As Simi watches the easy chat between Fred and Bernard, a fork pings on a glass and Hansie, seated at the end of the table closest to the bar, gets to his feet.
“Right everyone, listen up. Father Norman is going to say grace. Please stay seated otherwise it gets too complicated.”
Father Norman, sitting beside Katania, bows his head, and the tables fall silent.
“Benedictus, benedicat, per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum … Amen”
Simi looks at Marybelle, one eyebrow raised.
“Latin, in Africa, hey?”
“School grace. Katania will have asked him to use that. Sounds posh.”
As the chat begins again, Hansie pings the glass once more. “Right, please start. I’ve a long speech to get through later, and I know you’ll be looking forward to that.”
Instantly there are groans and laughter, banging on plates, and shouts for more wine. The fairy lights bounce in the wind, and the DJ tests his sound system.
“One, two, one, two …”
Simi unfolds her napkin and places it on her lap, smoothing down its heavy white fabric, as Marybelle, hair blowing loose across her face, pours them each a glass of wine.
“Cheers!” she says, raising her glass with one hand, and hitching her hair behind her ear with the other.
They drink to each other’s health, and then begin on the soup. Simi eats slowly, savouring the light spice.
“Delicious. Do you like it?” asks Marybelle, her bowl already empty.
Simi nods, and is about to add another compliment, when Hansie shouts out fresh instructions, and the plates start to get passed down to the kitchen end of the tables. Simi scoops a few more spoonfuls, then adds her bowl to the rush travelling up and down, soup bowls one way, and plates piled high with chicken and rice, the other.
The sweet chilli kick of the chicken surprises Simi, as does the speed with which Marybelle polishes off her own plate.
“That was quick,” Simi says with a laugh.
Embarrassed, Marybelle puts down her knife and fork, laying them neatly together. She presses her napkin to her mouth, a red flush creeping along her cheeks above the white cloth.
“I’m … sorry …” she mumbles into the napkin.
“What for? Eating fast is a compliment to the chef,” says Simi, sensing instantly that she has tripped over a line she that she didn’t realise was there. Beside her Marybelle folds her napkin carefully, never once looking up at her. To Simi’s relief, a voice, Sal’s voice, chips in across the table.
“Hey Marybelle, this chicken makes a change from e’Pap doesn’t it?”
Marybelle looks up, her eyes deep with embarrassment.
“As good as Nando’s huku,” says Jambee, flaunting a forkful.
A smile tiptoes into Marybelle’s eyes. “I can’t even remember what a Nando’s tastes like,” she says.
“What’s e’Pap?” asks Simi cautiously.
“It’s an instant porridge,” says Sal. “Packed with supplements.”
“My church gives it to me. Food’s so expensive now. Simi, I’m sorry for being so greedy. I’m like the country … decrepit and broke.”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023