It took him 21 years to find me, Tom said, and when he did, I told him to write to Mama, and not to my dad who I knew would never approve. I needed to get away, to get married, and I said “Yes” to the first man who asked me. Plus, with the added attraction of England and further education, I decided that that would be my best course of action.

About Mrs Pettigrew: Passport PictureTo 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 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 travelled the traditional Windrush route for all those many weeks at sea, I might have had more time to reconsider my choices in life.

I arrived in England on a wet Friday morning, June 1st, 1956. Tom had just bought 32 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 should oppose the arrival of his mail-order bride and upcoming nuptials, Tom had kicked her down the stairs, broke her back, and put her in an iron lung for six months. Icilda promptly dropped all charges, there was no crime for the Stoke Newington Police to investigate. But 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 Icilda would punch and kick me whenever she saw me at Roman Road market. She could not understand or accept that I was as much a victim as she.

I knew nothing about their affair before the wedding, but now I felt strangely sorry for her and myself, too. Trapped in a loveless marriage in a hostile country, where could I go? What could I do?

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