Johannesburg - 21st September 2018 - Day 4
My dear old friend Marian in Ireland suggests I call Mary, a friend from childhood, and I endure an ear battering for 35 minutes about her ills and the ‘tragedy’ that unfolded earlier this year. Oh no! I say, what tragedy? Her daughter, husband and their two kids, aged 2 and 5, migrated to Australia, and went to live in a great suburb in Perth, they are very happy and have a great job, the kids are settled, and they are coming home for Christmas. WTF? When she paused for breath, I hastily made an excuse to exit the conversation.
Glenda and Stephen are coming for dinner tonight. Cindy, looking elegant - and before she departs for the second day of her presentation - prepares two large legs of lamb to slow cook in the oven all day at a low 130 degrees. She is insistent that Gerald and I do nothing but relax today. I spend the morning writing and Gerald has installed a few applications which will assist us in identifying birds and their calls in the bush in just a few days. Gerald reads and strolls around the beautiful gardens, watching the myriad of beautiful birds. Paul goes to golf and after lunch, I nap for an hour, still suffering from jet lag.
Within minutes of arriving home, Cindy sets a table decorated with silver, place mats of woven bamboo, and flowers, and prepares an array of delicious fragrant food; this woman is incredible. We sit around the pool in squashy sofas as the sun sets, and wait for Glenda and Stephen, and their youngest son Joshua, now 23. It’s five years since I have seen my old friend, mother of four, grandmother of five, who turns 70 next week, and she looks as glamorous and beautiful as ever. Glenda was the most beautiful girl in Chingola as we grew up, and still is. She walked the catwalks of Milan herself, and ran the biggest modelling agency in South Africa, and produced a Miss World from the women she represented. It’s always a delight to be with really old friends, those who know everything about you, but to have lived in different continents for nearly 50 years and rejoice in each other and pick up conversations, and joke and laugh and share with the same ease as if we had parted only yesterday - that is a rare and precious gift. I take our guests on a tour of The Castle, as proud of Cindy as if she were my own child, and bask in their praise of her skill. The sun is setting over the Johannesburg skyline, the lights are twinkling, there is a cool breeze blowing, and I feel incredibly happy.
The lamb and roast potatoes and vegetables are delicious, and we celebrate Glenda’s birthday with champagne, stories and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” and gifts, tearfully received by the Birthday Girl, and were regaled with jokes - often politically incorrect - from Stephen. For example:
Q: How do you bring up an Aussie kid?
A: Make a dingo vomit.
Q: Have you heard John is having an affair?
A: Whose doing the catering?
The conversation turns to politics, unemployment, rising costs, the threat of another recession, who is doing what to whom and why the country - the whole of Africa - is in such a mess. Gerald and I just listen, we do not know, we do not understand, and it would be unfair to comment or pass judgement. Joshua, their son, a quiet, thoughtful young man has little future here, and is shortly leaving for Aspen to work on the ski slopes. Glenda and Stephen are contemplating whether to go and live in Portugal - an increasingly popular choice for older whites is to leave the country - or whether they should move to Plettenberg Bay. It’s an illuminating and confronting conversation, and I’m grateful for Stephen’s humour, as it keeps a balance between disaster and delight.
Cindy, Paul, Gerald and I clean up the dining room and the kitchen after our guests leave; its gratifying to see Paul as meticulous as Cindy, polishing glasses and scrubbing pans. Lucia will not be here tomorrow, so everybody has helped to get The Castle pristine before we go to bed around 10 pm.
Thank you darling Cindy for your generosity and your hospitality