Another immigrant in Moses’s circle of friends is a man named Big City, a nickname he earned in the army because he always talked about traveling and living in the world’s largest metropolises. Big City is grumpy and mean until payday, when he buys friends drinks and bets his new money. Indeed, Big City is a gambling man, and he asks Moses to help him fill out his forms to bet on soccer matches. He also tries to convince Moses to gamble, too, emphasizing how much a person can do with 75,000 pounds. Moses replies htat he only earns money “by the sweat of the brow, and not through winning anything.” He then posits, “I sure if you win all that money you head straight back for Trinidad,” to which Big City says, “Who, me? No boy. […W]herever I roam, I will land back in the old Brit’n.”
Big City is the opposite of Moses. Whereas Moses works hard and tries—albeit unsuccessfully—to save his money, all the while helping friends even when doing so puts a strain on him, Big City irresponsibly spends all his cash and treats his friends poorly, except when he’s in a good mood. Furthermore, his grand ambition to travel the world is very much at odds with Moses’s own outlook, as Moses dreams of one day returning home to Trinidad. This, however, is an uncommon outlook, for most of the immigrants in The Lonely Londoners have wildly ambitious plans, wanting to climb as high as they can on the socioeconomic ladder. Moses, on the other hand, wants to make just enough money to lead a modest life, but even this is seemingly a herculean feat in London’s tough economy.
After his conversation with Big City about gambling, Moses starts thinking about how nice it would be to have such a large sum of money, realizing that it would “solve all the problems in the world.” Indeed, the narrator notes: “He used to see all his years in London pile up one on top of the other, and he getting no place in a hurry, and the years going by, and the thought make him frighten sometimes.”
When Moses feels fear at watching “all his years in London pile up one on top of the other,” he experiences a disconcerting feeling of stasis and a sense that he hasn’t made any progress even after having spent over ten years away from home. This is especially troubling to him because the whole reason most West Indians leave their countries in the first place is to attain upward mobility. The thought that his work in London has done nothing but enable him to go on living in London casts his life abroad as futile and void of advancement.
More than anything, Big City savors the summertime, when he can walk through the park and join groups of people congregated around a soapbox, where various speakers stand up and critique the government. Galahad is also impressed by this spectacle—so impressed that he can’t believe the police don’t do anything to stop the people making anti-government speeches. Seeing the young man’s incredulity, Big City encourages Galahad to go up there himself, an idea Moses endorses as a way of “pok[ing] the fire.” “I know the fellar who talking on the colour problem,” Big City says, “I will tell him that you can give the people the real dope on the question.” He then quickly brings Galahad to the soapbox, where the young immigrant stammers while Big City laughs and says, “Talk louder man,” making fun of him from the audience.
In this moment, the immigrant community unites to share their thoughts with one another regarding the British government and the treatment of black people in London. Unfortunately for Galahad, though, Moses and Big City see this as an opportunity to make a fool of him, taking advantage of the young man’s eagerness by giving him false encouragement. Of course, this is the second time in the novel that Moses has tricked one of his friends, and readers begin to understand that he’s a man who likes to have a good laugh. Although humiliating Galahad is Big City’s idea, Moses quickly jumps on board, making it obvious that, despite his normally serious demeanor, he enjoys joking around with his friends.
Ever since Big City tricked Galahad into going onto the soapbox, Galahad claims he’ll beat him up the next time their paths cross. As such, whenever Moses sees Big City approaching, he goads Galahad by saying, “Ah, look Big City coming, Galahad. Now is the time to beat him.” One night, Big City comes straight up and says, “I hear you looking for me, Galahad,” but the young man just smiles like an idiot and says, “What happening, Big City?” As soon as Big City leaves, though, Galahad gets on his knees and swears that he’ll beat him the next time they encounter one another.
When Galahad brags that he’s going to beat Big City, he reveals his desire to be seen as an alpha-male in his group of friends. Indeed, it’s important to him that he make a name for himself in his community, as this is part of his attempt to establish himself in London. Of course, the fact that he backs down whenever he sees Big City keeps him from ever proving himself as an alpha-male, but his desire to do so still indicates just how important it is for him to solidify himself in his new environment.