Stockholm, in the late 60s
Leaving the cinema not long ago on this Friday evening of summer I find myself strolling about the streets and byways of central Stockholm, with fragmented scenes of an old movie “Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner?” evolving in kaleidoscopic fashion in my head. I enjoyed the movie though the story line is simple, made in Hollywood. A middle-class setting: a black doctor meets a white woman, they fall in love, and the woman invites the man to meet her parents. Well, the rest of the story is straightforward, and for you to discover.
A fair number of people are out on the streets. There are no plans for me on how to pass the encroaching night, dreading the thought of going home alone to my tiny lodging off Sankt Eriksplan . Tonight finds me without the company of a woman. None of them I am amorously attached is available. I am indeed quite alone. Of course there are my friends and they are quite a lot. All strangers like me, to this capital – a tiny group on this Nordic landscape. But my friends are all out; at least I expect them to be, in search of female companions, playing poker, or whatever.
The late evening is fair: a few stars appear here and there, and from east to west a batch of slowly moving clouds. It is not far off from the season of autumn. The feeling in the air is chilly. There is now a faint sound of music coming from a tenement building, as I stroll along, on Drottningsgatan . It makes me want to dance. But to go dancing now is out of the question. For a start, on Fridays and weekends, I seldom go dancing: too crowded, and too competitive. Wednesdays suit me better when the competition is less severe. Also, I am not properly dressed for the occasion, not wearing my one-and-only brown corduroy suit.
The discos, the dance halls, I attend are relatively decent and fair-minded, with the requirement of a suit and tie. There the ladies are polite and seldom refuse an invitation to dance, although the occasional attempt to invite any out on a date or to my lodging is never an easy task. Though with some luck, things can turn out smoothly.
The train came in around nine one sunny morning of July 1963 in a small southern Swedish university town. Alighting from the carriage after a struggle with his heavy suitcase, twenty-year-old Binky Brown, of medium height and skinny yet handsome in facial features, began his way in a weary manner from the platform towards the central area of the station. Resting his suitcase and welcoming the momentary relief from its weight, the tired young man glanced around. He was looking for the appearance of his two indigenous friends. His heart craved after their presence: to meet, greet, and fetch him away.
But there was no sign of his two female friends. Kerstin and Linda. He had expected them to be there, waiting in nervous anticipation and overjoyed at his arrival. A sense of thwarted expectation crept into him. The question why his two friends had not been there came incessantly to his weary and worried mind. The fact that Kerstin was not there seemed reasonable. But whereas Linda’s absence greatly surprised him. True, the train had been late, one hour or so. Still, that was not sufficient a reason for her absence, he mused. For the long trip had been such a struggle. Both physically and financially.
Making brief looks, the young man’s eyes searched the station, at almost every skirt, far and near. A lugubrious feeling entered him. There seemed no real explanation for his current prediction. In time, Binky would begin to doubt the arrival of his friends, contemplating the idea of being transformed into an abandoned sheep – a probable unwelcome guest.
Binky found himself thinking of Linda’s last letter. He tried but could not be definitely sure of her mentioning about meeting him at the station. Perhaps it was his sense of decency that led him to have such an expectation, he mused. The character of the two girls had also been a factor that caused him to expect their presence. His despondency grew. He felt slightly humiliated, slightly annoyed.
London, in the late 60s.
PRESENTLY MAKING HER way home on foot after a day’s work, through a premature evening, made so by the winter season, Betty – twenty and Scottish – suddenly came to a halt, as her eyes spotted the plight of a black puppy. The puppy was in the middle of a traffic jam, on a main North West London road.
Being of a compassionate character Betty became concerned for the seemingly abandoned animal in its dilemma. “O how awful!” lamented the young woman, in a soft, Scottish tone. “How thoughtless people can be at times! Poor thing. Nobody is attempting to rescue it!”
Still standing there, with both hands in the hip-pockets of her grey winter coat, her white handbag hanging from her left wrist, Betty thought: Can’t somebody try to do something? How awful it must be for the wee thing. She now made a shudder, seemingly on account of the cold, her shoulders stood almost at ears level. Her thoughts became audible again: “People can at times be so beastly indifferent to cruel going-on.” Her words had become louder, as if they now were intended to arrest the consciences of nearby fellow pedestrians.
No one however appeared to be drawn to the young woman’s solicitude, for everybody went by as though engrossed in their own thoughts and the wish to be undisturbed. Which only increased her irritation. Betty, who now sensed the probability of being the sole person there to find the matter at hand worthy of importance, felt that something must be done. Some moral action was needed. Yet by whom? Was she – she wondered – fully prepared to do something for the puppy, or only to confine herself to a mere verbal outcry? She strongly felt that some meaningful action was required of her yet was confused in thoughts over her role in the matter.
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London. Summer, in the late 60s
TODAY IS GOING to be an important day, so important that I wouldn’t be turning up for work, which is quite unusual for me. For I seldom stay away from my monotonous assignments, due quite frankly to the financial burden of having chosen to reside in this highly expensive city. My tasks are that of a low-ranking clerk, at one of Her Majesty’s North London Post Offices. And surely I will be missed, for I’m a good white-collar worker. At least, that’s what my boss, Mr Armstrong once or twice implied. It will be quite a busy day, for today is Saturday.
Before Big Ben strikes nine, I’ll have to summon up the courage to inform Mr Armstrong from my landlady’s telephone that I will not be coming in today. The pretext will be an “acute stomach ache”. About my absence, Mr Armstrong may not be happy, but I should be able to stand my ground, for I believe he holds me in high esteem: reliable, hard working and trustworthy.
Mind you, Mr Armstrong isn’t someone easily fooled. It requires a well-performed act of insincerity to mislead him. Mr Armstrong is very rigid in his demeanours and is feared by us who work under his command. He’s a retired sergeant in Her Majesty’s Army, fought in the World War II, and is quite proud of his war effort against Dem Jerries . Soon his pension days will be upon him, and much to the delight of most of my colleagues.
This early morning of July already shows promising signs of bright weather. And with some hope, the day will be a turning point in my life. A certain event, planned to take place later on this supposedly blessed day, is expected to transform my lonely and unhappy life into one that will be cheerful and friendly.