Whenever I went to the Rastafarian’s place, I could hear happy, reggae beats beckoning to join the party for one even before I’d got out of the car. Unless he was asleep, which was not uncommon, given his propensity for staying up all night drinking and dancing. When he didn’t have work for a few days or more he seemed to become almost nocturnal, which meant the dinner he often prepared for me to coincide with my arrival after work, was actually breakfast for him. He reminded me of Cat from Red Dwarf. He likened himself to a lion, with his impressive mane of dreadlocks and he even had slightly almond-shaped eyes. Like Cat, he was handsome, fun and liked to groom himself. He taught me how to tie cotton round his dreads, which was an interesting skill to learn, but it was fraught with tension, as his hair was his pride and joy and it had to be perfect. I joked that he was like Samson, a biblical reference he readily understood as, like me, he had had a Catholic upbringing. (In-between the Rwandan ornaments, his flat was heaving with religious icons.) I pretended to threaten to cut his hair while he slept, like Delilah, if he upset me and thank goodness, he got the joke. Although his English was good, after all he had studied for a degree over here, there were times when the subtle nuances of our language were misunderstood and he became offended at something that was intended as a joke. He was as self-centred as Cat, but just as Cat still managed to endear himself to everyone, so did the Rastafarian. And lastly, his sleeping habits were pretty feline.
But back to breakfast. Fortunately for me, breakfast was not your usual bowl of cereal or slice of toast, it was something packed full of vegetables in a hot, home-made sauce, on a bed of rice, pasta or with a side-dish of sautéed potatoes. He was surprisingly accommodating of my vegetarianism; as you can imagine, Africans (both black and white) are pretty fond of their meat. Occasionally, he cooked with meat and invested a lot of time and effort into persuading me to eat it. I resisted (not difficult because I don’t particularly like it that much) but sometimes I would eat a meat dish, painstakingly picking out the meat. It was always a light-hearted persuasion though; he was refreshingly accepting of my vegetarianism. Both my children and I have experienced (from the minority, to be fair) some hostility over our eating choices. Some people like to challenge your vegetarianism and dig very deep to try to find something unethical that you do, as if, in being vegetarian, you have taken a vow that you will be a hundred per cent certain that all your daily practices will be wholesome. I think it is fair to say that the three of us have a pretty sound moral conscience, and we do our best to shop ethically. I know from lengthy conversations with both of my children and from posts on Facebook, that all of us have an insatiable appetite for ensuring that we are doing our best. We keep our ears to the ground about anything that we might be able to boycott to try to make the world a more ethical place. From keeping chickens to ensure free-range eggs, to buying peanut butter free from palm oil and a whole host of carefully thought out practices in-between, we do our best, but it is impossible to live a normal life in modern society and be 100% sure that you are doing nothing that directly or indirectly supports something unsavoury. There are some aspects of modern living over which you have little choice, but where there is a choice, we will do our best. But anyway, the Rastafarian was entirely non-judgmental which was great. And I have to end by saying that most people do not judge our vegetarianism; most people are spiritually generous enough to say ‘good on you – you’re doing your bit’.
But I digress! As I was saying, before my tangent pulled me off-course, this Rastafarian chap was a bit of a hedonist. So, imagine my surprise when I turn up one day to closed windows, no Jacob Miller serenading the street and no heavenly aromas of chilli and garlic. He was sitting on a hard-backed chair, picking at his jeans. Just as a cat likes to pluck at fabric, so he liked to play with the creases in his jeans. At work we give out fiddle toys: squidgy balls and other sensory objects to help children to concentrate. But he fiddled with the creases in his jeans, out of habit, on an unconscious level I guess but when he was very stressed, it was very conscious and became obsessive. For a very tall man (getting on for 6 and a half feet) he looked very small. He was holding a piece of paper which turned out to be an eviction notice, as he was behind with his rent. I found this hard to fathom. Why did he spend so much on enjoying himself, when clearly, he didn’t have the funds for such a lifestyle? Yes, I could see Cat in this situation. I’ll just enjoy myself without concerning myself with responsibilities and someone else can pick up the pieces. He asked me to help him. I can’t, I told him, I’m in debt myself until I move. But I’ve got no-one to turn to, he purred, softly, with those deep African tones . . . Please, honey, will you help me? Please? I am scared. He wanted me to act as guarantor for a loan but I couldn’t with a mortgage approval pending (I had a buyer for my house so I just needed to get my new, lone mortgage approved). Strictly speaking, he was right, I could help him, because I could dip into more of my credit card. But I was saving that as a buffer, as I didn’t know how long it would be till I moved and I was running out of funds myself.
This situation limped on for a couple of days. My phone was subjected to an army of pathetic, obsequious messages invading on an hourly basis. I couldn’t sleep because I felt pressurised to help, yet I was not in a strong financial position myself. I’ve got 3 choices, I thought. Option 1: I use my credit card to pay off his arrears. Option 2: I don’t help him financially but offer him a roof over his head in my house. Option 3: I don’t help him at all.
There were problems attached to each option, but I chose the first option in the end, on the strict understanding that he repaid me ASAP. He was getting a lodger and he assured me that I would be repaid in no time. I wasn’t ready for the 2nd option, which boiled down to him moving in with me and I wasn’t ready for the 3rd option, which boiled down to the relationship ending. I knew this problem was of his own making, but it didn’t make it any less of a problem. It’s easy to see which option I should have chosen NOW, and no doubt you are thinking the same, but things are not as clear when you are in the here and the now. Love muddies things. I have spoken to many people about this since and some people don’t see how I could have been so stupid. But a few people I’ve spoken to have found themselves in similar situations. I am surprised myself; these are intelligent, forthright women but I take some comfort from this. It is easy to judge from the vantage point of Far Away although I’m sure there are women who have been there, who haven’t been so foolish – maybe you are one of them – and that’s great, but it is easily done.