Mob barged in through the front gate just before lunch. Most of them armed with metal bars. I was too young to understand what was going on. I remember clinging to my father’s trouser leg asking what was going on. His calm “don’t worry putha its going to be all right” wasn’t very satisfying. A few minutes earlier he had told me to hide our guests’ things in the storeroom while he took the young couple with the baby to another room. I distinctly remember hiding the baby’s lidded cup among the paint tins.
Now was confronting the mob with a large jug of water. The mod overflowed from our drive way into the street. The stragglers shouting and beating the neighbours’ gates with sticks. I can’t remember what they were shouting about.
Their leader had messy hair and a big moustache. He demanded very roughly if there were Tamils in the house. My father rather casually told him there were none. Without missing a beat he offered the mob leader the water in the jug. Cold water on a hot day. The man looked surprised but accepted, washing his face in the process. Leaving a big puddle on the cement. I can’t remember anything else my father said to him. I think I must have been crying pretty badly at that point.
The week had started out well. My parents had miraculously decided not to send me to school. One unexpected holiday followed the next. I heard someone say they saw a body in the street which I thought was strange. A new word called “ker-few” was used a lot and it was important to get passes for it.
We had lots of people visiting for sleep overs. Quite a bit of excitement trying to organise spare bedding. I learnt to set-up my father’s old blue camping bed so that it won’t collapse several hours later. It seemed that most of our visitors were going to interesting places like England. But they didn’t seem excited about seeing snow.Most of our guest left in the morning but new people came nearly everyday. Usually one of my uncles dropped them off.
During the daytime my mother did a lot of shopping and went around delivering things we bought to some of her friends and our old neighbours at Summit Flats. She was out on one of her rounds when the mob came to our house.
One of the mob was sent to circle the house. I didn’t know where the couple and the baby were. Miraculously, the intruder didn’t go into the house and came back quite quickly. Perhaps it was all those Buddha statues in the house. I have no recollection of what my father did or said while the house was being inspected.
Suddenly the mob was gone and there was a lot of shouting coming from further down the lane. From the front gate I could see the mob throwing stones at an empty neighbours’ house. They beat down the front gate and charged inside. Over the yells I could hear things crashing and glass shattering.
Someone started shouting “Police! Police!”. The mob sprinted out of the house and down the road. A green Police jeep with a canvas top stop whizzed by a few moments later. Everyone was on the street running towards the house. I could see thick black smoke pouring out of the upstairs windows.
I remember rushing into the darkened siting room through broken front door with the rest of the crowd. Utterly curious. A lot of things had been smashed to pieces on the floor. A sofa was glowing red in the corner of the room. Someone poured a bucket of water over it followed by another. Somebody was telling the kids to get outside.
The whole neighbourhood seemed to be in the front garden. Buckets of water were being passed from the next door houses. We helped pass metal pails, plastic tubs, children’s beach buckets. I saw the neighbour who always drove his VW Beetle sedately climbing the on the roof top water tank with the agility of a monkey. I later heard that he managed to do something to the water supply that finally helped put out the fire.
I was not there to see it. The adults didn’t want kids around. I went home. Any fear I had washed away by the fire fighting. I expected to get a talking to about running barefoot in a place with a lot of broken glass. Instead I found my father was too busy on phone talking about “ker-few” passes. A car was on the way and I had to get our guest’s things.
I found the couple huddled in my parent’s bath room. The man was holding the sleeping baby. I just had enough time to dig out their suitcase and the baby’s bag by the time my uncle drove up with a foreign lady in the front. She had puffy red hair and her arms were very pink. We closed the front gates so no one could see our guests get in the back and crouch behind the front seat. My uncle drove off very fast – something he was good at and liked to do.
When my mother arrived I heard them having a frantic conversation. Something about our place and not being safe. They made more phone calls. We didn’t get any more visitor staying over. Of course they never explained any of it to me. Then or in the quarter century that passed. The only exception was an angry mutter from my father about someone down the road giving a tip off to the mob. I have not speculated what would have happened if the mob had searched the house.
The lasting image I have of that day is the sight of the baby’s lidded drinking cup hidden behind a paint tin and a cobweb draped Lion Larger bottle. Its happy reds and yellows with its care free cartoon characters utterly out of place. When ever I hear a festering asshole droning on claiming to justify ethnic/religious dominance/exclusivity, I see that cup in the dust. And feel I am having a personal encounter with a very human evil. It doesn’t matter if its a terrorist mouth piece or a democratically elected skin head – Hitler after all was elected. If that’s hard to swallow, choke on it.
Anyway I’ve written enough for one blog post. The writing was draining than I ever thought. David Blacker has a more readable and coherent piece on the 83 riots. At least the words are out of my head now. Which is a fantastic relief. Perhaps that will get met me out of this low point. Thank you for reading if you’ve bothered to make it this far.