Franklin looked at the floor. Somewhere deep inside him, in that place he had learned to shut it away, his anger was straining for release. He suppressed the urge – where could it take him that he had not already been? He asked if Benjy had also been arrested.
‘No. He must have picked the right road to run down. Or maybe he just not carrying a cricket bat…’
‘So he can be a witness. Where’s he live?’
‘He won’t want to make himself that conspicuous. He knows what happens if he does.’
‘You’ve been away too long, bro. His car gets stopped every time he goes out, his social security gets delayed, the sniffer dogs take a liking to his house…you know.’
‘I’ll talk to him anyway. And there must have been other witnesses.’
‘Hundreds. And they all know they’re on a hiding to nothing. Even if they speak out the judges take the word of the policeman. So why speak out?’
Franklin had no answer. ‘You still looking for a job?’ he asked Everton.
‘Me and the rest of Brixton.’
‘I’ll get you out of here,’ Franklin said.
‘Oh yeah? Then I’ll keep my eyes on the windows for when the big black man comes abseiling in.’
Franklin refused to be provoked. ‘I’ll talk to some people,’ he said.
‘Worrell,’ his brother said, ‘one thing I like to know. The next time Brixton goes up, and they need the Army to put out the fire, whose side you be on?’
‘I go where my conscience say I should go,’ Franklin said. ‘I not on anyone’s side,’ he added, noticing that it only needed a few minutes with Everton and the old anger to have him talking like a Rasta again.
‘Then I hope your conscience is in good shape, man,’ Everton said, ‘cos I think you’re gonna need it to be.’
‘Yeah. You worry about your own future,’ Franklin said, getting up. ‘And don’t go assaulting no more policeman’s boots with your head.’
‘I’ll try real hard to restrain myself.’
‘Any message for Mum?’
‘Tell her I’m OK. Not to worry.’
‘OK. I’ll be back.’
As if on cue, Detective-Sergeant Wilson opened the door.
‘We’re done,’ Franklin said. He had already decided to make no complaint about the beating his brother had been given. It would serve no purpose, and it might conceivably get in the way of getting Everton released. ‘I appreciate your help,’ he told Wilson, catching a glimpse of his brother’s disapproving face over the detective’s shoulder.
Out on Brixton Road once more, he took a deep breath of fresh air and walked slowly back in the direction he had come. The crowd was still clustered around the bank of televisions, watching the now-married twosome leaving St Paul’s. They looked happy enough, Franklin thought, but who could really tell? He wondered if they had made love yet, or if the royal dick was yet to be unveiled. Maybe the Queen Mother would cut a ribbon or something.
He remembered his own mother had asked him to pick up some chicken wings in the market. Her younger son might be in custody, but the older one still had to be fed. Franklin recrossed the road and walked down Electric Avenue to their usual butcher. A street party seemed to be getting under way, apparently in celebration of the royal event. Prince Charles was the most popular establishment figure in Brixton – in fact, he was the only popular establishment figure. People thought he cared, which in the summer of ’81 was enough to make anyone look like a revolutionary.
The only big difference between this and a thousand other British neighbourhoods was the colour scheme – the flags and balloons were all red, yellow and green rather than red, white and blue. Even the kids milling on the street corners seemed to have smiles on their faces this morning, Franklin noticed. For a couple of hours it was just possible to believe there was only one Britain.
Unless, of course, you were locked up in one of the Brixton Police Station’s remand cells for no better reason than being the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of the many heads of state attending the Royal Wedding was Sir Dawda Jawara, President of the small West African state of The Gambia. In the colonial twilight of the early 1960s Jawara had led his nascent country’s pro-independence movement, and ever since that heady, flag-exchanging day in 1965 he had presided over the government of the independent state. The Gambia was not exactly a huge pond – its population had only recently passed the half-million mark and its earnings were mostly derived from groundnuts and tourism – but there was no doubting who was the biggest fish.
The Wedding over, the embassy limousine swished President Jawara out of London and south down the M23 towards Haywards Heath, where he planned to spend a long weekend with an old college friend. With him he had one of his younger wives; the senior wife, Lady Chilel Jawara, had stayed at home to preside over the household and the well-being of his eight children.
That evening he watched reruns of the Wedding, and talked with his host about the next day’s test match. It had always been one of Jawara’s great disappointments that his country, unlike, say, Guyana, had not taken the Empire’s game to its collective heart. The occasional unofficial test matches against Sierra Leone in the early 1960s had by now almost faded from the national memory.
Lately, though, there had been more serious causes for Gambian concern. The previous November a Libyan-backed coup had been foiled only with Senegalese help, and in the meantime the poor performance of the economy had led to food shortages, particularly in the volatile townships in and around the capital. That evening, sitting in his friend’s living room, a pleasant night breeze wafting through the open French windows, Jawara might have felt momentarily at peace with the world, but not so his countrymen.
As Newsnight drew to a close in the Sussex living room, two lorry-loads of armed men were drawing up in front of The Gambia’s only airport, at Yundum, some ten miles as the crow flies to the south-west of the capital, Banjul. The forty or so men, some in plain clothes, some in the uniform of the country’s paramilitary Field Force – The Gambia had no Army as such – jumped down from the lorries and headed off in a variety of directions, in clear accordance with a previously decided plan. Those few members of the Field Force actually on duty at the airport had received no advance warning of any exercise, and were at first surprised and then alarmed, but the appearance of Colonel Junaidi Taal, the 500-strong Field Force’s second in command, was enough to set their minds at rest, at least for the moment. Clearly this was official business.
Taal did not stop to explain matters. As his men fanned out to occupy all the relevant aircraft, offices and communication points, he headed straight through the departure area and into the office of the airport controller.
The last plane of the day – the 21.30 flight to Dakar – had long since departed, but the controller was still in his office, catching up on paperwork. As his door burst open he looked up in surprise. ‘What is this…’ he started to say in Mandinka, his voice trailing away at the sight of the guns in the hands of the civilians flanking the Field Force officer.
‘There has been a change of government,’ Taal said bluntly in English.
The controller’s mouth opened and closed, like a fish’s.
‘The airport will remain closed until you hear to the contrary,’ Taal said. ‘No planes will take off, and no planes will land. The runway is being blocked. You