The Soutpansberg, the mountains looming behind Louis Trichardt, were veiled in cloud when she drove into town at dusk. Barefoot young white boys with bristly haircuts zigzagged their bicycles down the tree-lined residential streets, while the town's maids and gardeners trudged in the direction of the African township.
Eva carried her suitcase through her aunt's garden gate. A curtain in the small window next to the door parted and then closed, and she heard several locks and bolts sliding open. The door swung wide, and there stood Johanna, bosom heaving, arms reaching for Eva.
She'd matured into a tannie, the quintessential Afrikaner auntie: gray hair tucked into a cobwebby hairnet; a green apron, bordered with tiny zebras, over her respectable navy dress. She embraced Eva warmly, then stepped back, clutched her hands as if in prayer, and urged, "Naartjie, Eva. Boerewors -- biltong -- vetkoek!"
"We must turn you back into a South African, Miss John Wayne. Say it after me. Naartjie -- "
"Tangerine, spicy sausage, beef jerky, and a terribly fattening piece of fried dough," Eva translated with a smile, and she lugged her suitcase into the lounge.
"Beef what? En jy moet eet kind. Jy's te maer."
"Thin is fashionable in New York." She shook her head; not even two seconds in the house and Johanna was feeling out where her loyalties lay, nudging her to the Afrikaner side of the family.
"New York!" Johanna harrumphed.
Two dainty glasses sat on a marble-topped washstand. She opened the small cupboard at its base -- designed to hold a chamber pot -- and, with a flourish, produced a bottle of Old Brown Sherry. She poured each of them a glass. "To Eva, who I never thought I'd see again. And now she's here!" She sobbed and downed her sherry and told Eva to relax, soon she'd have dinner on the table.
Eva poured herself another drink and looked around the room. Nothing had changed. There were the two springbok-skin rugs that her father had given Johanna, the heavy glass-fronted cabinets out of which books would surely skitter but in which a gun would comfortably rest, the two riempie benches with their sagging ox-sinew seats. She remembered her mother's name for Johanna's house: Voortrekker Suites.
"Kos is op die tafel!" Johanna rang a small bell and summoned her niece to the dining alcove.
They took their usual seats at the dining table, set with heavy-handled silverware and crocheted lace doilies. As Johanna cut into the venison pie and served the pumpkin fritters dusted with cinnamon sugar, Eva was assailed with memories of the obligatory once-a-month Sunday lunches.
Her father would sit at the head of the table looking oppressed in the jacket and long trousers he'd worn out of respect for his sister. Her mother would be at the other end, unruly blond hair pulled into a small, tight bun that made her face even more moonlike, the surprise of coral lipstick on her generous mouth, her pale eyebrows etched with brown eyebrow pencil. And then there was the table, laden with a huge roast leg of lamb, sodden vegetables, and a braised ox tongue that Eva refused to taste and that seemed to mock the family with its insolent curving tip. "Neem vir jou nog 'n snytjie tong, boetie?" Johanna would ask, her plump hand resting on Martin's arm. "You should learn how to cook tongue, Lorraine, it's his favorite food." When she resumed her one-sided conversation with Martin, Lorraine would tap toes under the table with Eva and murmur, "Are you sure you wouldn't like to try the tongue, Evie?" Unable to contain her laughter any longer, Eva would flee the table for the toilet, where she would try to compose herself. On her return, she'd find her mother, eyes rolling like those of an excitable horse, pestering Johanna, waving her serviette at her sister-in-law and demanding that she speak more slowly so she could understand her Afrikaans. It was only during the car ride back to the farm that Eva resumed the vigil she kept over her father's moods, anxiously watching the set of his jaw while her mother dissected the hours they'd spent at Voortrekker Suites, ready to change the subject if she sensed that her mother was going too far.
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fugard. reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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