"His mother goes to scrub the floors for many, And you'd best believe she hardly gets a penny"
- Stevie Wonder
"Ya f**king black bastard!"
It is 1983. Dublin's Summer of Sam. A steaming inner city Tuesday. When a boy will get a lecture and a lesson in one day. And suddenly become a man.
Curtis Fleming has a broad brogue of the old town and has in his time kicked points over the bar for his school - Joey's in Fairview - but to some his difference grates. And now there is a fiercer heat rising as he takes the familiar route home by the Strand.
They can't slag him because of his clothes anymore. His mother saved for weeks to get a brand-new jumper. Instead they just slag him they way they have always slagged him.
"I'll say it to you now," he recalls now, "what they said to me then. Ya black b**tard."
Soon they will roll around in the grass and the s**te and the dirt but nothing will get resolved and he will continue on with his journey towards the council house on Tolka Road.
As he walks, he touches the place where he knows his heart should be and recoils in horror but not because he can't find his soul - the rolling tears tell him that forlorn place has been pierced once more - but because he has found another hole.
"Jayziz me new bleedin' jumper!"
Mildred Fleming was one of the most formidable women of the city you could ever meet. Pete St John could easily have had her in mind when painting his "rogue and child of Mary" world picture.
She never married the Jamaican father of her three children (Curtis, Justin and Erica) and so, being a single parent in a hidebound Irish society would have marked out the family by itself, let alone the fact they were black.
She marched with the Housing Action Committee - brother Eric was a life-long and respected Union official - and marched on various embassies to protest racism and US invasions.
"We'd pictures of Allende and Castro on the walls," recalls Curtis. "O'Carolan too!"
Where there was injustice, she railed against it. In song, story or on the street. In the days when Irish music was marginalised, she'd bring the kids to Paddy Slattery's of Capel Street where the Tradition Club with Andy Irvine and Christy Moore would strain to make their voices heard to a society of closed ears and minds.
Lined up with their red TK and Tayto, the kids would watch agog as Mildred's protesting voice beside them would soar as high as anyone's.
And so today before Curtis gets home, he buttons up his coat to his throat despite the smouldering sun and the son hopes the smouldering mother won't notice. But she does. She sees all.
"Jayziz, the new bleedin' jumper!"
She hugs the story from him and his heart bleeds dry. 'Curtis, they shouldn't have said that to you but you shouldn't have reacted. You must be strong and walk away. But I've something else to tell you. You are black. And you'll always be black. So you have to be proud of being black. And so now if someone says it to you, you say, 'Yeah, I am! I'm black and I'm proud!'
"It was such a simple message," her son says now. "And then she sewed the hole in my jumper."
But she mended much, much more that day. He remembers another time when one of a gang of them got in trouble for kicking a ball against a neighbour's wall and her house was visited first. "Why did you come straight to my door? There are 10 others. When you know it's my boy you're looking for, you can come back. But for the meantime, get out of that garden!"
He's 51 now but still thinks of those times now and how those values of pride have been passed on, a torch trying to light a way through so much blindness. His own three daughters encouraged him to join the 'Black Lives Matter' protest near their home on Teeside last week.
"It's the new generation that are pushing this, more than us. There is a genuine consciousness now I feel has never been there before, not in my time or my mother's time.
"She was wonderful, a strong Irish woman. She had to be. Bringing up three black kids in the 1970s Ireland in the city would have been tough for her because of the stigma that was attached to the whole story. Splitting up with a father who was Jamaican.
"She took her name back. She knew it mightn't be good for her but she took the kids home with her. She struggled all the time, always grafted. I remember her being upset at times when she couldn't pay the bills.
"It was a different childhood. It made me appreciate politics. She was a small woman but large with it. A pocket rocket. We would have fought anyone on the street rather than her. If she said jump, we jumped.
"She used to bring the scripts home. 'The Risen People.' I was always playing somebody! She gave her best to me and I do the same for my kids and in what I've done."
Sadly, Mildred didn't live to see any of it. She never saw her son play at the highest level for a decade with Middlesbrough, walk out at a Wembley Cup final, win caps for his country. She was dead before Curtis came of age.
Brian Kerr, his manager at Pat's, recalls his dazzling ex-Belvedere full-back turning up late for training one day.
'Me ma's sick in hospital.' 'Don't worry, where is she?' 'St Luke's.' Kerr's horror at the kid's innocence.
The reaction was familiar to Fleming because nobody had told the kids that St Luke's is where you go to die.
"We didn't understand cancer or any of it. And then suddenly she's gone, wasting away. Such a big woman but dwindled down now to nothing. And she was so proud of her appearance, she wouldn't accept any visitors."
And so Christy Moore called but was refused. Liam Neeson sent a letter. Gabriel Byrne desperately tried to get in, too. But nothing.
"She was that jaundiced colour, barely any energy to open her eyes. But she could hear us talking to her. We told her we loved her and said a lot of things you don't normally say as an 18-year-old and maybe they are things I should have said a lot more. I can touch my right shoulder even now and feel the burden of that casket."
She was just 41 when she passed three days before Christmas, 1988.
"I just remember the three of us sat in the house, not knowing what to do, how to mourn, how to go on. It affected me football, a lot of stuff. You think you're bullet-proof, you're messing around town a bit. And if people are trying to get at you, your attitude is, 'Well, take a shot, you can't hurt me any more than I have been.'
"Bullet-proof. That's a good feeling but it's also the worst. It's pain. At that age, you're told to suck it up. You're the man of the house, you have to pay the bills. You can't be crying so you dig in. And then you realise it was she who kept the light and the heaters on."
"Get the Till!"
- 'My Left Foot', Jim Sheridan
Before she died, she did one of her last acting gigs. Nothing especially deep or meaningful but still, it was an Oscar winner. 'My Left Foot.'
"You can hear her shouting, 'Get the Till!'" her son laughs. Still trying to beat the system. A rogue until the end.
Football was his saviour then, as it is now. He turns 52 later this summer but only now has he assumed his first head coaching role, with Punjab FC in India. A far way from Ballybough and Richmond Park.
Latent discrimination has always denied those like him the necessary opportunities to thrive as a manager. Blatant discrimination had always required those like him to have the abilities to survive as a player.
Brian Kerr says he hoped he had been able to surround him with as safe as environment as was possible in the dismal Dublin of the 1980s. "I remember in Harold's Cross we had four black players in the dressing-room at one stage and Curtis is saying, 'Jaysus, Brian are the brothers takin' over or wha!'"
"I went straight from Fairview Park into a dressing-room full of men," adds Fleming. "And you'd get the racist stuff having a pint or playing a game but I was lucky to have that group of people around me, Mick Moody, Pat Fenlon, John McDonnell, Damian Byrne.
"They say names will never hurt you but there's nothing worse than someone calling you something with venom and froth coming out of their mouth. Or having a coin thrown at you. People spitting at you. 'Go back to your country!' I'm already here mate!"
You tell him about Harold's Cross and the (incongruous) fella wearing a Celtic jersey acting the monkey in front of him. You tell him of the time when one of our fans called an opponent a "black f**ker" and you asked him about our black player and our fan said, 'Well, yer man is blacker'. And you tell him you shrugged your shoulders and turned away. As an entire nation has done for generations.
You tell Curtis now, abjectly apologetic, of hundreds of racist chants heard on the terraces in Inchicore and elsewhere over decades, then the shuffling silence of what seems like tacit objection but which was actually ignorant compliance.
"People will confront racists now," he says. "In those days, it never happened. And you never showed how it affected you but deep down it really did. But now I'd report it. It's probably harder on terraces because you have that group mentality. If you're outside the ground and you're thinking that, then we have a problem. Because then the next Paul McGrath won't want to play the game. It scares people away."
Fleming wasn't scared. At 18, Kerr had put him straight in the first team - he even played just days after Mil's death - and the English clubs were mad to buy him, though not to pay him, some insisting he pay his ferry and digs for the luxury of a trial. "They didn't know I wanted an extra fiver for the electricity, not for a few pints." He was working in a clothes shop - Neon - on North Earl Street, too. Justin and Erica fell into the wrong crowd and there seemed to be no escape.
"It's very hard to tell a 16-year-old to stay in and do your homework. They're looking at you going, 'What are ya' sayin'? You're not me da, you're not me ma! You can't tell me what to do!' It was the same with Erica. Suddenly you're 18 and expected to be a role model and a parent. I did my best."
He did get away, forging a career in Middlesbrough and, even when guys like Fabrizio Ravanelli or Juninho would earn 30 times his wages - and often be less committed, as the Italian discovered to his cost when meeting Fleming's fist one day - fortune's smile never left his lips.
His identity remained an issue - with the added frisson of being called an Irish, as well as black, b**tard - complicated still further when Jamaica dangled an invite as they began their journey to a World Cup.
"I'm proud of being black and proud of being Irish. I felt I'd be letting myself and my ma and my country down if I played for Jamaica. I wanted to play for Ireland.
"People would always ask, 'Where are you really from?' Or they'd ask me what Jamaica was like. And I'd say I haven't an idea. My girls - Erin, Ciara, Mia - used to ask, 'Who am I? What am I?' I'd say, well, you're half-English, quarter-Jamaican, quarter-Irish, or whatever. They'd love that!"
Talk of Jamaica made him think of his dad again. As he often does.
"I know he's still alive now, somewhere in Manchester. I just want to ask him how it was for them. My mam told me never to hate him. I wonder who left who. I'd be quite aggressive with her. But they must have had problems. Would he want to come back? Would she want to stay? Did she want him to come at all?
"Maybe one of these days I'll bump into him and ask him was she always as strong as I knew her to be…"
Even when playing for Ireland, he had questions raised about race. He remembers doing a newspaper thing with Phil Babb, Terry Phelan, Paul and Chris Hughton. The racist letters flooded in. It's not always so visible.
Hughton was 50 before he got a first-team role and there are just six ethnic managers in the entire English pyramid; Fleming wants to coach in England ("or Pat's!" chimes Kerr).
"I've learned my trade. Sometimes people can dive in too early. People have told me I should have taken a job before now. But they told me I couldn't go to England, but I did at 22. Or that I couldn't play for Ireland, but I did at 27. The same with coaching. I didn't start at 40 but maybe 50 is the new 40.
"There is all the talk about the lack of opportunities, but I was never going to let something like that hold me back. Why would I tell a young black player now there's no point in him trying to get his badges because he will never get an opportunity? You'll just lose a whole generation. Black people don't want a job just because they've been a black player. When I walk into an office, other people may see a black Irish coach. When I walk in, I say I'm Curtis Fleming, football coach, how are you doing? There is a lack of opportunity but what do you do? Sit back and say there's no chance?
"Who says in five or six years I won't be back in England or Ireland, things that remain a dream for me. All I am doing is looking forward to the opportunities that are to come, not on the opportunities people think I missed.
"It's a little bit daunting. But I've served me time. It excites me. Now I could be all over the shop after three matches and taking a long boat back from India! But I'm confident I can do it."
"The great appear great because we are on our knees."
- Jim Larkin, 'The Risen People'
Promoted from assistant to Punjab head coach this summer, Fleming won't yet return to the barren but potentially vast football landscape for a couple of months yet as the world corrects itself post-pandemic.
He spends most of his time planning for his new role; the rest of it watching history unfold. He has lived through generations of traumatic race riots and appalling murders but he feels something different is in the air, propelled by a youthful wave of educated awareness, from both his own profession and the public.
"What's happening in the Premier League might all seem like gesture politics. And there will be people who fall off but so many have grabbed the bull by the horns and now they're dragging the bull.
''They're saying this is our society, this is our kids' society. There's a big thing about white outrage and whether all lives matter. No doubt about it. But now black lives need a hand. Because in America someone can place a knee on a guy's neck for nine minutes and with his last breath say I can't breathe? And it's okay? I remember Rodney King and that was horrendous.
"But people are looking at George Floyd taking photos and it's acceptable? My daughter walks around London with her white friends and everything is fine. When she walks around with her black friends, they are constantly stopped and harassed.
"It is changing but it won't happen overnight. You have that kid abusing Ian Wright. Cyrus Christie a few years back. I was embarrassed as an Irishman. But it does seem like a sea change. I hope it keeps moving forward.
"I wonder what my mother would think of the world now. Nobody like you has asked me about my mother for years. I always think of how she moulded me. And I wonder how she would think how I turned out.
"I'd love for her to be able to see how her grandkids turned out, too. I know she's looking down. And she is proud. Because my kids are good people, they're grafters. They're the ones that will help make this a better world."
Mildred Fleming didn't last as long in the fight as she should have done. But her raging spirit lives on in those that came after her.
"I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free"
- Nina Simone