To this day, I’ll never understand why Tom sent for me. The wedding was planned to the tiniest detail long before I ever arrived in England. The fares had already been paid months in advance for me to travel by Royal Mail Lines, but since I had no wish to leave from Jamaica to England by sea, I paid the difference myself and flew with British West Indian Airways (BWIA). If I had boarded that ship, I might have had more time to reconsider my choices in life.
There had seemed a conspiracy against my leaving the island and no amount of letter writing to various Government departments in Jamaica could help them produce any record of my birth. In a fit of frustration, I went along to their offices in Spanish Town myself and found my birth certificate in two minutes flat. All I required now was a certified copy made, and after that, everything should have been plain sailing. Or dare I say, ‘plane flying?’
I arrived in England on a wet Friday morning, June 1st, 1956. My prospective husband, Thomas Ranford Pettigrew, had just bought Cadogan Terrace, but I was not aware that his old girlfriend, Icilda, was in England let alone that she was living with him and had helped him to buy the house. So horrified was he that Icilda came out of the hospital the day before we got married. She was planning to stop the wedding at the church, but I heard someone told her that there was nothing she could do. I wish she had stopped it.
The wedding went off on Saturday, July 28th, 1956 and almost immediately my husband started sleeping out. He had rented the basement flat at Brokesley Street for Icilda and he kept pyjamas, shirts, vests, and other items of clothing there. We started bickering over her almost within the first few weeks, especially since she would punch and hit me when she saw me at Roman Road market. She just couldn’t understand or accept that I was as much a victim as she. I knew nothing about their affair before the wedding, and now I felt strangely sorry for her, and for myself.
About 7:00 PM one night, I decided that I was going down to their place to tell Tom to come home after leaving me for 72 hours alone in the house. When I got there, after taking two buses, I saw his car parked outside her house. I rang the bell and his cousin Raphael came out with a sheepish look on his face. “Hello there Miss P, he grinned, “What brings you here?” I wasn’t in any mood for his games or pleasantries. “Is Tom there, Raphael?” I asked him point-blankly. He looked at me with uncertain eyes for a second before deciding to let me in. Somewhere downstairs Tom must have heard the voices and pulled back curtains from the basement window to peak straight up at me. There was my husband clear as day, sat dressed in pyjamas ready for bed, and I just couldn’t move.
“Look, Raphael, since he can see I’m here, I’ll just sit on his car and wait for him out here.”
But although I waited for over twenty-five minutes, Tom never came out.
I was about to leave when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs from the basement. The front door was still open and Icilda stepped into the harsh hallway light, holding a piece of lead pipe in her right hand, and something in her left hand, behind her back. She looked up and down the street with her shifty eyes, turned left towards the parked car and lunged at me, throwing a warm yellow liquid with bull’s-eye precision. In a type of reality like slow motion, a large gulp of the dark, acrid, slightly sweet-tasting stench entered my opened mouth and engulfed my sinuses while the rest washed across my face and all over my clothes. I knew what it was immediately and puked my guts out. Icilda just laughed. She had gone to the toilet, passed urine in a milk bottle, and thrown it all over me. I wanted to cry there and then. I just wasn’t used to that kind of gully-behaviour, but it was a good job she was left-handed and had the iron pipe in her right hand, or else I might have got a busted skull instead.
I jumped off the car and ran out of her reach. She turned on her heels, cursing and swearing, went back inside and slammed the door shut. I could still hear her wicked laughter ringing in my ears as I tried to clean myself up. Still, I waited, hoping that my husband would come outside, but Tom stayed hidden. A few minutes later the door opened and it was Icilda again. This time, she had a thick leather belt and the lead pipe in her hands. With the mighty swing of a javelin thrower, she tossed the lead tube in my direction and shattered the windscreen on Tom’s car. I tried to run in my high heels, but within seconds over my back went the leather strap. I held up my hand to ward off a second blow and my purse fell to the ground. My instinct was to bend down to look for it but I got more blows with the belt, and then Tom came running out, buttoning his clothes because he had heard splintering glass. “What the bumboclaat you think you doing?” he was swearing. I was still busy trying to find my purse, and Icilda was telling him that it was me who had broken his car windscreen. Now, he came after me, too. I ran to the nearest kiosk and called the police.
It wasn’t long before a pair of coppers were on the scene. When they came, Tom told them that I had come to the house and smashed his car. The very thought. I explained to the police that I did not even take a handbag with me let alone a piece of lead pipe with which to break his windscreen. The police asked him to go home and to take me back with him but he said, “She come here on her own. She can find her own way home.” As I had no money on me, I went across the road to another of Tom’s cousins, and he lent me the fare home. That was after Tom did the most horrendous thing to me ever. By this time, the police had got fed up with our domestic quarrels and gone off to chase up more serious crimes so Icilda kept pushing at him to try to get at me, but he would not let her.
He kept telling her, “Go back inside nuh woman. Wah wrong with you?”
To which she finally replied, “What you telling me fe go inside for? You come inside.”
It was then that he stepped inside and left me standing alone in the dark, staring at the closed front door. It was at precisely that moment on the street right there where any feelings I may have felt for Tom instantly vanished. That was 1957 in maybe August or September, one year after our marriage. As I walked to the top of the street very slowly and jumped on the first bus that came along the Mile End Road, I sat down, paid the conductor, and started to weep uncontrollably. Before I knew it, I was in the centre of London, Picadilly, still crying. I had to get on another bus going back towards the Mile End Road and beg the good bus conductor to let me travel without paying “because I had lost my purse.”
Alone in our room at Cadogan Terrace, if I had been more streetwise, I would have left that night, but I was less able to take care of myself than a twelve-year-old child. So, I sat in there in the dark waiting for him to come home. As he had threatened to beat me up when he got back, I prepared a concoction of red pepper sauce and before he could land the first blow, into his face it went.
Tom rushed off screaming like a wild boar and I ran downstairs to Una, the woman who used to be my colleagues’ maid in Enfield. There, she protected me, until Tom left. I wondered what repercussions I would have to face when he got back, but he was away for three days, and when he did return, he had calmed down. Maybe that’s how I needed to handle him and that’s the kind of behaviour he expected from a wife, but I just wasn’t built for fighting or brought up that way. I felt trapped.