One winter, Galahad—along with many other immigrant workers—loses his job. Luckily for him, he doesn’t get cold and so doesn’t have to worry very much about finding a way to stay warm, but he does need to somehow feed himself. Realizing one day that London has an excess of pigeons, he decides to catch one for dinner. After frequenting the park on a regular basis to examine how pigeons move, he finally captures one by luring it to him with pieces of bread and then grabbing it by its legs. Unfortunately, a white woman sees him do this and yells out across the park, saying, “You cruel monster! You killer!” Quickly, Galahad stuffs the bird into his coat while the woman tries to find a police officer.
In this scene, Galahad is scolded for simply trying to survive. Having come to London to better his financial prospects, he suddenly finds himself out of work and starving. Upward mobility, it seems in this moment, is nothing but a dream. This idea aligns with Moses’s mindset regarding the actual benefits of living in London, of which there are very few. After more than ten years in the city, Moses understands that making money and climbing the socioeconomic ladder is incredibly difficult—a fact Galahad discovers as he’s reprimanded for merely trying to feed himself.
Having escaped the park with the pigeon, Galahad goes to Moses’s apartment and tells him he’s bought a bird and asks him to help him cook it. Excited, Moses wonders how Galahad was able to afford this kind of food, but he pushes the matter out of his mind because he’s hungry. Back in his own apartment, Galahad plucks the feathers and begins to feel guilty, but he tries to reason with himself, justifying that he only killed the pigeon because he was so hungry. “What the hell I care,” he mutters, “so much damn pigeon all about the place.” Still feeling guilty, though, he later tells Moses how he actually obtained the pigeon. “Boy, you take a big chance,” Moses says. “You think this is Trinidad? Them pigeons there to beautify the park, not to eat. The people over here will kill you if you touch a fly.”
The feelings Galahad experiences after catching the pigeon are complicated. By killing the pigeon, he has transgressed societal norms. At the same time, though, he has only done so in order to feed himself, and the fact of the matter is that it’s ludicrous to see pigeons—of which there are many—as birds that simply “beautify the park.” Furthermore, when Moses points out that Londoners will “kill” immigrants if they even “touch a fly,” he once again evokes the idea that white Britons are eager to magnify even the smallest transgressions committed by the immigrant community.
Having eaten a good meal of pigeon and rice, Moses and Galahad speak nostalgically about Trinidad, sharing funny stories about people they both know. After some time, while Galahad is in the middle of a hearty laugh, Moses suddenly becomes sober, feeling guilty and thinking “it not right” to be enjoying himself so much “in these hard times.” Vocalizing his feelings, he expresses his discontent regarding the fact that he and Galahad—along with all their immigrant friends—have come to Britain “to make a living” only to find a sore lack of opportunity.
Once again, Moses demonstrates his reticence to indulge feelings of nostalgia. For him, reminiscing about Trinidad is inappropriate because doing so doesn’t acknowledge his grim present circumstances. In other words, he sees nostalgia as unproductive because it enables him to momentarily disregard his hardships rather than encouraging him to focus on what needs to be done to remedy his situation. Rather than sitting back happily with a belly full of pigeon, he determines to focus on the sad fact that Galahad and his other friends have no opportunities to climb the socioeconomic ladder.
Galahad tries to lighten the mood, but Moses rejects his optimism, saying that he sometimes wakes up in the night and can’t go back to sleep because he’s worried about whether or not he’s making progress in London. “I just lay there on the bed thinking about my life, how after all these years I ain’t get no place at all, I still the same way, neither forward nor backward,” he says. He tells Galahad—who has now been in London for roughly four years—about his own experience as a new arrival, about how he used to want to go home but now can’t decide whether to stay or leave. “Ten years the old man in Brit’n,” he says, “and what to show for it?” He says he would save a little money and go back to Trinidad if he was Galahad.
Moses yet again experiences a feeling of stasis regarding his life in London. Burdened by his own indecision, he once more suggests that Galahad go back to Trinidad because the young man hasn’t yet invested too much time in building a life in England. The idea that he has nothing to “show” for his time in London is seemingly the most frightening thing Moses can think of, an indication that what he wants most in life is to achieve a sense of progress.
Galahad insists that he doesn’t want to return to Trinidad. Moses, on the other hand, confesses that if he had enough money, he’d go home immediately to “live in Paradise.” In response, Galahad reminds his friend that there aren’t any “prospects” in Trinidad, but Moses ignores him, saying, “This is a lonely miserable city, if it was that we didn’t get together now and then to talk about things back home, we would suffer like hell. Here is not like home where you have friends all about.”
Moses evokes the novel’s title in this moment, when he says, “This is a lonely miserable city.” However, he also inadvertently emphasizes the importance of his own community by asserting that the nostalgic conversations he so often avoids actually make life in London bearable. In saying this, he underlines the sustaining qualities of a tight-knit immigrant community, making it clear that camaraderie is a valuable resource for a person living in a foreign city.
Continuing his critique of life in London, Moses says that—in addition to the fact that the city is “lonely” and “miserable”—white Britons don’t truly embrace black people in their community. “They tolerate you, yes,” he says, “but you can’t go in their house and eat or sit down and talk.” He then scoffs at the way English people party and celebrate holidays, and when Galahad says he likes when white women kiss him at the turn of the New Year—because they say it’s good luck to kiss black men—Moses berates him, saying, “Man, you really foolish, yes.” Going on, he says that he would return to Trinidad as soon as possible if he knew for sure he’d be able to get a good job. “But is no use talking to fellars like you,” he adds. “You hit two-three white women and like you gone mad.”
Moses makes an important distinction here between being accepted by white people and being tolerated by them. He upholds that although white Britons rarely express their racist views outright, they also don’t embrace the idea of a fully biracial or multicultural London. Even when white women shower black men with attention—kissing them on New Year’s—they aren’t actually cultivating a culture of equality. Rather, they’re tokenizing black immigrants in a way that—according to Moses—blinds newcomers like Galahad, who get overexcited by the idea of entering into sexual relationships with white women.