The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe

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Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
conventional sense—it was, rather, comfortable. It was the sort of face that suggested equanimity.
    Mma Ramotswe introduced Mma Makutsi, who also shook hands. Then the four of them sat down around a low table.
    â€œThe girl will bring us tea,” said Miss Rose. “She will not be long. These hot afternoons make me want to drink tea.”
    â€œTea is the thing,” said Mrs. “It is always time for tea. Hot afternoons, cold afternoons—it doesn’t matter. Tea.”
    Mma Ramotswe listened to the voice. It was hard to place the accent—and she felt that she was never very good at that anyway—but the voice did not sound at all out of place. Sometimes when people had recently arrived from India she noticed that they spoke in what struck her as a rather pleasant, slightly musical way. This woman, though, seemed to speak in much the same accent as that of Miss Rose. For a few moments her thoughts wandered. If you lost your memory, why did you not lose your vocabulary, too? Surely words were a memory, just like the things that happened to you? And how would you still remember things like how to turn on a light or boil a kettle? How would you remember that tea is just the thing if you had forgotten everything else?
    These thoughts were interrupted by Miss Rose. “Mrs. is happy to answer any questions you have, Mma Ramotswe. That is so, isn’t it, Mrs.?”
    Mrs. inclined her head. “I am very happy that these excellent ladies may be able to help me find out who I am. I shall certainly answer their questions, although …” She left the sentence dangling.
    â€œAlthough you can remember nothing?” supplied Mma Makutsi.
    â€œExactly,” said Mrs. “It is all a blank. There is nothing there. It is as if I had started to live a few days ago, only.”
    Mma Ramotswe noticed the use of the word
only.
It was a speech pattern she had noticed in people from India: for some reason they liked the word
only
, just as people from other places had a fondnessfor certain words or expressions. The South Africans often said
yes
and
no
in quick succession
—yes, no
—or they said
hey
a lot at the end of sentences. And the Americans, she had noticed, had a fondness for the word
like
, which was dropped into their pronouncements for no particular reason. It was all extremely odd. But then, she thought, did we all want to speak the same way? No, that would be too dull, like hearing the same song all the time; one song, on and on, day after day.
    â€œWhen exactly was that?” asked Mma Ramotswe.
    â€œIt was about two weeks ago,” said Mrs., looking to Miss Rose for confirmation.
    â€œYes,” said Miss Rose. “Two weeks ago today.”
    â€œSo you do remember some things,” said Mma Ramotswe.
    â€œI remember what happened recently,” said Mrs. “I don’t remember what happened before I arrived at the house of these kind people.” She nodded towards Miss Rose, who acknowledged the appreciation with a smile.
    Mma Makutsi was sitting on the edge of her seat, such was her eagerness to ask a question. “This is amazing, Mma,” she blurted out. “You can’t even remember your name? What about the names of your mother and father? Can you remember them?”
    Mrs. frowned. Her expression was one of intense concentration. “I don’t think so. No, I cannot. There is nothing there.”
    â€œAre they still with us or are they late?” asked Mma Makutsi.
    â€œLate,” said Mrs.
    There was a silence. Then Mrs. spoke again, hurriedly this time. “Or I imagine they will be late by now.”
    â€œBecause you are of such an age that your parents would be likely to be late?” asked Mma Makutsi.
    Mrs. shrugged. “I do not know how old I am.”
    â€œOr where you went to school?” pressed Mma Makutsi.
    â€œNo, I do not remember that. I think I went to school because, well, I know how to

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