I never remember their first names -does it matter? I meet them and they’re Johnsons like me. They’re musicians, and they’re brown and each of them had crossed back accross the Atlantic Ocean, as paying passengers on planes, from whence our common ancestors travelled as captives.
I met this man in the South of England, _________ Johnson. He was playing the piano and singing in a pub hotel where my family was having lunch. His strong, rich voice rang out with a familiar resonance. A resonance which reminded me of the passage of offering plates and waving fans bearing pictures of brown-skinned families knelt in prayer.
My brain instantly filtered out the strong British accent with which he greeted me and, anticipating that I had, on another rare occasion met another Afro American immigrant, I blurted, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ I immediately felt sheepish when I noticed his back stiffen and the short intake of breath. Well, actually he was from another town just down the motorway. I wish I could remember but the blood rushed in my ears with my mistake, his British accent now very obvious.
‘Nicole, eh?’ he said when I introduced myself. ‘That’s my daughter’s name.’ He went on to explain that he had a sister in American somewhere. His family had emigrated from the Carribbean when he was a child and the siblings were parted: he to the UK, she to Canada. Yes, he’d heard she was in America now.
‘We could be related!’ He said.
Very nearly impossible, I thought ruefully. The Johnson branch of my family had been in California for at least 4 generations. To my knowledge, I have no relations connected to the Carribbean.
Some years earlier, I’d run into another Johnson. This one was from America like me and he’d settled in Paris, where I was studying at the time. I used to go to his Sunday afternoon covers session in a little bar in Saint-Michel. He used to call me ‘little sister’ and together, we shared the inside joke that there were songs in his set that were covers of Black American television theme tunes. No one would ever know.
We weren’t relations either.