What begins as a story about a daughter travelling with her mother to the airport for a “connection” to a potential husband, ends as a tale about not betraying yourself for the comfort of others. ‘The Grief of Strangers’ slowly reveals its heroine Chinechelum as a woman who points repeatedly to the dance of compromise family and the rest of the world can demand. She holds no truck with the Englishman who defends his friend’s reference to her as a “dusky beauty”: “’He was complimenting you.’ ‘No, he was complimenting you,” she says, “Like one would compliment somebody who had a good racehorse.’” She tells her cousin Amara, “It’s interesting how much we forgive our children because they have foreign accents,” when Amara tolerates back-chat from her nine-year-old in her small London flat. Chinechelulm is a poet and an academic. The man she loves was shot nine years ago by US police, “Three white men” at his own front door, leaving him alive but without hope of recovery. This is a story about race, class, prejudice, identity, choices, selfhood, and living with tragedy.
First published in Granta 88, Mothers, 2004, and available to read online with subscription here