A Guest of Honour

A Guest of Honour by Nadine Gordimer

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Authors: Nadine Gordimer
I got a cable only this morning. Venetia’s had a daughter.”
    â€œVenetia!” Mweta was shaking his head. “You remember I used to take her for a ride on the back of my bicycle? —And she used to make posters for us,” he said to Joy, whom he had married after Venetia had gone to school in England. “Yes, this little girl was a very young supporter of PIP. Posters announcing the date and place of meetings and so on. And slogans. Clive, she once showed such a poster to the Colonial Secretary—who was it, then, James? That’s right—he was here after the first London talks with Shinza, that time—and he went on a tour of the Gala district, of course”—everyone laughed— “to see where all this independence nonsense started, and to see what sort of fellow this Bray was who didn’t seem to be stopping it—and while he was in the
boma
that day and he went home to the D.C.’s house for lunch, he asks this little girl, the D.C.’s daughter, what’s that nice picture you’re painting, and Venetia says, it’s not a picture, it’s a poster, look! What’s it for, little girl? Can’t you see? she says. For the PIP rally, of course!”
    Bray was nodding and laughing.
    â€œShe was proud of her painting. Eh?” said Mweta. “Why not?” And they all laughed again, and drew from Bray his version of the story, with interjections from Mweta, who grew more excited with every flourish.
    â€œYears afterwards,” Bray said, “Venetia took me aside and asked me, very seriously, to tell her the truth: was it partly through her that I got kicked out? She said that ever since she’d grown up she’d begun to think about it and have it on her conscience.”
    Mweta’s eyes narrowed emotionally. “Venetia! She must come here with her husband, eh, James. She should have been with us for Independence.”
    â€œWhat about a photograph?” Small said to Asoni. “Wilfrid’s dying to try out his new camera, sir.”
    They all straggled onto the terrace; the heat seemed to foreshorten them, their voices rang against the façade of the house. Bray and Mweta stood together, Bray stooping and embarrassed, Mweta smiling with a hand on his arm. The dog ran across the picture. The secretary took it again. Then there was one with Joy and the children; they put their feet together and folded their arms.
    â€œWe’re getting a swing and slide,” Mangaliso said.
    â€œ
And
a jungle gym.” The little one spoke to Bray for the first time.
    â€œThe Princess said it.”
    Joy laughed. “Yes, the Princess was full of good ideas. She was telling me everything I should do. She said we should wall off a part of the garden and make it specially for the children, with swings and so on. You know, I mean she is used to living in this sort of place. She said you must have somewhere your own—specially for kids.”
    â€œOh they got on like a house on fire,” Mweta said. “Joy knows all the secrets of Buckingham Palace.”
    â€œNonsense, she doesn’t even live there.”
    â€œAnd the wife of the Chinese Ambassador, they were great friends too. She speaks English quite well.”
    â€œShe wants me to come to Peking and speak about African women.” Joy challenged him, smiling at Bray.
    â€œJoy was always a great asset,” Bray said.
    â€œThat’s what I tell him.”
    The children had pulled off their shoes and socks and the closefuzz on the baby’s head was full of grass. A guilty wet patch had no sooner appeared on his trousers before the heat began to dry it again. One of the white-suited domestics hovered in the shadow of the house with the announcement of lunch, but could not find an opportunity to catch anyone’s attention. The secretary and the P.R.O. were fiddling with the Polaroid camera. Then the picture emerged, and everyone crowded to

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