Among the thousands of people despatched to the Gulf in the armed forces is my nephew Sub-Lieutenant Howe. His father, who is my younger brother, has always been deemed a very difficult fellow, with moods that swing from blind and uncontrollable rages to deep troughs of depression. I have often been needed to douse the raging fires of his wrath.
My latest task was as difficult as I have ever had to deal with. He wanted to talk about his eldest son and his fate in the Gulf. He is a porter at a busy restaurant in central London and I arranged to meet him there, because I felt that, among so many customers, he would contain his extremes.
When I got there, he was in a jovial mood. I held him by the arm and walked him along the river. He had only two questions. Is war inevitable? And is his son in danger of losing his life? To both, I answered quietly in the affirmative.
He barked: "I have never been a patriot."
Then a quasi-sermon rolled off his tongue. "I was a Panther, a member of the Black Panther movement in this country, anti-imperialist and anti-racist to the bone."
He lowered his voice. "And now those bandits have captured my son, who only wanted to see the world." And then a swipe at the Prime Minister and his cabinet. "Not one member of the government stands to lose a child in this war. The Prime Minister's son is about to enter a new flat in Bristol, while my son may return here in a body bag."
The young man had spent his childhood hanging on the hem of his grandmother's skirt, when the family lived for a time in the Caribbean. In Trinidad, he encountered one of the world's most cosmopolitan societies, which includes every race and nationality. It was inevitable that he would want to travel and to see for himself, among other things, the lands from which the Caribbean population originated.
My brother and I talked a bit about this and that. He was never one for small talk.
I placed my arm around him and whispered: "He will return, Inshallah."
He walked away, shaking his head from left to right, his Rastafarian locks flying in the wind that bounced off the river.
He turned, waved and shouted: "Tokumbo." It was his nom de guerre when he was an activist in the Black Panthers. It is also his son's first name. I understood.