CASSIE EZEJI                                            << An Excerpt from >>                  Only Family & Other Lost Things


279 Ruchazie Rd, Carntyne, East End

Crazy Ruchazie. That was that we called it: not because our side of the road was overly manic, quite the opposite in fact. The days were slow and the roads were quiet. This isn't where it all began but it is where a lot of it took place. It was no longer as bleak as it was in my mother’s day as the houses on Belrock Street had been demolished, but it still managed to suffocate my sister and I. Perhaps that was just because we were not used to the sleepy suburbs but I feel a sense of drowning as I think of it now.

It was not a pretty house, nor was it big: it was, however, where I found knowledge. I would sit on my Granda Pops knee as he showed me a globe of the world. He had many globes: cheaply made and easily broken. We stuck to the cream-coloured one as 

it was the strongest, and the countries’ names and oceans were printed in an old fashioned hand-written font that pleasedme as a child. He would bring out the encyclopaedia to ensure the information he was telling me was in fact correct and to find any other details he could add.  I would learn these facts by heart and chant them to him. I would be quizzed on different political leaders, cultures, inventions, wars, medicines, imports and exports. The Iberian Peninsula lies between Spain and Portugal: that is where the best oranges come from. Fidel Castro is the one and only. Maggie Thatcher is an awful woman; she closed our mines and stole our school milk. I believe this knowledge has stood me in good stead so far, and had school been a bit more like that then perhaps I would have gone more often.

The kitchen was small and narrow, where my grandfather could be found sitting alone, listening to the wireless as it screeched loudly in search of a signal. For a long time I believed he was an undercover Russian spy because of his constant radio activity, tapping in and out of communist programmes and taking the old radio apart to keep it working.

I have since visited this small kitchen and it felt even smaller after the years that had passed: not much had changed, including me.

"Whit height ye these days hen?"

My family always seemed to place a great deal of importance on height, and it was a question I was forever asked. It was as though height meant something to them, as if it were some kind of determining factor as to how I would fare in life. Aunties would ask me to stand back-to-back with my cousins to see who was taller: to see who would succeed, who would not? I wonder, if my sister were around for longer, if they would have asked her this question too. I have always been asked what height I am.

"The Igbo people wir taw ye know." My Granda Pop would always remind me of this, in the same tone he used when he taught me of his political affiliations. Of course I knew - I had been told me throughout my childhood. I remember how my eyes would grow wide as he told me of “these great big taw people” and how I longed to be one of them, feeling the heat of the African sun on my face. He taught me about Nigeria, Colonel Ojukwu and the Biafran war. He told me of how he met my Nigerian grandfather long before either of them were my grandfathers; long before I existed, long before my mother and father existed, in a time when they were handsome bright eyed young men who got talking in a small East End pub.

How strange that life would bring together two men from such different worlds and decades later they would share a grandchild, but never see one another again. I picture it in my head: my two grandfathers arguing over the Biafran war. My Granda Pop opposed of course, and my Nigerian grandfather on Ojukwu’s side.

I once asked my Granda Pop whether or not my Nigerian grandfather was a funny man. I used to be desperate to have some sort of grasp of who he was, and images of a charming Igbo man with great wit and intellect would conjure up in my mind. He would be handsome with a smile that gleamed a bright and blinding white that would drawn you in effortlessly.

"No. He wis a very serious man. Very serious. Of course a jist met him the onst like…mibby he wis…he was a chief ye know…but worked as telly mechanic over here."

It seemed the Igbo king was not as I imagined. No matter how my Granda Pop tried to be diplomatic, it was clear: he was a man not to be reckoned with. Of course I discovered this for myself in later years.

That night in the pub they were both thrown out for drinking their own whiskey, from a bottle my Granda Pop had snuck in and shared with the Igbo giant.