Aurelie’s family oozed money like beads of sweat. Inevitably, my mother went on a crash diet and forced my father to buy a new suit. She ordered him to break his bread and butter, then bite off a piece, leaving some between the fingers. He must never butter the whole slice and fold it like a ‘sandwich’, and she condemned him for resting his glasses on his head.
Aurelie explained that her family was organised by an elite group of members, who presided over the family’s wellbeing, and apparently, my dignified standing granted me entry. Although I didn’t think I was particularly dignified, I’d graduated with a first and secured a place at a law firm. Anyway, her father, Marcel, expected me at the next conference, to be chaired by her Uncle Bruce in London. I wasn’t interested in influencing family members I’d never meet, but I didn’t want to upset my in-laws and I did have a selfish interest in making connections. It would improve my standing if I could boast international contacts, particularly if this included those in the legal world, like Uncle Bruce, who wore a pinstripe suit and spoke with that voice that posh Scottish people have. Tapping his pencil, he called the room to order.
'I welcome you all to the meeting. First, we must greet a new member – Marcel’s new son-in-law, Jeremy.’ I heard murmurs of agreement. Marcel looked down while somehow noting everyone’s reaction. ‘Jeremy recently married Marcel’s beautiful daughter, Aurelie, and is becoming a barrister. Jeremy, congratulations to you both, and welcome to the consortium.’ A big hand clutched my arm affectionately – Uncle Larry, from Tennessee.
We all had matching pencils and peach-coloured notepaper so I wrote everything down. Uncle Bruce glanced over occasionally, possibly as an invitation to contribute, but I stayed quiet. Eventually, his expression darkened, he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘Now we must turn to an unpleasant matter. I need not remind you that the wellbeing of the family is the very reason for these gatherings. And there are some grave concerns for one family member in particular.’ He gestured to a middle-aged woman at one end of the table. ‘Gillian, speak freely. You’re with your family.’
Auntie Gillian swallowed. ‘It’s Steven. He’s living with a topless black go-go dancer.’
By now, I truly understood the reality of the success I’d been chasing. It circled the room, engulfed me, worked its way down my throat and into my heart and lungs.
Steven had form. Rap music. Dreadlocks. ‘Coloured’ girlfriends. It was a phase, of course, but his A-Level results were hanging in the balance. Someone suggested a discreet pay-off to the girl’s family in the West Indies, until Gillian pointed out that they were from Neasden. Perhaps the girl might listen to reason? Who best to approach her?
Clogged with the foul taste of my success, my throat contracted and I nearly choked. Then I heard myself say it.
‘I’ll talk to her.’