Outside

Outside

Outside my barber shop in June
The recruiting sergeant and his corporal
Try their skills on the local youth.
Dark-skinned men, dark and fit, close-
Faded haircuts and smartly pressed uniforms.
They have parked their green Toyota,
Illegally, in front of my store to
Talk to three Guyanese Indian boys:
Two older ones who look like brothers –
Slim, short hair neatly brushed back,
Pencil moustaches and goatee beards; a
Younger one with tousled hair and
One thick silver ear-ring.

The sergeant who holds a brochure
In his hand is making serious points
Like a trained salesman. One of the
Brothers is listening intently to
This athlete in uniform who wants
Him to join the team. The corporal
Is talking to the younger boy
With the silver ear-ring. Softer, smiling
White teeth against dark skin.
They circle round each other like
Business men discussing a deal,
Cross and re-cross the street up
And down the hill, in and out of
My vision. Three African-American
Teenagers tall and skinny climb up the hill; they
sit down on the ledge of my
Window gates, slouch forward, cradling a basketball.
The recruiters try their pitch on them.

Under other skies men of my race
And family listened to other recruiters once;
Took the shilling, put on
The uniforms of the British crown.
They then enforced those arrangements
Which across the years and continents
And seas compelled the fathers of
All these men on the road to this place.

Once, when I was seven or eight years old
I found, pressed in a bible in my
Grandmother’s house a photograph, a
newspaper clipping of a boy in naval uniform.
“Who is this Granny? Is he your son?”
I think she must have been setting
The table for our mid-day meal for
I remember she sat down in a
Straight backed chair and breathed out.
She did not move for what
Seemed a long time, the clipping
In her hand, her hands on her lap.
She looked straight ahead and she cried.
I was bewildered, even a little afraid
“What’s wrong Granny? What’s wrong?”
And she assured me that nothing was
Wrong and No, it was not her son.
No, just some neighbour’s child
Who had drowned in the last war.

– Sundar Dalton.

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