Another of Moses’s friends is a man who goes by Five Past Twelve, a nickname he acquired because people look at him and say, “Boy, you black like midnight” before correcting themselves and saying, “No, you more like Five Past Twelve.” Originally from Barbados, Five knows what it’s like to be discriminated against based on the color of his skin: once, when dating a light-skinned woman, a group of men approached him and told him to leave her alone. When he refused, they doused him in oil and chased him with a box of matches, trying to light him on fire. Not long after WWII, Five came to England, joined the Royal Air Force, and then took a job as a truck driver—a position that requires him to travel throughout the country. Now, whenever he’s in town, he wants to get drunk and party with his friends.
The fact that Five earns his nickname based on the darkness of his skin is yet another example of how colorism brings itself to bear on the immigrant community. Not only are the characters in The Lonely Londoners constantly held accountable for their blackness by white Britons, they also judge each other based on their skin tones. For example, while Five is discriminated against because of how dark his skin is, Bart leads a relatively privileged life because his skin is a lighter shade. However, even Bart must contend with racism, ultimately suggesting that the idea of colorism is a petty concept, a construction that is just another facet of the broader racism applied to the entire black immigrant community by white Britons.
A hard partier, Five is Harris’s worst nightmare. Harris is a black immigrant who tries to present himself as a distinguished English gentleman. As such, he throws parties for various white socialites. Somehow, though, his black friends always hear about these parties and appear in large numbers, ready to drink and have a good time. Upon seeing Five one night at the entrance to the party, Harris says, “I want you to make an effort to behave and comport yourself properly tonight.” In response, Five says, “Man, sometimes you get on like if we didn’t grow up together.” Five then launches into a memory about Harris having sex with a mutual acquaintance, but Harris silences him, saying, “It seems you are drunk already. I hope you haven’t brought any weed here tonight.”
Like Bart, Harris wants badly to distance himself from his black peers in an effort to blend into white society. While this is clear from the way he tries to bar his friends from attending his elegant parties, it’s also made evident by his diction. Indeed, Harris is the only immigrant in The Lonely Londoners who goes out of his way to avoid speaking creolized English, instead opting to talk as if he were born to a wealthy white family in England. This attitude only encourages Five to go out of his way to remind Harris that they come from the same place, and that he can’t simply erase his cultural identity to fit into England’s posh and aristocratic society.
Before entering the party, Five slyly tells Harris to see him afterward so that the two of them can share a “puff.” At this, Harris warns Five that he’ll kick him out if he misbehaves, but Five brushes him off, saying, “Ah, you does say so every time I come to any of your fete.” Later, he adds, “You forget I know you from back home. Is only since you hit Brit’n that you getting on so English.” With this, he bounds past Harris into the ballroom, searching for the five white women he brought with him. Tracking down Moses, Harris asks him to “keep an eye on Five.” At this point, Ma and Tanty arrive at the party along with Tolroy and Lewis, and Tanty starts embarrassing Harris by screaming his name and talking about how big he’s grown since his days in Jamaica.
There is a clear hint of resentment detectable in Five’s assertion that Harris has only started “getting on so English” since arriving in Britain. This is because Harris’s desire to leave behind his cultural identity is blatant and, as such, an insult to the people like Five who have held tightly to their true selves even after moving to England. Tanty forces Harris to confront the same idea (that he has abandoned his sense of self), though it’s not clear whether she actively wants to embarrass him or if she simply doesn’t care that she’s ruining his cover as a distinguished English gentleman.
As the dancing begins, Harris makes his way to the guest of honor’s table, making small talk with one of the young white women sitting there. After a moment, he feels it’s only right to ask her to dance, and so they make their way to the dance floor. After only a few moments, though, Tanty appears and puts her hand on Harris’s shoulder, demanding that he dance with her. “What happening, you avoiding the old lady, eh?” she asks. “Too much young girl here to bother with Tanty, eh?” As she edges her way into dancing with Harris, Five—incredibly stoned by this point—watches from afar, swooping in and starting to dance with the young white woman, whom Harris has just unwillingly abandoned.
The fact that Harris has such a hard time maintaining the illusion that he’s a distinguished English gentleman suggests that leaving behind one’s cultural identity is nearly impossible. No matter how hard he tries to act like he has nothing to do with Tanty or Five, they find ways to swoop into his life and ruin his act. In this way, Selvon implies that adopting a new persona isn’t an effective way to integrate oneself into a new culture or society, ultimately suggesting that such a tactic is bound to fail.
After dancing with Tanty, Harris rushes over to Moses and tells him Five is misbehaving, but Moses insists that he’s simply having a good time. “The next time I have a fete,” Harris says, “attendance will be by invitation only. You boys always make a disgrace of yourselves, and make me ashamed of myself.” As Harris rushes away, Big City appears, and Galahad taunts him into going over and asking the young white woman’s friend to dance. After a brief back-and-forth in which Moses also eggs him on, Big City finally goes over and starts dancing with the other white woman. As the party progresses, Cap goes home with two women, Bart gets drunk and pines over Beatrice, and Daniel stands at the bar buying drinks for everybody else’s dates. By 10:30, a Jamaican man slams a Coke bottle over Five’s head, but the party rages on.
The total disintegration of the party’s veneer of elegance further reinforces the notion that Harris’s posturing as a distinguished English gentleman is futile. What’s more, the fact that no white partygoers seem offended by the direction of the party’s antics indicates that Harris is wrong to think that he must control his friends for the sake of his white guests. As such, readers witness in this moment a breakdown of the division between London’s white and black societies—a momentary, if partial, transcendence of racial boundaries.
Exhausted, Harris joins Moses and the others at the bar and orders a lemonade. Forgetting to use “proper’ English, he tells his friends that they’ll have to be respectful when the band plays God Save The Queen at the end of the party, pointing out that they usually keep dancing while everybody else stands respectfully and pays attention to the song. “Now it have decent people here tonight,” he reiterates, “and if you don’t get on respectable […t]he English people will say we are still uncivilized and don’t know how to behave properly.” At this, Five starts lecturing Harris about how he ought to have a drink, but Harris slinks off to remind the others to be respectful.
Harris’s momentary lapse into creolized English validates Five’s feeling that he acts like a phony when he pretends to be an English gentleman. Though his speech slips into the vernacular, he retains his belief that it’s important for black immigrants to comport themselves so that nobody can call them “uncivilized.” Although he takes this belief to extreme heights, the idea itself is similar to Moses’s thought that black immigrants who lead disreputable lives “muddy the water” for everybody else. In this way, readers see once again how much careful consideration goes into how the immigrants in The Lonely Londoners present themselves in a society all too eager to discredit and denounce them.