I preferred not to attend an intimate Christmas dinner party in a posh hotel. However, as an invitation from the idolized founder of the company, A.B., as his employees fondly referred to him, was considered an honour, I accepted under duress from my husband, Ken, and his colleagues. Besides, I am of the era where it was deemed a wifely duty to make a good impression on her husband’s employer, pregnant or not.
As new immigrants from South Africa, we had to borrow the company’s pick-up truck to reach the hotel. We discarded our unsuitable outerwear in the coatroom downstairs; Ken’s parka and my ski jacket with the side zips fully opened to extend across my expanded middle were no match to the fur coats.
I was poised to enter the room in a borrowed full-length, gold maternity evening gown that billowed around me like an unfurled sail. I’d swear it was made from curtain fabric. A.B., whose six-foot, three-inch frame towered over everyone like a craggy peak in the Rockies, dominated the room. He spotted us, and in a voice to match his giant stature, he boomed across the room in Afrikaans: “Voetsak” which politely translated means, “Scram!” As I recoiled at this less than cordial welcome, A.B. added: “Daar is geen staanplek hier,” or in plain English,“there’s no parking allowed here.” He was proudly recollecting the only two expressions he could remember from his stay of a few years in South Africa 30 years prior, without recalling their actual meanings.
When it was time to be seated, A.B. said, “Come, Johannesburg,” calling me by the name of my hometown. He led me to the seat beside him, meaning I would have to converse with this huge personality throughout the entire multicourse meal.
As inconspicuously as possible, I tucked my seven-month-pregnant tummy under the white linen tablecloth and draped my stole over the back of my chair with A.B.’S solicitous help. It was at this point that I noticed my antique bracelet, a gift from my mother, had lost its silver clasp. I took a discreet peek under the table and A.B. immediately noticed my concern. On explaining my dilemma, he rose, drew back his chair with a mighty flourish and said: “Would you care to stand so we can look under the table?” I reluctantly complied, and with tummy exposed and a less-than-complimentary red face, I became the focal point of the party, a somewhat incongruous “belle of the ball.”
To my horror, the prestigious 78-year-old gentleman sank to his knees and disappeared on all fours under the table. All the male guests felt obliged to follow their chief’s lead. Despite the communal effort, the clasp to my bracelet was not found under the table, but at the foot of the escalator, sometime later. I doubt that I made a good impression on A.B, but I guess I could be credited with bringing him to his knees.