This is partly about a very American, fictional small town called Capeside, from the TV show Dawson’s Creek, partly about my home borough of Brent, and partly about how our surroundings build our characters.
Were my home town of Brent transformed into somewhere like Capeside, Massachusetts, the death of my hopes would be postponed. Harsh memories of cultures unwanted would erode like rock by waterfall, and Brent would be washed white by its own creeks. What if life were simpler?
So what if the sun threatened to permeate Brent’s contours, if its residents lived unbothered? When I open my eyes, so what if I’m in a malaise? Blue rust might fall from my lashes, and a halo made from alabaster may well constantly hover over me, going unnoticed.
If Brent were Capeside, would my colour still pose a threat? My faith make the news? Or would my life story be abandoned, left wilting from the normality of it all? In any case, I’d notice the sweet smell of the sycamore trees wafting through this pastel University town, peeling its bark. I’d walk down the pier that is simultaneously lifting me, taking in a stretch of water that would be far from polluted. If anything, I’d breathe it in, deep.
The ferry terminal ahead may resemble finality, a choice to stay or go. The riverside philosophy of the town would not be lost on me at night nor day, but I may be more preoccupied with a period of awakening that I’m steadily nursing. Or maybe I’m overcome with how on earth air can look elegant? If I existed in Capeside, I’d be conscious of the wide porches that wrap each home in a snug embrace, and that the driveways are sheltered with thick asphalt. Amidst the cool black in the evenings, I’d remain entirely transfixed by the familiar and still visibly lit, large homes in my eye line. The town, even at night, would sound warm.
People wouldn’t fall asleep from exhaustion, or anger, rather from their privilege loosening at the mere thought of darkness. In service of the town’s solitude, I’d appreciate the slant of the roofs of the grand homes that seem in harmony with the moons milky, yet sparkly residue. My home town would feel permanently romantic. The sky would bow to the faint light from lampposts. I wouldn’t worry about sticky summer nights but I may worry about loneliness as opposed to overcrowding.
If Brent were Capeside, the quiet would remain a thing of beauty. My laboured breath, the slight dripping of water at a nearby fountain or a yacht bobbing on a lake top, would seem showy if not picturesque. Even the local cemetery may seem dreamy, a place to view Orion’s belt at night with a telescope. As if trolling the inside of a fantasy, it would ooze a genuine charm of calm and I’d feel safe and content maybe. I wouldn’t hear sirens every now and again, or see shadows on the estate awakening at night, crouching, smoking, running, yelling. There may be a video store up ahead on Front Street. Is that a poster of Wes Craven’s ‘‘Scream’’ in the window? Is it 1995? Will I rent ‘‘The Graduate’’ tonight on VHS? Am I hungry enough to go to Leerys Fresh Fish? The black chef, the only black person in town, (I would know) makes food that staggers the townspeople would you believe? There may also be a street market, built like an old colonial house, adorned with American flags.
I could shop without people staring, people tolerating my being. Goodness, the attitude of rights! If Brent were Capeside, I may realise that the living should be allowed to truly live. If Brent were Capeside, there would be a warm, rich wind living through me, and the townspeople would know everyone by name. Women would wear frilly maxi dresses and give hot pies made of meat to their neighbours as a treat, and they’d wear next to no makeup due to the heat and drowsy beachy vibes. There may also be an intercostal waterway near the fuel station. Teenagers might go there to duke it out sometimes, but also to get a summer job. There would be space here, and too many jobs for the few that need it. I could take a small rowing boat home, or to a friend’s house through a creek. I might wear faded denim dungarees and spin the rope when parking up carelessly, only to climb a ladder up the side of the house.
In my yard, perhaps the deck chairs are casual yellow and the lake living near it, simmers from afar; a heatwave of ripples evident in the daylight. The grandeur of the trees maybe looks so symmetrical, they seem scripted for TV. If Brent were Capeside, maybe a young girl gets drunk in the early evening, after a fall out with her best friend. Maybe she falls off the dock and dies. Maybe there’s death too by knife, at night but not necessarily in Capeside. In my bedroom, in my sanctuary, maybe I dream of other realms made real through witches, dinosaurs or planets we may find within our wardrobes. Maybe I dream of writing films like Spielberg, and maybe I watch the news. Perhaps, there’s a familiar anchor woman whose backcombed her hair with too much hairspray. Possibly, there’s an ottoman near my window, which I sit on to look out onto the front yard. Maybe the neighbour’s granddaughter comes in for the summer from New York? What if we become friends, and she joins me and my best friends while we saunter under trees, or laugh down the sidewalk to get ice-cream this summer; a group of bright headlights passing. Or in Brent. We disappear, stay indoors and eat Halal meat, happy and content. Then, weighty conversation occupying important space that darts and frets, only for us to live in its consequences.
In Capeside though, there may be pale older men from the war of forty four’, who sit on their porches in the day, hats low, napping outside. Other times they have a rod and a reel, and they fish, as if the fish will skip town soon. The park near the diner may house an Art show on its lawn, this time of year. The twinkly bulbs over the large candy-striped tent would illuminate behind the long lashes of the high trees in the nightfall. The branches on the lower section may hang low, drowsy from the comfort of the summer heat. The swans, pearl white, would give off a prestige vibe, in a way where they needn’t be bothered with humans today. If this were Brent, foxes would know when bin day was, and help themselves. The worn edges of the recycle bins read ‘open’, through the night’s air. But it’s Capeside, so instead, well behaved racoons appear after dark, eat dinner, and close the lids back tight. The town would seem as if it’s become, in parts, contemporary and laden with goods like a parent.
Notice the vintage train station that may have been redecorated, and that new businesses are appearing all over town now like lightening spots; homes for merchandise – cafes, a new library, even a quaint fruit market fit for a Barefoot Contessa. Or is it pizza places, shisha houses and fruit stalls? I can’t be sure. Still, the grumpy brother Khalid stands behind the counter at the corner shop, miserable as ever and on his best day, has no recollection of me at all. Rest assured, that won’t change any time soon. It’s Brent. To live here is to question what you’ve always been, but may have ignored. Its old innocence. Cars whirr around the lush and large roundabout; some maybe impatient, others calm and drawn-out like the puffs of hot breath from my mouth. People may swear out loud, play rap music and near crash into old ladies crossing the zebra cross with heavy shopping bags. SKY TV may hard sell packages to pedestrians just outside the bakery entrance. The town’s sweaty air may feel like lace on the apples of my cheeks.
Maybe I raise my head toward heaven, grieving the interplay of the sun and clouds that usually collide with the tall ancient Church ahead in the day. I may notice that the streets are filled with pedestrians all the time. They may be black or white, or not. It’s clear that they follow differing religions and that’s perfectly reasonable. We can live amongst one another. Young Muslim girls wearing hijabs and abayas, stay close to their mothers in the local shopping outlet. The teens hovering near Keelers MOT Service Centre are as damaged as the cars coming in. Every other dusty street light greets them angrily, hanging bent and switching on when it fancies. Broken glass is spewed messily beneath. I may think that I’m dreaming when the sounds are all too familiar. A man’s strained voice yelling at 5.40am right outside my bedroom window. ‘‘Open up! Police!’’ only to look out the window to see at least ten policemen at the neighbour’s door, a huge police van parked flashing its blue lights, and then a loud crash perhaps. A gang looking for a boy, then police show up. His fourteen-year-old sister next door, screaming for her mother that ‘‘they’ve broken down the door!’’ Remember, the thrill is in the shakeup. Women may be hassled by men who sit in barber shops for simply being pretty. Gypsy’s could beg me for money outside the chemist, or finesse me out of change in McDonald’s for the clout.
I may halt outside the blood red door where my old childminder Carole still lives. Her metallic curtains may be closed tight, but I’d notice that’s her jazzy green welcome mat has been partly chewed on the left bottom corner. It could make me think of her character as personified by blue eyeliner. Maybe I picture her wild eighties hair, and remember being afraid of her large St. Bernard dog who slobbered everywhere. I can guess that she loved that dog more than life itself, a testament to love for an animal over me, which even as a child may have left me wary. Maybe I walk through the dark heat, noticing the new regenerated homes that are now an extravagant chestnut colour. What if the regeneration on the estates is ongoing, and has been for two years now? First Street reintroduced as Fishers road; little thin boxes of white cement replace the warm brown of the cheaper previous flats.
In town, you may find an Afghani running a fruit stall, speaking and selling in Somali, or a Sri Lankan running a Polish Delicatessen. Turn the corner down Ealing Road and there will be the Indian part of town, with a mosque as its main feature, Jamaican youths snacking on sugar from the sweet mart outside. Or I might take a wrong turn, and witness six men wearing balaclavas on the high street, firing gunshots at each other as if having a standoff in a country western. I’m then bound to pass red blood London buses packed with young school kids in uniform and on smart phones. Maybe there’s Indian and Polish women on their way home, carrying too many bags filled with food and knick knacks, instead of boarding the Greyhound to the next state. Instead of living easier. But if Brent were Capeside, maybe I remind myself that I wouldn’t be me.
Idman Omar is currently an MA Creative Writing student at Birkbeck University, London. She writes on her website alittlemisty.com. She is a film junkie, interested in black poetry and has a new found love for Durga Chew-Bose. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @littleladyiddy.