parents' minds.

            She tells them that she is 'really worried' that she does not know how to travel to places on her own. She is 'nearly sixteen' (an exaggeration) and she should, 'surely', be more confident in this respect than she is. Therefore, perhaps, she should practice, some time.

            She tells them that she thinks that 'Algy' is 'alright', but subtly prefaces this with the word 'probably'. This is clever, because she knows that her parents value her slant on how 'Algy' might be doing- they know she understands him better than they do.

            She tells her parents that, unlike 'Algy', she will never live in London.

            Then she drops the subject. She has simply sown some seeds in her parents’ minds, and she is patient enough to wait for them to germinate.

 

 

Meanwhile, Derrick tidies-up after his party. He knows you cannot throw a party without making a mess, so he is not cross about having to clear-up. His tolerance even extends to scraping-up Greg's puke from the corridor outside his flat. He does not realise it has also dripped down (or more accurately, flowed) to the landing below.

            Much later that day, Greg turns-up, also with the intention of clearing up his puke. As he reaches the landing underneath Derrick's, an old white woman complains about the puke outside her flat. Greg, without realising it is his, agrees: "Yeah disgustin', innit?" he says, in his newly-adopted London style.

            At the flat, Greg asks Derrick where his puke is. Derrick, lying, says he has not seen any. Greg naively believes him.

            "Hey, you nearly scored with that chick last night!" says Derrick.

It takes Greg a while to remember what he did at the party. Then he remembers Leomi. Leomi is not a 'chick'. To Greg, a 'chick' must be a cute thing, like Nadia or Shaccara. Not like Leomi. But not wishing to sound ungrateful to his friend for his matchmaking efforts, or to insult someone the same colour as his friend, Greg aims for something neutral.

            "I was too drunk to make anything of it," he offers, waving his hand around vaguely.

            "I thought you were doing alright. You should get it on with her," encourages Derrick. Greg thinks of Nadia and Shaccara. If only he could get it on with them- either of them! As he thinks this, he feels something stiffen in his pants. This makes him decide that his priority must be sex. Accordingly, Derrick is able to pursuade Greg to allow him to fix him a date with Leomi. As Greg leaves Derrick's flat, Greg is not sure why he has allowed himself to be talked into a date with a woman he does not fancy. He does not know when or where the date will be, but Derrick has said "Leave it to me."

 

On the way back to Turbot, Greg remembers Dennis Amiss, whose fragile brilliance was shattered by the crude means of a blow to the head.

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