Brandon is on his first visit to new boyfriend Jos’s home country, just in time for their Sinterklaas celebrations. But an unexpected detour into a sex shop leads Brandon to new discoveries about himself, and a whole new dynamic to their relationship. The weather may be cold and damp, but Brandon and Jos soon heat things up!
Brandon hadn’t noticed them in the shops at Schiphol Airport or Centraal Station, but he’d been distracted by Jos chattering away about all the family members he’d be meeting over the next few days. Then there’d been that walk across a windswept, canal-bordered plain criss-crossed by lanes of traffic. Brandon had been so entranced by the view of the Amsterdam skyline—so different to Bristol—he’d nearly been run over by a tram, and hadn’t had attention to spare for anything else.
Now though, with the tourist shops of Amsterdam’s main drag right up close and personal, Brandon couldn’t ignore them any longer. He gaped at the window display of a tabak, and then at the greasy spoon café next door to it. There, in amongst the tinsel and baubles he’d expect at this time of year, were the incongruous figures.
“Jos, why are there golliwogs everywhere?”
“Golliwogs?” Jos asked, in that sexy Dutch drawl of his. The one that turned every z and s into a deliciously soft “sch”. “I don’t know this word.”
“Golliwogs,” Brandon enunciated clearly, jabbing his figure in the direction of the offending window display. “Little blackface dolls in crazy outfits climbing all over the place.”
Jos squinted. Brandon wasn’t surprised he was having problems seeing, what with the icy drizzle. He took hold of Jos’s hand and pulled him closer to the café window, hoping the awning would provide them with some shelter.
“That’s Zwarte Piet,” Jos said. “The Pieten are like your elves, I told you this on the plane, liefje. They help Sinterklaas hand out the presents to the good boys and girls.”
Brandon was aware of a woman sitting at the counter on the other side of the window, staring openly at them as she took a huge bite of a pastry. He glared defiantly, keeping hold of Jos’s hand. Amsterdam was meant to be a place where anything went, wasn’t it? Surely in a country where prostitution was legal and you could buy weed in cafés, people wouldn’t have a problem with a white guy and a black guy holding hands?
The nearest golliwog grinned fiercely as he dangled from the tinsel streamer. Sinister white plastic teeth gleamed and afro curls stuck out from under a floppy silk hat. Brandon dropped Jos’s hand and took a step back.
“This is fucked up, mate. Seriously.” Brandon spun on his heel and started walking, glad to see Jos drop into step beside him. They were a good match, height-wise, and managed to cover the ground quickly. But whereas Jos was all blond fur over heavy muscle, Brandon was a beanpole topped with an impressive afro. Or he’d thought it was impressive, anyway, until he’d become uncomfortably aware of just how similar it was to the golliwogs’ hair.
The hard knot of fear in his chest ached. His anger wasn’t really about the golliwogs, he knew. It was about the whole situation with Jos, and what he was expecting from Brandon. Things Brandon wanted to run away and hide from, but which tugged inside him muttering dark secrets.
Brandon pulled his hoodie tight as a gust of stinging rain blew into his face. “It’s bloody freezing here,” he complained, and stepped into the relative shelter of a narrow side street.
A side street lined with golliwog infested shop fronts.
Brandon groaned. What had Jos called them? Pieten?
“What’s the story with the Pieten?” he asked. “Why are they black?”
“We tell my nieces and nephews they get black going down the chimney to bring them their Sinterklaas gifts,” Jos said, his tone uncharacteristically evasive.
“And is that what everyone thinks?”
Jos sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t ask me right now.”
“Please. I want to know.”
“Okay. When I was a child, my mother told me they were slaves that Sinterklaas had freed on his travels. From Ethiopia.”
“See, I knew you would not like it, but it’s a tradition we keep for the children. It’s not meant to be racist.”
Brandon tried to wipe out his scowl. It wasn’t Jos’s fault, after all, any more than it was Brandon’s fault that Bristol still had a concert venue named after a slave trader. Mind you, Brandon had helped circulate more than a few petitions to rename Colston Hall.
Brandon peeled his gaze away from the Pieten and tried instead to focus his gaze on the array of mismatched gables that topped the tall, crowded buildings. It probably would have worked if the heavens hadn’t chosen that moment to dump a month’s worth of rain in mere seconds. He dodged into a shop doorway, knocking into a stand of postcards with his rucksack.
“Voorzichtig,” Jos admonished, setting the stand straight and smirking. “You don’t want to spoil this lovely display.”
Brandon took a closer look at the postcards. “Bloody hell. Do people really send each other these?”
Jos squinted at the array of colourful dildos on the card Brandon had singled out. “I think many tourists prefer to take the real thing back in their suitcases, perhaps?” He gestured at the display case at the back of the shop, and Brandon’s skin heated.
“I didn’t realise it was this kind of shop,” he said, his gaze skittering over the shelves arrayed with dildos, handcuffs, and assorted scary-yet-fascinating objects, to the burly, leather-clad man behind the counter, and then back to Jos again. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Maybe we should buy a souvenir, while we’re here.” Jos did that thing with his eyebrows that made him look like the devil incarnate and always sent a rush of blood to Brandon’s groin.
“I think Mum would prefer a windmill or a pair of clogs.”