Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 09: The Spring Ball II

With the obvious delight that I took in the first dress she tried on, Daise tried to stop there, but I insisted that she try the other dresses on too. As it turned out, the first one remained her favourite, but I insisted on buying a second as well.

That set the mood for the rest of our shopping expedition. We visited the shoe-shop next and Daise and I picked out a beautiful pair of black high heels that were held on with two small straps across the top of her feet and another around the back of her ankle. They had a delicate stiletto heel that was about 15 cm high. Daise paraded the shoes for me, and I was enraptured. They changed the contour of her legs, emphasising their length and slender beauty.

Somewhere in the middle of the process of choosing the shoes, Bev caught my eye and, with a tiny smile on her face, waved goodbye to me, and disappeared. She had realised that we didn't need her any more to reassure Daise, so she was slipping away to let us get on with it.

Once we had the shoes, and a pair of sheer stockings to go with them, we moved on to the beauty salon. I had seen the results of their expertise before, when they had selected Mandy, my eldest daughter, for a make-over, to be used in their advertising, so I was very confident of their skill. I had a chat to the lady who owned the Salon, and explained a little of the situation to her. She told me not to worry; just to leave Daise in her care for an hour or so and she would ensure that everything was sorted out. I told Daise that she should just give me a call when she was finished and left to sit at a coffee-shop nearby to read the paper and wait.

I never did get that call. About an hour and a half later, I heard a tentative 'Rupert?' and when I looked up, saw the salon owner standing beaming proudly at me, and next to her stood Daise. She was fully dressed in her outfit. Her make-up had been completely redone, that was obvious. I knew enough about make-up to know that the less you saw, the better it was applied, and this was applied with exquisite skill. Her eyes looked larger; her cheek-bones were enhanced in some way that seemed to give her face more character and her lips had their natural bow-shape reinforced. There was nothing garish at all, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it was her natural face you were seeing. They had, at my request, done very little to her hair. It hung down her back in a beautiful stream, but there were two thin braids on the sides of her hair that had been drawn back and clipped together behind her head. This served to hold the hair out of her face.

I heard a laugh and realised it was the Salon owner. "Dearie, you don't have to wait for him to say anything, his face should tell you all you need to know," she said to Daise and turned and left.

I stood up and took Daise's hands in mine, then leaned down and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. "You look absolutely stunning," I told her.

"Thank you," she said, "I wasn't sure, but she said that I can come back to her for lessons in how to do this for myself."

"Well, I think that if she can teach you her particular magic, then we should make sure that happens." I watched a faint blush spread across her cheeks. "Let's go. I want to take you home and then I need to get dressed so that we can go."

We didn't take long to get back to my place. I watched Daise's face surreptitiously to see her reaction when we went through the electric gate and up the driveway. I had deliberately left the fence-line facing the road to get completely over-grown so that I had privacy from the road, and also to discourage burglars from seeing anything that might attract them. As we drove around a bend in the driveway, the house became visible. It was a double story, with a thatched roof and approaching from the road all you could see was the back. I drove into the double garage and turned off the car.

"Your house is very big and beautiful," Daise told me.

"Thank you. I love the house, but I love the view more. Come, I'll get you settled in your room then you can admire the view from the veranda while I get changed."

I helped her out of the Landy and retrieved her luggage from the back, then led the way through the door that connected the garage to the rest of the house. As we walked I pointed out salient features to her, trying to avoid feeling like a neophyte real-estate dealer.

Daise was particularly impressed by the open-plan kitchen/dining-room/lounge area. It took up almost two thirds of the downstairs area. The curtains were closed, so she didn't get to see out the front windows. I wanted to save that for later. We walked up the stairs and I showed her where her bedroom was, and her own en-suite bathroom. I told her about her own balcony, but didn't open the curtains. I dumped her suitcase and backpack and asked her to follow me out again.

As we left Daise's room, I pointed out my room and led her downstairs. Once we were in the living area, I stopped.

"Watch this Daise," I said as I hit the button on the wall that opened the curtains. I loved people's reactions when I did this.

"My God! Where are we?" was the shocked reaction.

"We are looking out on the Karkloof Gorge. The house is perched right on the side of the gorge and extends out over it, so the veranda is actually hanging in mid air. If the air is particularly clear, you can see all the way to Umhlanga Rocks."

"This is amazing!'

"Yes, I know. We were the first to build here like this. Everyone thought I was absolutely crazy to do this, but there are about twenty other houses along here now that have copied me. Come out on the veranda and have a seat. I will call the maid and she can get you something to drink while you wait. Enjoy the view. Ok?"

"Ok. Thank you. I could stand here like this all day. It is so beautiful. I think when I tell Alina about this she will think I am lieing."

"That's a good idea. Why don't I get you the cordless phone and you can give her a call? I am sure she will want to know you are safe."

"Yes please. I would like to do that."

I left Daise there and went back into the house. I found Nqobile in her flatlet on the other side of the main house and greeted her in isiZulu, "Sawubona Mama."

"I see you too boss," she replied in isiZulu.

"My guest has arrived. Please will you take her the house phone and make sure she has something to drink?"

"I will do so. I have put your clothes for tonight in your room."

"Thank you Nqobile."

I always found it amusing to speak to Nqobile; her name meant 'She has conquered' and we had a subtle game of one-upmanship that we played with each other. She had been with us for over twenty years, acting as nanny to our children and housekeeper for us. She ran our lives and we considered her an integral part of the family. I had paid for the private schooling of three of her children when their education opportunities under the National Party Government's restrictive legislation had made any education difficult, and a good education impossible. One was now a doctor, another a lawyer and the third was a making a name for himself in the Trade Union Movement. She refused to move to a house of her own, claiming that everything would fall apart if she had to leave me to my own devices. Normally, she wouldn't do any work herself, but would boss around the series of young maids that we employed over the years.

I left Nqobile to her own devices and went up to my room. The Spring Ball was a semi-formal event, but that simply meant that there were partners allowed, it did not mean that the event was any less formal. I loved wearing my Scarlets, and I found the uniform hanging waiting for me. It took me only ten minutes or so to have a quick wash and shave and pull on the long blue pants with the officer's stripe down the leg, the starched white shirt, and then the scarlet jacket. The boots took a few seconds to get on, but it took me a lot longer to get the silver spurs attached properly; the prerogative of a field-grade officer.

I bounded downstairs and went out to find Daise standing at the railing of the veranda looking down into the bush-filled valley, sipping quietly at her drink.

"Did you manage to get through to Alina?" I asked as I came onto the veranda.

"Oh. You startled me. Yes, but she couldn't talk long. She was happy to hear from me. I would like to talk to her again later if I can?"

"No problem. I see Nqobile sorted you out with something to drink.'

"Yes. She introduced herself to me. I had some trouble talking to her, her English is not very good."

"I know, I tend to forget sometimes because we have always spoken Zulu as a third language in this house. She is a wonderful old lady and we love her very much."

"I could see that she was checking up on me."

I laughed. "You will get to know her quickly. She can be a real bossy busy-body, but I think she does it to hide her affection."

"I liked her. You are looking very handsome."

"Thanks. I like getting dressed for formal occasions."

"What are your medals for?"

"They are not that important, although this one you might find interesting. It is the Southern Cross Decoration which I got for being where your father was."

"You are just like my father. He also wouldn't talk about the medals he had."

"Well, the ones I have, lots of other people got the same ones for doing the same things. Should we go?"

"OK. Are we in a rush?"

"Not really, but I would like to make sure that we don't get caught up in the Durban traffic if I can help it."

"OK. I have finished my drink. I think I left my new handbag in my room. I just want to get that and visit the bathroom if I can?"

"Sure. I'll wait for you here."

"Thank you Rupert. You have been so wonderful to me." Daise came over and to me and pulled my head down to give me a light kiss before going up to her room.

I took her place at the railing and looked out at the scenery. I wondered what she really thought about all this. I guessed she was slightly overwhelmed by it all, but seeing her delight and wonder when she saw the house, and even more when she saw the view into the Kloof, had made me very happy.

As it turned out, I didn't need to worry about the traffic at all. We arrived in good time at the Regiment HQ, slap bang in the centre of the Greyville Racecourse. It was our turn to host the Ball this year; all the other Regiments would be attending it at our HQ.

I parked in the slot reserved for the 2 I/C, although it hadn't been long since I became entitled to that privilege, and we entered the Officer's Mess where pre-function drinks were being served. After accepting a glass of Port for Daise and myself, I made my way to where our Mess President, an ex Commanding Officer, was holding court so that I could follow protocol and greet him first. I waited my turn, then introduced 'Uncle Bob' to Daise. I could see his lecherous eyes were evaluating her and I excused myself as soon as I could, and made the rounds of the other senior officers and their wives. Once that was done, I looked around for the person that I really wanted Daise to meet. I spotted him in a corner and led Daise over to him.

"Sgt Major Njabulo Dhlamini, I would like to introduce you to Daise. Daise, this is the most important man here, don't let his rank fool you. Nothing would happen around here without the Sgt Major."

"Good Evening Sir," Sgt Major Dhlamini answered with a huge grin, "Nice to meet you Ma'am. Could I introduce you to Mzwandile?"

"Nice to meet you Mzwandile." I greeted her, then I turned to Njabulo, "Well no wonder you have Joy, when the family has increased you bugger." He just grinned at me. I turned to Daise to explain. "Sgt Major Dhlamini's first name 'Njabulo' means 'Joy' and his new wife's name 'Mzwandile' means 'the family has increased'. She is his fifth wife, isn't that right Sgt Major?"

"Yes Major. I finally paid her father the Lobola two weeks ago. The negotiations were very tough. She cost me fifteen head of cattle and a bunch of other things. She is worth it though, she is very beautiful." Sgt Major Dhlamini explained. "We will be having the wedding next weekend in Ulundi, her father wanted me to wait 'till after her sixteenth birthday."

"I hope you are not going to leave school Mzwandile?" I asked her.

"No, I will stay at school. Njabulo has promised me that he will pay for me to go to University when I finish my Matric. I would like to become a doctor one day." Mzwandile answered with shy pride.

"Excellent. The Sgt Major knows that I will help in any way that I can. Just give me a call if he gives you any trouble, you hear?"

"Oh no. I would never do that. If I have any trouble Nobantu will make sure he does what is needed."

I laughed. "She certainly will. Your senior wife runs your family with an iron fist Sgt Major. I am sure that you only come to the Army to be able to get out from under her rule." I teased him." We'll chat again later," I promised, "there are still a bunch of people I need to meet and greet."

"Is that really his fifth wife?" Daise asked me as we walked away. "Is he allowed to have more than one wife?"

"Yes. He is married under the Lobola customs of the Zulus and the marriage is recognised as a legal civil marriage now. It is only a fairly recent change. It's one of the really strange things about this place that the law is different depending on your culture."

"That is strange, but he seems to be a nice man."

"Never mind nice. I don't care about nice at all. What is important is that he is a very, very good soldier. We are very close, as close as our ranks will allow us in the army, and outside of the army we have done some business together. He runs my development site for me, handling all the day to day supervision of the whole process. Don't let his friendly nature fool you, he is a very intelligent, very competent man; ruthless when he needs to be but an absolute baby when it comes to his wives and his kids."

"Oh, Ok. This is such a different place to what I had imagined. Nothing is at all like I had thought."

"Well, don't worry about that too much. We are used to people who come from outside having a simplistic view of the place and the way things work here. It is pretty much the same as anywhere though when you get right down to it. People are people where-ever you go."

"But you speak so many languages here. I have heard you speaking English and Afrikaans, and then Zulu as well."

"We have eleven official languages. Most people will speak at least some English, especially here in Natal, so you won't have too much trouble making yourself understood. I saw on your profile that you also speak some German?"

"Yes, not too well though."

"Well, that will help you a bit. There are a lot of similarities between Afrikaans and German. German speakers can normally learn Afrikaans very quickly. Zulu is another matter. You will only learn that though if you spend a lot of time immersing yourself in the language, although there are lots of good courses that you can do to get you to understand enough not to make a fool of yourself. If you decide to stay here, then we can think about getting you into one."

We circulated for a little while longer, before the Regimental Adjutant made the call for us to go in to the Dining Room.

We went through the normal process that these dinners follow, with a three course meal and a few speeches with lots of toasts. Daise mainly kept quiet, although she did chat quite a lot to the Adj's wife, who was sitting at her right, during the course of the meal as the Adj was scurrying around the whole time ensuring that everything was running smoothly. Once the last speech was completed, The Regimental Band started playing and couples got up to dance.

"Would you like to dance?' I asked Daise.

"OK. I am not sure that I can dance like that though." She pointed at the couples who were on the dance floor.

"Don't worry about that. Most of them can only do what we call the 'lang-arm' or long-arm dance. It is a sort of a waltz but our own local version. Other than that, we can just make up our own steps."

I got up and took her by the hand. When we got onto the dance floor, I held her in my arms and we started moving. It was a sort of modified waltz but a lot simpler, more a sort of shuffle with the one arm held out. I didn't care about that as much as I cared about actually holding Daise in my arms and feeling her body pressed against mine. As we moved, I got a whiff of her hair. Nothing had smelt as good to me for a long time. At first Daise was very stiff, and I held myself away from her, not wanting to press her too much, but after a few minutes she started to relax and she moved a lot more fluidly with the music. As we moved widdershins around the dance-floor, she started to cling more to me and I realised that the feel of her body against mine was starting to overload some of my much neglected senses.

I was slightly embarrassed when Daise's belly rubbed against me and she flinched when she discovered that I was saluting her with the gallant reflex, but after a few seconds, she obviously thought it over and moved in close again.

We danced off and on for the rest of the evening with each other and then with others as one does on occasions like this. After a while I decided that I had had enough, and I could see that Daise was getting tired, so I took her through to the bar area to pay my respects to the Mess President and the Commanding Officer so that we could leave.

On the way out, Sgt Major Dhlamini stopped me to remind me that we would have to meet at some stage to go over a few issues with the development site and then we greeted him and his wife and left.

On the way home, I could see that Daise was battling to keep her eyes open, so I just tuned the radio to 'East Coast Radio' where they were playing some pretty chilled music and saw her fall asleep.

When we got home, I parked in the garage and Daise woke up. She started to apologise for falling asleep and I reassured her that it was OK, that I understood that she had had an extremely long day. We went upstairs and I said goodnight to her at the door to her room and left her there.

I got undressed and climbed into bed, well pleased with the way that everything had gone. Before I could even think much more about it, I was asleep.

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