by Herman Charles Bosman
It was good mampoer, made from karee berries that were plucked when they were still green and full of thick sap, just before they had begun to whiten, and we said things that contained much wisdom.
‘It was like the shadow of a flower on her left cheek,’ I heard Hans Kriel say, and immediately I sat up to listen, for I could guess of whom it was that he was talking.
‘Is it on the lower part of the cheek?’ I asked. ‘Two small purple marks?’
Because in that case I would know for sure that he was talking about the new waitress in the Zeerust café. I had seen her only once, through the plate-glass window, and because I had liked her looks I had gone up to the counter and asked for a roll of Boer tobacco, which she said they did not stock. When she said they didn’t stock kudu biltong, either, I had felt too embarrassed to ask for anything else. Only afterwards I remembered that I could have gone in and sat down and ordered a cup of coffee and some harde beskuit. But it was too late then. By that time I felt that she could see that I came from this part of the Marico, even though I was wearing my hat well back on my head.
‘Did you – did you speak to her?’ I asked Hans Kriel after a while.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I went in and asked her for a roll of Boer tobacco. But she said they didn’t sell tobacco by the roll, or kudu biltong either. She said this last with a sort of a sneer. I thought it was funny, seeing that I hadn’t asked for kudu biltong. So I sat down in front of a little table and ordered some harde beskuit and a cup of coffee. She brought me a number of little dry, flat cakes with letters on them I couldn’t read very well. Her name is Marie Rossouw.’
‘You must have said quite a lot to her to have found out her name,’ I said, with something in my voice that must have made Hans Kriel suspicious.
‘How do you know who I’m talking about?’ he demanded suddenly.
‘Oh, never mind,’ I answered, ‘let’s ask Krisjan Wilman to refill our glasses.’ I winked at the others and we all laughed, because by that time Hans Kriel was sitting half sideways on the riempie bench, with his shoulders drawn up very high and his whole body seeming to be kept up by one elbow. It wasn’t long after that that he moved his elbow, so that we had to pick him up from the floor and carry him into thevoorkamer, where we laid him in a corner on some leopard skins.
But before that he had spoken more about Marie Roussouw, the new waitress in the café. He said he had passed by and had seen her through the plate-glass window and there had been a vase of purple flowers on the counter, and he had noticed those two marks on her cheek, and those marks had looked very pretty to him, like two small shadows from those purple flowers.
‘She is very beautiful,’ Hans Kriel said. ‘Her eyes have got deep things in them, like those dark pools behind Abjaterskop. And when she smiled at me once – by mistake, I think – I felt as though my heart was rushing over the vlaktes like that shadow we saw in the sunset.’
‘You must be careful of those dark pools behind Abjaterskop,’ I warned him. ‘We know those pools have got witches in them.’
I felt it was a pity that we had to carry him inside, shortly afterwards. For the mampoer had begun to make Hans Kriel talk rather well.
As it happened, Hans Kriel was not the only one, that night, who encountered difficulties with the riempiebench. Several more of us were carried inside. And when I look back on that Nagmaal my most vivid memories are not of what the predikant said at the church service, or of Krisjan Wilman’s mampoer, even, but of how very round the black spots were on the pale yellow of the leopard skin. They were so round that every time I looked at them they were turning.
In the morning Krisjan Wilman’s wife woke us up and brought us coffee. Hans Kriel and I sat up side by side on the leopard skins, and in between drinking his coffee Hans Kriel said strange things. He was still talking about Marie Roussouw.
‘Just after dark I got up from the front stoep and went to see her in the café,’ Hans Kriel said.
‘You may have got up from the front stoep,’ I answered, ‘but you never got up from these leopard skins. Not from the moment we carried you here. That’s the truth.’
‘I went to the café,’ Hans Kriel said, ignoring my interruption, ‘and it was very dark. She was there alone. I wanted to find out how she had got those marks on her cheek. I think she is very pretty even without them. But with those marks Marie Roussouw is the most wild and the most beautiful thing in the whole world.’
‘I suppose her cheek got cut there when she was a child,’ I suggested. ‘Perhaps when a bottle of her father’s mampoer exploded.’
‘No,’ Hans Kriel replied, very earnestly. ‘No. It was something else. I asked her there, in the café, when we were alone together, and it suddenly seemed as though the whole place was washed with moonlight, and there was no counter between us any more, and there was a strange laughter in her eyes when she brought her face very close to mine. And she said, “I know you won’t believe me. But that is where the devil kissed me. Satan kissed me there when we were behind Abjaterskop. Shall I show you?”’
‘That was what she said to me,’ Hans Kriel continued, ‘and I knew, then, that she was a witch. And that it was a very sinful thing to be in love with a witch. And so I caught her up, in my arms, and I whispered, trembling all the time, “Show me,” and our heads rose up very tall through the shadows. And everything moved very fast, faster than the shadows move from Abjaterskop in the setting of the sun. And I knew that we were behind Abjaterskop, and that her eyes were indeed dark pools there, with the tall reeds growing on the edges. And then I saw Satan come in between us. And he had hooves and a forked tail. And there were flames coming out of him. And he stooped down and kissed Marie Roussouw on her cheek, where those marks were. And she laughed. And her eyes danced with merriment. And I found that it was all the time I who was kissing her. Now, what do you make of this, Schalk?’
I said, of course, that it was the mampoer. And that I knew, now, why I had been sleeping in such discomfort. It wasn’t because the spots on the leopard were turning like round wheels, but because I had Satan sleeping next to me all night. And I said that this discovery wasn’t new, either. I had always suspected something like that about him.
But I got an idea. And while the others were at breakfast I went out, on the pretext that I had to go and help Manie Burghers with his oxen at the church square outspan. But instead, I went into the café, and because I knew her name was Marie Roussouw, when the waitress came for my order I could ask her whether she was related to the Roussouws of Rysmierbult, and I could tell her that I was distantly related to that family, also.
In the daylight, there was about that café none of the queerness that Hans Kriel had spoken about. It was all very ordinary. Even those purple flowers were still on the counter. They looked slightly faded. And then, suddenly, while we were talking, I asked her the thing I was burning to know.
‘That mark on your cheek, juffrou,’ I said, ‘will you tell me where you got it from?’
Marie Roussouw brought her face very close to mine, and her eyes were like dark pools with dancing light in them.
‘I know you won’t believe me,’ she said, ‘but that is where Satan kissed me. When we were at the back of Abjaterskop together. Shall I show you?’