BLACK BITCH COMING THROUGH

The last few days have been thrilling. First Obama reached his magical majority of pledged delegates. Many people, perhaps more outside America than inside, felt hope that change was coming. Then Man United lifted the cup in the Champions League Final – in spite of nerves getting the better of Ronaldo in the penalties. First and Second Born had watched the game in full Man U. kit - all the while providing constant and annoying commentary. They say good things happen in threes so this myopic view of happiness will include the fact that I think I am hitting my targets for getting this little exhibition up. So why does life still feel so… hesitant, removed? It is as if it is being lived by someone else.

To answer this in a constructive manner, on a dull Thursday, at 11am, required me to dig deep in my soul. For that you need chocolate. I began asking around if any of the museum staff had some chocolate to spare.
“I doh have chocolate but yuh want some black bitch?” asked Ms. X.
“Hmmmm. Not really. I was thinking more of a Mars bar. Maybe even a Kit Kat would be great.” I said nervously.
“So yuh never try black bitch then?” persisted Ms. X.
“No. It’s OK. You know what, I’ll just go for a walk and get something from the petrol station. Forget about it.” I replied while walking backwards, panic setting in.
“Wait!” she commanded.
Ms. X. pulled out a tiny plastic bag from her purse and smilingly thrust some rather dark candy made from grated coconut at me.
“Dis is black bitch.” said Ms. X.
I sighed with relief.
“Give me a break. This ain’t no black bitch. This is meek, sweet, sugar cake.” I said.
“If you want it over here you have to ask for black bitch.” she retorted.
“Are you sure?” I inquired
“We always called it dat.” she replied, rolling her eyes.
“Fine. In that case, I’ll have a bit.” I said.

With life feeling so much more grounded after that bit of candy I went back to work. Before long we had run out of picture hooks so I set off to Carters – Bim’s answer to Home Base, or Home Depot, depending on which side of the pond you know best. It took 30 seconds to take them off the shelf and join the queue at the cashiers. There was only one person ahead with just a couple items to purchase. So, money in one hand, and hooks in the other, I was poised for a quick getaway. But the cashier had other ideas. She loved the telephone and appeared to be moonlighting as the operator for the Bridgetown switchboard. Every time she started to cash up the mop, brush and pan belonging to the elderly gent ahead of me the phone would ring. She would answer it immediately and lose track of where she was in the cashing up. This meant she had to start all over. And start all over. Again. After the third aborted attempt at ringing up the three items I left Miss. Multi-task for another cashier who had no customers and was stapling receipts from her register.

There I stood, in front cashier no. 2, picture hooks under her nose. And she continued stapling. And stapling.
“Should I go to another cashier?” I asked helplessly.
“No. I go finish jus now. Yuh cahn see I stapling.” she said, her voice rising.
“Please cash these things.” I pleaded, my eyes welling up with tears of anger and frustration.

Then she chupsed.

With eyelids almost closed so that her eyes became two thin slits, she launched into a long, slow, sucking of air through clenched teeth. Yes, I can confirm being on the receiving end of this most dreaded of chupses – the chupse provocative. In one small gesture she had conveyed disdain, disgust, and as much offense as she could muster. If this had been a dark alley late at night that chupse might have served as the precursor to actual bodily harm.

Slowly, with measured, deliberate movements, she reluctantly rang up the hooks. I dashed out trembling. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the elderly gent was still there. He was now trying to pay with a credit card but her machine was not working and she was looking for a supervisor. I seriously considered returning later with a picnic lunch for him.

At least I now had hooks and Andre and I could continue the hanging process. But things are never quite so straightforward in my world. On my return, still shaken from the impact of the chupse provocative, I found the room I had transformed into a beautiful, empty, white cube ready for my art, almost overflowing with files, boxes, trestle tables and papers. Papers were everywhere. Back at the main, open plan, office area I said in a loud voice to no one in particular,
“There appears to be a huge pile of junk in my gallery. Would anyone like to explain?”
Silence.
Just then I spotted K. who is coordinating the exhibition with me.
“K. Come here. Now.”
“Of course dearest.” he said. That man always manages to stay charming in the face of abuse or disturbance.
I led the way back to my invaded space and let the junk tell all.
“K. I am leaving now to go someplace and cry and when I come back in two hours I assume this f***ing s**t will be gone." I said trying hard not to sob.
“Of course. I am really sorry. I don’t know how it happened. Really sorry.” He seemed genuinely keen to remedy matters.

I sped off home and climbed into bed. From the safety of my duvet, I watched the last downloaded episode of Lewis, (the British ITV series that is a sequel to Inspector Morse), on Apple TV. Gradually my breathing slowed as a double homicide unfolded involving a computer nerd and a bunch of posh Oxford twits. Later when I did return to the museum the room had been restored to a gallery-perfect, white cube and my artwork appeared to be untouched.

Only then did it occur to me that of course if I had not been so angry and territorial I could have claimed the “junk” and turned it into an artwork. After all the show is premised on uncovering the museum’s archives. A huge pile of archives had been delivered to where I now stood – brought by the equivalent of Angel Gabriel to the gallery space. And I had demanded it all be sent back into storage.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere but I’m too upset to know what it is.

No comments: