It was a warm summer’s day when I met Cyril. We were both fourteen years old. I was playing outside the home of my cousin Robert Nunn, cycling round in circles on the wide pavement area at the bottom of the block of flats he lived in. Across the road lived a girl called Dorothy Ellis. She was thirteen. I called her Dolly for short. Dolly was beautiful. Her body was well developed for her age. She had biggish breasts, a nice figure and a very pretty face. Her skin was smooth and unblemished. She had big blue eyes and wavy brown hair, which cascaded down over her shoulders. I thought I was in love with her. All the boys thought they were in love with her.
Me and Dolly had a thing for each other. We never exactly went out, but we were more than close friends. I used to cycle to her place in the evening and at weekends. We’d spend hours together. My cousin just happened to live across the road from her. I rarely called on him. Me and Robert were as different as chalk and cheese. It was Dolly that attracted me to the area, not my cousin.
Our friends could see that we were an item. One day they playfully locked us in the bike shed, threatened to keep the door closed until we kissed. I stepped in and she followed. It was dark and cool. We faced each other. I could barely make out her face. Her stomach made a gurgling noise and we laughed. We were nervous. I desperately wanted to kiss her but wondered how she would she react? She stood against the wall. I could hear her breathing. My heart was pounding in my chest. I guess I lacked confidence. Maybe she did too. Perhaps she was frightened of making the first move? It seemed like ages before I plucked up the courage. I leaned forward, my head slightly to the side and kissed her softly on the lips. She responded. I kissed her again, more passionately. Our heads rolled. The kiss lasted half a minute or so. We called out and our friends opened the door. Dolly and I emerged holding hands and with smiles on our faces.
Where Cyril came from or how he happened to be in Francis Street I don’t know. I was cycling round in circles once again, waiting for Dolly to come out. Suddenly there he was. And riding a bike, too. I liked him from the word go. He was black. His hair was frizzy. His teeth were as white as snow. Cyril was always smiling and joking. It’s fair to say that he was the first black friend I ever had. In fact he was the first black person I ever associated with.
“My jumper’s never been washed,” he told me. “I just pick the fluff off when there’s a dirty patch.” I laughed and so did he. We laughed together.
People were very prejudiced in those days, especially where immigrants were concerned. One afternoon Cyril and I were cycling towards Francis Street, chatting and laughing when his pedal caught the curb. He went flying. Picking himself up, he examined his bike for damage. A couple of Francis Street thugs jeered at him, and with much contemptuous laughter shouted out: “That’ll make your eyes blacker.” I told them to shut the funk up. With incredulous looks on their faces, they asked me to repeat what I had said. I replied angrily: “Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” They moved quickly and menacingly towards me. One of them lashed out and hit me in the face. The other one kicked my leg. Cyril stood there terrified, his bright eyes wide and jaw hanging open. Both thugs, who incidentally were brothers, walked away taunting and laughing: “Black fucker!” Cyril put his arm around me and said: “That’s the first time anybody has ever stuck up for me.” I would always stick up for Cyril. I liked him a lot. We were friends.