“Mum, do you hate Hitler?”
“Hmm,” I say half-listening, half-painting slices of aubergine with butter. My son Rico’s had a growth spurt recently and his bones are basically poking out through his skin like he’s been in a horrific car crash. So I’m cooking with butter at the moment – a lot of butter. I’m putting it in porridge and on aubergines and everything.
“Me too,” he says happily. “I really hate him. The more I find out about him, the more I hate him. He’s my least favourite historical person. My most favourite is Henry VIII, Mum, and then Richard III and then Dick Turpin and then maybe Queen Victoria, even though she was a right Angeber, Mum, and then Boudicca. I love Boudicca. But Hitler’s my least favourite.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I can understand that.”
“I’m so glad Jesse Owens won that medal and then Hitler was all embarrassed about Germans not being the best. I’m really happy about how that happened, Mum. He must’ve been so embarrassed when that happened.”
“Yeah,” I say. Now I’m dicing onions really, really small. We eat a lot of onions in our house, and mainly because I like chopping them up really small. I like exceeding my expectations for how small I’m gonna chop them. So I go for one chop – and then I have a little break, and then I go in for one final, ultimate slicing session, a final chop, and in the end I’ve usually diced them so small that they’re barely visible to the human eye. They’re slightly larger than atoms. But only slightly. Basically.
“I mean, of course I wish that an Englander had won the medal, but the main thing is, that it wasn’t a German and that made Hitler sauer, huh, Mum.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Although we didn’t really have that many black people living in England back then, to be honest, hon.”
“What?” Rico asks quietly.
“Yeah, most of the black and Indian people in Britain arrived after the war, in the 1960s, you know? I mean, it wasn’t unheard of, there’s this theory that one of the English queens was a bit black, I forget which one. But it wasn’t, you know, normal. In those days.”
“Well, there wouldn’t have been that many black English people around back then.”
“Well, it wouldn’t have made Hitler mad, would it? He got all angry coz Jesse Owens was black.”
I look up from chopping onions and see Rico’s face. He’s staring at me, slightly blank, slightly puzzled, slightly uncertain. There’s something very calm about his lack of comprehension. All he is is a bit confused. He’s not put out – he’s just a bit confused.
“Hitler got angry coz Jesse Owens was black?” he asks me.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Hitler didn’t like black people?”
“Well, no,” I say.
“Well, he thought they were… well, you know, weak.”
“He thought they were weak?”
“He thought black people were weak?”
“Well,” I bite my lip carefully. Actually, I chew on it a little bit. “Well, he thought white people were stronger.”
“Oh my God, I really hate him. I knew he didn’t like the Jewish ones but nobody ever told me that about black people. I never found out about any of this, Mum.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Well, you know. Don’t worry about it all too much, you know. He is dead and that. But yeah, he didn’t like black people – or brown people much, for that matter, either. He thought white people were the best, he thought they were really strong and that. Especially blonde ones.”
“But he didn’t even have blonde hair himself!” Rico says, slightly outraged.
“Yep,” I say. “I know. That’s the weird thing about Hitler.”
“He thought blonde people were the strongest and the best?”
“Ane he thought brown people were weak?”
“Yep,” I say. “Exactly.”
“So, Mummy, listen, if Hitler saw you carrying your shopping bags, and they were too heavy for you, he’d say to himself: ‘Those shopping bags are too heavy for that lady because she’s so weak because her skin’s brown.’ Yeah? Is that what he’d say?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Probably.”
“God, I hate him,” says Rico softly. “Actually you’re just weak because you’re really short and fat and just a woman and not a man. It’s got nothing to do with your brown skin.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. I pour oil into the frying pan and turn the hob on. I put a knob of butter in with the oil – he’s really very skinny at the moment, my boy is, I think to myself as I watch the butter melt.
“And if blonde people are so good, then why has Harry Potter not got any blonde hair but Malfoy has?” Rico asks me, waggling his chin defiantly like an underclass American on a daytime TV show. “Did Hitler ever think about that, Mama?”
I shake my head for no.
“He was just an idiot,” concludes Rico, and runs out of the kitchen. I watch him leave and then I throw the onions into the frying pan. The thing is, I never really know what I’m meant to say when he starts talking about Hitler and the Nazis and that.