Excerpts from The Calling of Katie Makanya
[Chapter 1, pp.5-8]
She looked like a witch.
Her skin was as wrinkled and black as a dried prune, and her little red eyes peered through layers of wrinkles, half-foolish, half-wise, as though she had once known but had long since forgotten the timeless secrets.
The two little girls waited. In spite of the African heat, the younger child felt a shiver run down her back. She pulled at her sister’s dress. ‘Come away, Charlotte,’ she muttered.
But Charlotte grabbed her arm and held her firmly at the edge of the wagon tracks. ‘Katie, you stay here,’ she whispered fiercely in her big-sister voice. ‘Grandfather’s coming.’
‘Yes,’ Katie said uncertainly, gazing down the hill at the short black man with streaks of grey in his hair and beyond him to the old woman huddled in the ox cart. ‘But who’s she?’
‘Our old ancestor,’ Charlotte said, tightening her fingers on Katie’s arm.
As the cart approached, Grandfather raised one arm in greeting. ‘Weu! I rejoice to see you.’ ‘We rejoice also,’ Charlotte called back.
Grandfather laughed and nodded towards the old woman. ‘She gave me no rest. She did not want to stop to eat or even to sleep.’
Still laughing, he lifted the old woman gently to the ground and reached back for her walking-stick. While he outspanned the oxen, she hobbled forward, her bones rattling under her shapeless black dress.
‘Hawu, my little Anna!’ she said, tapping Katie’s shoulder. Her mouth gaped open, empty of teeth, and her voice echoed the faint screech of an owl. Katie clung in terror to Charlotte’s hand and again she tried to pull away. But Charlotte stood still, her chin held high, and stared back at the Old One. Charlotte was six years old and she was not afraid of anything, neither witches nor ancestors.
‘She’s not Anna,’ Charlotte said firmly. ‘She’s Katie, daughter of Anna.’
‘Not Anna?’ The old woman shook her head in confusion, and suddenly tears glistened in her little red eyes and she wailed aloud to Grandfather. ‘My son, the Zulus have taken Anna.’
‘Anna’s still working her fields,’ Grandfather said. ‘These are Anna’s girls. They’ll take you to the house and make you tea.’
‘Tea? Yes, I want tea,’ she mumbled.
Did witches drink tea and cry real tears? Witches knew everything. A witch would have known her name. Katie’s fears eased. Together the two girls guided the old woman over the clean swept earth, and steadied her walking-stick as she pulled herself up the steps of the veranda and seated herself in Ma’s rocking-chair. The evening wind was already touching the hilltop. Katie ran inside for one of Ma’s shawls to tuck around the old woman’s shoulders, then turned to follow Charlotte to the cooking hut. But those wrinkled hands clawed at her dress.
‘Katie, daughter of Anna, stay with me. Let that other one go.’
Charlotte hesitated. She did not like being thus dismissed. But her duty was clear, and after a moment she ran off alone to make the tea. The old woman beckoned Katie closer and stroked her cheek. ‘Yes, you are Anna’s daughter,’ she said. Her voice dropped slyly. ‘But that other girl? Who is she?’
‘She’s my sister Charlotte.’
‘No. She’s not like us.’
‘She is,’ Katie cried out. Of course Charlotte was her sister. Yet as she looked down at her bare feet and twisting hands, she saw that indeed the old woman spoke true. Her own skin was as black as the old woman’s, as black as Ma’s. But Charlotte was different. Like Pa, her skin was the colour of mealie tassels just before harvest time.
‘But she is my sister,’ Katie said.
Already the old woman had forgotten her question. ‘I want my tea.’
Katie ran off quickly before she could change her mind. When she and Charlotte returned with the tray, Grandfather was squatting on his heels beside the rocking-chair, looking out on the hills which rolled down and down from the house like a great pile of green and red and golden calabashes. He was speaking gently to the old woman, pointing across the hills to other African homesteads, each protected from snakes by a patch of bare swept earth, and down to the valley where the river ran full, and beyond to the red corrugated-iron roofs and green trees of the white people in Uitenhage five miles away.
‘Yes, it’s good land my son-in-law has chosen,’ he was saying, ‘and a good house he’s built for my daughter.’ He stood up, reaching for the two blanket rolls he had unpacked from the ox cart. ‘Where do we sleep?’
‘I’ll show you, Grandfather,’ Charlotte said eagerly, leading him through the door into the two-room wattle-and-daub farmhouse.
On the veranda Katie managed to lift the heavy teapot and pour tea into a cup without spilling. As she stirred in two spoonfuls of sugar, she could hear Charlotte’s voice inside the house: ‘You’ll sleep here in the room where we sit and study and work. The other room has Ma’s bed, and the Old One will sleep with her.’
‘My tea,’ the old woman grumbled. Katie held out the cup but the old woman made no move to take it, just looked at it greedily until Katie raised it to her lips. She drank then, slowly at first, testing the heat, then gulped noisily. Suddenly she sat up straight and called out, ‘Anna comes.’
Ma was moving up the hillside, a short, fat black woman with a basket of mealies on her head, and a hoe over one shoulder. ‘Father! Grandmother!’ she called out happily. ‘I didn’t think you’d come so soon.’
‘Your grandmother was in a big hurry to see you,’ Grandfather called back.
‘Such a big hurry she even called me Anna,’ Katie said, taking the hoe.
‘Then she thought the Zulus had taken you away,’ Charlotte added, helping Ma set down the basket of mealies. ‘Ma, who are the Zulus?’
‘We do not speak of them,’ Ma said firmly.
‘Our ancestor said—’
But the old woman had already heard. ‘The Zulus! They’re coming back. Quick, my children, we must hide.’ She tried to pull herself out of her rocking-chair but Grandfather held her down.
‘We’re safe here,’ he said calmly. ‘The Zulus are far away by the eastern sea.’
Still the old woman perched on the edge of the rocking-chair, wailing in despair. Knowing nothing, yet sensing her fear, Katie felt such a rush of pity that, without thinking, she patted her hand.
‘Oy, my little one. You are with me. But I thought I buried you under the bushes.’
‘I am here, Great-grandmother,’ Katie said softly.
From that time forward until she went away with Grandfather in his ox cart, the old woman would not let Katie out of her sight. Sometimes the old woman thought Katie was Ma as a child. Sometimes she knew Katie as Ma’s daughter. And sometimes she thought Katie was her own baby come back from the dead. But whoever she thought Katie was, she warned her constantly against those terrible Zulus. Time and time again she unwound the black scarf from her head to reveal the yellowed bone showing through the matted white hair.
Her thoughts were too mixed up to tell what had really happened. At last one evening after the old woman had been put to bed, and Ma, Grandfather, Charlotte and Katie were sitting on the veranda watching the purple shadows greying into night, Katie asked what the Zulus had done.
‘We do not speak of the Zulus in this house,’ Ma repeated.
‘It’s time, Anna,’ Grandfather said. ‘ When the girls are old enough to ask their questions, they are old enough to hear.’
Ma sighed and reluctantly began to speak. ‘ It was long ago, when your ancestor was still a young woman. In those days our people were called the Mbo and they lived in Pondoland. They were happy there until they heard that Shaka the Zulu was eating up all the tribes around him and was still unsatisfied. And so the men sharpened their spears and made ready to defend themselves. But in that place there were too many trees and streams for the real sport of battle, so the warriors ran to look for a clear field in which to fight.’
Ma paused. From down on the hillside came the soft boo-boo of an owl, like the mournful echo of a child’s cry.
‘Go on,’ Grandfather prompted.
‘Before they left,’ Ma continued, ‘the warriors warned their women to flee, and leave the children behind so that their crying would not betray their whereabouts. Some did abandon their children. But your ancestor refused. She tied her baby on her back and took her little boy by the hand, and all three hid in the bushes.’
‘You were that little boy?’ Katie asked Grandfather.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I remember very well. Those Zulus passed so close to our hiding place I could see the dirt under their toenails. But they did not see us. They were laughing too loud at a girl who was trying to hide in the river. This girl’s head was under the water, but the current caught her skirt and her bare buttocks floated up in plain view. “That is a beautiful sight and we will return when the fighting is over,” those Zulus called out as they kept running up the path.’
‘So you escaped?’ Charlotte said.
‘Almost. We crept out of the bushes, but too late we saw one last Zulu straggling after his brothers. As he passed us his knobkerrie swung down, crushing the baby’s skull, and swung down again on my mother’s head. He ran on supposing her dead, and why she did not die, I cannot say.’
‘What happened then?’
‘That girl came out of the river and pulled my mother to her feet and helped her bury her poor dead baby.’
‘That’s why we do not speak the name of Zulu in this house,’ Ma said flatly.
‘Let me finish,’ Grandfather said. He smiled at the two girls. ‘We walked for many days until we reached Matatiele. There we found my father with the other men of the Mbo, still waiting to fight and laughing at the Zulus who hadn’t the courage to follow them so far. But they were afraid to return to their own country. Instead, they separated, some going to work for the Boers’, others going another way to become the dogs of the Xhosas. That’s why we are now called Lingoes — because we wandered about in a land that was not our own.’
‘Don’t you own your land in Blinkwater?’ Charlotte asked.
‘Yes. But how I got it is another story.’
[Chapter 3, pp.23-26]
Katie waved to Phillip and Henry as her train pulled into the Kimberley station. At first she did not recognise the dignified young woman standing next to them until she saw her suddenly lift up her long black skirt and run wildly beside the slowing train, more like a crazy schoolgirl than a dignified teacher.
‘Charlotte!’ Katie screamed, leaning out the window. Charlotte kept running, her steps slowing as the train slowed. As soon as Katie jumped onto the platform, Charlotte flung her arms around her, upsetting her basket of possessions so that the bundle of second-hand clothing toppled out of her arms and broke open on the platform.
‘Katie!’ Charlotte said, hands clutching her shoulders. ‘How glad I am to see you. But you’ve grown so big, so pretty.’
‘You too. You look like a very important lady.’
‘I am,’ Charlotte said. ‘I’m a teacher now and you must treat me with proper respect.’ She took several mincing steps forward, pushed out her chin and sniffed haughtily as she beckoned Phillip and Henry.
‘Come, children. Pick up these clothes. They look very untidy.’ The boys paid no attention to her play-acting but hung back uncertainly. Charlotte laughed. ‘You see how important I am, how everyone obeys me!’
She picked up the basket and handed it to Henry, piling the scattered clothing into Phillip’s arms. Then she grabbed Katie’s hand and pushed through the crowd to the roadway. ‘Come on! There’s nothing to see here. Kimberley’s an ugly place.’
Indeed it was ugly. There were no trees, no grass, no wide avenues, no large brick houses, only row upon row of corrugated-iron buildings. Sweat darkened the khaki shirts of Boers shouting orders to black men unloading the train. Englishmen in dark coats mopped their faces. Crumpled paper skittered along the ground. The sun glinted on the bright-blue flies flashing over wrinkled orange peels, horse dung and broken bottles. Wagons rolled by, fluffing up the dust which settled like an incurable disease on the white, black, brown and yellow skins.
‘Yes, it’s an ugly place,’ Katie said, her feet quickening with Charlotte’s. Past the watering trough, past the post office, the butcher shop with its fly-speckled meat, and the general store, and into the African location.
The town around the railroad station was ugly but the location was worse than any place Katie had ever known. Here the iron houses, streaked with rust, seemed to push their way into the road. Broken windows were patched with scraps of wood and stuffed with rags. Few people wandered about in the heat of the day, though Katie heard a mumble of voices behind the walls, the whimpering of children, a quick burst of laughter. Occasionally from an open door a shrill voice called out a greeting to Charlotte, who waved and hurried on as if she did not notice the stink of urine, garbage, and stale smoke.
‘Is this where we live?’ Katie gasped. ‘Everything’s so—I want to vomit.’
Charlotte stopped suddenly, turning to face her. ‘Who do you think you are, to come here and criticise? Are you too big for the rest of us? Ma doesn’t complain. She says we’re lucky to find a house with a real chimney and an inside stove. Are you better than Ma?’
‘Oh, Charlotte!’ The heat and the dry air and Charlotte’s anger and the sickening smells brought tears to Katie’s eyes. Charlotte suddenly squeezed her hand.
‘We mustn’t quarrel so soon. And this place is not so bad when you get used to it. At night the stars are very bright. As Ma says, we can lift up our eyes to the Lord and see that lie is watching over us.’
They ran on past a bend in the road and, without Charlotte’s telling her, Katie knew at once which was their house. It was cleaner than most. Bright curtains hung in the windows, and although the tiny veranda sagged in the middle, Ma had found a place for her rocking-chair. The gate creaked as Charlotte pushed it open, and then Ma was in the doorway, tears streaming down her face.
Katie began to cry also as she felt the strength of Ma’s arms around her, the sweet, safe, musty smell of her breasts, the sound of her heartbeat, and the steady rhythm of her love drawing her back into the family, back from the loneliness of Port Elizabeth.
‘Is this a time for sorrow?’ Charlotte teased. Ma laughed and wiped her face.
‘Come, Katie. You’ve seen Phillip and Henry. Now we’ll find John. Don’t worry if he tries to hide. He’s very shy. Like you were as a child.’
‘And Mary Ann?’
‘Can I see her?’
‘When she wakes up to nurse. After dinner.’
She followed Ma down the dark hallway into the dining-room but Charlotte gave her no time to look around. ‘You put the spoons on the table. The dishes are in the kitchen. I’ll go find John.’
Katie giggled silently inside herself: Charlotte was still ordering her about even though they were no longer children and the farm at Uitenhage was far away. Yet Katie did as she was told, and the spoons and dishes were all laid out by the time Charlotte returned, carrying John on one hip.
‘There. See Katie?’ she said.
John stared, solemn-eyed, clinging still to Charlotte’s neck. He did not let go of her until the front door banged open against the wall and Pa rushed in and everything was all commotion, with the boys searching through the bundle of second-hand clothes for shirts to fit them, and Ma calling the girls to help carry in the food, and in another room the crying of the baby and Charlotte running to fetch her, jouncing her on a shoulder until Ma was able to sit down and put her to the breast. When Pa had thanked the Lord for what He had provided, they all picked up their spoons.
In their manner of eating, Ma’s family were different from most. They followed the Boer customs Ma had learned as a child in Blinkwater. Thus it was that Ma in her own home never fed her menfolk first and separately but sat everyone around the table together. On that first night Pa was speaking about the new gold mines opening up in Johannesburg. ’Even Mr Rhodes is sending his servants up there—,’ he began, when suddenly there was a great rushing of wind outside, and a creaking of metal; the walls of the little house began to shake and the tea in Katie’s cup spilled onto the table. She jumped up in alarm, but Pa told her to sit down. ’It’s nothing,’ he said.
‘What do you mean - nothing!’ But even as she spoke the noise faded, and the house settled.
‘It’s only the train,’ Ma said calmly.
‘It goes past at the bottom of the land at the back,’ Philip said. ‘It always shakes the house.’
‘Two times every day,’ Henry added proudly. ‘Sometimes I go out and wave to the people. Some always wave back.’
Katie laughed. ‘I thought I’d come to live by the walls of Jericho. I was listening for Joshua playing his trumpet.’
‘I’m learning to play the trumpet,’ Phillip interrupted. ‘Our teacher has one. Yesterday he let me blow on it.’
‘Just one blow and you think you can play?’ Charlotte teased. ’You’d better practise on your whistle.’
‘You want to see our whistles, Katie?’ Henry asked eagerly, his earlier shyness forgotten. ‘Pa made them.’
He pushed back his chair and stumbled around the table to a box against the wall. ‘See?’ Henry held up a bamboo stick with holes cut in it and sounded different notes. He pulled out two more whistles of different lengths, and passed one to Phillip and one to Pa.
Let‘s have a concert, Pa. We can play our whistles and Charlotte can sing and—’ He looked at Katie uncertainly.
‘I will also sing,’ Katie said.
Pa began humming in his deep bass, nodding to each in turn to catch the harmony, and when they were all ready he nodded again and together they began singing, ‘O Lord, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come ...’
As Katie felt her own voice coming in an octave higher than Charlotte’s, she glanced at Ma, saw the love reflected in her eyes, saw the candlelight glowing on Phillip’s face and Henry’s, looked at little John staring up at her while he still fingered his food, at Pa and Charlotte, so alike in their manner, their heads thrust proudly upward, their teeth showing white against their lips. And in the singing together, she forgot the filth and the smells outside and the shaking walls and the ugliness of this Kimberley. At last she was home again.
Perhaps she had worked too long for Mrs Hutchinson, for after the first happiness of seeing Ma and Charlotte, Katie began to miss some of the luxuries she had taken for granted in Port Elizabeth —the long bars of yellow soap, the soft sea mist, the endless supply of water.
It was the dry season in Kimberley when she arrived. The water tank was empty. There were rivers in the distance, but it was a long way for the girls to carry water and Ma doled it out sparingly — so much set aside for tea and coffee, a cupful each morning for their body-washing, and all the rest saved for the laundry. There was never enough water to grow vegetables except during the rainy season when the tank overflowed and the roads became rivers of slippery clay.
Ma never complained. One afternoon a boy fell on the road and cut his leg on some broken glass. Ma hurried out to him with bandages and a pan of salt water. Soon the neighbours were calling on her whenever anyone was sick or wounded. Once, when Mrs. Cele fell sick with the fever, Ma sent Katie over to her house several times a day to wipe her body down with a wet towel until her fever broke.
‘ You’re a very good nurse,’ Mrs Cele told Katie.
‘ That’s what I want to be — a nurse,’ Katie told Ma when she got home.
Ma hesitated and then spoke slowly. ‘ It takes much study to be a proper nurse. You have to know all about medicines—’
‘ You can teach me.’
Mama shook her head. ‘All I know is how to wash out wounds and bandage them up. This I learned when I was a girl and watched your grandfather caring for his workers on the farm in Blinkwater. But I know nothing about sickness or medicine—’
‘You can’t be a proper nurse,’ Charlotte interrupted scornfully. ‘The nursing schools here are only for white girls. If you go to work in a hospital, you will just be a servant, mopping floors and cleaning up after the Europeans. If you really want to do important work, then you must study hard and become a teacher.’
[Chapter 4, pp.32-38]
In London great stone buildings all covered with smoke-moss towered up into the sky, blocking out the sun. The streets below were as dim and shadowed as paths through a forest. But there was no silence here. Voices, footsteps, whistles, fog horns, clattering hoofs, creaking wheels, somewhere a hand organ. Day and night, the busy hum of the city never stopped.
Katie had heard so much about the wonderful things she would see in London that she was not surprised by the trains running along the tops of houses or the great buildings with roads underneath them or the double-decker horse-drawn buses lumbering down the streets. But when she stepped down from the train at the railway station she was amazed to see white men carrying heavy trunks on their backs.
‘Look, Charlotte, these Englishmen are their own kaffirs,’ she giggled. For the first time in her life she used the word ‘kaffir’ with malicious glee. At home the Europeans called the black people kaffirs. The blacks did not like this. ‘Kaffir’, although an Arab word meaning ‘infidel’, was too much like the Xhosa word kafula, which means ‘to spit upon’.
All the singers had objected when Mr. Howell changed the name of the group from the Jubilee Chorus to the Kaffir Choir.
‘We don’t like to be called kaffirs,’ Mr. Xiniwe had told him.
‘But that’s what you are. You come from Kaffraria.’
‘We come from the land of the Xhosa.’
‘It’s the same thing,’ Mr. Howell said. ‘ The English know about kaffirs and will be curious to hear you sing.’
Now, as Katie looked about the station and saw all those Englishmen running up to the singers and wanting to carry their suitcases, she could not stop laughing. But she did not see anything funny about the streets outside. In the hansom cab she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the piles of manure left in the middle of Piccadilly and the bird droppings encrusting a statue in Trafalgar Square. The white people were a puzzle, she thought. Here in England they did not seem to notice the dirt and grime, yet in Port Elizabeth Mrs. Hutchinson was always asking, ‘Won’t you kaffirs ever learn to keep things properly clean?’
The inside of the McCready House Hotel in Henrietta Street, however, was very different. Fresh sheets were turned down in the room Katie was to share with Charlotte and Martha, and there were no stains in the wash-basin or dust on the floor.
At dinner on the first night at the hotel they were all asking when they would see the wonderful things Mr. Balmer had described.
‘You’ll have to be patient,’ Mr. Balmer warned. ‘You haven’t come over here on a holiday. Well have to rehearse every day. We’ll only go sightseeing one afternoon a week.’
‘Tomorrow?’ Wellington asked.
‘No. Tomorrow we go to see our theatrical agent, Mr. Vert. He’s the man who arranges all our concerts.’
When they reached his office at 6 Cork Street, Mr. Vert stood up behind his desk and held out his hand to Mr. Balmer. He hardly looked at anyone else. He spoke very quickly as though in a hurry. Even at that first meeting, he took only a few minutes to listen to their singing before holding up his hands for silence.
‘They’re better than I expected,’ he told Mr. Balmer. ’As the first kaffir choir to visit England, they’re something of a novelty, but you have your work cut out. In four days the last public celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee will take place in the Crystal Palace with a tonic sol-fa competition. I under-stand these kaffirs are used to sight-singing?’
‘Yes, but competing with some of the best choirs in England?’
‘Don’t worry, no one expects them to win. But after the one obligatory piece they will have time to present some of their own numbers.’
‘But only four days. That’s hardly enough time—’
‘Just do the best you can. This is, after all, the best possible opportunity for them to perform in front of thousands of people. If they do well, requests will come pouring in.’
A great crowd was assembled in the enormous hall in the Crystal Palace — the newspapers said there were over twenty-eight thousand visitors and singers. Mr Balmer and Miss Clark were both very nervous, but the Africans were too amazed to feel any fear when they saw the strange machines on the stage turning out sheets of music, words and all, for a five-hundred-man choir from Europe. Later, when the leading soprano from the Nottingham Tonic Sol-fa Choral Society did not seem always sure of her notes, Mr. Balmer stopped his fidgeting and looked over at Katie and smiled as if he knew she was a better singer.
The Africans’ turn came that evening. They had no trouble sight-singing from the music sheets, and afterwards when they sang ‘Does Anyone Here Know the Big Baboon?’ the audience laughed and shouted for an encore.
Mr. Vert seemed very excited when he came to the hotel the next afternoon to congratulate Mr Balmer. ‘Even the Queen is interested. A command performance has been arranged for the 24th of July.’
Mr Balmer looked startled. ‘I didn’t expect—’
‘You’d better spend the night of the 23rd at the South Palace Hotel in Portsmouth. We’ll take the early morning ferry. Her Majesty is at her summer palace down at Osborne on the Isle of Wight.’
In Portsmouth, the five girls were crowded into one bedroom, and they lay awake for a long time telling one other all they had heard or read about Queen Victoria. Katie could hardly sleep in her excitement at the thought of seeing the Queen in her jewelled crown and purple robes.
During the night a light wind came up, ruffling the waves on the Solent. By the time the singers reached Osborne, they were all exhausted by lack of sleep and the rough ferry-ride. As soon as the girls were ushered upstairs into one of the two dressing-rooms set aside for the choir, they curled up in the deep armchairs and fell asleep. Two hours later a maid came in with a tray of sandwiches and tea, followed by Miss Clark who fussed over them until they started dressing.
Their programme was divided into two parts. For the first, the singers dressed in the old way, according to their tribe, with beaded robes covering their breasts, carved wooden combs in their hair, and anklets of seed pods which rattled as they stamped their bare feet on the floor. Dressed thus, they sang as their people used to sing when they hunted or danced or gathered together for some celebration. For the second part of the programme, they dressed in Christian clothes, the men in dark suits and the girls in white dresses with long white gloves, and they sang the English songs Mr. Balmer had taught them.
As soon as the girls were ready, a lady-in-waiting led them through the corridors and down a wide staircase to the empty Indian Room. It was bigger than any room Katie had ever seen. Sunlight streaming through tall uncurtained windows shone on a huge carved peacock over the fireplace, thick Persian rugs covered the floor, and there were enough armchairs to seat a hundred people.
Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, groups of people drifted into the room — ladies in silken gowns, soldiers in uniform, Scots in green and yellow kilts, Indians wearing turbans, a West African boy in a scarlet tunic, and twenty or thirty Englishmen in black frock coats and grey trousers.
Mr. Vert leaned down to speak to Miss Clark. ‘There’s the Duke and Duchess of Connaught with Prince Arthur. Princess Margaret and Princess Victoria Patricia are over by the window. I think that’s the Count and Countess of Hohenau talking to the Crown Prince of Italy—’ He went on whispering while Miss Clark’s cheeks grew pink with excitement. All at once his words were lost in a hissing of breath as the door behind the choir opened. Katie, trembling, turned her head, expecting to see at last the tall and stately figure of the Queen in her purple robes and jewelled crown.
But she did not see her.
There was only a little old woman standing there in the doorway, as short and fat and round as Ma, wearing a simple black dress and a white lace bonnet and no jewellery at all except for rings on her fingers. Beside her and holding on to her hand was a small girl with yellow hair.
Katie was disappointed. The little one must be one of the royal princesses coming in with her nanny, she thought. Nevertheless there was a strange dignity about that old woman, and all the men, even the Crown Prince of Italy, were bowing as she approached. Miss Clark stood up and motioned to the choir to rise to their feet, and Mr. Balmer gave the signal for ‘God Save the Queen’.
Still Katie could not believe. Nevertheless, when the anthem was over, Katie threw back her head and shouted out with the others, A! Umhlekazt which means ‘Hail, your Majesty!’, until the old woman was comfortably seated with the little princess on a footstool beside her. Katie knew then that this old woman must he Queen Victoria. She was very disappointed. Pa had been wrong. She wore no crown, no purple robes. She had no page-boys or soldier-guards or even advisers proclaiming her power. She was just like any old widow-woman listening politely as Mr. Xiniwe stepped forward to thank her for summoning the choir to Osborne and tell her about the various parts of their costume.
The Queen nodded. Then, as Mr. Balmer came forward and Miss Clark struck the first notes on the piano, she leaned back to listen intently, her head tilted a little to one side as she tried to understand the words of the hymns ‘Lizalis’ idinga Lakho’ and ‘Vuka Deborah’. She laughed heartily when the two young nephews of Mr. Xiniwe stepped forward and began to dance during the singing of ‘Singamewele’, a traditional Xhosa song and dance about twins. The choir sang a wedding song, a travelling song, a work song, with different members taking turns with the solo parts, and finally a goodbye song, before they left to change into their Christian clothes for the second part of the programme.
In the dressing-room, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting asked Miss Clark if there was anything she needed. ‘ Thank you, no. We have everything,’ Miss Clark said, turning back to pull the strings of Mrs. Xiniwe’s corset tighter.
The lady turned to Katie. ‘Here, let me help you.’
Katie shook her head. ‘I can dress myself.’
‘But perhaps a little powder—’ The lady pulled a powder-puff out of a box on the dresser and dabbed at Katie’s face. Katie peered into the mirror and began to giggle as she wiped the powder off.
‘ In my country it is only the rickshaw boys who whitewash themselves, and they only paint their legs.’
‘ But you want to look stylish,’ the lady said, and began to pull the neck of her dress down over her shoulders.
Katie stepped back, hiding her irritation with a burst of laughter. ‘At home it is only the heathen women who expose their breasts.’ Miss Clark rescued her with a quick ‘We’re ready to go down now’. The buzz of conversation stopped as the choir re-entered the Indian Room. This time the old woman patted the arm of her chair with the flat of her hand in time to `The Merry Peasant’, ‘The Dawn of Day’, and ‘On the Mountain’, but when the programme ended with the Lord’s Prayer, she bent her head and closed her eyes. At last, after Mr. Balmer turned and bowed before her, she tapped lightly with her fan on a little table, and immediately everyone in that huge room began to applaud. Then, in the midst of their noise, she rose to her feet and pulled the little princess up by the hand.
‘I’m pleased to see you here and I admire your singing very much,’ she said to the choir, before stepping towards the younger of the two boys whose dancing had so amused her and asking his name.
‘That’s a good name. My husband’s name was Albert. And your brother?’
‘He’s John, Ma’am.’
‘That, too, is a good name. I once had a very loyal servant whose name was John.’
She took one step back and looked around at each of the men. ‘I’m told that there is one of you who fought against my soldiers.’
Josiah stood very straight, but when he answered her his voice squeaked with fear. ‘It was me, Ma’am. When I was still young and not yet civilised.’
‘And now?’ she smiled.
‘Now I’m educated, Ma’am.’ His nervous squeak slowly disappeared as he gained in confidence. ‘Now I understand these things. And like me, my people are grateful because you have pardoned them for their ignorance.’
Nodding she turned to the rest of the choir and smiled again. Before she could speak, however, the little princess pulled at her hand and cried out, ‘Granny, Granny, come away. I don’t like these darkies.’
‘Hush, Alice, you mustn’t be afraid. These are Granny’s people.’ As she spoke those words, it seemed to Katie that Queen Victoria was smiling directly at her as if sure the child would be forgiven for her ignorance.
In that moment, Katie knew that this little old woman in the black dress and lace cap was indeed the great Queen—Empress of Africa as well as of England. So great was Katie’s pride in knowing that she was one of Granny’s people that, until she felt Martha’s nudge, she almost forgot to dip into the low curtsy which Miss Clark had taught her. Even then, out of the corner of her eye, she watched Queen Victoria walk out of the room, her little round body seeming to grow tall and stately and that white lace bonnet to glimmer like a jewelled crown.
From that day on, Mr. Vert kept them very busy. He arranged concerts in public halls, at private receptions, in schools and in churches. Afterwards there were always photographers and people who crowded around asking questions. Newspapers printed stories, some of which were very funny. One said Katie was an African princess. Perhaps the man who wrote it mistook her for Martha, who was Lobengula’s granddaughter. But it made everybody laugh, and from then on Wellington, that big clown, always addressed her as‘your Highness’ and bowed down very low whenever she appeared.
Music critics also came to hear them. In August an article appeared in theMusical Times:
A quartet, or rather a solo accompanied by three voices, bore so close a resemblance to Rossini’s ‘Cujus animam’ that it is difficult to accept it as a specimen of native music at all.
But Mr. Vert was quick to have another writer publish an article stating:
This quartet, ‘Africa’, is the composition of a Kaffir who had never heard of Rossini or his Stabat Mater, and did not dream that such a selection as ‘Cujus animam’ was in existence. It is descriptive of how the natives hum some portions of their songs.
Another critic wrote:
The musical capabilities of the Kaffir Choir which during the last month has claimed attention in London must have been a surprise to many. Hitherto the African has been deemed so undeveloped as to be thought scarcely worthy of association with music, but, as in many other instances, this supposition has apparently arisen from ignorance rather than knowledge.
Katie did not understand the rest of the article with its mention of diatonic chants, consecutive fifths and augmented fourths, but Mr. Balmer told her it
was a very important analysis of their native songs.
People also came to visit them at the hotel. Dr Joseph Parker, the minister of the City Temple, Holborn, where the choir had given a Service of Song, often brought retired missionaries or ladies from his church to drink tea with Miss Clark and the girls. It was these ladies who started the trouble in the choir by asking Mrs. Xiniwe if she would like to earn some extra money by giving a speech about her life in Africa.
As soon as she stood up, the ladies in the missionary society began asking her questions — foolish questions about everyday matters that Mrs. Xiniwe could answer without thinking. And for this she was paid a guinea. If it was that easy, Charlotte also wanted to earn some extra money. So when Miss Forbes, who was the principal of a girls’ school, suggested that one of the choir tell her students about Africa, Miss Clark suggested Charlotte. She, too, came back to the hotel with an extra pound in her purse.
‘Very good,’ Mrs. Xiniwe said. ‘Of course, I always get a guinea, but you’re still young.’
However, when Miss Clark sent Charlotte to another school, Mrs. Xiniwe complained. ‘It isn’t fair for her to earn twice when I’ve only had one chance.’
‘Charlotte is a teacher, so it’s more fitting for her to talk to schoolgirls,’ Miss Clark replied. But although Mrs Xiniwe had never passed Standard Six, she kept grumbling. She even went to Katie.
‘It isn’t proper for Charlotte to be running to this place and that place and leaving you behind. Your mother would not like it.’
Katie looked at Mrs. Xiniwe in astonishment, for when she spoke of Charlotte her voice came thin and rasping and her eyes glittered like those of a cobra which had once reared up on the path in Uitenhage. Charlotte had killed the snake with a stick but Katie was so terrified her mouth had dried up.
That night as they were undressing, she told Charlotte what Mrs. Xiniwe had said.
‘I know,’ Charlotte said, ‘but don’t worry about it, she’s just jealous.’
‘And greedy too,’ Martha added.
‘But always before, she’s been so kind. Today she was not like herself at all. She frightened me.’
Katie could not forget those days in Port Elizabeth when Mrs. Xiniwe beckoned her over to sit beside her in church, or the times at school when Mr. Xiniwe said she was his best singer. She tried to please both Charlotte and Mrs. Xiniwe, but it was no use. At the dinner table or during rehearsals, Mrs. Xiniwe would stare at her and then whisper to Frances or Johanna, who would glance at Katie and laugh.
One day Katie asked Frances what Mrs. Xiniwe was saying.
‘Nothing,’ Frances muttered.
‘Yes, it is. It’s something. I want to know.’ Frances shrugged and tried to move away, but Katie caught her arm and held it tight. ‘Tell me.’
‘She says your eyes are very big when you look at her husband. She says it isn’t right.’
Katie gasped. ‘But he’s an old man. You don’t believe her, do you?’ But Frances looked away and would not answer.
Charlotte just laughed when Katie told her. ‘Mr. Xiniwe still thinks of you as a schoolgirl,’ she said. ‘Moreover, he gets tired of his wife’s complaining. He doesn’t pay any attention to what she says.’
When Mr. Xiniwe’s manner towards her did not change, Katie felt more at ease. Soon she was too busy to think about anything except singing, washing and mending her clothes and writing her letters to Ma and Pa.
[Chapter 6, pp.66-72]
Katie read his letter over and over, repeating the words out loud until it seemed as if Gershom were there in the room with her. No matter what Charlotte said, she thought, he would make her a good husband and give her plenty of children. She folded up the letter at last and pushed it down again between her breasts, waiting a moment while she thought up what to tell Charlotte. But she waited too long.
The front door banged. Phillip and Henry tramped through the dining room into the kitchen, and Charlotte began asking Phillip what he knew of Gershom.
‘Nothing much,’ Phillip said. ‘Just that he says he wants to be a pigeon. breeder.’
‘Then you’d better find out all you can. If we’re not careful he will get your sister into trouble.’
It wasn’t fair for her to tell Phillip so soon. Katie rushed out to tell her to mind her own business, but at that moment Ma and Pa returned from church. Katie clamped her lips together as Pa sat down and began spooning the mutton stew over his rice. Ma held little Mary Ann in her lap, feeding her special pieces of meat and at the same time restraining John from sprinkling sugar on his stew. Across the table Phillip and Henry watched Katie slyly as they gobbled their food. No one spoke except Charlotte, and she talked too much and too fast about nothing. Then Phillip scraped his chair back from the table and stood up.
‘I have to go out. Can I take the lantern?’
‘Where are you going so late that you need a lantern?’ Pa asked.
‘The lantern’s on the back step,’ Charlotte interrupted quickly, and then, ‘Pa, in all this time since we’ve been home, you haven’t yet spoken of going back to Soekmekaar. Is the old man still calling you?’
‘He calls,’ Pa said, forgetting Phillip, ‘but my girls give me no chance to speak of him. With you it is talk, talk, talk of America.’
‘Now you are making fun,’ Charlotte said. ‘All our lives we have waited for you to take us back to that land beyond the mountains.’
‘How can I take you if you go to America?’
‘You can take the others, and when Katie and I come back we’ll join you there.’
‘I’m not going to America,’ Katie said.
‘But you must. Pa, tell Katie she must come with me.’
Pa shook his head. ’She went with you once; now she may stay at home if she chooses.’
While Charlotte was talking, Phillip left the house to go where he wanted to go and see whom he wanted to see. He would come back with news about Gershom, Katie thought nervously. She moved restlessly in her chair, and Gershom’s letter inside her blouse brushed against her breasts like the quick touch of his hand, making her ache for the sight of his face.
All afternoon she waited quietly for Phillip’s return, telling herself that he would bring good news to wipe away Charlotte’s suspicions. Then Phillip and Charlotte would warn Pa so that he could think on the matter of lobola before Gershom came — came with whom? The brother who had married a woman from Soekemaar?
And what would Pa ask in return for his daughter? Ten head of cattle for himself and one for Ma, as the white people were saying was the proper lobola? Perhaps, being a Christian, Pa would not ask for anything at all. The missionaries preached against the system of lobola. They called it brideprice and scolded the people for ‘selling’ their daughters in marriage. But they did not understand. To the Xhosa and Sotho, Swazi and Zulu, and indeed among all the tribes, lobola was like a rope binding two families together when their children married. If a man gave so much for a woman, he would not want to ill-treat her, and she herself would try to be a good wife, knowing that her own father would have to give up those cattle if her husband said she was no good and sent her back to her homeplace. Thus lobola was one custom which even the Christians did not want to throw away. Nevertheless, it was not an easy matter. Pa would not ask what Gershom could not give, yet if he asked too little, people would think his daughter worthless.
The daylight faded. Ma’s rocking-chair creaked on the front porch. Charlotte lit a candle and pulled it next to the book she was reading. Katie smeared jam on a slice of bread and gave it to Mary Ann, then lay down on her bed to rest while she waited for Phillip’s return. She did not think she would sleep, yet before she knew it she was waking up in the darkness to the sound of Pa’s voice.
‘Where’s Phillip? He should be home by now.’
‘He’s all right, Pa,’ Charlotte said calmly. ‘He’ll come soon.’
‘He should be sleeping. We should all be sleeping,’ Ma said.
‘Then you and Pa go to bed. I’m not finished reading, and when he comes, I’ll lock the door.’
Charlotte was still sleeping when Katie left for work the next morning but Phillip followed her out to the gate. ‘Katie,’ he said heavily, ‘you made much running about for me last night. I went to see Gershom’s brother. First I went to the Dutch Reformed church, but this was not his Sunday. Someone told me where he worked. It was a long way to that place and I saw him for only a few minutes. He says it is true what Charlotte says. Gershom is not a true Christian. You must not marry him — his own brother says so.’
‘You put those words in his mouth. Just because Charlotte has turned against me, you’ve turned against me also.’
He shook his head. ’Just listen to—’’I won’t listen.’ Katie backed away, ready to run if he tried to grab her, but he just stood there, silent, staring at her as though he thought she was a wicked, headstrong girl. She cried out angrily, ‘Why don’t you mind your own business?’
‘This is my business.’ There was a quiet dignity in his manner which frightened her, because he no longer acted like a younger brother, to be teased and spoiled and ordered about.
‘No, it isn’t,’ she said and turned and ran from him, all the way to Kenilworth. There, hardly pausing to greet the cook, she grabbed her brick, wrapped clean rags around it, and flung herself down on her knees to rub wax into the cement floor as if in this way she could rub out the memory of Phillip’s words. By the time she was finished waxing all the inside floors, the cook called. Her cousin, he told her, was waiting at the back door.
Her cousin? She had no relatives in Kimberley. Her heart thumped with excitement. Perhaps Gershom had dared to seek her out. But the man who waited was altogether a stranger. He was tall like Gershom and his skin was the colour of honey, but he was older, heavier, and stem of face.
‘Miss Katie,’ he said in halting Dutch, ‘I’ve come to warn you because you are the daughter of my wife’s cousin. I don’t like this business between you and my brother. I’ve heard you are a Christian girl, and I tell you this: my father is a drinker, my mother is a drinker, all my brothers and sisters are drinkers. I am the only one who does not drink. All the rest are no good and I’ve thrown them away. You must also throw them away. Forget this heathen brother of mine and open your eyes on someone else.’
‘No, you’re mistaken. Gershom is a good Christian. He comes to my church.’
‘He’s telling you lies.’
‘It’s you who are telling me lies,’ Katie cried out in despair. ‘You’ve thrown your family away and made yourself a stranger to them, so you are a stranger tome also.’
Yet all that day she worried about Gershom. One minute she half believed his brother, but in the next she remembered Gershom’s face, the special way he smiled, and, thinking of him, she felt herself beautiful like the water grasses and loved him for making her beautiful.
She had no chance to mention Gershom’s brother to Charlotte. When she came home that night the house was full of excitement. Martha was cutting out a dress on the dining-room table, Ma was busy running up seams on her sewing machine, and Charlotte was writing down lists and figures on a sheet of paper.
‘I’m really going,’ she called out to Katie. ‘Mr. Balmer and Miss Clark are waiting in Cape Town. Come with me, Katie. There’s still time. Please. We can send a telegraph.’ Her face was as loving and as bright as before the time of Gershom.
‘When do you leave?’
‘As soon as I can. As soon as Ma finishes sewing my new clothes. I need two dresses and bloomers and some flannel petticoats. It’s going to be cold in New York.’
‘You can have my coat with the fur collar, the one Mrs. Keithley gave me.’
‘You’ll need that yourself.’
‘I’m not going, Charlotte.’
‘Ma, tell Katie she must come with me.’
Ma looked up from her sewing machine. ‘Don’t press her. Remember what Pa said. If she wants to stay, then she can stay.’
Two days later, after choir practice, Gershom stepped forward to greet them. Charlotte, with a slight shrug of her shoulders, turned away, leaving Katie and Gershom standing alone a little distance from everyone else. ‘I see you found my letter,’ he said softly. ‘What do you say?’
‘There’s nothing for me to say. This is a matter for my father.’
‘No, you must tell me yourself.’
Katie laughed at his impatience, shaking her head to tease him as he demanded an answer again and again. ‘If you don’t like me, you’d show me.’ He stepped forward confidently. She backed away until she felt the cold air from the open door on her back, then quickly darted around him so he could no longer trick her into moving outside. Perhaps Charlotte was watching, for at this moment she reached out to touch Katie’s arm.
‘Come, Martha and I are ready to go.’
‘Myself also,’ Gershom said, escorting the three girls out of church and down the familiar streets. Halfway home, his fingers brushed Katie’s elbow, and at his touch her whole body trembled, and involuntarily her steps slowed until his hand curled possessively around her arm and began pulling her gently out of the swinging light of Charlotte’s lantern into the darker shadows of some bushes.
Charlotte suddenly swung her lantern in a wider arc and called Katie’s name.
‘I’m here,’ Katie said, and yanked her arm from Gershom’s clutch. ‘ I tripped over a stone in the road.’
‘Oh,’ Charlotte said.
Gershom walked on with them as far as their gate. Katie paused there, hoping that Charlotte would give them one more moment together, but she paused also.
‘Goodnight,’ Katie said at last.
‘Rest well,’ Gershom answered, and was still standing there when she glanced back at him from the door.
The next night Charlotte and Phillip talked to Pa. Mary Ann and John were both asleep by the time Katie returned from work, but the others were all sitting around the table in the dining-room. The light from their candles flickered in the draught.
‘Go to your room and shut the door,’ Pa said sternly. His hands were clasped together in front of him and his eyebrows were wrinkled together in thought. Ma sat across the table, her eyes worried. Phillip was biting his lips. Charlotte was crying. And Henry, little fourteen-year-old Henry, was looking at Katie as if she was not of the family.
‘Go to your room,’ Pa repeated with heavy authority.
‘Did you hear?’
Katie undressed in the darkness and lay down on the bed, trying to catch their words, but they kept their voices low and the wall between distorted the sounds so that she could not understand what they said. Nevertheless she heard the uncertainty in Ma’s voice, the quaver in Charlotte’s, and the sadness in Pa’s. It was a terrible thing to disappoint those you love, and her head throbbed and her chest ached with the pain of hurting them. Yet she could not bring herself to ask their forgiveness or promise to give up the thought of Gershom.
It was a long time before Charlotte came to bed. Katie heard the rustle of her clothes dropping to the floor and the warmth of her body as she lay on her side of their bed.
‘Katie,’ she whispered, but Katie did not answer. There was nothing for them to say to each other.
In the morning Katie left for Kenilworth at first light. When she came home after her work, Martha was handing pins to Ma, who was busily fitting Charlotte’s dresses. Mrs. Njapa was out in the kitchen, ironing. While Katie filled a pot with water to heat on the stove, Henry came bursting through the front door.
‘I saw Gershom with another man. I think they’re coming here.’
Ma gasped. ‘Go tell your father. He’s over next door. And girls, pick up the dresses. Charlotte, I’ll unpin you in the kitchen.’
She pushed the others through the door and shut it behind her. A few minutes later, they heard Pa enter and after him other footsteps and Gershom’s voice, introducing another brother, not the one who had married Pa’s cousin.
Katie moved closer to the door but Charlotte began talking loud nonsense. Martha laughed nervously. Mrs. Njapa kept slamming the iron down on the stove. With all that noise Katie could not hear what the men were saying until Gershom began shouting in anger.
‘You refuse everything. What is it you want?’
Charlotte stopped in the middle of a sentence; Mrs Napa paused, her iron in mid-air; Martha, Katie and Ma stood silent, listening.
‘Nothing,’ Pa was saying. ‘My daughters do not marry into the families of drunkards.’
‘But I’m not a drinker,’ Gershom shouted again.
‘You lie,’ Pa said bluntly. ‘Do you think I’m an old fool who knows nothing?’
Gershom swore at Pa and threatened him with disaster through the magic powers of some sorcerer. But Pa said nothing, and at last Gershom and his brother stamped angrily out of the house.
Katie could not look at anyone because of the shame she felt. She stumbled past Pa into the bedroom and fell down on the floor with her head against the wall, shuddering with grief Vaguely she heard a flurry of footsteps and Pa’s firm voice, ‘No, Charlotte, leave her alone.’
At last, when her tears were finished and she had dragged herself over to the bed, he came into the room and stood there looking down at her, a sad smile on his face.
‘Ah, Malubisi, my heart is pierced to see you weep. But the tears you shed now are only puddles that will dry up under the sun. Yet the tears that women weep after marriage are like the rivers that grow wider and deeper until they are lost in the sea. Some day you will remember my words and say your father was wise.’
Katie’s throat was too swollen for speech. Pa sat down and laid his roughened hand gently on her shoulder while the daylight faded and the spasms of her sobs eased. Not until Ma called him for his evening meal did he rise to his feet.
‘Do you want food?’
Katie shook her head.
‘Then rest well,’ he said and left her alone.
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but although she was too weary to lift her hand, her thoughts moved swiftly as leaf shadows on a windy day. If only Gershom had promised to reform himself, she might have rebelled. But instead he had cursed and threatened, thus showing himself to be what Charlotte and Phillip and that other brother had said — a no-good heathen who must be thrown away. But what was there left for her in Kimberley without any dreams of a husband and children? Should she go to America with Charlotte? No, she thought, she did not want to leave her family again. She could hear them all in the dining-room, keeping their voices low. Only Henry was loud and curious.
‘What do we do now, Pa? Will Katie run away? Or do Phillip and I walk with her to work each morning and bring her home?’
; ‘Shame on you,’ Pa said. ‘You can trust your sister. Tonight her heart is troubled because she knows this business is finished. But tomorrow she won’t be tempted by that man again.’
What made him so sure? Katie wondered. Perhaps because when she was little he himself had made her repeat after him the Ten Commandments:‘Honour thy father. . ’ So it was said in the Bible, but so it was also said among those of their people who had never heard the Word. Wasn’t that why Pa had brought his family away from the happy life on the farm in Uitenhage — because his own father had summoned him home, was waiting even now for them to save their money and continue their journey northwards?
For the first time in her life, Katie thought of that old heathen grandfather as a real person, not just an imaginary figure in the stories Pa told. What was he like, this old man with his several wives, his herds of cattle, and his many children — who still loved the one son that had left him so many years ago?
[Chapter 12, pp.154-156]
The Doctor turned to Katie and spoke slowly, with the heaviness of a schoolteacher. ‘Tell her that although my muti is strong, it did not kill her. It only put her to sleep so she did not feel the pain of the knife.’
As they moved to the next bed and the next, two other women held up their babies for the Doctor to see. Then, at the fourth bed, Katie looked down on Ntotisa, a young girl who was hardly more than a child. She came from Zama’s kraal. A few months earlier she had been bitten in the leg by a puff. adder. Her father had rushed to her side when he heard her scream, had knelt beside her in the grass and immediately cut out the poison with a piece of broken glass. Then he had carried her all the way to Umbumbulu to a famous inyanga, or doctor, who had rubbed one medicine into the wound and given her another to drink so that she would vomit up any poison left in her body. Thus it was that she did not die. Nevertheless, her leg was never right again, and after a time the flesh began to rot and fall off; the smell was so bad that no one wanted to be near her. Now she was here in the Doctor’s cottage and there was no smell of rotting flesh, only that faint odour of the Doctor.
‘Is the pain still bad?’ he asked.
She nodded wearily.
‘Ask her’, he told Katie, ‘if the pain is in the leg I cut off.’
She nodded again.
‘Then tell her that each day the pain will be less.’
He held up his right hand, and Katie noticed for the first time that between his thumb and last two fingers there were only ugly white scars covering the knuckles. ‘Tell her that when I was a child, younger than her, my two fingers were cut off. At first those lost fingers gave me much pain but in time the pain was lost also.’
Katie repeated his words; then he added, ‘Tell her that when she is well again, I will give her a new leg.’
‘You mean a crutch?’ Katie needed to know his meaning exactly.
‘No, a wooden leg with a foot that bends so she can learn to use it properly. Then she can run again’
The girl’s eyes brightened. ‘Run? It’s long since I could run.’
‘Soon you will again,’ Katie said firmly. ‘The Doctor says so, and he is not a man who lies. So you must be grateful. And when you run you must show the people your new leg and call them to church so that they can praise the Lord for this miracle.’
‘Katie, you talk too much,’ the Doctor interrupted. ‘I’m in a hurry. Leave the preaching to Umgqibelo.’
He moved quickly into another room, which he called his men’s ward, where a man was sleeping peacefully with his wife sitting beside him. As the Doctor pulled down the blanket and looked at the bandages on his stomach, his wife jumped up and ran outside, laughing and shouting.
‘What’s she telling them?’ the Doctor asked Katie.
‘She says that her husband looks like he’s wearing a corset because those bandages make his stomach small.’
‘It’s a lot smaller than when he came in. I took out a big inverted tumour this morning.’
‘What’s an inverted tumour?’
‘A lump growing in the body.’
‘And you cut it out this morning?’
‘Yes, I like to operate very early, before breakfast. Now call that woman back. I want her to sit here and hold him if he moves’
Back in the first room they had entered, the Doctor paused beside the chest and pulled out one of the drawers. Inside were rows of shining instruments laid out on a clean towel. Pointing at them, he told Katie he wanted her to learn their names. ‘This’, he said, ‘is a gag for the mouth. This is a steam sprayer for antiseptic. These are forceps — artery forceps, high-traction forceps—’
‘Please, Doctor, I need a pencil and paper.’
He pulled a gold pen from his pocket and a little notebook from which he tore a page and laid it on