“In Italy, we have tradition.” Lucinda swings her feet as she sits on the counter top. Today she is dressed in a flared skirt and a blouse with a frilly collar. The red high heels are magnets that constantly draw the men’s fascinated gaze. Not only do they allow an exquisite view on her slender ankles – the men have never seen such long spikes on any shoes of any description. “When it is the last day of September, we have carnival. Beeg carnival. Lots of music and dancing. People do silly things. La Pomposo Carnevale. Maybe you have such a day, too?”
“Not only in September, Lucinda.” Vetfaan isn’t going to allow the Italians to outshine his Boere tradition. “We have the opening of parliament, strikes by miners and lorry drivers, and protest against poor service delivery. People dance and do silly things here all the time.”
“Not like that, Vetfaan. We dress up and are friendly. Here you do differently. We never put stones in the road or break windows. In Italy the police join the carnival – here they use teargas. No, Italian carnival is much nicer.”
“So what do you do?” Kleinpiet forces his gaze away from the red shoes to look (somewhat guiltily) in Precilla’s eyes. She gives him a knowing look – like the one Gertruida said lions have.
“Because it is the start of the winter in Italy, the men prepare the women’s houses for the cold. They chop wood, paint the outside and afterwards they have a party. Men in Italy, are very … how you say…amoroso?”
“You mean loving, romantic?” (Gertruida, of course).
“Si, that’s right. So, when winter starts, they know they are going to spend much time in the ladies houses when it’s cold. It’s an old tradition, but they still do it today. It shows the men care, you see? And the men, they do it because they think of the long, cold, nights. I think it’s a good tradition. You no do that here?”
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t.” Servaas fumbles in his pocket for one of his heart pills. He, too, has been watching those swinging ankles. He remembers the day he met Siena: she didn’t wear shoes like that, but she sure had beautiful legs.
“There’s some paint left over from the time we painted the church. And I do have a stack of wood after we cleared the area for a new kraal.” Kleinpiet is quite enthusiastic. “As for a dance and a party – well, that’s no problem. Boggel can put up a CD while we drink. Easy.”
“No problem.” Boggel likes the idea. “Precilla’s bungalow isn’t that big, Gertruida’s house needs a lck of paint, and the Verdana’s cottage won’t be a problem. If the men tackle those houses now, we can be finished tomorrow. Then Kleinpiet can cart in some wood, and we have a carnival – just like you have in Italy.“
Lucinda cups Boggel’s chin in her hand, squeezing his cheeks like one would do to a cute baby. “You, Boggel, are a true gentleman. I think I like you a lot.”
Gertruida watches with a sardonic smile, but Precilla can’t believe her ears. It’s been months now that she has tried to get Kleinpiet to help her redecorate her bungalow – end here Lucinda manages to get it painted by simply mentioning some carnival? The pretty Italian obviously knows how to work with men. She’ll have to ask Lucinda about that. Such power! Such finesse!
Old Marco excuses himself. “It’s my back. I can’t do paint or chop the wood. I watch.”
The rest of the men, even Judge, get to work in the hot sun. Gertruida discovers more paint in her garage and Sammie sells all his paint rollers in a flash. Boggel, not to be outdone, buys some red paint for the veranda in front of Lucinda’s cottage. Gertruida has taken over the bar, where the ladies relax with cocktails in tall glasses; she has a whole book of recipes for mixed drinks and they are working their way through it. Every now and then a peal of laughter from the bar makes the men stare at Bogel’s Place with longing looks.
“The sooner we finish this, the sooner we can join them, chaps.” Vetfaan is covered with paint – there is only one ladder in town. Reaching high to get under the awning, he mumbles a curse as he receives another dollop of paint on his chin.
They finish before sunset and troop into Boggel’s Place. The women are in high spirits and have a lot of fun with the paint-speckled men.
“She said: paint the house, not paint yourselves! Look at you, Kleinpiet! You’re a whiter shade of pale. And Boggel is red-handed!”
“Where’s Vetfaan?” Gertruida tries to stop laughing.
“He’s the green one,” Precilla sniggers.
Judge sits down at the counter with a sigh, leaving a trail of paint-steps from the front door.
“You men did really well,” Lucinda praises. “The houses look very pretty.”
A short silence follows as the men down a few much-needed beers. “So, how does this carnival go, now that we’ve done the painting and the wood?” Servaas is ready for the dance.
The women burst out laughing once more.
“What’s so funny?” Judge doesn’t like being laughed at. “We’ve been working all day. We’re tired. We’re dirty. And all day we hear you girls laughing. Or is it an Italian tradition to laugh at men?”
Lucinda walks over to her father, who has been drinking quietly in his corner. Patting the old man on the shoulder, she refills his glass. “Thank you Papa,” she says.
“Thank him? For doing nothing? While we sweat and work all day? Thank him for what?” Judge is really riled now.
“Oh, for playing along. He could have ruined the day.” Lucinda smiles sweetly at the people in Boggel’s Place. They really are good, honest men. She feels a tinge of guilt, but pushes it aside. “I explain. In Italy, we don’t have a Pomposo Carnevale. The men, they don’t paint the women’s houses. They don’t chop the wood. I’m sorry.”
There is a stunned silence.
“You lied to us?” Servaas fumbles for another pill.
“No. Not lie. Told story. Like you did; remember the tame lion? The one that didn’t want to share Jantjie?”
Precilla sighs as Kleinpiet closes the front door to her cottage. Kicking off her shoes, she flops down on the couch while he lights the fire. It’s getting cold outside – like it always does before dawn in the Kalahari.
“It was a good party,” she smiles, “and my house is pretty.”
And Kleinpiet, despite himself, says a silent thank you to the pretty Italian who repaid them so handsomely for their deception. He hasn’t had so much fun in years. When he and Precilla did their version of the tango (only one table upturned) they received quite a nice round of applause.
“And so are you, my dear,” he says as he settles down beside her.