“Urm, yeah. Hi. Is this the only wine you have?” I asked, to which the Indian man, whom I took to be the owner because of his authority over the kingdom, replied, “No. If you ask me where there is more wine, I will tell you.” He stared at me. “Look,” he said, “Over there.” He waved his hand impatiently in another direction. “Oh, that’s great. Thanks,” I told him and he looked at me again and said, “I told you. Ask me and I will tell you where to find things.”
Okay, crazy, I thought to myself. Obviously charm school was a success for you.
It took me a while to chose between one Californian bottle and another. I really just wanted a nice Macon Villages or similar but I was in a corner store in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I knew I would have to lower my expectations. I grabbed the only bottle that didn’t look like undiluted pee-pee.
“Just this!” I said brightly at the counter. The Indian man looked at me. “ID please,” he said. “Sure!” I replied. I fumbled around in my bag for a moment and then handed him my British driving licence.
I normally have a little speech that I give whenever I am ID’d: It’s a British driving licence. My birthday is the 22nd of May 1986 and that should be written by the number three on that card. I’m just visiting, so this is the only ID I have. Normally I say this to bouncers or bartenders and normally the response I get is, “Niiiiiiiiice accent cutie pie!”
Not with this chap.
I handed the Indian man my ID. “It’s a British driving licence…” I began but he held up the palm of his hand to my face and said, “Quiet please! I must use this to check that you are over 21, that is why I must see it.”
“Yes, I know, it’s just my date of birth is-“
“Quiet!” he scolded me. “ I am an educated man. I can see the birthday for myself to check that you are over 21.”
I bit my lip and tried not to make eye contact with my friend, who I could see shaking her shoulders with laughter out of the corner of my eye. I looked around the man’s store. On the counter was a shakily hand-written sign: DO NOT TALK ON YOUR CELL AT THE COUNTER. There was no please, and no thank you. It was not a request.
“The British,” the Indian man finally said, “Ruined my country.”
I looked at him, horrified. “Errrr….”
“The British,” he repeated.
“Well, gosh, urm. I’ve been to your country. It’s very beautiful,” I said, and he didn’t even look up at me. “I mean, at least we taught you how to play a good game of cricket, eh?” I reasoned. I added in a weak laugh. “Ha, ha.”
“CRICKET?!” The Indian man said, “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT CRICKET?”
“Errrr… well, urm…”
“We won the World War for you! And what did we get in return? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing! Raped, pillaged, ruined!”
Admittedly, rape and torture is pretty terrible, but what about the roads, railroads, telegraphs and the postal service? I thought to myself. I knew better than to say anything out loud, though. I could tell he was sort of upset, but to be fair, I wasn’t sure how much responsibility I could take. I come from a history of Welsh peasants, not the landed English gentry of the Empire.
“Remeber Sepoy,” he spat, handing me my licence, change and liquor, to which I replied, “Have a good evening, then,” and I left that place as quickly as I could. Wasn’t Sepoy when all the Indians got really cross and killed a bunch of Brits who had used sacred animal fat in their weapons? Wasn’t that in like, the 1850’s?
My friend burst into hysterics as we got into her car. “What on earth was that about?” she asked me between giggles.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I think I came all the way to Michigan to apologise to an Indian man for two hundred years of repression by my ancestors.” I sighed, confused. “I think that is what that was.”