Hey friends! Here’s a very beautiful short story by very talented writer and a good friend Elsa Joseph– The Windrush Affair. To submit yours, write to email@example.com.
The Windrush Affair by Elsa Joseph
Alyssa peeped out of the canvas tarpaulin covering the lifeboat and surveyed the deck below. The coast was clear. Clinging on perilously in the buffeting wind and heaving Atlantic swell, she clambered down and made her way to the small washroom on the starboard side of the liner. She sneaked inside without being seen, closing the door behind her with a sigh of relief.
Washing all over from the tiny hand basin was difficult and uncomfortable, but it was better than nothing. After all, she hadn’t paid for this trip like the other five-hundred-or-so Jamaicans on board. She was a stowaway, so poor that she hadn’t even been able to find the special reduced fare of £50 offered to immigrants seeking a new life in the Mother Country.
When she had finished, Alyssa felt much better and looked at herself in the mirror with a degree of satisfaction. Staring back at her, she saw a pretty face framed with long, wavy black hair and perfect white teeth that captivated everyone whenever she smiled. The slim brown body she had just washed was firm and curvaceous and her legs were long and shapely. She’d been much admired in her hometown of Kingston and had been pursued by a whole host of young men desperate to win her favours, but she’d wanted none of them. They would all condemn her to a life of childbearing and domestic drudgery, just like her mother. She was worth more than that. The face she saw in the mirror was her fortune – that and her gift for cooking the most delicious food imaginable. She was going to make her way in the world and the city of London, whose streets she’d often been told were paved with gold, was the place where she would do it. She felt like a modern-day Dick Whittington – only she would be arriving by boat instead of by road – but she had the same determined ambition.
Alyssa’s heart lurched as the door opened and someone else came in. This had never happened before. By confining her excursions from her hiding-place to the first light of dawn, she’d always managed to avoid meeting anybody. The newcomer looked equally surprised to see her. She was a middle- aged woman with bobbed hair that made her face look like a boy. She was wearing an expensive-looking tracksuit and was obviously taking some early-morning exercise.
“Oh, hello,” she said in a very upper-class English accent. “What are you doing up at this ungodly hour?”
Alyssa didn’t answer, not wishing to reveal anything about herself by talking. Instead, she mimed being sick.
“You poor thing,” said the stranger. “Nothing worse than sea sickness. Admiral Nelson suffered from it dreadfully, you know. Can’t say it’s ever bothered me.”
The woman squeezed past Alyssa into the toilet cubicle.
“I haven’t seen you before,” she continued from behind the closed door. “I’ve got to know most of the passengers at the sing-songs in the evenings with that Lord Kitchener chap. Isn’t he marvellous? I just adore calypso…”
The woman opened the door again to find she was talking to herself. Alyssa had gone.
The ocean liner, the Empire Windrush, was now five days out from the West Indies and steaming steadily across the empty, windswept wastes of the mid-Atlantic. Originally a German cruise ship, she had served as a troop carrier and prison ship during WWII before being captured by the Allies. She was now used as a passenger vessel bringing civilians, including 60 displaced Polish refugees, from Australia. En route, the graceful white liner with her two huge funnels and sloping masts had called at Kingston docks where she had taken on the contingent of hope-filled Jamaican immigrants taking advantage of a special cheap fare to start a new life in London. They were due to reach British soil sometime in June.
Back in her swaying lifeboat, Alyssa nibbled an apple from her rapidly dwindling supplies of food and water, relishing every mouthful and eating it all including the pips. She longed for something warm and filling for, although it was high summer, it was always cold in her precarious hiding-place high above the deck. Tiring of gazing at the endless expanse of heaving grey water, she settled down with a weary sigh for another long day of drifting in and out of sleep. But she had barely closed her eyes when she heard noises above her and suddenly the tarpaulin cover was yanked aside, dazzling her eyes with bright sunlight.
“Hello, hello! What ‘ave we ‘ere?” snorted a grinning seaman, reaching in and grabbing Alyssa’s arm in a vice-like grip. “I thought I saw you yesterday, scurryin’ abaht like a bleedin’ rabbit. Think you’d better come with me, lady. Skipper will want a word with you.”
The Captain did not know quite what to do with his stowaway, particularly one as vibrant and attractive as this. But his problem was solved by the other passengers. Hearing of Alyssa’s plight, they organised a collection so that her fifty pound fare could be being paid for her and a further five pounds put in her pocket as spending money. Alyssa was overwhelmed by this kindness and thanked everyone personally, shaking their hands and treating them each to her dazzling smile. By the time she had finished, there were as many men in love with her as there had been back home in Kingston Town. But her good fortune did not end there. At the musical gathering that evening, the fresh-faced woman with the bobbed haircut came up and introduced herself.
“Hello again,” she said, her voice sounding even more plummy than before. “I’m Lady Tomilson. But please call me Stella. Everyone else does. I have to say, I really admire your spunk, my dear. It takes great guts to endure the hardship of being a stowaway. I’d like to get to know you better. In fact, come to think of it, I’d like to take you under my wing.”
In the days that followed, Alyssa spent a lot of time with Stella Tomilson, sitting at the bar and listening to her new friend talking with great enthusiasm about every subject under the sun. Stella was an intellectual, an academic thinker and writer, who had moved in the highest literary circles during the Thirties before involving herself in the fight against fascism. She was also incredibly wealthy, the only granddaughter of Sir Andrew Tomilson whose family had made a vast fortune out of the railway boom in Victorian times. Not that she considered her money of any importance other than the fact that it allowed her to do whatever she pleased, especially pursuing worthy causes. And she felt Alyssa was definitely a worthy cause. This young woman was obviously brave and ambitious, qualities that Stella greatly admired and exhibited herself in her unconventional, fast-moving lifestyle. She was determined to help this penniless girl and make sure her dreams came true in her newly-adopted country.
The Windrush docked at Tilbury on June 22, 1948. It was a hot summer’s day and the excited immigrants felt very much at home as they struggled down the crowded gangplanks with their battered suitcases, pausing to have their pictures taken as they arrived in England. Stella and Alyssa were amongst the last to leave the ship. As some harassed-looking British officials led the noisy chattering crowd away towards Clapham air-raid shelter, their makeshift home for the next few days, the two women climbed into a waiting car and were driven to Stella’s elegant town house in Chelsea. That evening, lying in a comfortable bed with a bell to ring if she wanted anything brought to her, Alyssa could not believe her good fortune. She’d gone from rags to riches overnight. Everything she’d been told about the Mother Country was true. The streets of London were paved with gold.
* * * * *
About a week after Alyssa’s arrival, Stella announced her intention of closing the house for six months and going to live with one of her lovers in Paris.
“Don’t you worry, my dear,” she added, laying a reassuring hand on Alyssa’s arm. “You’re not being thrown out on the street. I’ve found you a job. My friends Lady Tara and Lord Richard Scott are looking for someone to help them round the house – you know, bit of cooking and cleaning, that sort of thing. I think you’ll fit the bill admirably. In fact, I’ll take you there tomorrow and introduce you. They live in a splendid house in Knightsbridge. And they’re lovely people.”
That evening, when Stella was attending a literary party at the Savoy, Alyssa wrote to her mother for the first time since arriving in England …
Wha an adventcha mi havin’!
Mi arrive in London Town safe and sound lass week. Mi had an excitin’ journey acrosss de wata. Everyone was very kind to mi. Mi now stayin’ wit a wonderful English fren’ who ah luk afta mi well. Shi hab even find mi wuk.
It ah summa dehyah and de weada is hot (but nutten like it is at home.) Mi miss Jamaica aredi, but dere ah nuff apachuniti dehyah that mi cannot fail to du well. Mi miss yuh most of aal, madda – and aal de rest of de fambily, specially Seanna. Mi nah recall gwan noweh witout mi lickkle sista.
Mi will writ to yuh again in ah few weeks’ time and tell yuh how mi is gettin’ on. Yuh mustn’t fret bout mi. Mi goin’ to liv inna big posh house weh mi will be given food and clothes and be paid for mi wuk. Comin’ to England is ah dream com true. Mi wish yuh were dehyah to share it aal wit mi.
Wit all mi luv,
* * *
Lord Richard greeted Alyssa with a genuine smile of welcome. He was reading the paper in the sitting room and jumped up as she entered, clearly surprised and delighted to have such an attractive visitor. His wife, a small woman with a sharp face who wore formal tailored suits every day of the week and a tweed one on Sunday, showed no such obvious pleasure. As soon as she got the chance, she bundled Stella into the drawing room and rounded on her furiously.
“You didn’t tell me she was a nigger!” she hissed.
“It wasn’t relevant,” replied Stella, calmly. “And don’t use the word ‘nigger.’ It’s very offensive.”
“I’ll use whatever words I like in my own house!” snapped Lady Tara, her cheeks flushing angrily. She wasn’t used to being criticised or made to feel in the wrong. “Just tell her to go back to whatever primitive place she came from.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Stella, looking through the door and noticing with satisfaction how well Alyssa and Sir Richard were getting on together. “On the phone, you told me you were in desperately in need of someone to work for you. You can’t change your mind now just because of the colour of her skin.”
“Of course I can…” protested Lady Tara, stopping short when she noticed the look of growing fury on her friend’s face.
“We’ve been friends since Roedean, Tara,” whispered Stella, moving in close so their faces were only inches apart, “but I never realised just how prejudiced you really are. Your attitudes sicken me. If you’re not careful, I won’t have anything more to do with you.”
“All right, all right,” agreed Lady Tara, suddenly panic-stricken at the thought of losing her well-connected friend. “I’ll give the girl a try. But she’ll have to learn to speak the King’s English. When I met her at the door, I couldn’t understand a word she said.”
“She speaks Patois, a Jamaican version of English,” explained Stella. “I love it. It’s so colourful and expressive. You’ll get used to it.”
Two days later, Alyssa bade a tearful farewell to Stella, the woman who’d shown her such kindness, and took up her position in the Scott’s household. Her spirits dropped when she was shown to her tiny attic bedroom, but lifted again when she entered the enormous kitchen with cupboards stocked with food despite the continuing rationing and an inviting scrubbed pine work table in the centre.
“Mi in cooking heaven,” she said to herself, looking around excitedly – only to have her dreams dashed again when Mrs Morgan appeared. She was the Scott’s cook, a dour Welsh woman with her hair in a bun and a face that looked as if she’d just been sucking a lemon. When Alyssa explained that she hoped to do some of the cooking and introduce the family to the delights of West Indian food, Mrs Morgan just laughed in her face.
“We’ll have no foreign muck served up from my kitchen, thank you very much,” she said.
As summer gave way to autumn, Alyssa found herself working long hours for very little pay. She had no specific role in the household. She was just a general dogsbody, at everyone’s beck and call, expected to do anything that was required at any time. So she found herself clearing out the grates and laying the fires, cleaning the silver, dusting and polishing the rooms, making the beds and scrubbing the toilets. This was a far cry from what she felt she was worth, but she got on with the work in the hope that she would one day be given the chance to show what she could do. The only bright spot in her endless days were her frequent encounters with Lord Richard. He had an uncanny knack of knowing where she was and would appear unexpectedly; always looking delighted to see her. Sometimes, when his wife wasn’t around, he made Alyssa take a break and sat with her, enjoying her amusing speech and bathing in her radiant smile. Despite being several years older than her, Alyssa found him very attractive. He was tall and slim and physically fit – he still played polo with Lord Cowdray down in Midhurst. He had a kind face with no moustache or beard and huge hands that, when she first noticed them, Alyssa imagined being pressed around her and holding her tight. Most alluring of all was a mysterious air of sadness that hung about him. Alyssa sensed that all was not well in his marriage and something in her longed to put it right. She knew full well that any sort of relationship with her employer would spell disaster for all concerned, but that did not stop her lying in her small uncomfortable bed in the attic and fantasising about making this kind and loving man happy again.
One morning, Alyssa was asked to go and do some shopping. This was one of the rare occasions she had been out of the house since she’d arrived and she was looking forward to some time on her own and to seeing more of London. Walking to a street market in the Pimlico Road in the mellow October sunshine, she was shocked to find she had to queue for everything she wanted and that people beside in the queue seemed to find her presence offensive. Some just moved away with disapproving scowls. Others were overtly hostile.
“We don’t want ‘er sort ‘ere,” said one woman with an old scarf tied round her head, talking to her friend in a deliberately loud voice so Alyssa could hear.
“Nah,” agreed the other, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “Looks like she’s just got orf the banana boat.”
Alyssa maintained her dignity by saying nothing and trying to ignore the abuse, but inside she was seething. This wasn’t what she’d been promised back home in Jamaica. At school she’d been taught that all citizens of the Commonwealth were welcome in the Motherland. Clearly, it wasn’t true. Black immigrants like her were feared and despised by the ordinary people of London who regarded them as little more than natives from a National Geographic magazine.
One afternoon, shortly before Christmas, Mrs Morgan felt unwell and took to her bed with a feverish cold. Alyssa went to tell her employers.
“I believe you can cook,” said Lady Tara, looking up from the letter she was writing with barely-concealed disinterest. “So get on with it, will you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied Alyssa, deliberately hesitating for a moment.
“What now?” sighed Lady Tara, wearily.
“Yuh food, is not mi,” explained Alyssa, mixing her newly-gained English skills with her native Patois. “Jamaican food, dat di best ever mek.”
“She says she can’t cook English food, but she’s brilliant at Caribbean cooking,” put in Sir Richard.
“I understood what she said,” snapped Lady Tara. “I suppose it’ll have to do.” Then she returned to her writing.
“I’m sure it’ll be splendid, my dear,” said Sir Richard, crossing the room and patting Alyssa her reassuringly on the shoulder.
The meal was both a disaster and a triumph. Alyssa made good use of Mrs Morgan’s store of rarely-used spices to cook Chicken Jerk which she served on a bed of plain boiled rice. Lady Tara took one mouthful and spat it all out, clutching her throat and downing several glasses of water.
“N-N-Never again,” she spluttered, storming out of the room. “I shall get a hamper in from Fortnum and Mason and we can live on cold cuts until Mrs Morgan recovers.”
Sir Richard, on the other hand, remained at the table and finished his supper with relish before taking a generous second helping. Afterwards, he rang the bell to summon Alyssa.
“I was right,” he said, looking at her with eyes full of admiration. “That was truly splendid. You must cook again when the time is right. Maybe you’d like to join me and we could have dinner together.”
For several weeks past, Alyssa had been noticing the cold. It seemed to get worse with each passing day. This was something else that she had not been told about at home. There, warm weather and outdoor living were a way of life. Here in cold, dark mid-winter Britain, sunshine was just a distant memory of summer and autumn. The early mornings were the worst of all. Having to get out of bed at 5am and get dressed in her freezing attic made her feel physically sick. Sometimes, her teeth chattered so loudly she was frightened she would chip them. No matter how many layers of clothes she wore under her uniform, she could never get warm. She longed for the tropical climate of Jamaica with its endless sunny days and breath-taking sunsets when the whole sky turned orange and pink as if pots of luminous paint had been thrown right across it. In London, everything was always grey or smothered with choking yellowish smog.
When Alyssa asked to be moved to a bedroom with a grate and a chimney, Lady Tara shook her head and told her to go for a walk.
“Nothing like exercise for getting your circulation going and warming you up, my dear,” she said, sitting beside the blazing fire in the sitting-room. “Why don’t you take a turn along the Embankment? I always find the view of the Thames most uplifting.”
Then she took her purse out of her pearl-covered handbag and handed Alyssa a few coppers.
“Get the bus back if you wander too far or get tired,” she added.
So, one frosty Sunday morning in early February, Alyssa set off on foot for a sightseeing tour of the capital. She would have preferred to stay in bed on her day off, but once Lady Tara got an idea in her head, she would not let it go. Alyssa’s breath formed white clouds in front of her as she strode south towards the river. It was a silent walk as well as a cold and lonely one. Wherever she went, she passed bomb sites and half-collapsed buildings where nobody went because of the danger. The idea that the streets of London were paved with gold had long since faded from her mind. They were paved with dust and rubble…and hatred.
Wherever she went, Alyssa was met with the same overt hostility. When she sat on one end of a park bench to eat her packed lunch, the woman on the other end got up and moved to another seat. When she asked for a cup of tea at a street stall, the man inside wearing a greasy striped apron made monkey noises as he served her. And a group of street youths kicking a football about down a dirty alley shouted:
“Go home, darkie. You’re not welcome here!”
as she walked past. By the time she reached the Houses of Parliament and heard Big Ben striking the hour – images of England she had been taught to respect and love – she no longer cared what she saw. Catching the bus with her few precious pennies, she sat upstairs with the coughing smokers and let the tears pour down her cheeks in silent misery. Nobody looked at her, spoke to her or tried to comfort her. Only the conductor gave her a brief smile. She recognised him as one of the fellow passengers from the Windrush. Like many of the others who had found work on the buses and trains, he was doing a job the English working class didn’t want to do. In barely six months, the hopes and dreams of all those excited and eager faces had come crashing down around their ears.
That night, Alyssa wrote another letter to her mother. It was very different from the first…
Oh, how mi miss yuh! Mi want to cum home. Mi nah like it dehyah in dis cold country weh de people nah smile. Dis is a lonely place.
Everyting we ear is a lie. De Madda Country nah welcum wi. Wi nah equal citizens of de Commonwealth. Wi are outsiders, despised fe havin’ black skins, and wi are only needed to du dutty wuk fe which wi are paid next-to-noting. Wi are second-class citizens and always will be. Tell Seanna and anyone else who tink of followin’ in mi footsteps not to cum dehyah England. England is a bad place.
As soon as mi save up nough funds, mi will cum home. Till then, tink of mi when yuh yam yuh ackee and saltfish fe breakfast. Mi be bak to cook it fah yuh soon.
Wit mi fondest luv to yuh all,
* * * * *
Stella returned from Paris earlier than expected. She’d been invited to become the chief fundraiser for a new Homeless Charity set up for people who’d lost everything as a result of the recent massive devaluation of the pound. So, one morning in May when the leaves on the plane trees were just beginning to show, she called at the Scott’s and persuaded Sir Richard to make a sizeable donation. When Alyssa walked into the room, she greeted her with great enthusiasm, but was in too much of a hurry to talk to her personally and learn of her troubles. With a cheery wave, she swept off to find Lady Tara and gave her a ticket for a garden party being attended by young Princess Margaret. Unfortunately, her sister Princess Elizabeth wouldn’t be there because she’d just given birth to her first-born child, Charles. Lady Tara was in seventh heaven at the prospect of mixing with royalty and was in a good mood for days after, even going as far as giving Alyssa some money and telling her to buy a new dress.
Late one evening, when Alyssa was taking her weekly bath, Lord Richard walked in on her – whether by accident or design, she didn’t know. She was about to step out of the water and was reaching for the towel when he burst in and stood there, looking transfixed. Her first instinct was to grab the towel and wrap it round her, but something in her stopped her from acting modestly. Instead she just stood in front of him, completely naked, with the bathwater glistening on her perfect smooth skin. Watching him staring at her pert breasts, her flat stomach and the neatly-trimmed bush of black curly hair below it, she allowed a knowing smile to play across her face before turning to reach for the towel and show him her perfect bottom. He was obviously racked with desire and she was tempted to make love to him there and then, but she felt it wasn’t the time or the place. So, to torment him further, she went right up close to him, kissed one finger and touched it on his nose and then turned him round to push him gently out of the door. The whole incident left her breathless and aching for fulfilment, but she knew she could wait. She’d revealed her consent to his obvious attraction and there was now an unspoken promise between them. It would only be a matter of time before something happened. That was enough for now.
Clothes rationing had recently finished. So, with the money Lady Tara had given her, Alyssa was able to buy herself a dress from the market. It was bright red with a figure-hugging cut and short hemline, quite different from the long dresses and narrow pencil skirts on display in the Knightsbridge shop windows. This time, she did not receive the same amount of abuse from the stallholders. There were one or two other black faces shopping at the market now and there was also a West Indian stall selling belts and wallets. More immigrants had arrived in the year since the Windrush and the people of London were gradually starting to get used them. Alyssa was grateful for that. She knew hatred could never be the way. Life had to be lived in friendship and love. And love was now the only thing that was keeping her in England.
At another stall, she bought herself a pair of red high-heeled shoes to match her new dress. They were very expensive and she had to spend all the money she’d saved up for her return ticket to Jamaica. But she no longer cared. To go back now would be to leave her smouldering affair with Sir Richard unconsummated and that was unthinkable. She knew, if she left without giving vent to the passion that was threatening to consume her, she would regret it for the rest of her life.
Lady Tara’s garden party coincided with Mrs Morgan’s annual summer holiday to Wales.
“We’re going to be late back, so Stella’s asked me to stay with her tonight,” said Lady Tara, looking in the hall mirror and touching up her hair. “Will you be all right on your own?”
“I’ll be fine, dear,” replied Sir Richard, smiling patiently as he waited for her to go. “Alyssa here will look after me, I’m sure.”
As soon as the front door had closed and the taxi had driven away, Sir Richard and his Jamaican maid rushed into each other’s arms and kissed passionately for the first time. The kiss went on and on, their tongues exploring each other hungrily, and Alyssa could tell he wanted to take her to bed there and then. But she broke away, wagging one finger coquettishly.
“Mi cook food,” she said. “Dat di best eva mek.”
Alyssa’s plan was to seduce her lover with a delicious West Indian feast. This required goats’ meat which she knew she wouldn’t find locally. So she’d already taken the liberty of using Mrs Morgan’s household account at nearby Harrods to order some in. The grey, tough-looking meat sat on the pine table in the kitchen wrapped in greaseproof paper, waiting to be transformed into curried goat with rice and peas, Jamaica’s national dish. It would be followed by soft moist fruit cake. This took Alyssa all afternoon to prepare, giving her very little time to get ready herself. After a quick wash, she slipped on her red dress and shoes and stopped to admire herself in the mirror. There was no doubt about it – she looked stunning! The bright material contrasted perfectly with her dark skin. Tonight was going to be the night.
After sharing the delicious food and two bottles of red wine in the empty silent house, the love-light was shining from Alyssa’s eyes like a beacon. But Sir Richard seemed troubled and Alyssa began to wish she’d gone ahead and allowed him to make love to her earlier in the day. He kept returning to Lady Tara, talking about his wife with a mixture of fondness and contempt.
“We can’t have any children, you know,” he suddenly blurted out, pouring himself another glass of wine. “Tara had two miscarriages. She’s barren now.”
Seeing the tears welling up in his eyes, Alyssa took his big hands in hers and held them lovingly, despite the resentment she felt that he was talking about his wife at an intimate moment like this.
“Now she’s barren,” he continued, sounding quite desperate, “she doesn’t want anything to do with me. She won’t let me near her. We haven’t…well, you know… for over three years now.”
Alyssa’s response was to cup his face in her hands and kiss him tenderly on the lips. He reacted with hungry passion, but then to her great surprise he broke away and jumped up, looking upset and confused.
“Shouldn’t do this,” he gasped, choking with emotion.
Then he left the room without saying another word.
Alyssa sat at the dining room table, staring at the empty dishes with a sense of total disbelief. What had gone wrong? He’d seemed so keen earlier. She was certain he felt the same all-consuming desire for her that she did for him, so what was stopping him? Guilt? Fear? Shame? For a moment, she was tempted to follow him and confront him with these questions, but she suspected he was in such a state he wouldn’t know what to answer. He was best left alone. But, as she got up and started to clear away the dishes, Alyssa felt heartbroken and angry at the tragic waste of this God-given opportunity.
That night, as she lay in her attic unable to sleep, she heard footsteps approaching up the narrow stairs. They were followed by a polite knock on the door and the smell of expensive eau de cologne. Without saying a word, Sir Richard turned on the dim light and held out one hand, leading her back downstairs and across the landing to the main guest room. It was illuminated by hundreds of candles. They glowed and flickered on the window sill, the dressing table and all around the deep four-poster bed. It was unbelievably romantic and Alyssa felt her throat tighten with excitement. In an instant, all the passion she’d been struggling to contain for so many months surged back and threatened to overwhelm her. She threw aside her flimsy nightdress and began to undo the buttons of Sir Richard’s shirt.
The night that followed was one Alyssa would never forget. They made love several times and, on each occasion, her climax was longer and more intense than the last. Sir Richard was a skilled lover who put her pleasure before his own. This was a new experience for her. Now twenty seven years old, she had been with several men back in Jamaica but, with the exception of one married man who had some experience, they had not known how to satisfy her.
“Mi ah wutless gyal,” she would always say to her mother after her latest conquest.
Her new lover, on the other hand, had great sexual stamina and knew how to arouse her and keep her aroused. When, at last, they collapsed into each other’s arms to sleep, Alyssa felt a sense of peace and contentment that she’d never known before. It was almost mystical. After months of painful alienation, this one night of sexual love made her feel completely at one with the world.
* * * * *
Alyssa suspected she was pregnant long before she went to the new National Health Service maternity clinic and had it confirmed by the doctor. It came as no surprise. Since their first passionate encounter that evening, she and her lover had taken every opportunity they could find to express their pounding desire for one another, often avoiding discovery by a matter of seconds. Alyssa had loved Sir Richard from the first moment she’d set her eyes on him. Now she was confident that he loved her too and would stand by her with regard to the baby. After all, she was giving him what his wife could not. She would tell him when the time was right.
Lady Tara became suspicious that something was going on one morning when Alyssa was serving coffee. She caught a look between them that she didn’t understand. Sitting alone in the study afterwards, pretending to read a book, she recalled various other things that she’d noticed recently but had chosen to ignore. Her husband seemed much happier than usual. Why was that? Their lives were no different from usual. Also, he’d taken to asking what she was doing on a daily basis, pretending to be interested in her whirl of social engagements. This was also something new and she suspected he was trying to discover when she would be out. Most damning of all were some hotel receipts she found in his jacket pocket. He’d told her he was playing polo on these occasions – but they all coincided with Alyssa’s days off.
One morning, seeing her husband joking affectionately with their maid in a dark corner of the hall, Lady Tara decided to put her suspicions to the test. Announcing she was going out for the morning, she slammed the front door shut and waited a while before returning to the house via the basement. With a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, she followed the sound of whispering and laughter to the guest room where she found the couple romping on the bed. She stood in the doorway for several moments before they noticed her.
“At least you had the decency not to desecrate our marriage bed,” she said, coldly.
Sir Richard jumped up and hurried after his wife, closely followed by Alyssa who’d put on his dressing gown. It was too big for her and gaped open, revealing her breasts. They all met up at the top of the grand staircase.
“You whore!” spat Lady Tara, glaring furiously at Alyssa. “I knew it was a mistake to let you into this house.”
“Don’t take it out on her…” began Sir Richard.
“That’s right, you defend the sneaky black bitch,” seethed his wife, her face contorted with fury. “I suppose you’re going to tell me now that this isn’t some sordid little lust-filled fling but a meaningful love affair between the two of you.”
“Dat is right!” exclaimed Alyssa in her best English.
“Shut up, you,” snarled Lady Tara, turning on her husband. “Is this right, Richard? Do you love this nigger?”
Sir Richard didn’t reply, leaving both women in a state of agonising suspense.
“Answer me,” screamed his wife, pummelling his chest with her fists. “Do you love this servant girl?”
“I do,” he answered, quietly.
“An’ mi luv him,” added Alyssa, patting her stomach. “Mi be baby maddda.”
“What?” gasped Lady Tara, her eyes growing as wide as saucers. “You’re pregnant? Is this true, Richard?”
“First I’ve heard of it,” he murmured, his face going ashen as he realised the full impact of what he was hearing.
“Mi was gawan tell yuh soon,” said Alyssa, glaring defiantly at her rival. “Dis half eediat wife of yuh mak mi now.”
There was a long silence in which all three stood contemplating the enormity of the situation in which they’d found themselves. Then suddenly, as she realised she stood to lose everything, Lady Tara flew into a furious rage and, screaming like a banshee, she grabbed hold of Alyssa’s hair, swung her round and threw her down the stairs. Screaming with pain and fear, Alyssa tumbled headlong down the wide staircase, hitting the wall at the bottom and lying still. Sir Richard rushed down after her in a frenzy of concern, demonstrating beyond any doubt his passionate feelings for her. His wife just stood at the top of the stairs like Lady Macbeth, looking down with utter contempt and not a trace of remorse.
Battered and bruised but otherwise unhurt, Alyssa came to her senses and clung onto Sir Richard for support.
“Tak mi to Stella now,” she said, staggering up and wincing from the pain of her fall. She felt desperately worried about the baby inside her, but at the same time elated that everything was now out in the open and her lover appeared to be siding with her. “Mi need rest.”
Lady Tara watched in silent hatred as her husband ushered Alyssa into a taxi and went with her to Chelsea to explain the situation.
Despite her own bohemian lifestyle, Stella was shocked at the immoral behaviour of her protégé.
“I take a pretty dim view of all this, you know,” she lectured, as Alyssa sat on her red leather Chesterfield settee nursing her bruised shoulder. “When I took you under my wing, I jolly well didn’t expect you to steal my best friend’s husband.”
“Mi not tak him,” replied Alyssa. “Him mi luv.”
“I very much doubt that,” said Stella. “Think of the scandal if he divorces his wife for you, a servant girl and a black one to boot. Then becoming the father of a half-caste child. He’d be shunned by polite society.”
“Him do it. Him mi luv,” repeated Alyssa.
“I think you’d be much better off going home to have the baby,” urged Stella. “I’ll pay your fare and all the other expenses.”
“No!” shouted Alyssa, jumping up and arguing with her friend for the first time ever. “Mi wait. Him cum.”
Alyssa did not lose the baby as a result of the fall. She stayed at Stella’s, her stomach growing bigger all the time. But they were endless days as she waited for Sir Richard to get in touch. Stella was incredibly patient with her, respecting her conviction that she was genuinely loved, but suspecting the opposite as time went on with no contact of any kind. In the end, Stella set a deadline of early September when Alyssa would be seven months pregnant. That would just about give her time to return to Jamaica before the child was due. Alyssa agreed to this proposal. If he was going to betray her despite all the things he’d promised, then he didn’t deserve to see the baby he so desperately craved.
One August afternoon, when the sun blazed down on the London streets like it did on old Kingston Town, there was a thunderous knock on Stella’s front door. Alyssa knew who it was before she even opened it. Sir Richard stood on the doorstep holding a huge bunch of flowers which he dropped down the steps as she threw himself into his arms and kissed him passionately all over his face. Later, seated in Stella’s elegant drawing room sipping Earl Grey tea, he explained that his lawyers had advised him not to contact Alyssa while the terms of his divorce were being settled. He had kept the house, using all his savings and investments to buy his wife out. She had gone to live with her sister in Bath, far away from the capital where the gossip and scandal were less likely to cause her embarrassment. Stella felt a degree of pity for her lifelong friend, but remembering her hatred for Alyssa and seeing the obvious happiness of this unlikely couple together, she could understand why it had all happened. Stella was too much of a liberal and a free-thinker to stand in the way of such love.
The next two months were the happiest of Alyssa’s life. Sir Richard hired a new maid to take her place and she became mistress of the household, waited on hand and foot from morning till night. Not that she craved this attention. Sir Richard insisted on it. Having sacrificed everything for an heir, he wanted to make sure this baby would have the best possible start in life and allowed Alyssa to do nothing for herself. She didn’t argue. She just sat around, relishing her good fortune. Two years ago, she was hiding out in a lifeboat swaying precariously above the icy Atlantic. Now she was living in a big London house with a man who loved her deeply and a much-wanted child on the way. Her dreams had finally come true. And none of it would have happened had she not stowed away on the Windrush.
Toby Jack Scott was born by caesarean section in a private clinic in Harley Street in early October – a seven pound baby boy with dusky brown skin and a patch of wavy black hair like his mother’s. It was a moment of the purest joy… followed almost immediately by the deepest tragedy. As the proud father cradled the tiny bundle in his arms and watched him yawn wearily, Alyssa suddenly haemorrhaged internally and lost so much blood before a transfusion could be arranged that she died where she lay, never having regained consciousness from the anaesthetic and see her child. Fate, that had seemed so much on her side, now turned against her and all was lost.
Without the woman he loved, Sir Richard lost everything too – but his desperate grief was tempered by his new-found fatherhood. He had Toby Jack to live for now and this saved him from despair. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to be a single parent bringing up a mixed-raced child in the prejudiced circles of upper-class England. But he had to try. He owed it to Alyssa. She had dreamed of success and happiness by coming to England. He’d make sure their son would find it for her.
Copyright Elsa Joseph 2017