What made my friendship with Jon easier was that he had moved to Cape Town and I had never left Maritzburg. Our politics had always been poles apart. He was an unrepentant Nat from a well-known Afrikaans family. Many of my other friends felt that even despite his politics it still left him a rude, abrasive brute. But I had overlooked this side of him probably because I admired some of the rudeness which sometimes revealed a loyalty that was hard to find in others. It was a fidelity that, I suspected, had kept Special Branch, if not away from my door, then at least far enough away to lead a normal family life.
Of course I did see him down in Cape Town occasionally. After all I had to live down there for the six months of the year while parliament was in session. Our wives would regularly go to a film or to the Baxter together. They were even part of the same book club until relations amongst its members had for some reason become acrimonious. It was shortly after this that Lilly decided that she would stay in Maritzburg to look after our son who had needed a more settled school life. I would fly home every second weekend and that was probably the main reason I didn’t see Jon in Cape Town much. But it was an unspoken rule that if he was up in Natal he would come to our house for dinner.
He came in November 1981. I remember the month because I was late getting up to Hilton due to a ‘problem with the runway’. We had been forced to sit in the aircraft for over an hour after landing. The problem, it turned out, was with one of my neighbours. A man often referred to as ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare. He had, by all accounts, been involved in some failed business dealings for the government in the Seychelles which had necessitated a hasty return via the means of a hijacked airplane, a plane that was now blocking the runway. It seems that my parliamentary friends on the other side of the house were having a bit of a sweat over what to do with a man they had sent to do their bidding and who had failed.
I, however, was having sweat in a 737 with the air conditioners off and half the plane puffing away on pipes and cigarettes, on typically humid Natal day. It was only when I got onto the N3 in my red Mini that I could finally relax and break into a sing along with ‘I am a bird catcher’ that I had on tape. With all the windows open, my sleeves rolled up, my jacket and tie on the passenger seat, oblivious to the ruling party’s little predicament my Mini speeding past the Cortinas and even the occasional Merc I felt the tension flowing out of me as I joined with Papageno in his baritone pronouncements. It was only when the Mini got to the hill on the Old Howick Road up the tree lined curves, that led up to Hilton, that one realised the car’s size.
I wound my way up to the house past the quarry, the Spar, and up to the bucolic calm of Hilton, down the bricked driveway to the slate roofed white angular house at the bottom. Lilly was in the rose garden at the front wearing in a large straw sunhat, her clippers in one hand. She waved and shouted: ‘I’ll see you in the living room after your shower. You’re late!’ Lilly was, surprisingly, not one of Jon’s detractors. Of course she hated his politics but she had always liked his company and shared a certain directness.
I entered the small tiled hallway with its shoes, gumboots and glass jars full of cuttings from the garden. Andrew came out of the TV room with screams of thanks for the video of Chariots of Fire I had sent him in the post while I was in London. Videos were an almost unheard of luxury and for a few days, Lilly informed me, Andrew even went to sleep with it lying on his pillow. He hugged me round the waist. I picked him up and told him to tell his mother that she had a guest arriving soon. He ran out of the house shouting at Lilly in high excitement. I went upstairs and had a shower.
Lilly was downstairs in the living room, when I came down, arranging some flowers on the table. ‘You know we’ve got Jon coming?’ I looked at my watch, ‘He’ll be here in a few minutes.’ She didn’t say anything, she just lifted her eyebrow in the way she always did when she felt I was telling her the obvious. ‘Jesus,’ I said, ‘we had to sit on the runway for bloody hours, for some reason.’ I went over and poured myself a whiskey.
‘Jon phoned to say that he was bringing a work colleague,’ she said stepping back and looking at the results of her flower arranging. I sat down to watch the news at six and Andrew came to sit next to me and told me about his last two weeks at school.
When the doorbell rang Lilly went and got it. Andrew ran after her. Although he was shy with most of our guests, he too was attracted to Jon. He enjoyed Jon’s stories about sailing, rugby, and the army; it was a far cry from my discussions about parliament. He was one person who Andrew loved having for dinner. And Jon always seemed to take an interest in Andrew’s life. I was often surprised at how much he remembered about my son considering the limited contact he had had with him. I always put it down to the fact that Jon had no sons of his own.
I listened to the voices in the hallway and could hear that Jon’s colleague was a woman. When she entered the room the first thing I noticed were her pointed white patent leather high-heeled shoes. What struck me was how out of place they looked in our house. She wore a tight fitting yellow floral dress that ended half way down her thighs and she had a large purple belt above her hips. Her blonde hair was permed and teased around a long striking face. I stood up and shook Jon’s hard weather-beaten hand and received a gentle handshake from his colleague whose name I forgot almost immediately.
The woman smiled and turned to Andrew and started asking him questions. Andrew became shy in her presence and, holding onto my belt with one hand, he swung himself off it at each question he answered. ‘Do you mind if I go out and have a look at your garden?’ She said after it became clear that she was not going to get much out of Andrew. Her accent was a soft and distinctly from the midlands. She walked out the glass door, sliding it shut as she went. She leant against the table on the stoep, took off her high heals and went into the late evening sun.
Lilly had gone off to the kitchen to check up on how Gladys was coming along with the supper. ‘I’ve just come off one of the sugar plantations. Run by one of your bloody liberal types.’ Jon said, half smiling at me.
‘Bloody fool is wasting a lot of money behaving the way he does.’
Jon was clearly trying to get some kind of reaction out of me. I never allowed myself to talk about these things in front of Andrew.
‘Have you heard any news about what was happening at Louis Botha? We spent an hour on the tarmac waiting to disembark.’ I said.
‘Ahg, it was probably a problem with those lazy K’s.’ He looked at me for a second waiting for a response. I carried on looking out into the garden. ‘No man, I’m only joking.’ He said when he realised that I wasn’t going to rise to the bait. ‘I haven’t heard anything about it. There was nothing on the radio.’ He paused for a second. ‘God hey, Lilly knows how to keep the garden in order. I tell you Zelda is bloody hopeless. If it wasn’t for our garden boy she would make Stalin’s scorched earth policy look like the act of a bloody fertility god. Lilly would love gardening in the one Zelda has.’
‘Maybe, but she does alright with what she has up here.’
‘Ja.’ He paused, ‘Jesus, what do you have to do here to get a drink?’
‘Ja, please man. I’ll have some ice and soda in that.’
I poured him a stiff J&B and we stood together in silence looking out into the garden. The woman was still standing outside looking towards the little stream at the bottom of the slope. Her figure, in the yellow dress, stood out against the dark green and pinks of the rows of azaleas. ‘So.’ I said not knowing what I was going to talk about.
‘So.’ Jon replied smiling at me and then turning to Andrew he ruffled his hair. ‘How is the rugby coming along my boy,
‘Fine.’ Andrew said still clinging to me.
‘Your mom tells me you’ve made it into the A’s?’
‘Go and get the video I bought you and show it to Jon,’ I said. Andrew ran off to the TV room.
‘So,’ I said turning away from the garden ‘How is business coming along?’
‘Ahg, you know so so. Ahg I think I’m going to get out of chasing these bloody farmers around.’ He paused. ‘I was telling Lilly earlier I’ve bought a new yacht. You know you should come for a little cruise in the Bay. I’ll get Zelda to cook us some crayfish and we’ll have a few Castles.’
I saw out of the corner of my eye the woman was walking towards us. She put her shoes on again bending her long legs one after the other, her slender fingers supported her on the white iron table. She came in and Jon smiled at her. ‘Ja, she is a real little beauty. All 16 foot of her.’
The woman moved across the room to our new Yamaha Hi Fi. She turned and smiled at us. ‘Do you mind if I put on a record?’
‘Of course he wouldn’t,’ Jon said answering for me. She looked at me, waiting politely for me to give her a sign. ‘Really?’
‘Yes, by all means, go ahead.’ I said. She knelt down on the beige carpet and started to flip through the albums. I saw Andrew standing in the doorway holding his video but he ducked back into the TV room. ‘So,’ I said, ‘how are Zelda and the children?’
‘Ja, well.’ He said swirling his whiskey and raising it to his mouth.
‘I found one. Oh, I love this song,’ the woman interrupted. She pulled out one of Lilly’s old Bob Dylan records and placed it on the turntable. A song started playing, which I recognised from my early relationship with Lilly, called Love Minus Zero. ‘Ahg no man not this oak.’ Jon exclaimed ‘I just can’t understand how anybody can listen to this bloody bastard.’
‘Shush Jon, it’s beautiful.’ She said continuing to look through the rest of the albums.
‘Off!’ He raised his voice
‘Leave it on Jon.’ Came Lilly’s voice from the kitchen.
The woman made no movement to turn it off. She pulled another album out and laid it on the carpet.
‘Ja, Hannah is just about to go into sub A,’ Jon said turning to me.
The song came to an end and the woman replaced it with a Francoise Hardy album. Lilly came into the room. ‘Alright, the dinner is almost ready, another 10 minutes I think. What wine should we have? It’s coc au vin so I suppose we should drink red. Do you drink red?’ Lilly said, turning to the woman.
‘Yes. I don’t mind. I drink anything.’
I noticed something that perhaps married couples would only notice in each other. Lilly turned away from her abruptly and I feared for a second that she might become intentionally rude with the woman. But I was instantly relieved when the woman turned to Lilly and said ‘Gosh you have such great records.’ That seemed to break the stiffness in Lilly’s body language and she sat down next to the woman and they began to look thtough some of the albums together. ‘I’m sure Jon would hate it if we played this one,’ Lilly laughed. ‘Should we put it on?’ Lilly got up and placed a Leonard Cohen album on the turntable. ‘Now Lilly didn’t you say that dinner was ready.’ Jon said.
‘In five minutes, Jon.’
‘And the walls in the dining room are well sound proofed?’ He said.
‘We have speakers that play from here in the dining room.’ Lilly said winking playfully at the woman.
‘Well then, do you have a gun in this house?’
‘Shooting yourself won’t stop the music.’
‘I’m not going to kill myself, you bloody mad woman.’ He smiled at her and then got up. ‘Come on, I’m sure it must be ready now. Hell I’m bloody starving.’
When we sat down Jon and I started talking about the last rugby Curie Cup final. Andrew had his heart set on coming to the one next season and Jon made him a promise that he would fly him to wherever it was. I noticed that Lilly and the woman had stopped talking to each other and were looking at us waiting to join in our conversation. Gladys brought the dinner in and we started serving the various dishes from the middle of the table. ‘So Jon,’ Lilly started, ‘how are Zelda and the children?’
‘Ja, very well.’ He said without much thought, taking the dish with coc au vin from me.
It wasn’t till I looked up to get the vegetables that I noticed that the woman was staring away from the table and was in some distress. A second stream of mascara had started running down her face. She jerked her hand up and bent her face down to wipe the pools of tears gathering in her eyes. She raised her head up again and despite some smudged make-up she looked, for a second, as if she might recover her composure. But then, perhaps realising that her emotions had become the centre of attention, tears welled up again.
She pushed her chair away first bending her face below anybody’s line of sight and then getting up quickly and she moved in the direction of the room that was most easily accessible to her, her long legs taking three scissor-like strides into the TV room. Andrew looked at me, then at Lilly, then at Jon and then back at me, looking for some kind of explanation. I shook my head to show that no comment was to be made. He smiled looking at me and began to snigger behind his hand, he seemed to be taking some kind of pleasure in what had transpired. I stared down Andrew by shaking my head angrily at his smile. I noticed Lilly didn’t move. I looked at her. Jon did not flinch. He treated it as if a child had made a mildly embarrassing comment. I looked at Lilly, pleading with her to go and see if the woman was all right. She got up and crossed over to the television room. We sat in silence for a few minutes.
‘I’ve got some Cuban cigars,’ Jon said showing only a slight annoyance. ‘We can test drive them after this. Perhaps skipping desert and going onto the stoep is in order? We’ll need some good brandy for it or some decent whiskey.’
He got up without finishing his meal, throwing the napkin onto the table and went out onto the stoep. I went to the liquor cabinet and took out a bottle of Dimple Hague and went out to join him. He had lit his cigar and there was one lying already cut for me on the table. ‘So, why don’t you just come and settle in Cape Town.’ He said blowing smoke into the darkness. ‘I mean the Natal midlands are beautiful. But Cape Town has really got it all.’
‘You may have forgotten but I have a constituency up here.’
‘Ja, but you could always get one down in the Cape. They would love you down there. By what I hear they already do. I shouldn’t get mixed up with politics up here. It’s going to be a bloody mess. The Zulu youth are heading towards the ANC. You don’t want to get yourself involved in that shit. The PFP could surely sort out a move for you. And what kind of life is there out here for Lilly? She used to love Cape Town.’
‘I have obligations here. I’ve lived here all my life. Cape Town is too anodyne. I enjoy the complications.’
‘But does Lilly?’
Gladys came out carrying a tray with coffee and cheese, behind her followed Lilly. Lilly took out a Craven A and sat down next to Jon who lit a match for her.
‘Gladys, was speaking to the Hoare’s maid. There is some trouble over there.’ Lilly said. Gladys and Mad Mike Hoare’s maid often sat in our kitchen drinking tea and pealing vegetables and chatting to one another. I turned to Gladys who was pouring the coffee. ‘What’s wrong, Gladys?’
‘I don’t know Mr. Hosking. The madam there she is upset. The master is in the airport. The police won’t let him come home.’
‘Gladys, tell Johanna that I’ll go over there and speak to Mrs. Hoare when my guest has gone.’
‘No, Mr. Hosking the madam there has gone to Durban. Madam,’ Gladys said turning to Lilly, ‘Johanna says she wants to sleep in my Khaya tonight. She is afraid without the master and the madam.’
‘Have you got enough bedding Gladys?’
‘Ja, well I better go.’ Jon said. Stubbing out his cigar into the pearlemoen shell on the table. He went into the lounge and closed the door.
‘Aren’t you going to see him out?’ Lilly said to me.
But Lilly didn’t wait for an explanation she went inside. I continued to smoke my cigar. I could see the two of them talking in the lounge. I saw him kiss her on the cheek. He put on his blazer and they embraced. A flash of a yellow dress entered and then exited the lounge.
I carried on smoking my cigar, waiting for Lilly to come out and join me, but she didn’t. I finished it and had another two whiskeys. It was a beautifully still night. I looked at the stars for a while. Then I picked up Jon’s half drunk whiskey threw the ends of the cigars into the bushes and went inside. I noticed that all the dishes from dinner had been cleared away. I went into the kitchen to find Gladys doing the last of the washing up. ‘Where is Lilly, Gladys?’
‘Madam is upstairs Mr. Hosking.’
‘He is in the TV room Mr. Hosking.’
I said goodnight to Gladys and went into the TV room. Andrew was watching Chariots of Fire. ‘Come on Andrew bed time.’
‘Come on dad, can’t I sleep here tonight.’
‘No, the Tokoloshe will get you if you sleep on the couch.’
‘Dad, I’m not stupid.’
‘I know you’re not. But come, you must go to bed.’
‘That woman who was here was strange.’
‘Come on Andrew I’m getting tired. Go brush your teeth, and then to bed.’
He went, without any more grumbling, taking the video with him.
When I got into the bedroom Lilly was sitting in bed putting on some night cream. ‘Jesus Jon has a hell of a cheek bringing his mistress to our house. The man must be insane. Poor woman.’ I said unbuttoning my shirt.
‘Poor woman? What do you mean? I have no sympathy for that little tramp.’ Lilly rolled over and turned off the light. I think that was the first time I allowed myself to realise something about Lilly and our marriage.