Forbidden Love: Star Crossed Lovers

I was seventeen.

I awoke to the strains of music from the Ball the night before playing in my spirit.

What a wonderful time I had. I loved adult life! Elegant gowns, men splendid in black tie, sophisticated tables and scrumptious food, it was marvelous, just marvelous, a far cry from the Scottish school I had finally escaped!

I gave in to the late-night lethargy as I stretched lazily in the equatorial heat, in no hurry to get up. I just wanted to bask in the thrill of it all, this fairy tale life I now had. I took to the balmy heat of Lagos, Nigeria, like a duck to water and loved the sun streaming through the half open shutters and the ziggy pattern it made on the wall.

I could hardly take it in, this fantastic new life that was laid out before me.

My reverie was interrupted by the doorbell. Surely, we couldn’t have a visitor this early on a Sunday morning? I sharpened my ears as I heard the Steward pad down the hallway to answer the door. “Good morning,” I heard, “I am invited for breakfast.”

As he entered, my father burst out laughing. “Well, you’re a bright one, aren’t you,” he said, “and you weren’t kidding, were you? Biddie, meet Barrie James. He made sure we met last night at the bar. He’s got his eye on your daughter!” I was captivated by the man’s voice as he greeted my mother, joining in the laughter.

Something happened to me. I nearly fainted. I was beside myself. My knees were giving out just as you read in story books. There was something about his voice. It was full of joy! It was magical, warm, humorous, confident and absolutely riveting! I tried to scramble out of bed. My feet got tangled in the mosquito net draping the floor and I nearly broke my neck as I slipped and slithered on the polished floor. I clutched the sideboard as though to save my life.

What was all this? I was trembling like a leaf, enough to make any Victorian maiden proud. Bring on the smelling salts!

“Young missy? Mama say you come for breakfast.” Thank you, thank you, but I was a wreck, what was I to do? I couldn’t think what to wear. I couldn’t think at all. Would my house coat do? Too rude? A dress? Too early. Shorts and top? That’ll do. But which ones? Oh, God, they’re knocking on the bedroom door again and I can’t go out there. I don’t want to see him.

I’m not ready. I could kill Father for doing this! I’m scared, no, I’m terrified and embarrassed at being looked at like a horse!

I pulled myself together the best I could, trembling inside, and made my appearance. My heart skipped more than one beat! He was a gorgeous Anglo-Irish specimen of a man! I mean he was a man, a real man and I was smitten. Charm exuded from every pore and already he had Mother right where he wanted her as he flirted with her outrageously, purposely.

I went into the drawing room. He unfolded his long, tanned, body from the easy chair and casually strode towards me to shake my hand, looking down at me and smiling broadly, fondly, as though he knew my every thought. And he was a gentleman. He was perfect!

But I was not. I was anything but perfect!

I was shy and tongue tied, and scarlet faced as we were introduced. My heart was thumping in my chest as I observed him with my parents. He turned to me and said, “Let’s go to the beach and spend the day.” What? My eyes widened.

He wants to go to the beach?

Oh no, that was a very long way from where we lived. I couldn’t spend all that time with him, that was too much, even although, at the same time, I was dying to say yes! I had received a prior invitation to the beach that day, which I hadn’t taken seriously at the time, but now I used it to say I was already engaged. The parents looked surprised but had the grace to make no comment.

Truth was I was terrified of this Barrie James. Barrie James. I said it, over and over. Oh stop it! Nobody’s in love with a name, but I was!

I had heard of love at first sight but this was at first sound: the sound of his voice made my heart sing.

Was this love? Was I in love? I didn’t know it felt like hurtling off a cliff!

He insisted on driving me and tried to change my mind to spend the day with him. He kept asking if I was sure I had another arrangement? I guess I wasn’t very convincing. I longed to stay with him but truth be told he scared me half to death. I was young but I knew sexy when I saw it. I was just too inexperienced to spend the whole day with this man even although the parents approved. Couldn’t they see he was terrifying? What was wrong with them?

It was an awkward drive as I kept looking sideways at him, trying to get a grip. He dropped me off at the palm fringed boat club, laughing and waving as he went, calling out his last words of are you sure?

The next day he was leaving for his home up country in Kaduna and I wasn’t to see him again for something like eighteen months. I never stopped thinking of him.

Night in Paradise

We had moved. My father built a house on stilts outside Lagos, in the jungle. I loved it there. I loved the black, starry, balmy nights and the sound of the tom tom jungle telegraph, relaying the latest news good and bad from village to village.

Amazingly, shortly after we moved into our home a club opened up near enough for me to look down on it. It nestled in its own clearing and it was just wonderful, magical, with colored umbrellas scattered throughout the gardens. A curved bridge dripping with scarlet and purple bougainvillea led to the covered circular dance floor which was an island surrounded by a moat and hedged in with dancing waters of every hue. Soft romantic music floated around the palms and lush green foliage bursting with the sweet scent of myriads of tropical flowers. Pink flamingos wandered around, silently strutting their stuff, proud and majestic, adding the finishing touch to this whimsical fairy land.

I used to sit on our veranda and dream. Because The Flamingo was just recently finished, very few people knew of its existence which made it even more inviting. I started to long for romance, for the bright lights of Europe. I needed excitement in my life. What young girl doesn’t? I just couldn’t see my way to finding it up a palm tree!

I made plans to leave Africa and return to Scotland to start a new life.

My passage was booked on the mail boat and I arranged to spend my last evening at the luscious Flamingo. A young Scotsman I barely knew had shown some casual interest in me so I asked him to escort me. We went. The setting was romantic beyond words but, sadly, he was not. We sat in silence, ice tinkling against the glass as we toyed with our drinks.

How was it possible to be bored in a jungle paradise, I wondered, but I realized that wasn’t it. I wasn’t bored. I was yearning. That deep longing was with me again, a longing for life, for love! Here I was, all dressed up, my last night in exotic Africa and I was with a fellow without one social grace to his name. I wanted so much more. Thank goodness I was leaving. I congratulated myself on my good decision. It was time.

Just then, a convoy of cars rolled up. People! Good! Lively people, happy, joyful people who perked me up immediately. But, instantly, I froze.

I would know that voice anywhere, rich and musical. It was Barrie James! Oh no, and here I was with this wretched stick of a boy. I melted like a candle in a gentle breeze, all over again. Again! I hadn’t got over him in the slightest. I could barely breathe. I sipped my drink, frantic inside, trying to disappear.

Not ready, I’m not ready! Would he even recognize me? Did he have a girlfriend with him?

I needn’t have worried. He saw me right away, jumped the moat and ran to me, just like that! What a thrill. He asked me to dance if my escort agreed. Well, he might as well since he hadn’t danced with me, useless creature! We danced, and we danced, and we danced the night away. It was as though we were meant for each other. We were in a time warp. The touch of his hand, his lips brushing my hair, our passion for each other held in such check stood time still. We were in a world of our own and my heart was breaking.

The last time I saw him, he left. Now, it was my turn. I was leaving!

It was three in the morning before I found the courage to tell him goodbye.

His eyes spoke what I felt. Shock. Sadness. Pain! A tearing apart of the heart from the body. I thought I would die.

I had to go.

Fourteen days at sea should have been so much fun! I watched the magnificent whales showing off their spurts and the porpoise leaping and playing around the ship, probably looking for scraps, and all I could see was a veil of my own tears.

When I got back to Scotland my mother was waiting for me. She had felt an impulse to fly back before me to open up our house. After a few weeks, a huge basket of flowers arrived the like of which I had seen only in Hollywood movies. It was absurdly over the top and I was so flattered and thrilled.

It was from Barrie.

I was overjoyed! He remembered me, he thought of me, he cared for me! Then, along came Mother, the usual death’s head at my feast. He’s too old for you, nothing will come of it, you’re nineteen, he’s twenty-nine, write a simple thank you and be done. Yes, Mama.

To my dying day I will regret that I did as she said. Mother ruled with an iron fist and that was that.

I found work miles away in an hotel in North Berwick and left Mother standing there to return to Africa or not. While I was gone, Barrie sent a friend of his to find me. Mother simply told him that I had moved. She gave no address.

After six months I went to London. Six months more and I left for France. The day after I left, Barrie sent two friends to find me at my London address which he got from my sister in Nigeria. I was gone and had left no forwarding address.

While in France the boring young man wrote and wanted to get married. He knew a trophy wife when he saw one. I knew I would never love again so why not?

I married him in Lagos. Three months later he was transferred to Kano, way up in the north of Nigeria on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We were not happy, what a surprise, but we were making the best of it. It was a slow, sultry day so just to get out of the house I went with him to the only store in the place. As I stood by the trunk of the car watching him unload, I felt to turn around. There was no one in the parking area but us and one other, in the distance, walking away. I thought it was a mirage, but no. It was Barrie.

For no reason, he turned and did what he had done two years before. He ran to me! As he sprinted across the dusty ground he shouted out, “I don’t believe this. You are the best thing that ever happened to me!” He grabbed me in both arms, spun me around in the air, as I blurted out, “I’m married!”

He dropped me like a hot potato, catching me as I nearly fell to the ground. The two men pretended they had never met, cowards that they were, but I was no better. We played out the charade for a few months of happily married woman and friend.

Kano was a bush station with only about a hundred expatriates so wherever we went, there he was, our friend. The day came when he could take it no more so he decided to leave for London. He asked me to go with him. I couldn’t. I was married.

He left.

We were in and out of each other’s lives over the years. I married twice. He not at all. The timing was always ‘off’. We were the proverbial star-crossed lovers.

He died, you know, at the age of fifty-nine. I found out at a little airport in Texas. It was a bitterly cold day and I wasn’t dressed for the wind that was hurtling around the tarmac. I was miserable as I clutched my jacket around me and held my head down, scurrying to the airport building to wait for the plane.

I was there to greet Prince Charles, won’t go into all that, so there were a few Brits who had heard tell of his private visit and somehow managed to get themselves there. Amongst them was a vague acquaintance, a fluttery socialite who had known Barrie in London so he was our common thread.

She charged up to me before I disappeared inside and called out,

“Liz, Liz, so sad about dear Barrie!”

“What about him?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? Yes, darling, massive heart attack in the night. We all told him to stop burning the candle at both ends, but you know Barrie, he just had to live it up.

”You’re talking about the love of my life,” I said, horrified at her news and smarting back tears.

“Of course, darling, we all loved dear Barrie”, and off she went.

In that moment the plane touched down. I walked across the tarmac, don’t ask me how. I was as cold on the inside as I was on the outside. The Prince needed a break from all the press over the Diana affair so I was there to bring a lovely warm welcome. Not! My eyes were flooded as we shook hands and he looked into them wondering, I know, if I was upset and embarrassed for him. That was a pity but now he knows.

My love was gone.

My world was emptier than it had ever been. While Barrie was on the earth, somewhere, I knew his love and somehow felt safe. He was my protector. He had been there for me whenever I turned to him.

Now he was gone and I felt I had died with him.

Barrie, my gorgeous, exciting, adventurous Barrie’s light had gone out and I would never again hear that voice that kept me enraptured for thirty years. From whatever corner of the world I would call, softly, gently, warmly, his greeting was always the same: “Hello, dear, where are you?”

Never again……

I sobbed when I got home from greeting the Prince. I pounded the bed with my fists till I thought my wrists would break. I was devastated, totally heart-broken, beyond solace. It’s been many years, and yet, and yet, when you love, you love. My sister told me my mother’s dying words were, “I should have let her marry Barrie.”

Never, never, deny true love, not ever, no matter what. And never hide the truth or deny the truth in the false hope of ‘protecting’ self or another.

By my determination to do the ‘right’ thing I harmed many more lives than the one spurned husband, who, sadly, was ultimately spurned anyway. And another after him.

My heart was already given.

I have learned to live life with courage or it is no life at all.

In my anguish, I cried out to the God I had come to know. Barrie died! You let him die! How could you never have sent someone for me?

I did, he said, when you were seventeen.

Elizabeth Pringle

  • Personal Growth
  • Love
  • Courage
  • Life
  • Life Lessons
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