My father had brought the television down for the night. I sat in the dark storage with my cathode-rayed babysitter, watching some black and white horror movie while my family milled about the kitchen and the shop. The sound would be turned down, so my movies remained mostly silent until the drunkards came.
Sometimes, if I was caught outside, too far from the storage room when the door’s ting-a-ling announced another customer, I would be quickly shuffled beneath the counter. It wouldn’t do for a small child to be seen in the shop, it was very bad for business, my father said. So, I crouched between tins of pineapple and water chestnuts; bent down low, so if it was a busy period — such as a Saturday night after closing time — I would be stuck in such a position for quite some time until my neck began to crick. And when I was eventually let back into storage, I had to slump in my chair in order to watch the TV because of the restricted movement of my neck.
So, there I was that night, my chin on my chest due to another prolonged concealment among the tin cans; the thin, green veil drawn to hide me, my TV turned down low, while Bela Lugosi’s Dracula stalked and transfixed me to the small screen.
This was my escape from an incomprehensible world. Sitting there, late at night, eight-years-old, half prostrated, I learned that the dread behind the celluloid or in the pages of books was nothing compared to the real horrors that visited most nights — between the strange words: slurred, abrupt, argumentative, were racist taunts, pounding fists, and laughs of loathing; these couldn’t be muted, were always in Technicolor, and had no off-switch. But they had to be endured, because our family had to eat too. (Sometimes they would stay outside, and stuff fireworks and excrement through the letter box instead.)
That was how I measured out my weekend nights as a child, hands cupped over my ears, sounds of real horrors leaking behind a veil, while watching unreal ones play out on the screen.
I would like to say that this prepared me for life by strengthening my resolve, so such hatred affected me less when I became a victim of it myself later on. But it didn’t.
Bela Lugosi may be dead, but my memories of hate and racism are still alive. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I hear half-veiled sounds of abhorrence and abuse emanating from Bela Lugosi’s eyes.
It was through these events that I learned that the world can be unpleasant, things are not always within our control; where people are often too angry to be anything else; and senseless hate comes and goes, and visits you in the night. And when it leaves, it leaves its mark. And when all is silent, you are unable to celebrate its absence because you dread its return — waiting for it appear suddenly again with another ting-a-ling of the door.
Nouvelle Vague, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’
© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Measure
An autobiographical piece about growing up in a takeaway in 1980s Britain.