Nw by Zadie Smith

  That’s just so fucking FASCINATING

  Hello hanwell DARLING. What brings you to the internets this fine afternopn


  woman next to me picking nose really getting in there

  tried to call but you no answer


  cant take private calls in pupilf room what’s up

  big news

  You got cat aids?

  free may sixth?

  You catch cat aids may 6th? I am free if not in court. I big lawyer lasy these days innit

  Big lawyer lady jesus

  shit typer

  lady jesus I am getting married


  on may

  that’s great! When did this happen???

  Six in registry same like u but irth actyl guests

  I’m really happy for you seriously

  Actual guests.

  Iz for mum really.


  also, I really love him.

  lust him.

  Important to him and he wants to.

  It’s what people do innit.

  sorry clerk one min

  enough reasons?

  I think I’m going to wear purple

  Also for Pauline

  And gold like a catholic priest


  Sorry that is really great—congrats!

  Does this mesn

  Mean procreation??



  cant believe you getting hitched

  whats happening to

  me too


  we iz old

  we’re not fucking old

  at least u achieving something. I’m just slowly dying

  this my 2nd year as pupil. May be pupil for rest of

  dying of boredom


  don’t know what tht means

  it = not good. Most peole tenant after ONE YEAR

  anyway boring—can I ask question and you not get off

  offended sorry

  fuck most people

  haha I am so not getting off right now

  can I?

  when u get hitched you have to give up everyone else anyway.

  that’s the idea, isn’t it?

  Stupid idea.


  So just more people to give up.

  That answer your question big lady jesus?

  Haha yes. You iz mind reader for realz

  and when all else fails:


  passes the time

  you know what I’m chatting about. Come on girl!

  Oi mate don’t leave me hanging!

  Sorry. Work shitstorm gotta go love you

  bye noe

  “bye noe”

  124. A tenancy meeting question

  Ms. Blake, would you be prepared to represent someone from the B.N.P.?

  125. Harlesden hero (with parentheses)

  Natalie Blake did not expect to be offered tenancy. To convert an external judgment into a personal choice she told herself a story about legal ethics, strong moral character and indifference to money. She told the same tale to Frank and Leah, to her family, to her fellow trainee barristers and to anyone else who inquired after her future. This was a way of making the future safe. (All Natalie’s storytelling had, in the end, this aim in view.) When, contrary to her expectations, she was indeed offered tenancy, Natalie Blake was placed in an awkward position vis-à-vis her personal ethics and strong moral character and indifference to money (or, at least, as far as the public representations of these qualities were concerned) and was forced to refuse the offer of tenancy and take the paralegal job at R senb rg, Sl tte y & No ton that she had been talking up for several months. A tiny legal aid firm in Harlesden with half its stencilled letters peeled off.

  126. Tonya seeks Keisha

  Natalie Blake’s clients called at inappropriate times. They lied. They were usually late for court, rarely wore what they had been advised to wear and refused perfectly sensible plea deals. Occasionally they threatened her life. In her first six months at RSN, three of her clients were young men who “went Brayton,” although they were much younger then Natalie Blake herself. This caused her to wonder if the school had gone downhill—further downhill. She snatched lunch from the jerk place opposite McDonald’s, sat on a high stool and had trouble keeping the oil off her suit. Pattie, fish dumpling and a can of ginger beer, most days. She tried to vary this menu, but at the counter any spirit of adventure abandoned her. A long-term plan existed to meet Marcia and Marcia’s sister Irene, who lived nearby, for lunch, but this fantasy appointment, with its two hours of idle time and no need to read briefs, never seemed to arrive, and soon enough Natalie Blake understood that it never would. Fairly often she saw her cousin Tonya on Harlesden high street. On these occasions—despite her new status as a big lawyer lady—she experienced the same feelings of insecurity and inadequacy Tonya had compelled in her when they were children. This afternoon Tonya wore sweatpants with HONEY written across the posterior and a close-fitting denim waistcoat with a yellow bra underneath. Her fringe was purple, the hoop of her earrings brushed her shoulders. Her platform heels were red and five inches high. Despite the toddler and the baby in her double buggy Tonya retained the proportions of a super-heroine in a comic book. Natalie meanwhile was sadly “margar,” as the Jamaicans say. To white people this translates as “skinny” or “athletic,” and is widely considered a positive value. For Natalie it meant ultimately shapeless, a blank. Tonya’s skin was never ashy but always silky and gorgeous and she was not prone to the harsh pink acne that sometimes broke out across Natalie’s forehead, and was present today. Where Natalie’s teeth were small and gray, Tonya’s were huge, white, even, and presently on display in a giant smile. As Tonya approached, Natalie was sure she, Natalie, had dumpling oil round her mouth. But perhaps all this displacement of anxiety into the physical realm was a feminine way of simplifying a far deeper and more insoluble difference, for Natalie believed Tonya had a gift for living and Natalie herself did not seem to have this gift.

  “These children are so good-looking it’s criminal.”

  “Thank you!”

  “Look at André—he blatantly knows it.”

  “That’s his dad. His dad bought him that chain.”

  “Now he’s like: I’m a three-year-old playa.”

  “You know what I’m saying! Seriously.”

  Underneath the smile, Natalie saw that her cousin was disappointed with this exchange, wanting, as usual, to make a deeper “connection” with Natalie, who wished to avoid precisely this intimacy and as a consequence retained a superficial and pleasant exterior with her cousin as a means of holding her at bay. Now Natalie put down André and picked up Sasha. Neither child ever seemed real to her no matter how many times Natalie felt their weight in her arms. How could Tonya be the mother of these children? How could Tonya be 26? When had Tonya stopped being 12? When would her own adulthood arrive?

  “So I’m back up in Stonebridge, with my Mum. Elton and me are done, that’s it. I’m finished wasting my time. It’s all good, though. I’m back to school, up in Dollis Hill? College of North West London. Tourism and hospitality. Studying, studying. It’s hard but I’m loving it. You’re my inspiration!”

  Tonya put her hand on the shoulder of Natalie’s ugly navy skirt suit. Was that pity in her cousin’s eyes? Natalie Blake did not exist.

  “How’s your mate? That nice girl. The redhead one.”

  “Leah. She’s good. Married. Working for the council.”

  “Is it. That’s nice. Kids?”
  “No. Not yet.”

  “You lot are leaving it late, innit.”

  Tonya’s hand moved from her cousin’s shoulder to her head.

  “What’s going on up there, Keisha?”

  Natalie touched her uneven parting, the dry bun, scraped back, unadorned.

  “Not much. I never have time.”

  “I did all this myself. Microbraids. You should come by and let me do it. It’s just six hours. We could make it an evening, have a good proper chat.”

  127. The connection between chaos and other qualities

  At RSN Associates the law burst from broken box files, it lined the hallways, bathroom and kitchen. This chaos was unavoidable, but it was also to some extent an aesthetic, slightly exaggerated by the tenants, and intended to signify selflessness, sincerity. Natalie saw how her clients found the chaos comforting, just as the fake Queen Anne sofas and painted foxhounds of Middle Temple reassured another type of client. If you worked here it could only be for the love of the law. Only real do-gooders could possibly be this poor. Clients were directed to Jimmy’s Suit Warehouse in Cricklewood for court dates. Wins were celebrated in-house, with cheap plonk, pita bread and hummus. When an RSN solicitor came to see you in your cell, they arrived by bus.

  128. “On the front line”

  Now and then, in court or in police stations, Natalie bumped into corporate solicitors she knew from university. Sometimes she spoke with them on the phone. They usually made a show of over-praising her legal ethics, strong moral character and indifference to money. Sometimes they finished with a back-handed compliment, implying that the streets where Natalie had been raised, and now returned to work, were, in their minds, a hopeless sort of place, analogous to a war zone.

  129. Return

  The commute was “killing” her. Sometimes a simple choice of vocabulary can gain traction in the world. “Killing” became the premise for a return to NW. “And what about my commute?” protested Frank De Angelis. “Jubilee line,” said his wife Natalie Blake, “Kilburn to Canary Wharf.” Carefully she drew up a contract, negotiated a mortgage, split the deposit in half. All for a Kilburn flat that her husband could have bought outright without blinking. When the deal went through Natalie bought a bottle of cava to celebrate. He was still at work at six when she picked up the keys, and still there at eight—and then the inevitable nine-forty-five phone call: “Sorry—all nighter. Go on without me, if you want.” Motto of a marriage. Natalie Blake called Leah Hanwell: “Want to see me carry myself over the threshold?”

  130. Re-entry

  Leah turned the key in the stiff lock. Natalie crept in behind her, into adult life. Notable for its silence and privacy. The electricity was still unconnected. A clear moon lit the bare white walls. Natalie was ashamed to find herself momentarily disappointed: after camping in Frank’s place all these months, this looked small. Leah did a circuit of the lounge and whistled. She was working from an older scale of measurement: twice the size of a Caldwell double.

  “What’s that out there?”

  “Downstairs’ roof. It’s not a balcony, the agent said you can’t—”

  Leah went through the sash windows and on to the ivy-covered ledge. Natalie followed. They smoked a joint. In the driveway below a fat fox sat brazen as a cat, looking up at them.

  “Your ivy,” said Leah, touching it, “your brick, your window, your wall, your light-bulb, your gutter pipe.”

  “I share it with the bank.”

  “Still. That fox is with child.”

  Natalie thumbed the cork out. It bounced off the wall and dropped away into the dark. She took a messy swig. Leah leaned forward and wiped her friend’s chin: “Cava socialist.” Now watch Natalie recalibrate the conversation. It is a feminine art. She places herself halfway up a slope that has at its peak Frank’s friends, all those single young men with their incomprehensible Christmas bonuses. She found it pleasing to describe this world to Leah, who knew almost nothing of it. Chelsea, Earls Court, West Hampstead. Lofts and mansion flats unsullied by children or women, empty of furniture, fringed by ghettos.

  “Correction: there’s always one big brown leather sofa, a huge fridge and a TV as big as this flat. And an enormous sound system. They’re not home till two a.m. ‘Entertaining clients.’ In strip clubs, usually. It all just sits empty. Five bedrooms. One bed.”

  Lean flicked the end of a joint toward the fox: “Parasites.”

  Natalie was suddenly stricken by something she thought of as “conscience.” “A lot of them are OK,” she said, quickly, “nice, I mean, individually. They’re funny. And they do work hard. Next time we have a dinner you should come.”

  “Oh, Nat. Everybody’s nice. Everybody works hard. Everybody’s a friend of Frank’s. What’s that got to do with anything?”

  131. Revisit

  People were ill.

  “You remember Mrs. Iqbal? Small woman, always a bit snooty with me. Breast cancer.”

  People died.

  “You must remember him, he lived in Locke. Tuesday he dropped dead. Ambulance took half an hour.”

  People were shameful.

  “Baby born two weeks ago, and they haven’t let me in yet. We don’t even know how many kids are in there. They don’t register them.”

  People didn’t know they were born.

  “Guess how much for eggs in that market. Organic. Guess!”

  People were seen.

  “I seen Pauline. Leah’s working for the council now. She always had such big ambitions for that child. Funny how things turn out. In a way you’ve done quite a bit better than her, really.”

  People were unseen.

  “He’s upstairs with Tommy. He spends all his time with him now. They only come out of that room to go and charm the ladies. Jayden and Tommy spend all their time and money charming the ladies. That’s all your brother thinks about. He needs to get himself a job, that’s what I keep telling him.”

  People were not people but merely an effect of language. You could conjure them up and kill them in a sentence.

  “Owen Cafferty.”

  “Mum, I don’t remember him.”

  “Owen Cafferty. Owen Cafferty! He did all the catering for church. Mustache. Owen Cafferty!”

  “OK, vaguely, yes. Why?”


  Everything was the same in the flat, yet there was a new feeling of lack. A new awareness. And lo they saw their nakedness and were ashamed. On the table Marcia laid out a fan of credit cards. As Marcia talked her daughter through the chaotic history of each card Natalie made notes as best she could. She had been brought in for an emergency consultation. She did not really know why she was taking notes. The only useful thing would be to sign a large check. This she couldn’t do, in her present circumstance. She couldn’t bear to ask Frank. What difference did it make if she turned figures into words?

  “I’ll tell you what I really need,” said Marcia, “I need Jayden to get up out of here and get married, so he can run his own household, and your sister’s little ones don’t have to be sleeping in the room with their mother. That’s what I need.”

  “Oh, Mum . . . Jayden’s not going to ever get . . . Jayden’s not interested in women, he—”

  “Please don’t start up that nonsense again, Keisha. Jayden’s the only one of you takes care of me at all. This is how we live. Cheryl can’t help anybody. She can’t hardly help herself. Number three on the way. Of course I love these kids. But this is how we’re living like, Keisha, to be truthful. Hand to mouth. This is it.”

  People were living like this. Living like that. Living like this.

  132. Domestic

  “I can’t stand them living like that!” cried Natalie Blake.

  “You’re making unnecessary drama,” said Frank.

  133. E pluribus unum

  Certainly exceptional to be taken back into the Middle Temple fold but Natalie Blake was in many ways an exceptional candidate, and several tenants at the set thought of her, informally, as their own protégé, despite having really only a glancing knowledge of her. Something about Natalie inspired patronage, as if by helping her you helped an unseen multitude.

  134. Paranoia

  A man and a woman, a couple, sat at a table opposite Natalie and Frank, having Saturday brunch in a café in North West London.

  “It’s organic,” said Ameeta. She referred to the ketchup.

  “It’s bad,” said her husband, Imran. He was also referring to the ketchup.

  “It’s not bad. It doesn’t have the fourteen spoonfuls of sugar you’re used to,” said Ameeta.

  “It’s called flavor?” said Imran.

  “Just bloody eat it or don’t eat it,” said Ameeta. “Nobody cares.”

  Around them, at other tables, other people’s babies cried.

  “I didn’t say anybody cared,” said Imran.

  “India versus Pakistan,” said Frank—he referred, in a jocular manner, to his friends’ countries of origin—“better pray it doesn’t go nuclear.”

  “Ha ha,” said Natalie Blake.

  They continued on with their breakfast. Breakfast tipped into brunch. They did this once or twice a month. Today’s brunch seemed, to Natalie, a more lively occasion than usual, and more comfortable, as if by rejoining a commercial set and acting, at least in part, for the interests of corporations, she had lost the final remnants of a troubling aura that had bothered her friends and made them cautious around her.

  135. Contempt

  The eggs came late. Frank argued chummily with the waiter until they were taken off the bill. At one point employing the phrase: “Look, we’re both educated brothers.” It occurred to Natalie Blake that she was not very happily married. Goofy. Made lame jokes, offended people. He was in a constant good humor, yet he was stubborn. He did not read or have any real cultural interests, aside from the old, nostalgic affection for 90s hip hop. The idea of the Caribbean bored him. When thinking of the souls of black folks he preferred to think of Africa—“Ethiopia the Shadowy and Egypt the Sphinx”—where the two strains of his DNA did noble battle in ancient stories. (He knew these stories only in vague, biblical outline.) He had ketchup by his mouth, and they had married quickly, without knowing each other particularly well. “I like her well enough,” Ameeta said, “I just don’t particularly trust her.” Frank De Angelis would never cheat or lie or hurt Natalie Blake, not in any way. He was a physically beautiful man. Kind. “It’s not tax avoidance,” said Imran. “It’s tax management.” Happiness is not an absolute value. It is a state of comparison. Were they any unhappier than Imran and Ameeta? Those people over there? You? “Anything with flour gives me a rash,” said Frank. On the table lay a huge pile of newspaper. In Caldwell, newspaper choice had been rather important. It was a matter of pride to Marcia that the Blakes took The Voice and The Daily Mirror and no “filth.” Now everyone came to brunch with their “quality” paper and a side order of trash. Tits and vicars and slebs and murder. Her mother’s pieties—and by extension Natalie’s own—seemed old-fashioned. “It’s an insurgency,” said Ameeta. Natalie pressed a knife to her egg and watched the yolk run into her beans. “Another thing of tea?” said Frank. They were all agreed that the war should not be happening. They were against war. In the mid-nineties, when Natalie Blake was sleeping with Imran, the two of them had planned a trip to Bosnia in a convoy of ambulances. “But Irie was always going to be that kind of mother,” said Ameeta, “I could have told you that five years ago.” Only the private realm existed now. Work and home. Marriage and children. Now they only wanted to return to their own flats and live the real life of domestic conversation and television and baths and lunch and dinner. Brunch was outside the private realm, not by much—it was just the other side of the border. But even brunch was too far from home. Brunch didn’t really exist. “Can I give you a tip?” said Imran. “Start on the third episode of series two.” Was it possible to feel oneself on a war footing, constantly, even at brunch? “She owns a child of every race now. She’s like the United Nations of Stupid,” said Frank, for one elevated oneself above an interest in “celebrity gossip” simply by commenting ironically on it. “A ‘romp’ with two strippers,” read Ameeta. “Why’s it always a ‘romp?’ I’ve never bloody ‘romped’ in my life.” Sexual perversity was also old-fashioned: it smacked of an earlier time. It was messy, embarrassing, impractical in this economy. “I never know what’s reasonable,” said Imran. “Ten percent? Fifteen? Twenty?” Global consciousness. Local consciousness. Consciousness. And lo they saw their nakedness and were not ashamed. “You’re fooling yourself,” said Frank. “You can’t get anything on the park for less than a million.” The mistake was to think that the money precisely signified—or was equivalent to—a particular arrangement of bricks and mortar. The money was not for these poky terraced houses with their short back gardens. The money was for the distance the house put between you and Caldwell. “That skirt,” said Natalie Blake, pointing to a picture in the supplement, “but in red.”

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