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Our Heritage: A Better Life – Part One

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I was pregnant, trembling and standing before a judge. I had always considered myself to be an honest, upstanding citizen… yet there I was in a United Kingdom court. The judge called my name and it took me a while to respond. It was as though that name belonged to someone else; a carefree, young girl from Mespo.{{more}}

I opened my mouth to speak but instead the tears that had been held securely in my eyes flowed freely and with them the memories of the journey that had brought me to the crossroad where I now stood.

A few years before the court incident, I had arrived in Britain with nothing but a dream of a better life… a vision…. I had finished my first degree and I wanted to become a writer. Within a year I was published. I had landed an opportunity freelancing for a weekly periodical and a part-time job in customer services to supplement my income as I developed my trade.

It was a challenge adjusting to the strange, indecisive weather, the new environment and the unique multicultural city. There were times when I found myself having to deal with prejudice and racism; however, for the most part, there were opportunities for everyone – regardless of colour or creed. Though I sometimes felt gravely homesick and lonely, I was generally positive about my future in England.

Then one morning I was walking to the train station a few yards away from my home. It was very early and the roads stretched before me empty and lonely. The rows of houses that lined the streets were still asleep and it was just me and a man on a bicycle. Being as naive as I was back then, I paid no attention to the man or the fact that he was riding his bicycle very slowly behind me. That is until a few minutes later when he tried to attack me with a knife….

I was saved by some men who had arrived, just in time, to do road work. The assailant had run away and the police were unable to find him … I had no idea who he was or why he had chosen me.

I called my mother in the States to tell her what had happened. Because of the time difference, my call had awoken her, she told me, from a dream. She said she’d seen me walking down an aisle in a wedding dress. I was not normally superstitious but her words chilled me to the bone. Through sobs she begged me to go back home; but I wouldn’t even entertain the thought… I was determined to stick it out… to achieve my goal… my dream of a better life.

Then a week later whilst I was still struggling to overcome the trauma of the incident, I came out of my house and there he was again, on my door step, watching me with a sinister glare. The streets by my house were busy at the time and he did not attempt to hurt me on that occasion, all he did was watch – a fact that was stressed by the police when I called them.

After that, I only went out at peak times or when someone could accompany me; but the strange man continued his stalking. The police didn’t seem to care much about my plight and in my mind I had somehow convinced myself that the man was going to finally get the opportunity to complete what he had started on that horrible morning…. that he was going to kill me…. To me he had become omnipresent and omnipotent.

In the following weeks my life seemed to crumble. I became so fearful and traumatised that I began to have panic attacks… my work, my writing began to suffer. Frightened, perhaps for their own safety, my cousins asked me to leave the house that had become my only home in a strange, cold country. I didn’t know where to go… In restrospect I should have gone back to St.Vincent… to my home… to my family…. How could I have allowed myself to become homeless when I had a home? Where was my better life? Why is it important as a nation and as individuals to be aware of our heritage?

In the UK, before you become eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the country or citizenship you must sit and pass what is called a “Life in the UK Test”. The test is about the country, its history, its present and its future. They feel, and rightly so, that everyone who is allowed to live in their country and certainly those who are to become citizens should know where they’ve been, where they are and where they hope to go. The logic is that if one is to effectively contribute to the country’s development, one must be aware of its heritage and in support of its vision.

Why is heritage and vision important to me? Because the absence of a heritage obscured my identity, darkened my vision and I ended up lost in another man’s land… standing before a judge in a UK court.

Concludes next week.

Ava Browne is a Vincentian freelance journalist and creative writer based in the United Kingdom.

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