The Bluebottle Boys – Birmingham: Penance (Section 2 of 3)
[The featured photograph is of the kind of meeting room larger churches tended to have in the 1860s-70s.]
D.S. Higgins met us at the gate. With him was a tall, gangling priest with lank, straw-colored, somewhat thinning hair and an open, friendly countenance. He looked to be in his early- to-mid-thirties. D.S. Higgins introduced him as the assistant parish priest, Father Fitzgerald.
The priest shook hands with us all, as if he were there to offer a tour of the church grounds rather than act as mediator and moderator. Mum apologized for Dad’s tardiness, but everyone was certain he’d be there shortly and appreciated that some university duties had detained him a moment. Father Fitzgerald suggested that Dad could join us when he arrived, but that the victims of our St. Patrick’s Day attack were already there and shouldn’t be kept waiting.
This neighborhood straddled the line between lower middle class and working class; our having shown up in a limo, the adults all well-dressed, Ian and me in our prep-school uniforms, although intended to look respectful, likely looked ostentatious instead.
The drunks were there with their wives, the men looking bemused and befuddled, the wives put out and displeased.
Everyone was dressed respectfully, but anyone could tell at a glance who was on which side. Still, the faces of a couple of the wives softened when they caught sight of Mum. Though her dressing and grooming today was a universe away from the frazzled way she’d looked when arranging shelter over the winter of 1960-1961, they recognized her as the woman who’d found them dry places to live when their homes had been flooded. They were still grateful for what she’d done, even rather fond of her.
Two men sat next to each other; I recognized them as the drunks who nearly got into fisticuffs when we zapped them. I pointed it out, and asked if they’d been in a fight since; everyone laughed, telling me the two were best mates when they were sober, adversaries only when drunk. They didn’t recognize me, however – as well as the other drunks. Most couldn’t even remember being hit with colored liquid – though the wives could, since they’d been the ones who washed it out. But it had been washable – one of the rules of Holi was that the liquid couldn’t leave a permanent stain.
I explained about Holi, how and why it was celebrated, and that we’d meant no harm – that it was all in good fun. As I told them how some of the “hits” occurred, some of the women even began to laugh, saying that it “served th’ old codgers roight.” D.S. Higgins told them that Ian and I had friends in the Asian community and were no doubt trying to impress them by doing what we’d done.
“Including a girlfriend, Reggie?” asked Father Fitzgerald.
“Beg pardon, Father?” I replied, befuddled.
“Rashmi Chaudhary,” the priest prompted.
There seemed to be something almost conspiratorial and encouraging in his tone.
“Rashmi’s me next door neighbour – she’s like me big sister.”
“Drusilla Chase is a little lying gossipy cow, who sounds her big mouth off, even when she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Ian griped. “She’s the one spreading stuff about Reggie and Rashmi.”
“Yes, your Headmaster did mention you two have ongoing problems and disputes with Miss Chase,” Father Fitzgerald continued, “along with a certain Quentin Farrington-Hyde and Rufus Engwister-Trott.. Trouble with the gentry, boys?”
“Can’t stand ’em,” said Ian.
“Everybody hates them,” I said. “They’re just upper class tossers throwing their weight around.”
“Regge!” Mum exclaimed.
“Sorry, Father,” I said. “Sorry Mum, but s’true. They’re who’re only in our school ’cause their families are friends with all the mucky-mucks an’ have enough influence t’keep ’em all from being thrown out.”
Apparently, I’d said something right.
Several of the people there were now looking at me the same way the two women had looked at Mum when we’d first walked in. Ian and I had become “us,” Silla, Rufus and Tiny, “them.”
Dad walked in moments after I’d finished speaking, with apologies for being late. The same two women recognized him too. Father Fitzgerald continued after introductions all around.
“So rumours of your ‘love life’ are untrue Reggie?”
“But you do have Asian friends?”
“And you wanted to impress them?”
“And did you?”
“I don’t think so. Not really.”
“And you and Ian are part of an elite boys’ choir at your school, is that correct?”
Ian cut in with a long, rambling, discourse on the choir and what we all did.
At length, the priest held up his hand. “I’ll
take that as a ‘yes’ from you, Ian.”
He turned to me.”Would that same answer apply to you too, Reggie?”
Father Fitzgerald looked thoughtful for a moment, then he turned to us.
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
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G. H. McCallum
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