A Glass of Wine

That evening we were sitting in the front room of Ma Schrikker’s place when the door opened and this boy came in. He was tall and young and thin as a billiard cue, and had beautiful red-gold hair combed in a high pompadour, and a pink-white skin. He looked very young and handsome and a little like one of those Johns you see on the screen,

‘Hullo,’ Arthur said, smiling at the boy. I smiled at him too, and he nodded and smiled back at us.

We were drinking some of Ma Schrikker’s wine and taking our time about it because we had nowhere else to go that evening, and besides, we had paid six-and-sixpence for the bottle. Ma Schrikker didn’t mind the customers taking their time over their drinks as long as the price was right.

She was fat and dark and jolly and always had a welcome smile for everybody, especially when they were customers. Although I thought her joviality was stimulated by anticipation of a rise in sales every time somebody arrived, because there were times when she was a real menace.

‘How you keeping, pally ?’ Arthur asked the boy. He was a little drunk from the red and that made him friendlier than ever.

‘Fine,’ the boy said shyly. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Sit, man. Sit down,’ Arthur said, still smiling at the boy.

He sat down on the settee and looked around. He had been there before, often, but he always looked around as if he was missing something.

There were a couple of old pictures on the walls - one of the steamship, and another of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor cut out of the photogravure section of a newspaper, framed in black - and a fancy, embroidered frame that had a little house on a hill spotted by flies, and flowers in the garden and embroidered words that said Home Sweet Home. There was also a big oval frame of an old John with white whiskers and a come-to-Jesus collar that Ma Schrikker claimed was her great-grandfather.

But we all knew the boy wasn’t really interested in the pictures. He’d come to see one of Ma Schrikker’s girls, and looking around was just a sort of embarrassed way of indicating that.

‘Well,’ Arthur said. ‘Have a glass of wine, pal.’

He picked up the bottle and looked at it in the light. ‘There’s one more dop over.’

‘Leave it.’ The boy smiled. ‘Don’t worry.’

‘Hell, we got money,’ Arthur told him, grinning. ‘We’ll buy another borrel.’ And to me, ‘Don’t I say, pal ?’


‘Then I’ll have the last one from the borrel.’

He poured the red so that it fell into the glass with a small tinkling sound, and it was dark and red and translucent in the electric light.

‘Nothing like the red,’ Arthur said. ‘Jeripigo. White wine is awright, too, but nothing can beat the red.’ He smiled at the boy and then winked at me. ‘He comes to see the girl. The little one with the curls.’ And the boy blushed, his face growing deep pink, his eyes turning down in embarrassment.

‘Leave him alone.’ I grinned. ‘You see he’s shy.’

‘Ja. A very shy boy. Do you like the girl, ou pal?’

The boy blushed deeper; he didn’t say anything, but looked away from us.

‘Leave him alone,’ I said to Arthur.

‘He likes the girl very much,’ Arthur said, a little drunkenly.

‘Leave him alone, man, and order the other bottle,’ I said, and winked at the boy.

Arthur smiled at the boy, and then, turning to the door to the back of the house, called, ‘Ma. Another borrel of red. Asseblief. Please. Another one of the red.’

‘I heard you,’ the woman’s voice growled from the back. ‘Do you think I’m deaf?’

‘No,’ Arthur replied. ‘Who said you was deaf? But send another red, man. And let the girl bring it. The lighty here is anxious to see her. He is an awake boy, a real smart juba, and I like him.’

‘Lord God,’ Ma Schrikker’s voice called again. ‘If that is the case, make love to him. I would not put it past you.’

Arthur shook his head and looked lugubrious, saying to me, ‘You see? Look at that now. Look at such manners.’ He grinned at the boy again. ‘It’s okay, pally. Don’t be afraid. I won’t make love to you.’

He laughed and slapped my shoulder, and after a while Ma Schrikker herself came in. I saw the boy look up, and saw the small disappointed look on his face.

‘Where’s Charlette ?’ I asked.

‘She’s gone to get the wine from the outhouse,’ Ma said. ‘What, are you also courting her?’

‘He does not like girls, what,’ Arthur said to her. He laughed and went on: ‘My pally does not like girls. There was a widow of forty-two who wanted to marry him, but he turned her down due to lack of experience. His experience.’ He laughed again and slapped my back once more, hiccoughing. ‘I ask excuse. Please excuse me.’ He tried to stand up and bow, but sat down again heavily.

‘Gwarn,’ Ma Schrikker said. ‘You think you funny, mos.’

‘Charlie Chaplin,’ Arthur grinned.

Just then the girl came in carrying the bottle of red on a tray and Arthur said: ‘Hier’s sy. Here she is. Your boy waits for you.’

And looking at the girl, I saw the deep blush under her smooth, beautiful skin. Her skin was the colour of amber wine, and she had dark brown eyes, bright and soft, and around her oval face her hair was very black and curly. The soft, full lips smiled shyly as she blushed. She did not look at the boy, but knew that he was there, and looking at him in turn I could see the deep flush of his own face and the gentle lowering of the eyelids as he watched her.

She placed the tray on the table and turned away. Arthur laughed. ‘No, man. Where can you go ? With the boy here and all. Sit down, bokkie.’

She blushed again and looked around the room, but not at the boy. I said, ‘Hullo, Charlette.’

She glanced at me and blushed again and said ‘Hullo.’

‘Look how they blush,’ Arthur said teasingly. ‘Look how they blush, man.’

He poured some of the red into his glass, his hand shaking a little, and passed the bottle to me. ‘They blush very nicely,’ he said, smiling.

‘It’s the love.’ Ma Schrikker laughed. She laughed so that her whole body shook. ‘Love. Just like in the bioscope.’

Arthur lifted his glass in the direction of the boy and girl and announced, ‘To the bride and groom. May all your troubles be little ones.’

He laughed again, and saw the hurt look in the boy’s face, and the girl looking away. I was going to say something but Arthur interrupted. ‘With such love, blushing and all, these two must mos marry.’ He drank some of the wine, choked, and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

‘Stop it,’ the girl said, and the boy looked across at Arthur.

‘Stop watter ?’ Arthur asked blankly. ‘Stop the wedding ? There must be a wedding.’ He got up as if he was going to propose a toast, but sat down again when his legs wouldn’t hold him.

‘Hell, cut it out, man,’ I told him. ‘Let’s make finish and blow.’

He looked puzzled. ‘What the hell, man. What goes on ?’

The girl said, ‘Leave him alone. He’s all right.’

‘Sure, I’m awright,’ Arthur said. ‘I can stand on one leg. You want to see?’

‘You’ll fall over and smash the furniture. All Ma’s nice vases.’

‘Yes,’Ma told him. ‘You watch my vases. They’s presents I got. All of them.’

‘Bull,’ Arthur scowled, becoming lugubrious again. ‘Let’s have another glass of wine, man.’

I poured out two more glasses and took one. I smiled at the boy and said, ‘Don’t worry about him. He’s just had a few too many.’

‘That’s okay,’ he answered, smiling. He looked at the girl and put one hand on her arm, gently, and she looked at him quickly, smiling with the small, curved smile. But there was something wrong, now, and a feeling of things not being the same.

Arthur finished his drink and hiccoughed again, saying sullenly, ‘To hell with it. I reckon they should get married. The next thing you’ll know she’ll have a belly, if you don’t let them.’

There was that look on the boy’s face again and the girl, Charlette, got up and said angrily, ‘Stop it. How come you don’t want to stop it?’ She looked as if she wanted to cry, and Arthur got up, managing it this time, looking surprised.

‘What’d I do ?’ he asked. ‘ Now what did I do, man ?’ He swayed on his feet.

I put a hand under his arm. ‘I reckon we better blow,’ I said.

‘Ja,’ Ma Schrikker said. ‘He had enough. You better take him home.’

‘Hell, I isn’t drunk,’ Arthur said. ‘Let me go, man.’

‘No, man, you better go,’ Ma Schrikker told him.

‘You throwing me out?’ Arthur asked, looking at her. ‘Awright.’ He looked at me and then at Ma again. ‘You’ve lost a customer.’ And added haughtily, ‘A good one, mos.’ He looked comical, all right, but I didn’t laugh.

I got him over to the door, with Ma following. Before we went out I said to the girl and the boy, ‘Don’t let him upset you. He just had a few too many.’

‘It’s all right,’ the girl said, not looking at me.

We went out on to the stoep and Arthur was sagging on me a little. Ma said, standing in the doorway, looking big and shapeless with the light behind her: ‘Now you take him right home, hey? And don’t get tackled.’

‘I’ll get him home. He isn’t very drunk.’

‘Let me go, man,’ Arthur said. ‘You reckon to carry me. I can walk, man.’

I said good-night to Ma and she said to come around again, and shut the door on us.

‘You awright?’I asked Arthur.

‘Sure, man. Why not ?’

‘Let’s go then.’

‘What the hell,’ he complained. ‘What they get so funny about?’

‘You and your wedding,’ I told him as we went up the street. ‘You know that white boy can’t marry the girl, even though he may love her. It isn’t allowed.’

‘Jesus,’ Arthur said in the dark. ‘Jesus. What the hell.’