Chapter 24 Clash
Lauren sat on the porch of the big thatch roofed chalet she shared with Narina. The last in a short line of similar structures, it was perched on the remnants of an old anthill, where it was comfortably shaded under a small cluster of huge acacias. The hand slashed grass surrounding it afforded a park like appearance to the view down towards the river. Being the last in the line, the cut grass beyond it blended into the natural longer grass of the dambo, which stretched a kilometer up River towards the campsite, where Moses would be preparing his dinner.
Lauren was leaning back in one of the padded wicker chairs with her feet comfortably crossed on a coffee table. However even from a distance Precious could see the anger lingering on her face.
An empty glass of gin and tonic stood on the table, together with the picked-at remnants of her dinner. The reason given for the “room service” was that “Lauren -has-a-bad headache,” and she needed a break from socializing at dinner with the others.
It was a warm evening, despite the breeze remaining from a late afternoon thunderstorm which had passed by to the north.
Lauren uncrossed her long athletic legs and lifted her feet off the table, as precious stepped up the low wooden steps from the paved pathway. She still wore her afternoon garb, a pair of short cut, loose denim pants, with an old faded tank top so that her shoulders and arms were as bare as her long legs and ankles. This attracted the mosquito’s who’s tiny erratic flight was refracted in the light of the overhead bulb. As intangible as specks of backlit dust the insects made drifting forays on her bareness. A “stick” of insect repellent lay on the floor next to her chair, possibly why she hadn’t yet resorted to the protection of long pants and unfurled sleeves of a shirt.
Precious was aware of the growing tension between the guests, specifically Lauren and her friends father, and even betwen Lauren and her friend, as Narina was squeezed by her ties to her head-strong friend on one hand ,and the loyalty to her authoritative father on the other. Precious guessed that earlier Laurens “immodest” attire may have been more motivated to annoy the aesetic elder muslim man, than to provide expanses of provocative skin for the insects to feast upon.
Precious set down a replacement for the empty gin and tonic, then began to clear the dinner service.
“Thank you, sweetie.
There was something maternal in the way Lauren pronounced “sweetie”. Precious thought this strange. There was little about Lauren which hinted at motherhood. Even if she were, it would hardly have afforded her deserving of maternal respect, seeing as she obviously wasn’t much older than Precious herself. But at least it intimated an openness to something more than the usual client-servant relationship.
With her long hair pulled back in a pig-tail Precious thought Lauren looked youthful. But then considering how much the Mzungu’s spent on fashion and on keeping themselves looking young, it was hard to tell.
There was an edge of envy in her mind as these thoughts flitted past.
She replied with a “My pleasure”.
Then as she turned to head back down the steps…
“No wait, don’t go.” Lauren admonished, “It’s too quiet out here, Stay and lets” talk.”
Precious was taken aback. Rarely did guests want to talk to any of the staff on a social level. She could understand this, because socializing away from the others, hinted at an acceptance of a deeper level of intimacy.
But, on the other hand, maybe it was that Lauren needed some moral support now that the adrenalin of her anger was abating.
Even in the kitchen everyone heard Lauren’s angry protestations when earlier one of the waitresses had hurried across to where she sat on the deck and asked her to surrender her G&T.
“Madame, the master is arriving. He does not want alcohol to be served here.”
This was as a Land Cruiser pulled into the parking spot across the foot bridge from the chitenge.
“To hell with this hypocritic bullshit!” Everyone heard Laurens angry expounding.
When the other waitresses rushed out of the kitchen to spy on what was happening, they saw Lauren take her drink in hand and stride past the baleful silence with which Mustafa glared at her as he and two other men stepped out of the vehicle.
The other men were not as put out. One even said “ Na Zdorovie”, which she acknowledged with a raised glass as she strode past, answering his Russian with an English “Cheers”. As she walked away over the small foot bridge towards the chalets, the younger of the two newcomers followed the elder ones toast with a wolf whistle loud enough for everyone to hear.
The waitresses hadn’t seen anything like it before. The Madame turned, raised her right arm high in the air with a clenched fist and middle finger pointed upright, as she shouted back, “Fuck off!”
“Take a seat”. Lauren reached out and took hold of the armrest of the other wicker chair, and pushed it over to where precious stood.
“I have watched you working around here, and I wondered why you are still here.
Precious sat down, still rather stiff with her sense of social unease. “Why do you ask that I should still be here?” I would think that it was obvious. Did you not drive all the way out from Lusaka?” she asked.
“Yes we did, and I wish we could drive back as soon as possible. But what is that got to do with my question?” Lauren stretched forward to picked up her G&T and took a long sip.
“Madame,” Precious also leaned forward and placed her elbows on her knees while making a spire with the tips of her fingers, which she touched just under her chin, giving the impression of supporting the weight of her head. “Once you leave the city, apart from the token policewoman at the roadblocks, how many women did you see driving cars, or trucks, or even riding bicycles? How many women did you see wearing business suits, and carrying briefcases?”
Precious paused, “Did you go into the market in Mumbwa? No? If you did you would see thousands of women carrying babies on their backs, and baskets on their heads, and trudging kilometers back home, or waiting by the side of the road for a bus.”
Lauren look to cross her glass at Precious, “So?” She asked, “what has that got to do with you?”
“Madame, I come from a village which makes Mumbwa look like a sparkling hive of modernity. “For me, this job here at the Lodge allows me to escape from my village, and the sort of life that is expected of me. A life that would otherwise be forced on me.”
Lauren stared at Precious in silence before speaking again.
“I have noticed that you are older than the other girls, and I understand Africa. I’m curious. Do you have an enlightened husband who allows you to work away from home?”
Without waiting for a reply Lauren continued.
“I have also noticed the little necklace of snail shells you where, and how you braid your hair, coiling it up on your head on both sides like a Grecian Princess. It is so different and eye-catchingly appealing. Not only that, the other day when I walked back behind the kitchen, I saw you were not wearing your uniform. Instead you were wearing a beautiful dress, and I wondered where you got it.”
Precious smiled back at Lauren, “Madame, I am not married, and I made the dress. It is what I want to do with my life, and why I am here. This place and this job is my only escape from the village. Maybe one day I will find a client who is young and unmarried, who will take me away.”
Lauren motioned dismissively with her hand, “Really?” She stated incredulously, “Do you really think that some prince will carry you away?”
“Maybe!” Precious replied with slight annoyance at her dismissive tone, Two years ago there was a waitress here, Melody. And a young man from Croatia was here, and she is now married to him.”
“But I agree, placing all my hopes in finding a man to take me away is not realistic. The odds of it happening twice are slim. Even if it does, the chances of getting to pursue my dreams by marrying a foreigner, are even less. Most of the guests here are older or couples. There are not enough young, handsome, rich and single men visiting here.”
Precious gave a hollow laugh to accent her words, “But what other hope is there?”
She added wryly, “I do not have much time left, a man here is paying Lobola to my uncle for me. I do not want him, but once the payment is finished there will be much pressure on me to marry him.”
“To tell you the truth,” she continued, “At times I have been so desperate to get things going I even contemplated running away and entering Europe illegaly. I had read about the boat people, and how they seldom get sent back to Africa.
But I did not go because, Melody, and her foreign husband, they returned to Africa.
He was a researcher who stayed here for a while. They have little money, and she was not accepted back in Croatia. It is funny actually, they say that despite all the “rainbow nation” harmony story down south, and despite the end of apartheid, racism is still alive in Africa, but it is now black racism towards white. There is a lot of truth to it. There will always be racism. But Melody and her man returned to Zambia, because we are more forgiving here, and the racism is not as cruel. When all is said and done, the Zambian people are more magnanimous. They are more comfortable, with one of their daughters marrying a white man. “
Precious seemed to gaze inwardly, “She said that over there, the old communists are the worst racists of all.
But I digress.”
Precious took a deep breath. “You see, my job here, and the success of this lodge, is important to me.”
“Why is that, if you want to get away?” Lauren asked.
“Madame, My passion is designing adornment. I love clothing, jewelry, make-up, everything…, I want to be a designer.
I want to be the African equivalent of Coco Chanel or Alexander Mc Queenn. But at my age, with no money, I will never get to the dream of being close to the big fashion centers.
So I have set realistic goals to get away from my village, and the way of life that it represents.
If I can get to Lusaka, or Livingston, with all its tourists visiting the Victoria Falls, and if I can afford to live there, it will be enough.
So now my plan is to convince Morse, and the owners of this lodge to set up a gift shop. In that case, I will have the women in the village weave and make my designs. Dresses, shirts, skirts and trinkets, jewelry,, all of it.”
My salary is not enough to go places. But if I can make most of the items to sell in a gift shop I can.
Lauren had drained her gin and tonic by the time Precious finished explaining her dreams .
She spoke slowly, “Yes I will agree with you that Africa is starting to be a more racially accepting continent. Recently I have been dating an Indian man in Cape Town. He has been a dream to be around, compared to my ex-husband.”
She paused, “But there is a difference between social and personal racism,. Sometimes it is just plain sexism, like with this old-fashioned bastard we have here with us. Unfortunately he is the father of my best friend, and it is through her that I met my current boyfriend. So there are some bad ones and some good ones.”
Lauren held her glass up high to drain the last dreg before she set the glass down.
“Did you say you are from Cape Town?”
“Yes.” Lauren glanced at Precious.
Oh, Madame, I have never been there. But I have seen the ppictures. It seems a magical place!” There was a pause, “What does the Madame do there?
Lauren looked closely across at the African girl sitting opposite before answering.
“I run my families yarn and cloth import-export companies in South Africa, one of the oldest and most successful in our country.”
Lauren picked up her empty glass and spoke again. “Please stop calling me Madame, my name is Lauren. And why don’t you fetch me another of these, and something for yourself, and while you are about it put it on the tab of that old bastard or one of his ex-communist friends.”
“Then come back here and let’s talk a bit more about that beautiful dress that you made.”