The JRB presents an excerpt from Critical But, Stable, the new novel from Angela Makholwa.
Critical But, Stable
Pan Macmillan SA, 2020
Read the excerpt:
Moshidi had hired a catering company and they had turned the property into a tropical wonderland. In the well-kept garden with its ocean view and swaying palm trees, cream white umbrellas and multi-coloured woven beach chairs broke the dense green. There were floating canapés and gorgeous floral arrangements.
Lerato went downstairs to greet her sister, who was barking out orders to the waiting staff, something she seemed particularly gifted at doing.
‘No. No. Don’t put that vase on that cocktail table! Are you insane? I told you it belongs on the table in the lounge.’
She stopped abruptly, staring at Lerato with alarm.
‘Sis … what are you wearing? Is that what you’re going to wear to the party?’
Lerato grinned shyly, tugging at her dress like a bashful schoolgirl.
‘No, ngwanakogaye tlhe. Are you seriously planning to embarrass me?’
‘What’s wrong with her dress?’ asked Mzwandile, trailing behind his wife.
Moshidi covered her face.
‘Yho mme we! What am I going to do with you two? You look like a farmer going to his first business meeting. No disrespect, Zwai, but seriously?’
‘What’s wrong with my suit?’
Solomzi came down the stairs, looking casually chic in shorts, a Gucci top and sneakers.
‘The question, Sbali, is what in heaven’s name are you doing wearing a suit in Zimbali on a sunny Saturday afternoon?’
‘Her sister was making such a fuss about your people that I ended up not knowing what exactly needed wearing at this occasion.’
Moshidi sighed in exasperation.
‘The guests will be here in thirty minutes.’ She lifted her head and called out, ‘Zozo! Please come and rescue your aunt from being a fashion victim. Soli, you handle the man.’
‘Hey bethuna. Now I’m just known as “the man”. Kunzima.’ The Jiyas’ daughter came bouncing into the lounge smiling with glee.
‘I style, no stylist!’ Little Zozo belted out the popular tune, grabbing her aunt by the hand and leading her back upstairs to Moshidi’s bedroom.
Lerato seethed with embarrassment.
‘You’re enlisting an eight-year-old to dress me? Moshidi … you really don’t have any regard for me, hey?’
Moshidi shooed her sister and brother-in-law away.
‘Go. Go. Get dressed in something decent while I get everything ready. I can’t be dealing with catering and making sure you two don’t stick out like sore thumbs.’
The doorbell rang.
The first guests had arrived.
Tom and Paul. The social club’s first gay couple. They had only joined Khula three months before. Khula Society had needed new members after the Masuabis moved to London amidst fears for South Africa’s troubled economy.
Moshidi loved Tom and Paul.
She knew Paul through work. As head of purchasing, she’d been in charge of sourcing a company to furnish three of the bank’s new offices. Paul’s company had been awarded the contract.
When she told Paul about the social club, he was thrilled at the opportunity for short-term investments, which came with the extra boon of socialising with the well heeled. He loved Moshidi’s tastes and found her fun, if occasionally tedious.
Tom was quieter and more measured than Paul. A financial planner by profession, he often struck Moshidi as too subdued to cope with someone as outgoing as Paul. But then again, people often said the same thing about her and Solomzi.
‘I’m so glad to see you, darlings. Please move onto the patio and help yourselves to some drinks and eats. The others will be here shortly.’ The couple wandered around the garden, admiring the stunning view.
A few minutes later, the roar of a V12 engine stopped everyone in their tracks.
Moshidi, Tom and Paul went outside to greet the new arrivals.
Two yellow Lamborghinis pulled into the driveway.
Noma Manamela climbed out of the first, and her husband, Julius ‘The Duke’, from the one behind.
‘Woo-hoo! Look at you two. Talk about stepping out in style.’
Paul seemed impressed.
‘Is this the new V12? Such a beauty! Do you mind if I go for a little spin?’
Moshidi blushed with embarrassment. She knew how snooty the Manamelas were about their cars and she was still not sure how The Duke felt about the gay couple.
He surprised her by saying, ‘Sure. Why not? Trust me, it’ll be the best ride of your life.’
And so, Paul stepped into the supercar, gesturing to his husband to join him.
Tom mock-looked to the right and to the left, then pointed at himself, mouthing, ‘Me?’ as if he could not believe such a grand invitation. ‘Come, you gorgeous thing!’ said Paul, laughing.
Tom got into the passenger seat and they revved off, grinning as if they had just been gifted the vehicle.
Moshidi and the Manamelas waved them away, smiling.
‘Oh, gosh. But your gays are forward,’ said Noma.
‘So, you decided to drive instead of fly this time around?’
‘Moshidi, driving a Lamborghini is flying,’ said The Duke. ‘I could really use a stiff glass of whisky. This woman wore me out.’
‘What? Did you guys have sex on the highway?’ Moshidi asked, laughing.
‘How I wish. We’ll add that item to the itinerary next time. She challenged me to a race. She’s a demon behind the wheel.’
‘And a demon in bed as well.’
‘Okay. That officially falls under the Too Much Information category. Let me get you guys your drinks. Noma, what will you be having?’
‘Just some juice and water for now. I’m really parched.’
Tom and Paul returned, looking flushed.
‘Now I know what I want Tom to get me for our anniversary,’ said Paul.
The Duke raised an eyebrow.
‘How long have you been … eh … do you uh … are you allowed to marry? I mean … is it legal?’
The two men laughed.
‘You should see the look on your face,’ said Paul. ‘Yes, Julius. We’ve been married for two years now.’
‘Please … nobody calls my husband Julius. We both abhor that name. Just call him The Duke.’
The Duke did not abhor his birth name.
The Khathides and the Gumedes were the last to arrive, making up the full tally of the membership.
Food was served, champagne flowed, and one-upmanship drizzled. Lerato longed for her walk on the beach, but escape, unfortunately, was out of the question. The shoes Zozo had her wearing wouldn’t have got her very far anyway.
- Angela Makholwa is the much-loved author of gripping psychological thrillers and pageturners. Her novels—Red Ink, The 30th Candle, Black Widow Society, the internationally acclaimed The Blessed Girl and most recently Critical But, Stable—are filled with entertaining escapades and the sexual misadventures of modern women.
No one ever tells you the cost of a perfect life …
The Msibis, the Manamelas and the Jiyas are high-flying married couples who belong to the Khula Society, a social club with investment and glitzy benefits.
The wives are smart, successful in their chosen careers and they lead lifestyles to match—jostling for pole position in the ‘Keeping up with the Khumalos’ stakes. The husbands have had their successes and failures, sometimes keeping dubious company and getting to the top of their fields by whatever means necessary.
Beneath the veneer of marital bliss, however, lie many secrets. What will happen to their relationships when a devastating event affects all their lives?