Our House ... is a Very Very Very Nice House
By Fred Owens
The title is from a Crosby Stills and Nash song from long ago. The story is about the house Precious and I rented at 21 Shottery Crescent in Southwold, a subdivision of Bulawayo. But first I need to comment on the previous episode when this charming couple announced their engagement. The African half of this pair, that is Precious Mataka and her very numerous band of cousins, and all the good people of Bulawayo, and even everyone in the entire continent of Africa -- which is far bigger than North America, by the way -- all of Africa blessed this union, and thought nothing of it. Two people find each other, they sort out a few things if they need to, then they get together. There are no single people in Africa. A single person needs his or her own room to be single in, which is not possible in Africa. Nobody has a big enough house. So everybody hooks up and it doesn't take long. There is not a lot of foreplay. It's not an ideal system and it can get very messy, but it's what they do in Africa. And that's why Precious and Fred received the blessing of one and all -- in Africa.
Not so in the western world. Eyebrows were raised. Glances bordering on disapproval were displayed. Not quite right, it was thought. A hesitancy. The optics were not good .... Well, that's just too bad. Precious and Fred decided to make a go of it , and so he bought her a ring for all the world to see. That's what he did, buy the ring, and she wore it like it was meant for her. So I wrote that scene at the jewelry store in the previous episode. The jeweler was a young white man, mid-thirties, thinning light-brown hair, slight build, pearl-grey tie, white shirt, charcoal black sport coat, grey slacks, nicely shined black shoes. Very clean hands, even manicured, as he ceremoniously handed Precious the velvet tray of rings, she in a navy blue top with no accessories, over a full-wide immaculately white skirt -- looking the part. Fred, the old white man, used his privilege to dress casually.
"Take your time, Miss Mataka, every stone has a story, and the ring you choose will have a story written by you.," "Take the one you like the best," I said. "I know what I want," she replied. "I'm sure you do," I said and to the jeweler I said, "Mr. Bourne, it's getting a little stuffy in here, is there a window?" "Yes, yes, of course, surely, I will get right to it," he responded quickly, but then moved very slowly and deliberately, not wanting to break the spell, not wanting to leave the tray unattended. Bourne adjusted the window and returned to his seat. "These stones are from Botswana. They have the biggest diamond mine in the world. These are not blood diamonds, but created from honest work and we are proud of that," he explained to me. Precious was not interested in that fact about the source of the stone. She said, "I like this big stone and then I like this smaller stone, can I try it?" She slipped on the smaller stone and then looked at her hand. "What do you think?" I asked. "This one," she said, with a look on her face as if she had staked a claim on a mountain stream in a gold rush. This is something African people know about -- precious stones, diamonds, rubies, emeralds. She did not have to tell me anything except to say, "This one." Mr. Bourne read the signs correctly and kept quiet, not to queer the deal. A long pause, a meaningful pause, "Yes," someone said, probably me. "We'll take it."
I handed Bourne my bank card and he rung up the sale. He took the ring into the back room and placed it in a special box. But Precious said, "I will wear it now," and she took it from the box and placed it on her finger. (Anthropological note, third finger left hand, same as here). We were engaged, and we were going to find out what that meant.
Standing on Shottery Crescent Road, a road which rarely sees a vehicle, but sees foot strollers often enough, we faced number 21. "Precious, who told you about this house?" "That woman told me," she said. "What woman?" "The one that sells tomatoes in front of City Hall," she told me.
I liked this house. It was very strong. A tremendous broad pepper tree shaded the entire front yard. "We can sit out here in the afternoon under this tree and drink our tea," I said. "Let's take it." The rent was $150 a month. The roof was clay tiled, the thick walls were brick. The windows were barred. Three bedrooms, one bath. The floors were polished parquet made from the hardwood of the mopani tree. The landlady lived in Francistown in Botswana. Her son, Jerry Thebe, stayed in the garden boy's shed in the back. We could have a nice garden in the yard. The driveway was hedged with blooming poinsettias. "This is a strong house," Precious said. "We can live here."
This episode is shorter but I worked on including input from the Serious Readers. Judy Booth of LaConner wanted more dialog and she got it. Mare O'Brien from Dubuque, Iowa , wanted more context, which means more detail to me. It's tricky. I want to add context and background but I don't want to get into explaining things. Finally Harvey Blume from Cambridge, Massachusetts, commented that the first episodes were raw, but later episodes were becoming anthropological. I took this as a good thing, going from emotional to analytical, going from wet to dry, and then back again. I like both modes and will try to vary them in a harmonious manner.
The title of this episode, from a 60's hit song, is not absurd. Okay, a little absurd. But that song is part of my context.
Stay healthy, wash your hands, wear a mask at the grocery store,