Troubled waters by Ella Jukwey

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Louise believed Wilfred was sent to her from heaven. But he did not look like the angels with blonde hair and halos above their heads, she had been taught about. Wilfred was an angel who had dreadlocks that reached his shoulder, he smoked, he drank, and he fornicated. 

He was Louise’s personal angel because he had been there to save her when she nearly gave up hope.

It was terrible finding somewhere to live back in those days. A house will say ‘Room for Let’ and as soon as they see my black face they think of some excuse. I remember knocking on a door in East Ham, and the lady tell me there are no rooms left. I know it was just her and her dog, but she’d be damned if she let a black person sleep under her roof. I then went to Camden, and a fat man saw me and slammed the door in my face.

I’d been in London for six months now, and I was starting to wonder what was the point? I left my son Errol for this. I left my twin brother Louis for this.  I would look at the building signs that said, ‘No Blacks No Dogs No Irish’ and it made sense to me why the sun never shone here. 

After months of looking for a place to stay, finally someone had space for me; it was a one-bedroom house in Tottenham, and I knocked on the door. The first thing he did when he see me was smile.

‘My name is Wilfred,’ he said.

‘I’m looking for a room? My name is Louise, I’ve got a good job and I can pay the bills.’

‘Even if you couldn’t pay, I would let you stay,’ he said to me.

He was tall, his head brushed past the door. I didn’t reply when he spoke to me, I just looked into his eyes for a few minutes. I hadn’t felt like this since I met Benjamin – Errol’s papi. He reached out his hand and I clasped onto it tight. I followed him into the house.

‘You drink Louise?’ he asked me.

‘I don’t drink, but I cook. I can make English food, I can make yard food.’

‘I don’t need a maid,’ he chuckled and passed me a glass.

I took a sip of the drink, and it was rum. We went to sit on the sofa in the living room. It felt like we talked about everything in a few minutes. He came to England as a child, and he didn’t remember Dominica where his parents were from. He wanted to go back, he was sick of being treated like an animal here. Wilfred had a job as a bus driver and told me I could stay with him here forever. I told him I was tired and had work early in the morning and asked him to show me where I would be sleeping. He took me to the bedroom and there was a bed which was the only thing in the room.

‘Where you going to sleep?’ I asked him.

‘That’s the only bed here. I won’t do anything you don’t want,’ he said to me.

I went into the bathroom and changed into some looser clothes. When I came back, Wilfred was on the bed but firmly facing the wall. I went to lie down on the bed and looked the other way. Our backs were touching and after five minutes I tapped his back.

‘Can you hold me please?’ I asked him. ‘Can you keep me warm in this cold country?’ He then faced me and held me tight.

‘You’ve got a letter,’ Wilfred told me, and he passed me a brown envelope. I had just gotten home from a ten-hour shift. I was working a different job every day. On Mondays and Wednesdays I was a waitress. On Thursdays and Tuesdays I was a cleaner, and on Fridays I worked in a factory. The waitress job was the worst but it paid the best.  The customers were so rude to me: I had been threatened, people asking for someone else to serve them and been called a monkey. Today had been a particularly horrible day, when a customer spat in my face. When I opened the envelope addressed to me, it reminded me why I did not break that skinny woman in two and why I still do the job.

It was a picture of Errol, my baby boy. He was smiling, and I could see his milk teeth were coming out. My pickney looked so handsome in his school uniform. He was now attending Kingston School for Boys, one of the best schools in Jamaica. My three jobs were paying for his education and seeing a picture of his face made it all worth it. I will take all the rubbish they throw at me in order to give my baby boy the best future in the world.

‘That Errol?’ Wilfred asked me.

I nodded in reply.

‘He got your eyes, look just like you.’

‘I don’t know if he should come here or stay there. The people in this country so rude and the weather is so cold. But Errol could go to university here, he could become a doctor or a lawyer,’ I said to Wilfred.

‘I thought you hated it here. Surprised you wanna bring your son to a country you hate’ Wilfred said.

‘I don’t hate it here completely. Errol being taken care of makes being here worth it – and you,’ I said to him and looked into his eyes.

He kissed me, and we went to the bedroom. We did this a lot. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it, as he never called me his woman but it felt good. He felt good. Wilfred worked nights as a bus driver, so after he held me he then went on to work. I hated when he left me, I just wanted to sleep in his arms and wake up to his face.

The next day was Tuesday when I did the cleaning. I did not mind the cleaning job because I did not have to talk to people. I just cleaned an office in East London, and the people did not bother me. I think they liked that I was cleaning and they could ignore me. I liked being invisible, it made the day go faster.

When I came back to the house, I see a suitcase in front of the door. I knock on the door cause I am confused. As I wait for Wilfred to open the door, I open the suitcase and I see it’s my stuff that been packed away. He finally opens the door, before he can speak a woman runs toward with me.

‘Yolanda, stop it,’ Wilfred said and he pulls the woman away from me as she lunges towards me with a rolling pin. Her skin is a golden colour, and her face is dotted with freckles.

‘You the woman that been sleeping with my husband!’ she yells at me.

‘I never touch her,’ Wilfred tells Yolanda. He looks at me to say something.

‘He never touch me,’ I say.

‘I don’t believe you, but I don’t want you here. It not right, you sleeping in the same bed as a married man,’ Yolanda says to me.

‘Where have you been?’ I ask her.

‘Wilfred never mention me? I went to Birmingham, my mother here too and she sick.’

‘He mention you, I must’ve forgotten the reason you left,’ I said to her.

Yolanda gives one more look to me and then to Wilfred. She believed our lie and went back into the house.

‘I’m sorry Louise,’ Wilfred said to me.

He was just like Errol’s papi. I thought Wilfred was different. I was silly to think that.      

I turned back and never saw him again. I went back to looking for a room to stay in, but this time it wasn’t just for me it was for my baby girl.

© Ella Jukwey, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Troubled Waters’ is inspired by Pure Running – a Life Story by Louise Shore, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I found Louise Shore’s biography Pure Running inspiring because of the current political climate and the human story at the heart of it. With the outrage surrounding the treatment of Windrush generation, I thought my own interpretation of Louise’s story would be poignant. In my short story, the racism Louise faces is addressed but I also wanted to show a deeply personal side to her. What inspired my depiction of her relationship with Wilfred, is the fifth chapter entitled ‘Trouble’. I gave my short story the title ‘Troubled Waters’ due to the title of this chapter and Louise’s surname being Shore.

Ella Jukwey was born in Fulham, London, to Nigerian parents. She attended London College of Communication, where she graduated in BA Journalism. Ella is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. Ella has worked as a music journalist since September 2011. She has written album and event reviews for the Independent and the MOBO Awards editorial website. Ella has interviewed British rapper and writer Akala for American publication Revolt TV. Ella is also a member of the MOBO Awards voting academy.
Ella began her creative writing career in 2012, with short stories that she published on document sharing website Scribd. She released her first novel Crossroads in 2013. Her second novel Dirty Diamonds (2015) follows the scandalous life of journalist Harley-Jade Diamond. Ella released her third novel Mimi Memoirs in December 2015. Ella has been nominated for a BEFFTA award for Best Author three times. In November 2015, Ella was one of the nominees in the Female Writer category for the Amor Lifestyle Awards.


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