‘Phoebe is not
the Barbie I wanted
but she’s the Barbie I’ve got,
and I decide to take care of her.’
These lines from somewhere near the beginning of Dean Atta’s poetic debut, The Black Flamingo, are almost heartbreaking in their simplicity. Young Michael’s mother no doubt meant well, first getting her six-year-old a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, when he wants a Barbie, and later on, for Christmas, a Barbie, but not ‘the Goddess’ Barbie.*
This is a quick read, and you race through the story of Michael from birth to his first year at uni. Black – and non-present – father and Greek Cypriot mother, he never feels he quite belongs. The same goes with school, where he’s not sure what it is he needs. But he does strike gold with his friend Daisy.
Michael comes out as gay, which along with being black isn’t easy. At uni when he believes he’ll finally find his place, it takes a lot of searching before he finds it, as a drag artist.
While he encounters antagonistic people along the way, what is most interesting is how wrong kind and well-meaning people can be. It shows how hard it is to get things right for someone else. His Greek grandfather gets him, though. He is the one who tells him that the pink flamingoes don’t see the colour when the black flamingoes come.
So that’s what Michael becomes; a black flamingo.
*I got a Skipper. I really wanted a Barbie. And not the one with red hair, either.