In the distance, I could hear the sprinklers hissing water across the thick carpet of green lawn; and the sound of whistling to the tempo of gumboots cutting a steady path across the green lawn towards a flower bed punctuated the air with rhythmic effect. It was idyllically peaceful here – an untouched bubble of luxury and ease. I was pleased that my interview subject had chosen this oasis for our interview. I was nervous. She did not seem to recognize me but I knew her from many photographs and from even more stories than the pictures could ever reveal. I cleared my throat and nodded at her, indicating that I was about to press the record button and to start recording the interview. She nodded in response. I pressed record and glanced down at my list of five questions and then, looking up at my interview subject, I asked her the first question.
“Please, can you tell us, what is your nationality?”
“I am ‘The-Woman-With-Too-Many-Lovers-And-No-Desire-For-One-Husband’.” She giggled.
Her unexpected response to my simple question caught me off-guard: as I was reaching over to the sugar bowl, her statement struck a moral nerve and, for just a second, my body froze and then jerked back to life. I spilled small brown granules of sugar all over the table.
She giggled harder. I cringed inwardly. Silently, I hoped that nobody was listening in on this conversation. An air of suspicion always hung over women who frequented inner city garden hotels and I did not want anybody to walk away with the wrong impression about my intentions. I looked around and quickly scanned the parameters of the garden. I did not recognize anyone who might recognize me or know my family and friends. I suddenly realized that this woman had a loud voice and an even louder giggle. She did not seem to care that her voice carried far and pierced the idyllic calm forcing people to eavesdrop on our conversation.
Suddenly, she noticed my discomfort. At that point, she sat forward in her seat and leaned in towards me. She stuck out her pretty face and with eyebrows raised, she peered into my eyes through the big dark Jacky-O sunglasses that hid all evidence of emotion from her face. In those sunglasses, all I could see was the reflection of my fear-filled eyes.
“I see,” came her quick report, “you are shocked and you feel embarrassed, perhaps you also feel a little bit scared.” She had a sharp gaze – the perceptive gaze of a traveller fluent in
I had tried not to look shocked, embarrassed and fearful but my slightly open mouth, shrinking posture and widening eyes betrayed my true feelings. She laughed, again but even louder this time. Then, as if to increase my feeling of discomfort, she picked up her can of beer and, ignoring the empty beer glass on the table, she dramatically threw back her head and proceeded to pour the remaining few gulps of beer straight out of the can and into her mouth. Then, delicately, as if she were sipping on tea out of the finest bone china while seated in one of the finest rooms in Buckingham Palace, she elegantly placed the beer can down on the table and boldly signalled the waiter for another can. I was now acutely aware that we had attracted the gaze of a few frowning eyes. I wondered how long it would be before a member of staff would politely ask us to leave the premises and join our “friends” on the street corners.
Oblivious to the stares, she continued to talk.
“I do miss the beer from home – this home. I’ve lived in many countries and fallen in love with all of them; but I can tell you one thing, nothing can ever beat my love for the crisp and bitter taste of an ice cold Lion Lager on a hot summers day. I also love the price. I cannot complain about spending my hard earned foreign cash here, that’s a fact. All of this is a luxury I can afford because I have two lovers. Both of my lovers are equally generous to me, in their own particular ways. One gives me the money I need and the other gives me the life I crave. Lovers are jealous beasts but I do hope that one day they can coexist in one place. I am tired of all of this back and forth, flying between continents to satiate my needs from one lover and then the next.” I nodded. I was still at a loss for words. Remembering my question sheet, I quickly looked down and tried to find the next question to ask her.
Again, with a smirk on her face, she observed my discomfort with her open affinity for sexual metaphor and public displays of drunkenness on such an unladylike beverage as beer. Nonchalantly, she shrugged her shoulders as though she were shaking off some dust that clung to her fancy foreign shoes. She leaned back in the comfortable cane chairs and took one last drag from her cigarette. She proceeded to squash the burning end of the cigarette into an already overflowing transparent glass ashtray.
The ashtray sat exactly halfway between us, positioned on top of the transparent and round glass table that separated myself
“So, are we conducting an interview or what? I promised you thirty minutes.”
She lifted a slender wrist up from her lap and looked at the time on her watch. “It looks like you have exactly twenty minutes left.” A waiter placed another cold tin on the glass tabletop. She reached forward, tapped it gently and peeled back the aluminium tab. This time, to my relief, she poured the contents into her glass. As the rich golden liquid gushed into the transparent glass, she spoke. I cleared my throat and asked:
“Mum, why did you leave me behind?”
She choked, spluttering on her first sip, foam landing on the green grass beneath her feet. She took off her glasses and tears welled up in her eyes as she whispered my name in disbelief.