Hillbrow. 1968. Gloriana’s flat was down the bottom of the hill in Raymond Street. It was magnificent, and she gave us lovely breakfasts on Sunday mornings. Gloriana was in social welfare. She didn’t go looking for battered women; she was in the other kind of social welfare. She looked after the social welfare of any man rich enough to afford her.
And she charged! And she was classy. No rubbish with her. She offered her sessions for never less than 24 hours. And at a time I was earning R50 a week, she was taking in R500 a night. She timed the sessions so that Sunday morning was always free for her friends, who she entertained for breakfast. Year in and year out.
Gloriana was really a coloured, but pale enough to pass for white. She even had a Book of Life that classified her as white. But if she just tweaked the make up, she could be coloured again.
Earlier that year she had noticed that there was an increase in German tourists, and she knew that they came to South Africa because they had a taste for toast.
“I wanna get my hands on some of that Deutschmark,” she said. “I need a nest egg in another country. I’ll charge them plenty and make them pay me in Germany. Open a bank account in Frankfurt. But I need to an itty bitty more darko.”
When she was with us, Gloriana spoke like she came from Coronationville, which she did.
When she was with clients, she spoke as if she was a secretary from Buckingham Palace. I gave her help at times. I worked in the theatre and had studied speech and drama. The problem was always her tendency to end all her sentences on an upward inflection, like they spoke in Riverlea. I got her ending her sentences on a downward inflection, and slowing down. It made her voice so much more resonant. She could have got another R100 a night just for that.
That Sunday morning we helped her. Helped her choose her clothes, and get the complexion going. Gloriana went from brunette to black with long flowing locks – not straight like an Indian, but with gentle waves.
She said, “Gloriana won’t do for a coloured, besides Gloriana of Hillbrow is known the world over as a white. I need a new name.” We thought, and thought, and then remembered the film of “Irma la Douce”. I wonder what about Gloriana made us think of “Irma la Douce?”
Anyway, she left the kitchen as Gloriana, and by the time we had all finished with her, and added the final touches, the beautiful mixed race that came back into the kitchen was Mimi the Mau Mau.
If anyone else had tried it, they’d have ended up like an SPCA mongrel. But not Mimi the Mau Mau, nee Gloriana. Shape shifter. Like Merlin.
We all helped with breakfast. I made the toast; the Professor set the table, and made little curly shells of butter with the spoon thing with the scalloped edges. Pushy made the coffee and poured the orange juice. I did the kippers.
Gloriana did the scrambled eggs. She wouldn’t let any one else touch the eggs, not because she had some special flick of the wrist, but that she beat them with a vibrator. “No other way to make scrambled eggs really fluffy,” she would say, as she stood upright, vibrator in one hand in the egg bowl, and her Perilly’s Private Blend between the second and third finger of the other.
We all loved living in Hillbrow. It defied everything: legislation, the cops, normality and South Africa.
Looking back over 40 years, we’re still shape shifting. The blacks want to be white, and the whites want to be black. The poor want to be rich, and the rich want to be richer.