"This is a very fine room," observed Mma Ramotswe.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni beamed with pleasure. "I try to keep this room tidy," he said. "It is important to have a special room for important visitors."
"Do you have any important visitors?" asked Mma Ramotswe.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "There have been none so far," he said. "But it is always possible."
"Yes," agreed Mma Ramotswe. "One never knows."
She looked over her shoulder, towards a door that led into the rest of the house.
"The other rooms are that way?" she asked politely.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni nodded. "That is the not-so-tidy part of the house," he said. "Perhaps we should look at it some other time."
Mma Ramotswe shook her head and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni realised that there was no escape. This was part and parcel of marriage, he assumed; there could be no secrets everything had to be laid bare.
"This way," he said tentatively, opening the door. "Really, I must get a better maid. She is not doing her job at all well."
Mma Ramotswe followed him down the corridor. The first door that they reached was half open, and she stopped at the doorway and peered in. The room, which had obviously once been a bedroom, had its floors covered with newspapers, laid out as if they were a carpet. In the middle of the floor sat an engine, its cylinders exposed, while around it on the floor there were littered the parts that had been taken from the engine.
"That is a very special engine," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, looking at her anxiously. "There is no other engine like it in Botswana. One day I shall finish fixing it."
They moved on. The next room was a bathroom, which was clean enough, thought Mma Ramotswe, even if rather stark and neglected. On the edge of the bath, balanced on an old white face-cloth, was a large bar of carbolic soap. Apart from that, there was nothing.
"Carbolic soap is very healthy soap," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "I have always used it."
Mma Ramotswe nodded. She favoured palm-oil soap, which was good for the complexion, but she understood that men liked something more bracing. It was a bleak bathroom, she thought, but at least it was clean.
Of the remaining rooms, only one was habitable, the dining room, which had a table in the middle and a solitary chair. Its floor, however, was dirty, with piles of dust under the furniture and in each corner. Whoever was meant to be cleaning this room had clearly not swept it for months. What did she do, this maid? Did she stand at the gate and talk to her friends, as they tended to do if not watched closely? It was clear to Mma Ramotswe that the maid was taking gross advantage of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni and relying on his good nature to keep her job.
The other rooms, although they contained beds, were cluttered with boxes stuffed with spark plugs, windscreen-wiper blades, and other curious mechanical pieces. And as for the kitchen, this, although clean, was again virtually bare, containing only two pots, several white enamelled plates, and a small cutlery tray.
"This maid is meant to cook for me," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "She makes a meal each day, but it is always the same. All that I have to eat is maizemeal and stew. Sometimes she cooks me pumpkin, but not very often. And yet she always seems to need lots of money for kitchen supplies."
"She is a very lazy woman," said Mma Ramotswe. "She should be ashamed of herself. If all women in Botswana were like that, our men would have died out a long time ago."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni smiled. His maid had held him in thrall for years, and he had never had the courage to stand up to her. But now perhaps she had met her match in Mma Ramotswe, and she would soon be looking for somebody else to neglect.
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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