The disgruntled flick of the newspaper, the snort of derision, Tom knew what was coming next, it happened nearly every morning when they sat down to breakfast together.
‘Bloody immigrants,’ said Tom’s dad from behind The Times.
‘Language Rod, tender ears, tender ears.’
‘Come on Jill, tender ears? He’s twelve years old going on twenty seven, aren’t you Tom?’
‘My best friends an immigrant,’ said Tom knowingly stoking the fires of his dad’s indignation. His mother’s eyes rolled up to look at the ceiling.
‘Shanti? He’s English,’ said his father.
‘He’s a different colour.’
‘Doesn’t make him an immigrant.’
‘Very laudable of you Rod,’ said a sleepy voice as Tom’s granddad entered the kitchen in his dressing gown stuffing his still smouldering pipe into his pocket. He winked at Tom.
‘I’ve got nothing against skin colour, I’m not rascist,’ insisted Rod, folding his paper and placing it on the table next to the cereal packets, preparing himself to hold forth on his favourite subject. ‘It’s not the one’s who are here, it’s the millions they’re still letting in, taking our jobs…’
‘Jobs that the ones who are here don’t want,’ said Jill.
‘They don’t get a chance,’ said Rod.
‘They would if they didn’t pay them not to work.’
‘Do they do that?’ said Tom.
‘All the time son, all the bloody time. See, if you pay taxes, money that the bloody government take off us…no, if you can afford to pay taxes then you don’t get anything in return but the layabouts and immigrants do…’
‘Not everybody wants to be out of work,’ said Jill.
‘Well if they stopped paying them they’d have to go out to work and they’d have to take low paid work so there’d be no work for the immigrants so they’d have to go back to where they belong.’
‘Would you?’ said Jill.
‘Take any old job?’
‘I don’t have to.’
‘But what if you did?’
‘That wouldn’t happen.’
‘Don’t be stupid Jill they’ll always want bankers,’ said Rod.
‘I expect that’s what the coal miners said,’ said granddad picking up the pot and pouring himself a cup of tea into a large white mug.
‘We’re doing mining in school,’ said Tom.
‘Your great uncle worked in the mines,’ said granddad.
‘Really…?’ said Tom.
‘I’ll tell you…’
‘We’ve still got miners,’ said Rod.
‘Weavers then,’ said Jill.
‘But it doesn’t matter, it’s hypothetical, the point I’m making…’
‘You sound like Alf Garnet,’ said Jill, laughing.
‘I…’ said Rod.
‘Who’s Alf Garnet?’ said Tom.
‘A racist bigot who starred in a comedy programme on TV, before your time, before mine to,’ she said, laughing.
‘It’s no laughing matter,’ said Rod.
‘It was very funny,’ said granddad. ‘Ironic…’
‘What’s ironic?’ said Tom.
‘Something that…’said granddad.
‘He told it how it was,’ said Rod. ‘Like me.’
‘His character was used as a voice piece to show how futile it was pretending you could prevent different types of people coming to Britain,’ said Jill.
‘Well said Jill,’ said granddad.
‘Foreigners,’ said Rod.
‘What?’ said Jill.
‘You can say it, it’s not going to undermine your argument.’
‘What?’ responded Jill.
‘ ‘Different people’. That’s the problem, people prevaricate, pussy foot around, they don’t say it like it is.’
‘And you do?’ said Jill becoming angry.
‘Of course I do. Why do you think we all have borders around our countries? To keep ‘Different people’ out. Undesirables. Terrorists. The whole bloody mob who want to come here and sponge off of us just because they haven’t got jobs and free medical care and handouts in their own countries.’
‘Some come here because they’ve been persecuted,’ said Jill.
‘Jesus was persecuted,’ said Tom. ‘Mrs Simpson in RE says he was persecuted because he knew more than everybody else, not because he was a Christian, because he wasn’t, so she says.’
‘He was Jewish wasn’t he,’ said granddad.
‘I don’t know,’ said Tom. ‘I’ll ask Mrs Simpson.’
‘Thank you,’ said granddad with a wry smile playing on his unshaven face.
‘There’s very few of those,’ said Rod.
‘Jews?’ said Jill.
‘Very funny,’ said Rod. ‘The one’s who are persecuted in their countries and so try to get in here. Freeloaders that’s all they bloody are, out for a free lunch.’
‘Very few of those,’ said granddad.
‘Talking of lunch. Try and remember your lunch box today Tom, it’s in the fridge,’ said Jill. Tom nodded.
‘None of you can see it can you.’ Rod’s pent up indignation exploded. ‘You think it’s a joke…’
‘That’s enough Rod,’ said Jill raising her voice to match his. ‘Tom doesn’t need to be fed your views morning, noon and night. He needs to make up his own mind when he’s old enough. He’ll go to school and spout you’re racist rubbish and he’ll end up in trouble.’
‘He’s got to learn the truth sometime Jill. He can’t walk around with his eyes closed to what’s going on around him, you can’t afford to these days. It’s a stark choice. You either buy into this multi-cultural bollocks or, if you decide to leave another country and come here you take on your hosts beliefs and traditions. Of course you could open the borders, stand back and watch them all flood in, no matter what.’
‘It’s impossible to impose beliefs,’ said granddad.
‘It’s easy to fill a vulnerable mind with junk,’ said Jill.
‘It’s not junk. My dad said this would happen when they gave British passports to Blacks and Asians.’
‘I thought you weren’t racist?’
‘I’m not. I’m just…just…’
‘Partisan,’ said granddad.
‘Exactly,’ said Rod studying his father-in law to see if he was playing with him. Granddad’s expression remained neutral.
‘It’s a simple solution. America for the Americans, France for the French, and Britain for the British, it’s the way it’s always been, it’s the way it always will be.’
‘So the Anglo Saxon’s, the Dane’s, William the Conqueror and the French, the Huguenots now fully integrated were all ‘British’ were they?’ said Jill.
‘Well…no,’ conceded Rod. ‘But they are now. We don’t need any more in this country, that’s all I’m saying.’
‘Oh…fiddlesticks,’ said Jill. She stood up and began to clear the table. ‘You’d better go and clean your teeth and put your shoes on Tom.’
‘I do know, mum,’ said Tom
‘Don’t you back chat young man, I have enough trouble with your father.’
‘Bollocks,’ said Rod under his breath. He smiled at Tom, Tom smiled back, a little unsure that his mum might see the interchange. As he made his way up the stairs to the bathroom he heard his mum’s voice raised again.
‘Every morning Rod, it’s got to stop. The whole idea of having breakfast together is to have family time not to take the opportunity to brainwash Tom with your obscene views.’
‘Freedom of expression Jill, I’m allowed my own opinions even in my own home.’
‘Tell him dad,’ said Jill.’
‘Not my place Jill.’
‘God knows why I still love you Rod but I do,’ she said.
Tom heard his granddad walk across the wooden flooring of the hallway. He rushed his teeth cleaning, dashed into his room, picked up his school bag and ran down the stairs. The kitchen was quiet apart from the dishes being placed in the drainer. He made his way over to the door to his granddad’s part of the house. It was open as always.
There was another door at the end of a short hallway that was like an air lock between granddad’s area and the rest of the house. It smelt of pipe tobacco that was banned by his mum. Tom loved it. The aroma heralded a different space, one crowded with dark wood furniture, lines and lines of books and papers covered with his granddad’s spidery scrawl and drawings of everything and anything that took the old man’s fancy.
Tom walked silently down the hallway into the lounge beyond. He was disappointed not to find granddad there. He carried on searching the remaining rooms, careful to knock on each door. Tom didn’t want to catch granddad in his vest and underpants again. They had laughed but it had been a shock, for both of them.
He came to the door of the small study at the rear overlooking the back garden. He knocked politely, waiting in the doorway to be invited in. Granddad stood in the centre of the room, hands on hips, starting at a picture on the wall. Tom continued to wait. Granddad continued to stare. He seemed intent on finding something. Becoming aware of being watched he turned to Tom and smiled.
‘Come on in Tom, no need to be shy, I’m fully dressed today.’
Tom stepped into the room. Granddad held his arms wide and Tom ran to him, hugging him tight.
‘You’re dad has some extreme views,’ said granddad.
‘What were you looking at?’
Granddad held him by the shoulders and turned him round to face the picture. ‘Taken from Apollo Eight, the first manned spacecraft to go to the moon. They didn’t land there but they were the first men to see our world from space in the context of a blue, green and white oasis against a barren backdrop of black punctuated by pin pricks of white light so far away as to be insignificant.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ said Tom who had seen the picture before but had never really looked at it.
‘It is,’ said granddad. ‘Take a close look Tom, what do you see?’
Tom studied the picture like granddad had. The countries were green and brown against a background of blue. White and grey clouds swirled across the image. It was a bit like looking at Google Earth before you zoned in. He worked hard but had no idea what granddad wanted him to see.
‘Can you see it Tom?’ said granddad.
‘I’m not sure,’ said Tom waiting for a hint before committing himself to a foolish observation. He’d played these games with granddad before. ‘The green and brown bits are countries, with snow on the mountains. The seas are blue.’
Tom concentrated harder. It was no good. ‘I’m sorry granddad I don’t know.’
‘No need to be sorry Tom, very few people can see clearly,’ said granddad. He squeezed Tom’s shoulders gently and bent down, his face alongside Tom’s. They studied the picture together. ‘No boundaries,’ he said standing up straight and patting Tom’s shoulders. ‘There are no boundaries on the surface of the Earth, the lines on the maps are an illusion.’