Do you promise me, Manie?

Excerpt from The Promise by Damon Galgut

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This is an excerpt from the book The Promise by Damon Galgut.

And she can see somebody moving around in there. A female figure, bustling about. If she half closes her eyes, Amor can imagine that it really is her mother, her body strong and healthy again, cleaning up the medicine from next to her bed. Not needed any more. Ma is better again, time has been turned back, the world is restored. Easy as that.

But she knows she’s just pretending and the person in the room isn’t Ma. It’s Salome, of course, who has been here on the farm for ever, or that’s how it feels. My grandfather always talked about her like that, Oh, Salome, I got her along with the land.

Pause a moment to observe, as she takes the sheets off the bed. A stout, solid woman, wearing a second-hand dress, given to her by Ma years ago. A headscarf tied over her hair.

She is barefoot, and the soles of her feet are cracked and dirty. Her hands have marks on them too, the scuffs and scars of innumerable collisions. Same age as Ma supposedly, forty, though she looks older. Hard to put an exact number on her. Not much shows in her face, she wears her life like a mask, like a graven image.

But some things you do know, because you saw them yourself. In the same impassive way that Salome sweeps and cleans the house and washes the clothes of the people who live in it, she looked after Ma through her last illness, dressing and undressing her, helping her to bathe with a bucket of hot water and a lappie, helping her to go to the toilet, yes, even wiping her arse for her after she used the bedpan, mopping up blood and shit and pus and piss, all the jobs that people in her own family didn’t want to do, too dirty or too intimate, Let Salome do it, that’s what she’s paid for, isn’t it? She was with Ma when she died, right there next to the bed, though nobody seems to see her, she is apparently invisible. And whatever Salome feels is invisible too. She has been told, Clean up here, wash the sheets, and she obeys, she cleans up, she washes the sheets.

But Amor can see her through the window, so she’s not invisible after all. Thinking about a memory, not understood till now, of an afternoon just two weeks ago, in that same room, with Ma and Pa. They forgot I was there, in the corner. They didn’t see me, I was like a black woman to them.

(Do you promise me, Manie?

Holding on to him, skeleton hands grabbing, like in a horror film.

Ja, I’ll do it.

Because I really want her to have something. After everything she’s done.

I understand, he says.

Promise me you’ll do it. Say the words.

I promise, Pa says, choked-sounding.)

She sees the picture still, her parents tangled together like Jesus and His mother, a terrible sad knot of clutching and crying. The sound somewhere else, higher up and apart, the words not reaching her till now. But finally she understands who they were talking about. Of course. Obviously. Duh.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Promise – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

Copyright © 2021 by Damon Galgut.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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