First you touch your hair after receiving the invitation. Like most black women, my confidence is unevenly distributed and linked to my hair. So you touch your hair as you wonder if it is Downing Street worthy. Next you mentally scan your wardrobe and the department store occasion wear section all in the space of one minute. Then you wonder what you’d say in conversation? My extent of global politics begins and ends at ‘should I do the laundry now or wait till the kids get back from school, that way they have an extra clean shirt for the week?’ Or ‘Did I remember to take out the chicken for the freezer before I left to do even more grocery shopping?’ I wonder what clumsy spirit will take hold of me. After all wasn’t it me who spilled water on a news anchor’s shoes at a posh event at The Waldorf? Will I sneeze and stuff fly onto the lapel of the prime minister’s Saville row suit? Or will I drop my plate of canapés on the ridiculously expensive yet muted coloured carpet of the Prime Minister’s drawing-room? And when that happens do I wait for the staff to pick it up or do I do so myself? If I choose to clear the mess will I not be viewed as subservient? Won’t it cause all black people to be seen as so low that we automatically switch to servant mode when the opportunity presents itself? And if I decide to leave it to the servants, what do I do during that eternal minute before they arrive?
The night before.
Since you don’t want to appear ignorant you find yourself reading the genealogy of the Prime Minister and his wife. You were meant to only read about their parents and children, so you have an emotional platform for conversation but the spirit of Wikipedia possesses you and takes you six generations off course. You discover they both come from influential, wealthy families. That’s also when you learn that as at the last election we no longer had a deputy PM. You conclude that a commoner cannot possibly become PM as they all seem to come from very good stock. You wonder what juju Obama used to get into office and if Jeremy Corbyn has at yet been introduced to the same babalawo.
How about the journey there?
Do you simply walk up to the door, no 10 Downing Street, the black door flanked by two policemen as we see on the news- do you just walk up there like I walk up to Suzy’s house and… knock?
Enroute and I begin to wonder if RSVPing twice was such a good idea after all. What if the second email cancelled out the first? Thankfully I’ve kept the news quiet so it’s only about four people that will be made aware of my klutzness (Hubby’s word of the month) should I arrive and I’m denied entry. But really what would I do? How would I wear the shame on my face? Will I smile it away or just cry it out? I decide I should cry. Crying is a better option in this case because years from now as the story is told about the Nigerian girl who couldn’t even RSVP to an invitation from the Prime Minister, it wouldn’t end with ‘would you belive she was smiling sheepishly when they denied her entry?’ Tears it will be. My confidence picks up once that dilemma is settled.
The man sitting behind me on the train is on the phone ordering 4kg of dry ice and a large block of ice. He is very insistent and stresses the urgency of the dry ice. What do ordinary people use dry ice for? I want to ask him why. Oh wait, he’s giving out his phone number. Should I call that number and ask him what he wants the dry ice for?
Mum just called. She’s screaming with joy. ‘Is it true my daughter? You are going to see the Prime Minister? Ehen! God is great o!!!’ The phone suddenly dies, and then autotune-like sounds start to emanate instead of my mummy’s voice. I knew it. The thought that I was being bugged did cross my mind, after all wouldn’t they have checked me out and ‘swept’ my house and phone to make sure I had no links with Boko Haram? or Jeremy Corbyn? At this point I’m so glad I don’t allow negative words on my Facebook page. Imagine if I was one of those who curse out the PM and his cabinet regularly? Can you imagine if I chomped on the hand that will be feeding me canapés, ( I later find out) today?
The walls in the hallway are mustard. Very mustardy, and there are massive portraits of predecessors long dead pressed onto the walls. The lady in that picture looks familiar- it’s The Queen! In black and white? I wonder why. Such a natural looking picture of her majesty. Up the second flight of stairs and into the drawing room. Canapés. Juices. Wine. No wine for me, wine is what causes me to spill drinks on people’s shoes or start talking about my Brazilian ancestry when asked the meaning of my Nigerian name. Wine might cause me to start referring to the PM as Dave or DC or even’D’. So no wine, just juice. I look around and feel very chuffed at the company I’m in. I chat with a few friends and acquaintances and meet some new folks. I start a conversation with a woman who introduces herself to me with her first and last name. She does it the way it’s done when someone tells you their first name and they don’t get a roaring applause, then they add their last name so that recognition first dawns on you, then shame overwhelms you as you realize that in your own stupidity you didn’t recognize them. Only in my case I really don’t know her.
Off I go to chat with another lady, a solicitor. She notices a closed door with flashing lights coming out of the gaps and we decide our man Dave must have landed. We saunter towards the door. Sure enough, he appears. Skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom. So soft you want to stroke his cheek. Taller than I imagined too and very warm, personable and friendly. He makes his way around the room and eventually reaches me. Power is good o! See everyone calling him ‘Sir’. A firm handshake and a smile. ‘So where do you fit into all of this then?’ He asks what I do. I tell him my profession and there’s a hint of the surprise I see in most people’s faces when they find out for the first time what I do. But his hint is so controlled it’s almost not there. A fleeting shadow if you will. This room is packed with the who’s who of entertainment, sports and business. And there’s me. Toks. Oswald Boateng needs to eat a bit more I think, but I don’t tell him that.
David Cameron gives a speech and immediately afterwards I find myself talking to a lovely guy- I begin to court him mentally for my bestie. I start to get annoyed in advance should she tell me ‘she isn’t feeling him,’ he’s not the one or there’s just no chemistry. My anger dissipates slowly seconds after I discover he is married. I want to ask him if all is well in his marriage, but I change my mind. He’s an ex-Royal Navy officer and I’m sure he knows just what nerve to pinch and finish me off. The phrase ‘all the good ones are taken’ snakes its way around my mind, I shake off that thought and keep my eye out for an available suitor.
I spend the second half of the evening chatting with my new friend and catching up with a few others. It’s time to go home. More than half the folks are gone, but here I am still basking in the very shocking fact that I am in the PM’s residence, and leaving to go home would erase the truth. It’s not like they’ll let us back in if we stepped outside and changed our minds to come back in. The security and process to come in was like going through Stansted airport without the loud Ibiza holiday-clubbing crew. As I leave, I know I’ll be back someday for something, I just don’t know when. Down the stairs, I retrieve my phone which they took from us and I get my coat.
On the train, I gist with Joxy and Suzy. The train is packed and the guy standing in front of me has such thick beautiful hair, it’s egging me on to grab a fistful just to confirm its real. When you’ve been to number 10 you start to think anything goes, even grabbing strangers’ hair on the 19:18 train to Orpington.
My key fits into the lock of number 17 and I am met with reality as my number 3 greets me with; “Hi mum, I think I need a doctor, I hurt my foot whilst playing football.”