The Black Notebook
The facts were these. I’ve said his family life was difficult. It was intolerable. He had a wife and two sons and a daughter. He supported his wife’s parents and his own. I’ve been in that little house. It was intolerable even to visit. The young couple, or rather, the middle-aged couple who supported it, were squeezed out of any real life together by the four old people and the three children. His wife worked hard all day and so did he. The four old ones were all, in various ways, invalids and needed special care and diets and so on. In that living-room in the evening, the four played cards interminably, with much bickering and elderly petulance; they played for hours, in the centre of the room, and the children did their homework where they could, and George and his wife went to bed early, more often than not from sheer exhaustion, apart from the fact their bedroom was the only place they could have some privacy. That was the home. And then half the week George was off along the roads, sometimes working hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country. He loved his wife, and she loved him, but he felt permanently guilty because managing that household would by itself have been hard work for any woman, let alone having to work as a secretary as well. None of them had had a holiday in years, and they were all permanently short of money, and miserable bickering went on about sixpences and shillings.
Meanwhile, George had his affairs. And he liked African women particularly. About five years before he was in Mashopi for the night and had been very much taken with the wife of the Boothbys’ cook. This woman had become his mistress. ‘If you can use such a word,’ said Willi, but George insisted, and without any consciousness of humour: ‘Well why not? Surely if one doesn’t like the colour bar, she’s entitled to the proper word, as a measure of respect, so to speak.’
George often travelled through Mashopi. Last year he had seen the group of children and one of them was lighter than the others and looked like George. He had asked the woman, and she had said yes, she believed it was his child. She was not making an issue of it.
‘Well?’ said Willi. ‘What’s the problem?’
I remember George’s look of sheer, miserable incredulity. ‘But Willi - you stupid clod, there’s my child, I’m responsible for it living in that slum back there.’
‘Well?’ said Willi again.
‘I’m a socialist,’ said George. ‘And as far as it’s possible in this hellhole I try to be a socialist and fight the colour bar. Well? I stand on platforms and make speeches - oh, very tactfully of course, saying that the colour bar is not in the best interests of all concerned, and gentle Jesus meek and mild wouldn’t have approved, because it’s more than my job is worth to say it’s inhuman and stinkingly immoral and the whites are damned to eternity for it. And now I propose to behave just like every other stinking white sot who sleeps with a black woman and adds another half-caste to the Colony’s quota.’