continuing the story in my post ‘the end of the line’ published March 13th.
OUR OWN PLACE
The previous December when mum died and I had to return home to Barbados a few days before the end of my first term at Oxford, I received a Christmas card from my really close girl friend, well she was much more than that, although we were not lovers. All it said was, ‘thinking of you, praying for you, loving you. Mai. xxx’
This meant nothing at first other than how sorry she was I would not be meeting her family in London at Christmas as we had planned. But then, the day before I was due to fly back to Oxford I received this terrible shock. It was in the form of a brief but tear stained letter.
“Remember our names for each other? ‘Peter the Great’ and ‘Come what Mai’? Well hold on to them my darling. They are all we have for the time being. I told my parents and family about you and showed them that lovely picture of us in our favourite place. That was when they realised you were not just West Indian, but coloured. Oh Peter, how can people be so cruel? I explained that being Chinese I could well be just as much a shock to your parents, but they would not listen. I asked what I should do, about my studies in particular. My father said he would take his belt to me, and my brothers would kill you before they allowed me near you again. Why, Peter? Why? My family merely said I was their daughter and must do what they said and that I had no say in the matter at all.
“I have been banned from Oxford and they don’t care that I was studying medicine, like you. They didn’t care about sick people, their control over me came first and that was that. My father is going to ring my tutor tomorrow to say I am too ill to study and that will be the end of it. To make sure of this I will be virtually a prisoner in my home and not even allowed out to shop for three months, mum said. At least I have got in first with this letter to you and one to your friend Leroy, giving him my address. He is still in London and I know he will try to help somehow. Be careful, Peter. You will always be ‘Great’. I Love you. Mai. XXX”
As you can imagine I was badly shaken and could not think straight for a while, but then I looked at the time. Sunday or not it was only nine pm in Oxford and I rang our tutor to get my call in first. I was incredibly lucky, Dr.Lassiter was in his rooms and when he heard my story was absolutely furious. He is going to ring you now and tell you how he can help you, although he was none too sure. All he did know was that as you were over eighteen, and so your family were breaking the race relations act, then you could do whatever you wished. He was reporting the matter to the Dean and the Chancellor so that they could also get in before your father to make sure he understood your rights. Leroy will certainly keep an eye on you so I’m adding his mobile number if you need to text him (if you can).
“I Do love you, ‘Come what Mai’, and always will. xxx. Moi.
I heard nothing from anyone before boarding the plane today, but here in London airport at 9.00am I have managed to get hold of Leroy. He tells me he has informed the police of what has happened and that they are checking with the authorities in Oxford. It seems Mai’s father did ring Dr.Lassiter and was told in no uncertain terms that she was returning to Oxford even if the police had to bring her. That is all I know but I have told Leroy to tell Mai to meet me in our favourite place this afternoon if she get’s back to University as we hope. This is a picture of where we loved to walk together. Leroy is calling round at her house later this morning.
You can see why we liked walking hand in hand down towards the lake in the distance. Well in the hope that she’ll make it I have bought a ring which I hope to put on her hand this afternoon. I have to go now or I won’t make Oxford in time myself.
Just imagine the scene. it was almost exactly the same time of day as when I took this picture, about four in the afternoon. I had almost given up any hopes that Mai would turn up when she suddenly appeared , running towards me up the hill between those sunlit trees. We clung to each other for what seemed like ages and then she asked if we could sit on a tree stump as she had something important to tell me.
“Peter, dad was in a terrible rage when Leroy arrive, he thought it must be you. But Leroy was very clever and had a policeman with him. The constable assured dad this was just a friend from Oxford who was returning for the start of term and thought I might like a companion on the journey. I picked up the hint and nipped upstairs to collect my case which I had ready with everything I needed in it in the hope I could somehow get back to University. Dad told the constable I was not going but the officer produced a court order accusing dad of racial discrimination and then actually arrested him. Only mum was at home and couldn’t stop Leroy from leaving with me. I don’t know what will happen next. I saw Dr. Lassiter and explained how I had managed to return and the college has changed my accomodation to a very safe suite of rooms on the third floor where he promised I would be looked after. It’s really lovely Peter. He asked me to bring you back so we could all discuss things as they are now. Can we go?”
I smiled back and said ,”Not until you answer this question. Give me your hand, Mai. Here, slip this on and then tell me that you will marry me.” She gaped in happy surprise and kept her arms round my neck for several minutes before whispering.
“Of course I will, Peter. After all you are ‘The Great!'”
(to be continued soon)