JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL
23 April 1893. Exeter.
Against my better judgment, it appears I will be going abroad soon, though not to broker a land deal in India as I have done before.
My mother, encouraging me to learn English and other languages spoken around us in East London, was wont to cite a Romani adage:
“Mashkar le Gazhende lêski shib si le Rromêski zor.” Amongst white strangers, the Rom’s best defence is his tongue.
I might now add a phrase:
“Hai le Rromêsko kovlimos.” And his greatest weakness.
This afternoon I strolled up Grandy Street toward Barnardo’s Home for Orphan Girls. Wilhelmina Murray was already awaiting me on the corner of Bradninch Place, looking very pretty in a yellow dress and broad-brimmed hat.
Her smile lit up her otherwise serious features, softening the sharp angles of eyebrows, cheekbones, and chin. I was reminded of the first time I ever saw her, a shivering ragamuffin at the girls’ orphanage that neighbored the boys’ home in London. She was being beaten by bigger, whiter girls for the crime of having, one presumes, a Black father. I rushed to stop them, and they scattered at the sight of an older and quite indignant boy. The bullied child encircled my waist with thin arms as she wept and called me “Big Bruva.”
The kiss I then planted upon the top of her head sealed our fates forever.
When one is an orphan, family seems an elusive dream. When one finds some semblance of trust, some measure of friendship, one clings to it with fierce tenacity. Mina Murray became my sister when I was ten and she six. We have protected each other, kept each other’s secrets, struggled together against the injustices of British society for fifteen years now. And recently, we have agreed to keep doing so for the rest of our lives.
Returning her smile this afternoon, I took her hand and led her on a leisurely stroll toward the large if empty estate of Peter Hawkins. Our interlaced fingers — equally brown, though from different admixtures of ancestry — were perhaps too scandalous a sign of affection on a Sunday afternoon, but I believe it necessary to keep up appearances. Though eight years ago I called Christopher a coward for fearing Labouchere’s Amendment, I have since determined not solely to avoid “gross…