The Black Notebook
But Willi had withdrawn himself. For one thing, he did not approve of such bohemianism as collective bedroom breakfasts. ‘If we were married,’ he complained, ‘it might be all right.’ I laughed at him, and he said: ‘Yes. Laugh. But there’s sense in the old rules. They kept people out of trouble.’ He was annoyed because I laughed, and said that a woman in my position needed extra dignity of behaviour. ‘What position?’ - I was suddenly very angry, because of the trapped feeling women get at such moments. ‘Yes, Anna, but things are different for men and for women. They always have been and they very likely always will be.’ ‘Always have been?’ - inviting him to remember his history. ‘For as long as it matters.’ ‘Matters to you - not to me.’ But we had had this quarrel before; we knew all the phrases either was likely to use - the weakness of women, the property sense of men, women in antiquity, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. We knew it was a clash of temperament so profound that no words could make any difference to either of us - the truth was that we shocked each other in our deepest feelings and instincts all the time. So the future professional revolutionary gave me a stiff nod and settled himself on the hotel verandah with his Russian grammars. But he would not be left alone to study for long, for George was already striding up through the gum-trees, looking very serious.
Paul greeted me with: ‘Anna, come and see the lovely things in the kitchen.’ He put his arm around me, and I knew Willi had seen, as I had intended him to, and we walked through the stone-floored passages to the kitchen, which was a large low room at the back of the hotel. The tables were loaded with food, and draped with netting against the flies. Mrs Boothby was there with the cook, and clearly wondering how she had put herself into the position that we were such favoured guests we could wander in and out of the kitchen at will. Paul at once greeted the cook and enquired after his family. Mrs Boothby didn’t like this of course; this was the reason for Paul’s doing it at all. Both the cook and his white employer responded to Paul in the same way - watchful, puzzled, slightly distrustful. For the cook was confused. Not the least of the results of having hundreds and thousands of airforce men in the Colony for five years was that a number of Africans had it brought home to them that it was possible - well, among other things, that a white man could treat a black man as a human being. Mrs Boothby’s cook knew the familiarity of the feudal relationship; he knew the crude brutality of the newer impersonal relationship. But he was now discussing his children with Paul on equal terms. There was a slight hesitation before each of his remarks, the hesitation of disuse, but the man’s natural dignity, usually ignored, carried him quickly into the manner of someone in conversation with an equal. Mrs Boothby listened for a few minutes, then cut it short by saying: ‘If you really want to be of help, Paul, you and Anna can go into the big room and do some decorating.’ She spoke in a tone which was meant to tell Paul that she had understood he had been making fun of her the night before. ‘Certainly,’ Paul said. ‘With pleasure.’ But he made a point of continuing his talk with the cook for a while. This man was unusually good-looking - a strong, well-set middle-aged man with a lively face and eyes; a great many of the Africans in this part of the Colony were poor specimens physically from ill-feeding and disease; but this one lived at the back of the Boothbys’ house in a small cottage with his wife and five children. This was of course against the law, which laid down that black people should not live on white man’s soil. The cottage was poor enough, but twenty times better than the usual African hut. There were flowers and vegetables around it, and chickens and guinea-fowl. I should imagine that he was very well content with his service at the Mashopi hotel.