The Girl from Southhall by Nigel Byng

The close up of a pair of an Indian woman's feet with white painted toenails and silver anklets positioned on the base of a tree trunk
Image Source: Canva Pro

“Ignorance is an incredibly confident state of delusion. It is a lesson I need to learn.” I was scolding myself on my way home.

I had been naïve. And my shallow, limited, immature view of people had exposed me to a very harsh reality. I guess the speed of globalization had unconsciously stirred to the surface, the narrow-mindedness of the society I lived in. Those were the thoughts that were percolating in my head after a long day at work, in which my Polish boss, reminded me, a West Indian, that I was an immigrant and replaceable. “Many more on that boat where you came from.” Everyone had laughed, including me, but I was smarting from the insult.

“Have you ever read the unbearable lightness of being?” She disturbed my inner monologue.

I gave her a blank stare in response to her question. I had only heard a muffled noise, barely reaching me in the realm I had absconded to.

The question had been posed to me by my girlfriend. Her kind never really mingled, at least that is how it first appeared, and it is what all me mates had told me. I had politely kept my distance, but after a few evenings of fortuitous encounters, most of which I had deliberately manipulated, a relationship had developed.

“There is even a movie about it, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.” She prodded in the hope that it would jar a memory. Her fingers were like needles in my arm. Even through the three layers I wore, I could feel the spindly appendages digging into my elbow.

“No, I haven’t.” I shrugged and she rolled her eyes in disbelief.

It was her cue to go into a long winded, summarization of the book by Czech author Milan Kundera. She still fascinated me, even after having been secretly dating her for four months. She was petite, with doe like eyes and a smile that was too broad for her tiny face. Occasionally she would slap me with the back of her hand to bring me back to reality. There was something about her boney backhand that hurt more than someone belting you with a leather strap.

Gurinder was Sikh, a proper Londoner born and raised, a soaked towel short of 110 pounds, and full of caffeinated sentences, with a wicked sense of humor.  

“Why don’t you walk me home this evening?” She grabbed my wrist as the train slowed to a stop in Southhall. I had avoided walking through the town after an incident where I had been called a golliwog by a group of guys who terrorized the train. I did not know what it meant until someone had explained it to me.

I wasn’t sure if the walk to her home was a good idea, as the events of the day had made me feel most unwelcomed in this country. But my anxiety now had another contender to deal with… a meeting her parents.

I followed her lead, along the rugged sidewalks that were crammed to the curbs with stalls selling all manner of fruits and vegetables. Jewelers, and vendors selling traditional clothing, haggled with pedestrians. It was like no other town in London I had been to up until then. Gurinder pressed on, her tiny frame slicing its way between static crowds, clearing just enough room for me to bulldoze my way through. It was a few minutes before I realized that the atmosphere had changed. Scents that did not belong in the city, like curry, coriander, saffron, peppers and various incenses. The music also had changed from the annoying boy band music which played relentlessly on the airwaves, to the more rhythmic tassa infused music from the continent. It was something with which I could resonate.

When we neared her home, I could hear Elton John’s Rocket Man emanating from inside. Not off the radio or the television, but by a couple of strained, accented voices singing in the most off-key tone imaginable.

“My parents are in a festive mood.” Gurinder apologized.

She ushered me inside, where her parents smiled and greeted me with a gleeful nod, though not for a moment interrupting their duet.

“Daddy, this is my boyfriend, who I told you about.” Gurinder shouted over the counter which separated kitchen from living room.

“Why the dour look mate?” she whispered to me.

Did my eyes truly betray me? I shrugged and pretended she was overreaching.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t drink alcohol.” Her father apologized, offering me a choice of tea or coffee when he finally got up and shook my hand.

“Neither do I.” I lied.

They were a surprising twist this couple. Her father was clearly Indian, a caricature of Officer Crabtree from Allo Allo. Tall, dark complexion, bamboo thin, with the thick moustache, funny accent, and all. Her mother was a petit woman, much like she was, but had her hair cropped short, dyed blonde and her lips with a fiery red lip gloss barely moved when she spoke. She was Filipino and catholic. That was a shocker.

“Why the look of surprise young man?” He must have seen the look of disbelief on my face.

“I am sorry. I just had not expected. Well, sir, you, and your wife…” I decided to shut up.

“Like you Ken, we are what’s left of a long dead empire.” He gestured me to his living room, where an old episode of Fawlty Towers was playing on the television. Finally, something we could both relate to.

That I sat in an Indian home, in the middle of London, having traditional English evening tea, with a couple who were the product of the empire’s backyard was not lost on me. This was the global village that imperialism had created, and it was agitating the old colonial masters. Life had conspired to bring my thoughts on the train full circle. What transpired over the next twenty minutes of tea and biscuits, was an extraordinary exchange of history, and reflections of colonialism, which altered my view of things forever. Somehow, he had managed to elucidate my thoughts on the events of that morning.  

“Today we are not welcomed. The motherland doesn’t want her bastard children, scurrying around, taking all their jobs, marrying their daughters and sons, diluting their race. Could you imagine that we are considered the invaders now?” He lifted one eyebrow in disbelief.

“Don’t let my father corrupt your mind.” Gurinder had brought my coat for me, interrupting the conversation. “You have a train to catch.”

As I was walking to the door, her father accompanied me. “If the distinction of your complexion were an obstacle to you dating my daughter, my wife and I would be hypocrites of the highest order.” He squeezed my shoulder.

Gurinder winked and smiled. She had orchestrated the entire encounter, much as I had done for our initial rendezvous. The evening had set me on a course of self-realization.

Ignorance is really a very personal choice to be stupid. It never hurts to be informed.” I was reprimanding myself again. Southhall took on an entirely different light after that, and so did Gurinder.


Nigel Byng is a freelance writer, living in the USA. His writing can be found on Signs of the Times Australia, or on his personal blog Helping you to Succeed where he displays his love of fiction under his pen name, Jerome Kenrick. Follow him on Instagram at @hyts_daily.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Nigel’s short story is a beautiful representation of misconception, stereotypical thinking, and the realization that our own fears often cloud our observations. Ignorance can be the biggest sin when it continues to be an excuse for never learning. This is truly a story that transcends the typical mindset of assuming without knowing the complete truth. A story that is an example of wonderful writing and a valuable life lesson.
    Congratulations Nigel!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. byngnigel says:

    Thank you Terveen. I grew up once I left the Caribbean. The culture shock awakened my senses, highlighted my ignorance and prejudices. Thank you for allowing me to share that story.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed this story very much Nigel…It was a visual treat and well-told.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. byngnigel says:

    Thank you Karima

    Liked by 1 person

  5. michnavs says:

    You never failed to amaze me with your storytelling skills Nigel, and how you flawlessly incorporate lessons in it…congratulations on this beautiful story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Thank you you Michelle. I am working on continually improving. As I am getting older, I have more ingredients to add to the stories I serve up. Happy that you appreciate and support.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Margaret says:

    I found your story absorbing Nigel. Thank you 🙏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. byngnigel says:

      Thank you Margaret. I appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read. Have a blessed weekend.


  7. jonicaggiano says:

    Nigel, you are such a gifted storyteller indeed. We all fear and worry about things we have heard or read based on fundamental racism. In reality, in some situations, that fear is well grounded. It is too bad that it is all taught. I often think about people in war and those who actually fight. If they did not have uniforms and you couldn’t tell where they were from, chances are they would find the different things they discussed fascinating and make many new friends.

    That was a great story Nigel, and it brought some excellent thoughts to light. You can spin an incredible story. It is smooth and well written, and as Mich and Terveen mentioned, lessons, what a great story for teaching us all a thing or two. Congratulations on an excellent publication. Blessings my friend, Hugs Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. byngnigel says:

      Hello Joni. Always nice to hear from my biggest hype merchant. you are so correct in your observations. A lot of conflict can and should be avoided. So many of our disagreements and precursors for violence could be resolved by getting to know each other. Thank you as always for your support, and for reaching out at the most unexpected moments… such a blessing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jonicaggiano says:

    You are so welcome, my friend. I love this piece and it was my pleasure. I haven’t read anything by you I haven’t enjoyed yet. You are a natural writer and I am glad to see you here on MasticadoresIndia. Blessings, my friend. Hugs, Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. byngnigel says:

      Thank you Joni.. Means a lot.


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