I have a new friend. Her name is Katie and we met our first morning at the hotel. She and I agree that Paul eats too much at breakfast. I saw her later in the afternoon at the formal High Tea. She dashed over to say hi and I shrieked (quietly) when I saw her. Then Katie looked down at the tray of tea sandwiches she was carrying as the hostess with her clipboard walked up to us.
“Are you enjoying your tea?” She asked. She looked at Katie with a direct stare.
“Yes,” Paul and I said together.
“Very good,” she said and sauntered away.
“Meanie,” I said under my breath.
Paul and I shopped all day. We counted off on our fingers the gifts we needed to buy for our family members. The bags began piling up—African clothes for Dane and Emma, tea and a Zebra mask for SarahKate and Brian, a kissing Meer cat carving for Connor and Sam.
We had a big night ahead of us. For a long time, one of the adventures on our “bucket list” had been to attend a Chef’s Table. At 7:00 we would be seated at a table in the middle of the kitchen of the five-star hotel restaurant. All night long everyone in the kitchen from the wait staff, to the sous chef, demi chef, pastry chef, the sommelier, and the big kahuna—the chef himself—would stop by our table to bring us food and wine and describe the preparation of food and its origins.
It had been kindly explained to us that men would be expected to wear a collared shirt and women a dress. Even though we had dressy clothes hanging in the closet in our suite, I wanted something new. (Who wouldn’t?) So, while shopping at a Pan African Market, we met a store owner who takes measurements and makes one-of-a-kind, custom fit African clothes for people. His shop is filled floor to ceiling with colorful fabrics and different textures. The colors and patterns were a riot of color. They couldn’t be organized by hue as the patterns contained so many different designs and pictures. Paul and I looked at each other. They were by far the most expensive clothes we had looked at all day, but to be able to say a tailor made a blue African collared shirt and a swirly green halter dress just for us…they will hang in our closet forever. We had to keep up our end of the bargain, however. Paul had better back off those breakfasts, and maybe just one glass of wine a night for me would keep that dress within reach. The tailor informed us to return at 4:00 to pick up our clothes.
Six hours later we picked up our clothes and walked back to the hotel with them hung over our arms. They had been pressed and starched. We walked through the park next to the hotel. The staff was streaming out of the basement of the building. It was the end of their day. Their uniforms were left behind and replaced with jeans, headscarves, and serviceable jackets. I looked hungrily for Katie. I scanned the women’s faces, but not many met my gaze.
They flowed around us and we were like an island in their wake. They laughed and chattered to one another, some in English, but more in different languages that all blended into one. They didn’t look back at the Mount Nelson. It would be there for them in the morning.
We looked ahead at its pink façade. In one day we had spent 5,000 Rand–$500 American dollars for a night of wearing beautiful clothes and dining in the midst of smoking pans, sous chefs shouting instructions at their helpers, and watching food appear in front of us that took our breathe away.
What would Katie have thought of it all? I think she would be happy for me. I believe she would smile, squeeze my wrist, and say as she does each time we greet each other, “You look so happy. Be happy today. It is a fine day.”