“Hi, my name is Arinzechukwu Dixon, but you can call me Aaron.”
It was a sentence that he was all too familiar saying. It rolled off the tongue as if his name was actually Arinzechukwu Dixon-But-You-Call-Me-Aaron, a long and unusual double-barreled surname. He was also all too familiar with the looks that he received upon saying his name. The puzzled looks that people gave him as they tried to figure out where he was from. He would see their eyes squint and their eyebrows lower as they attempted to solve this mystery. There was a three-point prize for the winner and the points were allocated like this:
Chukwu – an Igbo name meaning ‘God’ meaning that he was most likely Nigerian.
Dixon – a popular Jamaican surname meaning that he was also most likely Jamaican.
Arinzechukwu Dixon – the man who stands in front of you, the son of two Nigerian parents who met whilst studying at university in London. His mother, the daughter of two Nigerian former government officials, a first generation migrant, British before Black British was a term, let alone Black British African. His father, the son of a Jamaican caterer and Nigerian tailor.
His grandparent’s love story was short but sweet.
His grandmother had been sent from Nigeria to stay with some relatives at the age of fourteen. A young girl, away from home, in a different country. All that she remembered on her journey to London was that she would be in the presence of angels. She did not know that Angell Town was the name of the estate that she would be living in. She did not know that there was, in fact, nothing angelic about this place either. She met Marcus Dixon at school. He said that he was friends with D-Boy. It took her a while to figure out that he was, in fact, referring to her cousin Chidiebube. It took her longer to understand why he felt the need to even change his name.
She grew a liking to Marcus. Not because he was taller than the other boys, but because he was the only one in the school who didn’t make fun of her accent. She was told that it was not racism because they too were black, but she hated it even more because they too were black.
“Easy-maker, do you miss living in a hut?” She was not sure if phonetics was only a subject taught back home in Nigeria or if the children purposely butchered her name, Eziamaka, in an attempt to throw more fuel on to the ever blazing fire.
He would sit with her and debate. She was surprised that he had even heard of Biafra or that he knew the names of General Gowon or the other men who took over after the First Republic. He was shocked that although she had heard of Bob Marley, she still thought that Jamaica was the capital city of the Carribean. They laughed and teased each other about what they knew and did not know. She was amazed that he dreamed of going to Africa and that he called it the ‘motherland,’ as far as she was concerned, it was home, but so too was Angell Town.
When she fell pregnant at 17, her parents sent for her and she returned to Enugu State. She stayed there until she graduated from the University of Ibadan at the age of 23. She was a woman at this point. She did not want to follow her sister’s footsteps and work for their dad in Port Harcourt. She wanted to return to the life that she thought was waiting for her in the angelic town of Brixton. So she packed her things, with her six-year-old son holding tightly on to her fingers, she stepped on to a British Airways plane at Murtala Mohammed Airport and did not look back.
After arriving in London, the second thing that she did, after showering and unpacking her bags in the B&B that she had booked, she got on the 159, straight to Angell Town. She greeted her family, spoke to D-Boy, before heading to the Dixon’s house. She should have noticed that something was wrong by the look in D-Boy’s eyes. She thought that he was hiding something, but he was always hiding something. He was going by a different name after all. As she knocked on the door, her heart was racing, she could feel it picking up the pace. As his mum opened the door, the smell of fried plantain filled her airwaves. She smiled as she remembered the many arguments that they had over its pronunciation. His mother stared at her as though she had seen a ghost. She looked at her, then down at the little boy who was still holding on to her fingers.
She had dreamt about this moment from the day that she arrived back in Enugu State but nothing and no-one could prepare her for the reality. They spoke about everything and nothing. They danced in circles around the song that really needed to be sung. As she finally struck up the courage to ask where he was, she realised that she did not want the answer.
“He lives in Streatham now, he has been there for about two years. They moved out a year after they got married.”
She realised that this was Mrs Dixon’s way of lightening the blow. She used pronouns instead of names, in an effort to numb the pain. She realised that she was naive in expecting that he would wait. It had been six years since she had last seen him. Six years since she had to explain to him that it wasn’t exactly racism because her parents, like him, were black.
It was another six years until she finally garnered the courage to get in contact with him. Mrs Dixon had given her ‘their’ address but she was too scared. She realised that she owed it to her son, to give him an opportunity to finally meet the man behind the surname that is Dixon.