"Where is this woman?" asked Mma Ramotswe. "I would like to talk to her."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni looked at his watch. "She should be here soon," he said. "She comes here every afternoon at about this time."
They were sitting in the living room when the maid arrived, announcing her presence with the slamming of the kitchen door.
"That is her," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "She always slams doors. She has never closed a door quietly in all the years she has worked here. It's always slam, slam."
"Let's go through and see her," said Mma Ramotswe. "I'm interested to meet this lady who has been looking after you so well."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni led the way into the kitchen. In front of the sink, where she was filling a kettle with water, stood a large woman in her mid-thirties. She was markedly taller than both Mr J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Ramotswe, and, although rather thinner than Mma Ramotswe, she looked considerably stronger, with bulging biceps and well-set legs. She was wearing a large, battered red hat on her head and a blue house coat over her dress. Her shoes were made of a curious, shiny leather, rather like the patent leather used to make dancing pumps.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni cleared his throat, to reveal their presence, and the maid turned round slowly.
"I am busy ..." she started to say, but stopped, seeing Mma Ramotswe.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni greeted her politely, in the traditional way. Then he introduced his guest. "This is Mma Ramotswe," he said.
The maid looked at Mma Ramotswe and nodded curtly.
"I am glad that I have had the chance to meet you, Mma," said Mma Ramotswe. "I have heard about you from Mr J.L.B. Matekoni."
The maid glanced at her employer. "Oh, you have heard of me," she said. "I am glad that he speaks of me. I would not like to think that nobody speaks of me."
"No," said Mma Ramotswe. "It is better to be spoken of than not to be spoken of. Except sometimes, that is."
The maid frowned. The kettle was now full and she took it from under the tap.
"I am very busy," she said dismissively. "There is much to do in this house."
"Yes," said Mma Ramotswe. "There is certainly a great deal to do. A dirty house like this needs a lot of work doing in it."
The large maid stiffened. "Why do you say this house is dirty?" she said. "Who are you to say that this house is dirty?"
"She ..." began Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, but he was silenced by a glare from the maid and he stopped.
"I say that because I have seen it," said Mma Ramotswe. "I have seen all the dust in the dining room and all the rubbish in the garden. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni here is only a man. He cannot be expected to keep his own house clean."
The maid's eyes had opened wide and were staring at Mma Ramotswe with ill-disguised venom. Her nostrils were flared with anger, and her lips were pushed out in what seemed to be an aggressive pout.
"I have worked for this man for many years," she hissed. "Every day I have worked, worked, worked. I have made him good food and polished the floor. I have looked after him very well."
"I don't think so, Mma," said Mma Ramotswe calmly. "If you have been feeding him so well, then why is he thin? A man who is well looked-after becomes fatter. They are just like cattle. That is well known."
The maid shifted her gaze from Mma Ramotswe to her employer. "Who is this woman?" she demanded. "Why is she coming into my kitchen and saying things like this? Please ask her to go back to the bar you found her in."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni swallowed hard. "I have asked her to marry me," he blurted out. "She is going to be my wife."
At this, the maid seemed to crumple. "Aiee!" she cried. "Aiee! You cannot marry her! She will kill you! That is the worst thing you can do."
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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