Excerpt from Tears of The Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Tears of The Giraffe

by Alexander McCall Smith

Tears of The Giraffe
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    Sep 2001, 208 pages

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God had been kind to her, thought Mma Ramotswe. He had given her a happy childhood, even if her mother had been taken from her when she was a baby. She had been looked after by her father and her kind cousin and they had taught her what it was to give love — love which she had in turn given, over those few precious days, to her tiny baby. When the child's battle for life had ended, she had briefly wondered why God had done this to her, but in time she had understood. Now his kindness to her was manifest again, this time in the appearance of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, a good kind, man. God had sent her a husband.

After their celebration lunch in the President Hotel — a lunch at which Mr J.L.B. Matekoni ate two large steaks and Mma Ramotswe, who had a sweet tooth, dipped into rather more ice cream than she had originally intended — they drove off in Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's pickup truck to inspect his house.

"It is not a very tidy house," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, anxiously. "I try to keep it tidy, but that is a difficult thing for a man. There is a maid who comes in, but she makes it worse, I think. She is a very untidy woman."

"We can keep the woman who works for me," said Mma Ramotswe. "She is very good at everything. Ironing. Cleaning. Polishing. She is one of the best people in Botswana for all these tasks. We can find some other work for your person."

"And there are some rooms in his house that have got motor parts in them," added Mr J.L.B. Matekoni hurriedly. "Sometimes I have not had enough room at the garage and have had to store them in the house — interesting engines that I might need some day."

Mma Ramotswe said nothing. She now knew why Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had never invited her to the house before. His office at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors was bad enough, with all that grease and those calendars that the parts suppliers sent him. They were ridiculous calendars, in her view, with all those far-too-thin ladies sitting on tyres and leaning against cars. Those ladies were useless for everything. They would not be good for having children, and not one of them looked as if she had her school certificate, or even her standard six. They were useless, good-time girls, who only made men all hot and bothered, and that was no good to anybody. If only men knew what fools of them these bad girls made; but they did not know it and it was hopeless trying to point it out to them.

They arrived at the entrance to his driveway and Mma Ramotswe sat in the car while Mr J.L.B. Matekoni pushed open the silver-painted gate. She noted that the dustbin had been pushed open by dogs and that scraps of paper and other rubbish were lying about. If she were to move here — if — that would soon be stopped. In traditional Botswana society, keeping the yard in good order was a woman's responsibility, and she would certainly not wish to be associated with a yard like this.

They parked in front of the stoep, under a rough car shelter that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had fashioned out of shade-netting. It was a large house by modern standards, built in a day when builders had no reason to worry about space. There was the whole of Africa in those days, most of it unused, and nobody bothered to save space. Now it was different, and people had begun to worry about cities and how they gobbled up the bush surrounding them. This house, a low, rather gloomy bungalow under a corrugated-tin roof, had been built for a colonial official in Protectorate days. The outer walls were plastered and whitewashed, and the floors were polished red cement, laid out in large squares. Such floors always seemed cool on the feet in the hot months, although for real comfort it was hard to better the beaten mud or cattle dung of traditional floors.

Mma Ramotswe looked about her. They were in the living room, into which the front door gave immediate entrance. There was a heavy suite of furniture — expensive in its day — but now looking distinctly down-at-heel. The chairs, which had wide wooden arms, were upholstered in red, and there was a table of black hardwood on which an empty glass and an ashtray stood. On the walls there was picture of a mountain, painted on dark velvet, a wooden kudu-head, and a small picture of Nelson Mandela. The whole effect was perfectly pleasing, thought Mma Ramotswe, although it certainly had that forlorn look so characteristic of an unmarried man's room.

Excerpted from Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith. Copyright © 2000 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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