#11 – fascinating spectacle

Jamie was mesmerized by the men, women and children who thronged the streets. He saw a kaffir clad in an old pair of 78th Highland trews and wearing as a coat a sack with slits cut for the arms and head. The karfir walked behind two Chinese men, hand in hand, who were wearing blue smock frocks, their pigtails carefully coiled up under their conical straw hats. There were stout, red-faced Boer farmers with sunbleached hair, then-wagons loaded with potatoes, corn and leafy vegetables. Men dressed in brown velveteen trousers and coats, with broadbrimmed, soft-felt hats on their heads and long clay pipes in their mouths, strode ahead of their vraws, attired in black, with thick black veils and large black-silk poke bonnets. Parsi washerwomen with large bundles of soiled clothes on their heads pushed past soldiers in red coats and helmets. It was a fascinating spectacle.
The first thing Jamie did was to seek out an inexpensive boardinghouse recommended to him by a sailor aboard ship. The landlady was a dumpy, ample-bosomed, middle-aged widow.
She looked Jamie over and smiled. “Zoek yulle goud?”
He blushed. “I’m sorry—I don’t understand.”
“English, yes? You are here to hunt gold? Diamonds?”
“Diamonds. Yes, ma’am.”
She pulled him inside. “You will like it here. I have all the convenience for young men like you.”
Jamie wondered whether she was one of them. He hoped not.
“I’m Mrs. Venster,” she said coyly, “but my friends call me ‘Dee-Dee.'” She smiled, revealing a gold tooth in
front. “I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends. Ask of me anything.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Jamie said. “Can you tell me where I can get a map of the city?”
With map in hand, Jamie went exploring. On one side of the city were the landward suburbs of Rondebosch, Claremont and Wynberg, stretching along nine miles of thinning plantations and vineyards. On the other side were the marine suburbs of Sea Point and Green Point. Jamie walked through the rich residential area, down Strand Street and Bree Street, admiring the large, two-story buildings with their flat roofs and peaked stuccoed fronts—steep terraces rising from the street. He walked until he was finally driven indoors by the flies that seemed to have a personal vendetta against him. They were large and black and attacked in swarms. When Jamie returned to his boardinghouse, he found his room filled with them. They covered the walls and table and bed.



Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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