The Black Notebook
For instance, Paul’s friendship with Jackson must have become quite highly developed to provoke Mrs Boothby as it did. I can remember the moment when she ordered Paul finally out of the kitchen — it must have been the week-end before the last. Paul and I were in the kitchen talking to Jackson. Mrs Boothby came in and said: ‘You know it’s against the rules for hotel guests to come into the kitchen.’ I remember quite clearly the feeling of shock, as at an unfairness, like children feel when grown-ups are being arbitrary. So that means we must have been running in and out of the kitchen all the time without protest from her. Paul punished her by taking her at her word. He would wait at the back door of the kitchen until the time Jackson was due to go off after lunch, and then ostentatiously walk with him across to the wire fence that enclosed Jackson’s cottage, talking with his hand on the man’s arm and shoulder. And this contact between black and white flesh was deliberate, to provoke any white person that might be watching. We didn’t go near the kitchen again. And because we were in a mood of high childishness we would giggle and talk of Mrs Boothby like children talking about a headmistress. It seems extraordinary to me that we were capable of being so childish, and that we didn’t care that we were hurting her. She had become ‘an aborigine’ because she resented Paul’s friendship with Jackson. Yet we knew quite well there wasn’t a white person in the Colony who wouldn’t have resented it, and in our political roles we were capable of infinite patience and understanding in explaining to some white person why their racial attitudes were inhuman.
I remember something else — Ted reasoning with Stanley Lett about Mrs Lattimore. Ted said that Mr Lattimore was getting jealous and with good reason. Stanley was good-naturedly derisive: Mr Lattimore treated his wife like dirt, he said, and deserved what he got. But the derision was really for Ted, for it was he who was jealous, and of Stanley. Stanley did not care that Ted was hurt. And why should he? When anyone is wooed on one level for the sake of another it is always resented. Always. Of course, Ted was primarily in pursuit of the ‘butterfly under the stone’ and his romantic emotions were well under control. But they were there all right, and Ted deserved that moment, which occurred more than once, when Stanley smiled his hard-lipped knowing smile, his cold eyes narrowed, and said: ‘Come off it, mate. You know that’s not my cup of tea.’ And yet Ted had been offering a book, or an evening listening to music. Stanley had become openly contemptuous of Ted. And Ted, instead of telling him to go to hell, allowed it. Ted was one of the most scrupulous people I’ve known, yet he would go off on ‘organizing expeditions’ with Stanley, to get beer or filch food. Afterwards he would tell us he had only gone in order to get an opportunity to explain to Stanley that this was not, ‘as he would come to see in time’, the right way to live. But then he would give us a quick, ashamed glance, and turn his face away, smiling his new bitterly self-hating smile.