Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black by Nadine Gordimer Read Free Book Online

Book: Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black by Nadine Gordimer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nadine Gordimer
to her, so sweet, I just put up my umbrella that side of my bed. I know, darling son, you are doing everything what’s for sure to get me out of here. There are bigrats! It is terribly hot but they say that in a few weeks will be cooler.
    A postcript. Everyone is so pleased because I’ve also got the French guard to bring us each a quarter litre of red wine a day!
    The Red Cross, French Consulate, bewildered Swedes somehow succeeded; after six weeks the inhabitants of the camp were released to complete their journey on the Holland Afrika Line. She opened her arms to her son just the way she had always done when he was a boy and she returned from Deauville or a spa in Switzerland. And as herself a child who charms with the assumption that all is forgiven she showed no contrition for the anxiety and dread she had caused by her naughty escapade. Anger and frustration had battled with fear, in her son, and fear had won—how could he reproach her. Looking instead for what might have been part of the reason for his mother taking off against his edict, he thought to install her in a comfortable apartment with a daily maid, but she had her way with her usual style of retort, staying on in the boardinghouse: Where else I can live where I’m the youngest?
    For old Grete everything was a party. At least he persuaded her to have a health check with one of her boardinghouse
salon
habitués, an immigrant doctor from Frankfurt. He confirmed that the fever symptoms he asked her to recollect were indeed those of malaria, and the virus might be sleeping in her blood, to recur with another bout. She chose to misunderstand. ‘
Ach Kwatsch!
I sleep like a baby.’ It was true that in her cubby-hole room she kept to her divisions of time decided long ago in the style of Berlin high life—never in bed until after midnight and never up before noon. From this came one of the impossible old Grete incidents. The room did not have an adjoining private bathroom, she trailed sociably in flounced dressinggownand flowered plastic mobcap to a communal one. There was only a hand-basin with running water in the room. The boardinghouse also did not employ maids; it was usual in those years for ‘bedroom boys’ to serve instead. The grown men, black, came from rural areas and were issued with a garb of coarse white cotton shorts that mimicked the baggy khaki ones of early British settlers. She chatted with her elderly ‘bedroom boy’, and had secretly arranged with him to come quietly into her room and fulfil his cleaning duties while she was asleep, since she rose long after his morning round was supposed to be completed. This was something else to be concealed, this time from the boardinghouse proprietor, both for the employee’s sake and her own. She opened her eyes one morning and saw the bedroom boy watching himself in the mirror while brushing his bared teeth with her toothbrush. When told to amuse him, her son also drew back lips, bared teeth, in incredulous distaste: what did she intend to do about it? She had bought a toothbrush and presented—Here is yours, Josiah.
    Her social life, like her time, was constructed in accordance with its diminished scale on the old model she knew. No post-opera parties—not much opera around—concerts and, of course, nightclubs. As dancing partners she had her one or two regulars. They were homosexuals (gay was not yet a mood exclusive to gender), therefore not gigolos, with sexual obligations. They were not paid; just younger immigrants in her set who missed partying as she did and for which, less impecunious than they, she paid. She also picked up as other friends people with whom her son and the family wouldn’t have thought she would have anything in common, just as they wouldn’t. A bustling talkative Afrikaner woman, The Pienaar(these useful women were referred to in the definitive by their surnames), perhaps began as someone paid for small

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