A review by Faye Diabel https://fayediabel.wordpress.com/
Yas Niger’s “The Man in the Moon”
“It is a fascinating tale of a culturally engaged street corner preacher, a usually misunderstood necessary oddity in major metropolises built upon colonial legacy – where the non indigenous culturally marginalized, some of them forcibly brought to build the same thing they, now, are blamed to have polluted. It is, a story said from its characters and supporting onlookers’ perspective, an insightful fiction.
“The character development focused on three actors who kept on yanking the story into motion. It is like a pyramid standing on Leroy – a self-anointed ambassador of a motley group that he himself reveals his estrangement from, depending on its state of affairs – as revealed by his following statement “… I much rather say I am black and proud, than I am a proud African …” Therefore, it is safe to say that Leroy’s sense of belonging, vis-à-vis Africa, is selective, although there is a dose of Garveyism in his preaching that all black people are from Africa. His consciousness, which was supposed to be the key to his inner peace, might very well be considered as the basis of his tragic state of being.
“Then comes Mrs. Gregory, the essential story spinner – a provoker Leroy couldn’t live without, who summarizes the bad and the good, the two sides of the coin, of western civilization – the target of Leroy’s preaching; and then Henry, a dog given a humane characterization, a dog with a mind, caprices, and feeling; he too helped run the story to its destination. As much as they get along, there is a deep-seated love and hate. To me, it seems that Leroy loves Barbara but hates Mrs. Gregory. On his fateful day, he accepted Barbara’s invitation – as Leroy the man, but Mr. Freeborn got ambushed by Mrs. Gregory’ Caucasian embedded anxiety about black men’s motives.
“I knew, and mingled with, some Leroy Freeborns; fascinating people to be with, While perching on their stage – under the bright sun, until it is time to get home, when the sea is done swallowing the sun and the moon’ reminder that it is time now to have an inner preaching with one’s pillow, to say the least, or the time to cuddle and nurture love ones; and then you wonder whether they would prefer that the sun will never set on their day to day reality. He is the man in the moon, while standing on his pedestal, fading into the ghost of his shadow just a step down from his makeshift launching pad.
(Some excerpts from “The Man in the Moon” Everyone hates the English)
“It is not an insult to call me black, it is purely descriptive. Africa is firstly a geographical location, an address. It is a continent with more than one race on it, Negros and Arabs are indigenous to it. Without the slightest risk of sounding the least controversial, you will agree that there are Caucasians native to it, that means Caucasian-Africans. So when you call someone an African-American, you are also referring to Arabs and other Caucasians of African origins. But don’t you only wish to refer to the blacks, when you say African-American?” Leroy shouts at the top of his voice. The opening remarks ought to be delivered loudest, so pedestrians can hear him clearly as they go by. But the words are as important as the volume.
“The origin of the term black for Negros is indefinite. It is easy to guess that Negros were the first to call themselves black. All through history, naturally occurring darkness with daily year round nights in the tropics, has been associated with blackness and it is ideal to use black as a synonym for extreme darkness. The trend remains still, even if black is considered improper. The degraded imagery deduced from the term black can only be expunged by the achievements of those who can not escape it, if they wear it and must live with it. Skin colour can not be removed like some piece of clothing.” Leroy was being just assertive enough to reel in listeners. The first few pedestrians paused and veered closer to hear more.
His next line determines if they stayed. It is imperative to retain the earliest callers, their interest tends to attract others and a steady increase in numbers builds more interests. People are habitual copy cats, they only linger if others do. The material he delivers will do the rest and Leroy Freeborn always has good material.
“The most descriptive term best suited for the Negro’s visibly dark complexion is black, just like white is best suited for Caucasians.” Leroy spoke forcefully, then he repeats a summary of his earliest words, for the immediate benefit of the new arrivals joining the first few who heard him commence his rant for the day.
“Even if a popular law stops the formal use of blacks to identify Negros in its entirety, black will still be used for those purposes it is best suited for. The truth is, Negros are best identified as blacks and the home of all black people is Africa, our proud mother land. But going by the recent expression of freedom in our beloved Africa, I much rather say I am black and proud, than I am a proud African.”
A collective groan from the dozen or so people already listening in front of Leroy’s small raised platform, greeted his last words. As usual, the indefinite insinuation of the shared groan didn’t fully register approval or disapproval.
Twenty five years of standing on the same spot on the broad sidewalk, with the kind permission of the late owner of the nearby toy store, under the blue morning skies of England’s capital city, every Saturday in summer, spring and Autumn has taught the sixty year old native Jamaican the ropes of the demanding talking trade.
Leroy appeals to the intellect of just anyone, from unkempt homeless bums to unemployed graduates, from housewives on shopping runs to tourists, who only speak enough English to understand directions. Leroy can work a crowd into a frenzy and answer reasonable questions or hateful queries hurled at him with the articulate elegance of age and much knowledge. He had regulars, some have heard him for over a decade. A few regulars arrived and increased the growing numbers.
Leroy acknowledges a few nods from familiar faces and continued his tirade. It was going to be an interesting day, the small crowd appeared genuinely interested.
“I own the name Black Man! It is me, I claim it as mine and my proud identity. But who are you sir?” Leroy points at a white man in the front, not one of his regulars. The man smiles back at him, amused. It was a normal response.
“Come on people, don’t be shy. Someone speak to me. Are you white, if I am black?” Leroy looked at yet another white man, a recent regular. Then at another, but still no answer was offered. They were being careful not to walk into a trap. They were there to listen to his harangue and not to engage him in a discussion.
“I am Caucasian,” a male voice from the back said.
Obscured from Leroy’s veiw, the fellow didn’t reveal himself but it was easy to tell the voice belonged to the man in a black leather jacket. His clean shaven head gave him away, not the plain uninterested mien he unsuccessfully tried to pass off.
Vital tip Leroy: Those crazy bald heads don’t keep straight uninterested faces.