‘Mate, every time you climb that stage you look like you are marching to the scaffold. Lighten up!’ Admonished my oldest friend.
It was true, this ‘great’ human rights lawyer looked like he had received a terminal diagnosis. Others mistook it for humility, but I knew better. It didn’t stop the stream of awards. I had so many letters after my name that it looked like a cryptographer’s dare. My social ascent was unstoppable and politicians were lining up to sing my praises. Fate was making love to me. That’s how Great Granddaddy Reginald had put it; well, I am paraphrasing a little. He had a taste for flowery prose that made his crimes all the more difficult to stomach. You see the family closet didn’t just have a few skeletons it contained a whole graveyard. Before he lost his mind Reggie had philosophised that ‘good things happen to bad people’.
I am the descendant of slavers, squatters and mass murderers. When the British government abolished slavery and compensated its colonists for the loss of their ‘property’ Reginald couldn’t believe his luck. He abandoned his failing plantation in the Bahamas and set off for the New Word with a pocket full of cash and determination ‘not to make the same mistakes again’. The government granted him a huge block of prime land that needed a bit of ‘clearing’. Reggie cleared with the full ferocity of the righteous which even by the blood soaked standards of the time was considered excessive. Fate appeared to approve of his cynical thesis and Reginald flourished. Eager to create a respectable class of gentlemen the colonial government loaded him with honours and promotions and overlooked the more unsavoury aspects of his past. But the sickly sentimentality of his character was tormented by the harm done to the ‘piccaninnies’, the word given to the children of Aboriginals. Adults were fair game, but children were another thing entirely. ‘Innocents, pure in the eyes of God’ he wrote in his diary. His deeds were recorded in meticulous detail and as he got older he was given over to fits of melancholy and would write of standing upon a mountain of skulls. A fever finally took him and he breathed his last screaming deliriously of the ‘piccaninnies’. His descendants continued to flourish in business and the church. Each in turn was driven to efface the stain of our family’s original sin. None succeeded. Doomed until the 10th generation was the gloomy judgement of my father. In the meantime, we were cursed with fame and fortune, the respect of our peers and the adulation of the public. Those fine words sincerely delivered still echoed as I shelved the handsome medal in its velvet case that was inscribed with the words ‘in recognition of outstanding achievements in human rights’. The mania for honouring me was in proportion to my forebear’s crimes. It was monstrous.
On the table was gathered a pile of invitations to benefit functions, fundraisers and speaking engagements. Sitting atop of the pile was a parcel. I opened it and stared in horror at my biography. It was the inaugural volume in a series of biographies of ‘Great Australians’ whose private values were reflected in their public works. When I had accepted the invitation I saw it as an opportunity to come clean about my family’s past. Unfortunately, I had neglected to read the fine print. It would be done ‘on the papers’ as an archival exercise. I read through the book with a sense of dawning horror. It was not a biography at all, it was a hagiography. No mention of my family’s brutal past. I didn’t recognise the person depicted therein. I had imagined an interview and handing over my great grandfather’s diary to some earnest historian eager to make a reputation for themselves. A public flogging would follow. I would be denounced and all my plaudits cancelled or revoked and the curse broken forever. Instead, they had even gone to the trouble of securing testimonials from highly respectable figures who stopped just short of recommending me for living sainthood. Where were the woke warriors when you needed them? Surely I was a statue that needed pulling down. Nope. Nothing of the sort. My plinth just got taller and taller. My phone suddenly erupted and I picked it up with a sense of dread.
‘I am with “Tiny Tykes”.’
‘We rebranded. You know it as “Save the Children”.’
‘We would like you to become our official patron.’
‘He had nothing to do with it. It was purely on merit. You were chosen from a pool of ten.’
‘Ten?’ I repeated miserably.
‘The committee were unanimous. Fate has brought us together Mr Forsyth’ he finished genially.
‘You have no idea.’
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024