A novel and novella
Two roads is a novella (Pulpit Rock) and short novel (Malleable) of ~85,000 words. The extract below comes from the novel, Malleable. It deals with…
…And Norman has wondered, would I have the strength and will to walk with those black protesters? Would I face rotten eggs and muck and spite? Would I? Would I take a hit from a truncheon, a club… would I?
He never thinks of being anywhere other than with the people walking in lines down hostile streets, protesting; he thinks that’s just what I am like, lucky to be born a bit capable of thinking outside my own shoes (thank you Atticus Finch). Norman liked that book at school. He’ll always be with the people walking those streets, not part of the wall of hate.
On a Saturday morning he finds out.
They walk down Luther King Drive, gravity pulling them downhill from Windsor Park where they’d assembled; two hundred or so Hispanics, quite a few of them Mexican (more Mexicans in Burris than he’d ever imagined) and others from Puerto Rico and Honduras and Colombia and Cuba, café au lait tinted most of them, and there is Frank who is black and his family and here is Norman and his mom and dad and Ash and her folks. They say hello to the Carlyles and Mr. Caine, which makes Norman think nice things about him, briefly. Mr. Caine is standing holding the hand of a little whip thin Mexican lady, who is not so pretty but she has a lovely smile when she looks up at Mr. Caine and gestures at all the people who are marching and Norman thinks: she thinks it is for her. The march, the protest. And it is. There is also Mr Verdure from the grocery store. He comes from France and rumour has it he has old French aristocratic blood in the family tree somewhere. Norman looks around and estimates there are maybe 20 white people marching. He wonders suddenly why he did this. It shouldn’t be about colour but it always is, and the TV when it looks at this will sweep across and kind of count the different groups. Show faces that don’t fit the mainstream. Even though he hates it, he thinks in that old us and them way too.
They’ve got signs with slogans like ‘Remember the constitution’ and ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…’ and ‘We stand together’. They are carrying the flag and some of them are holding bibles and some Korans, and one boy is holding both, together. Norman sees it is Abdullah Fariq from his science class, along with some good-looking girl with long dark hair.
He goes over to say hello before they set off and finds out it’s Abdullah’s sister from North Dakota who’s come home from university. The older lady with them is his mom. Norman can’t see if his Dad is around.
For a while they march along pretty quietly. It’s a beautiful day, warm with a zephyr breeze and with flowers kind of nodding at them from people’s houses and the municipal gardens and from outside trendy business premises, and later Norman remembers how his Uncle Steve said he visited Auschwitz once, on just such a beautiful day as this, and was never ever able to feel anything there other than cold.
But at first Norman rather enjoys this walk. He feels he is doing something good. Moving away from Windsor Park they walk mainly along sidewalks, though cannot help but spill a little onto roads, in front of houses with blinded windows. Norman gets the sense that people are looking at them out of windows. There’s hardly a soul on the streets. There are no cars. They’ve got permission for this march and the police have cleared the way. Then, as they get down towards the city which is their destination (Town Hall), there are more people and cars in side streets and the mood changes.
They’d tried to get up a chant, way back near Windsor Park; ‘what do we want – our rights—when do we want them? —now’. But the chant doesn’t really get any momentum until they are suddenly faced with a lot of people lining sidewalks and glaring at them. They chant now, meaning it, and Norman is feeling nervous.
‘Commies,’ someone calls out.
‘Greenies,’ someone else says.
‘Wrong cause,’ Frank says to Norman. Ash is walking with her folks.
‘They can’t get anything right,’ Norman says.
Closer in to town and near Main Street the noise from the sidewalks grows and now they are calling them Mexe lovers and commie whores and fucking puta (Penny tells them later what puta means). Near the Post Office, someone throws an egg at someone up from Norman. He can’t see who it hits but he smells it; it is rotten, weeks old, specially kept, he guesses, just for this occasion. More eggs come but none of them hit him or his parents. They are targeting the non-whites, he realises. The stink is bad though. The noise goes on and they chant harder trying to get over it, like a refugee trying gamely to climb a wall. Noise on noise and more eggs and tomatoes now and the police just watching, seeing men and women and kids on the sidewalk wind up like some St. Louis pitcher and hurl stuff straight at some Mexican or Colombian or Negro face or lob whole cartons of old eggs up to drop like some gaseous hand grenade. The police just watch.
They get to the town hall, most of them bespattered. Their leaders, among them Raoul, have a petition which they take out of a briefcase. There’s a cleared bit of sidewalk, roped off, allowing them to go unimpeded into the town hall but someone from the crowd lobs a soft as tomato which lands splat on the bag, throws bloody debris on the petition which Raoul has drawn from his old advertising days briefcase. A police whistle blows and the crowd goes absolutely silent. No more eggs or tomatoes or any other missiles come. Raoul and two other men walk towards the hall entry and another police whistle sounds and the crowd on the sidewalk all turn their backs on them. Raoul and the two others go in and Norman and all the rest wait three minutes. That’s all.
In silence they march out of town and they don’t really listen to the report from the three who went in. Ash and Norman are feeling miserable…
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