The Ashtonburys proved instrumental to the realisation of Emil’s dream. They knew and introduced him to all the right people and, now that he was connected to the Ashtonburys, all the right people were open to his idea. Nevertheless, even with the help of the Ashtonburys, it eventually became apparent to Emil that if anything was actually to be done, he had to become as respectable as all the right people. There was only one way that he, Emil Coetzee, confirmed bachelor, born in Durban, and a man without property, could become respectable enough for the City of Kings. He had to find himself a wife.

Soon enough, the wife Emil needed to find came along in the form of eighteen-year-old Kuki Sedgwick. She walked into Emil’s life at just the right moment to fulfil his desire. This was to be the only time that Kuki, bless her heart, would so wholly fulfil Emil’s desire, but neither of them knew this as they hastened through their courtship, both of them eager, for very different reasons, to be married, which they were within a year of Kuki’s walking into Emil’s life.

Emil had vaguely been aware of Kuki Sedgwick for the past few years. She was a plain sort of girl who was a little too tall and apologetically compensated for this by slumping her shoulders. For a while she had also been a little ‘on the plump side’ and at parties never put anything in her mouth without glancing at her mother first. She was something of a permanent fixture at gatherings and stood in corners drinking Shirley Temples and wearing dresses that did not seem to know quite what to do with her body. In spite of this, for all her awkwardness, Kuki was surprisingly popular with the young men – she was, after all, a Sedgwick. Not only was her family wealthy, but they also had running through their veins the blood of proud pioneer stock. So although Kuki was no great beauty, she was what the boys of her youth called a ‘catch’. Luckily for her, Kuki also had something else that made her very attractive: a strong desire to please. She laughed at every joke the young men made and when she laughed so easily, the young men imagined that she would make an uncomplicated and pleasant wife.

Fortuitously, towards the end of Kuki’s seventeenth year, her fortunes began to change. She lost her weight, and the bloom that had so far proved elusive finally blossomed. So much so that a few days after her eighteenth birthday, when she made her grand entrance at a party she knew Emil Coetzee would be attending, she had the satisfaction of turning every head in the room, including his. Later she would say to her friends, ‘Remember the expression on Montgomery Clift’s face when he first sees Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun? That is how Emil Coetzee looked at me that evening.’ Kuki did not care that most of her friends had been terrified by A Place in the Sun and saw the film as a cautionary tale. She had been too mesmerised by Montgomery Clift’s good looks to take heed of any lesson that the film might have offered. All she cared about in the telling of the story of how Emil had looked at her was that her friends understood that Emil, with his movie-star good looks, had looked at her as though they were part of something that had been produced in a dream factory.

As the evening of their first meeting progressed, it became clear to Emil that she wanted to rouse his attention and so he let her succeed in doing so. When he called the Sedgwicks a few days later, he spoke to a Kuki who had been enchanted by the time they had spent together and was eager to embark on a relationship with him.
Kuki was ten years his junior, so their courtship was not of the sort Emil was accustomed to. It was quaintly chaste. There was much handholding and quick pecking on the cheek, all meant to sow the seeds of a desire that would magically erupt into blissful compatibility on their wedding night. Added to all this, Kuki had a very definite idea of the type of romance that they should have and did not need his input at all. Emil did not begrudge her the running of their relationship; in fact, he was amused by it. It was, after all, her first romantic affair and she had probably been dreaming of it since childhood.

And, besides, he had Maryvonne. [Read more]

Buy The History of Man by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu: Bookshop