It could have passed for a movie—one of those action types with the frightening violence, obnoxious red blazes, and mischievous protagonists.  But the unsteadiness of the camera and the all-too stable voice of a narrator betrayed its reality. “This… this cannot be happening,” Isi sat motionless as she stared at the repetitive images on the screen. She knew what this would mean. It always meant the same thing.

Growing up in Nigeria, she had been surrounded by people just like her—who bore different versions of her chocolate hue. The distinction that she had known to be of greatest consequence was her personality. When she was young, she was Isi–loud, brash, and inappropriate. At 16, she became Isi—smart, curious, and understanding. The day she moved to England, she was Eesie, the black girl.

At home, where most history was black history, she had been told impressive stories, of what Rosa Parks did on the bus, and what Martin Luther King Jr. said to swollen crowds. It seemed like these people were magicians. With their imaginary wands and gifted speech, they waved racism away with a quick “abracadabra,” freeing the familiar strangers she had always sympathized with from lives of endless torment.

Her arrival to her new home was marred by the unmistakeable presence of prejudice; the nine-lived beast she thought had been forever banished by the freedom- fighters. She felt it in the impolite way the immigration officer ushered her forward in the airport queue; she noticed it in the quickening of a neighbour’s entrance to her flat when she saw this dark-skinned stranger; and almost cried because of it when a brightly- lit cab sped past her wildly outstretched arm.

Since childhood, she had learned to exude the social class that consumed her—through her near-perfect vocabulary, and enviable grooming. Her heritage had been apparent, noted by anyone who witnessed her motions. But here, everything raised questions, and eyebrows. Questions were raised between young girls that sat across her on the subway, eyeing the stitching of her Chanel bag for any indications of a shifty origin. Eyebrows were lifted when chatty shop-workers discovered that this poor black girl was well-educated, and when other bus passengers turned to glance at her and her Nigerian friend as they argued eloquently about politics. This beast, in its constant lurking through the London streets, made her paranoid of every glance and smile she received, searching for a hidden emotion on the faces of seemingly polite strangers.

Her heightened awareness was brought to bear as she sat there staring at the horrific scenes of the London riots. She knew how it had all started, but she also knew how people would see it—as further evidence of the “black man’s dilemma.” She imagined the types of people whose unsavoury judgements were only reserved for the dinner table, that would raise their hands and feel they were proved right. Some of them were probably the ones that would read her submitted applications. The thought of her dreams of being a lawyer becoming any more elusive brought a dampness to her palms and a sickness to her stomach. “It’s hard enough as it is,” she thought to herself.

She remembered the law mixer she had attended. There, two or three young members of every major London firm were present to scope out her university’s talent. Most of them had water bottles close by, prepared for the carnage that awaited them, like seasoned athletes. Isi, along with two hundred or so other students, had come dressed in a suit, CV in hand, and with smart questions prepared. She worked her way around the stalls, regurgitating her memorised questions with a false novelty each time. One answer that seemed to fall into her lap at most stalls like a perfectly ripened fruit was embedded in her mind without her having to take notes. When she asked about the firm’s culture, most of the lawyers said the typical things about it being friendly and supportive.  And then, with a near seamless transition, they began to talk about diversity, seemingly picking the speech to suit their audience. They told her about how accepting the firm was, saying that they worked with SEO or Rare, and asking if she knew what these were.

She smiled to herself. Of course I know them, she thought. Those two names seemed to be the only tickets for an entrance by black faces into the exclusive legal profession. An abundance of African and Caribbean students constantly ran to them for safe haven from the beast, but they secretly despaired that these two giants were not powerful enough to protect them all. These giants functioned like auction houses, offering the best and brightest black students to each firm, so that one or two may be chosen.

Isi wished it was different. If she was one of the lucky few, she did not want to be forced to become a shining example of the firm’s diversity—a  representative of blackness, as she had been in her Literature class, when the English teacher awkwardly discussed the “ugly masks” of Africans in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But she could not avoid this—it was the technique that was used to market a false existence.

As Isi drooped further into the sofa, weighted by her emotions, she realised an important truth. She had come to this town ready to give it her all, with her arms outstretched. But they were thrown, with each beastly discovery, closer and closer to herself, until they enveloped her in a protective shell. She felt like a visitor in this place, and she would feel that way until the ugly beast’s ninth life finally expired.

Written By: Ehae Longe of Inktippeddreams