From the car we were escorted to a dining room overlooking the Indian Ocean.
We had come in under the discreet and handsome sign,
Attorneys at Law
Browne, Browne and Johnson.
Myra, my aunt Sarah and I were rather quiet, impressed I think, as we settled ourselves at a table with a floor length cloth covering it.(I giggled to myself and thought what a hiding place it would have made if I had been a few years younger!)
We had a magnificent view of white topped waves and tankers dotted all over, waiting I had heard, to go into Durban Harbour. I remembered that young Billy whose note I had found in a bottle had said that his dad had been promised a job there. I wanted to find out if he had been successful.
As we were speaking to a waitress about something to drink, there was a bit of a flurry at the door and the major D made a bit of a production of accompanying a distinguished looking man to our table. From the twinkle in his eye, his broad grin and outstretched hand on the back of his chair I guessed this was Samson Browne, the man with the sense of humour that Bill Johnson had wanted us to meet. He was obviously the big shot of the firm in whose dining room we were seated.
‘Let’s not stand on ceremony here,’ he said easily as he gently waved the major D away who wanted to pull his chair out for him to sit down. ‘I’m Sam and I know your name is Trevor,’ he said to me. I got up at once and with a glance at Sarah who was smiling and willing me to do the right thing, I stammered a little and said, ‘You’re right sir, I’m Trevor and this is my aunt Sarah Dunlop and our friend Myra Smithy.’ I breathed a sigh of relief as he shook each of them by the hand, repeated their names and looked each lady in the eye as he did so. At last he shook mine and said, ‘I’m glad to meet you too Trevor.
He recommended the in 250 gram steak and chips and I was delighted.
As we settled down to eat he said, between bites, that he had met Bill Johnson on a train.
‘It was 24 or so years ago and I was walking through the train on which I was travelling on business, to the dining car……….fresh flowers and silver on the tables in those long ago days, when I was held up for a few minutes as someone had dropped her parcels.
I noticed this young man who sat up straight and had a short back and sides haircut. This was back in the ‘hippie days of young people in long knotted hair and beads’ and thought to myself, there’s a decent young man. I noticed that he seemed very tense and upset. His cheek was working with muscles as though he was trying not to shed tears.’
Sam paused in his story as he chewed on a few mouthfuls of food. “I was so moved that I found myself saying to him, “my name is Sam Browne and I’d be glad if you joined me for lunch in the dining car. If of course we manage to get there!” I meant, if the lady could pick up all her parcels that were strewn all over the passage. I was trying to help him relax a little bit.
The strained young man looked at me long and hard, looked indecisive for a minute and then nodded just once. “thank you sir, I haven’t had a proper meal at a table for a while, but I’ll try not to disgrace myself!” and with that self-deprecating remark we got off to a good start.
He introduced himself as William R Johnson, called Bill and ate with gusto, remembering however to wipe his mouth as rich gravy dripped down his chin. Between eager mouthfuls he told me his extraordinary story.
'I did OK at school sir, a bit more that OK to tell the truth. Actually my Mam and I were so excited and proud that I had won a place at Stellenbosch university for next year. She runs a small catering business called KC –Kathy’s Cuisine and had managed to save enough for my first semester’s tuition. I helped her over weekends lifting all the heavy stuff and being the waiter.
Imagine our shock when the stash of cash disappeared one night last week! She kept it in a secret locked drawer in the back of her cupboard wanting to pay cash on day one for the whole term.
My dad had made one of his unpleasant demanding visits, threatening us with violence if we didn’t provide him with money he reckoned she owed him. He was drunk and he demanded food and more booze. My mam fed him and while she was in the kitchen he pretended he needed the bathroom and must have broken the lock and burgled her secret stash. She had no clue he even knew about it. We only found out that he had stolen it 3 days later when she wanted to put in a bit more money.
So the upshot is that instead of beginning my law degree next year, I will be working with her when she has a dinner party or luncheon and at the local garage whenever I can to save up for the following year. Stellenbosch says they will hold my place open…………and that’s the only bit of good news I’ve had in the last week or so.'
After a hefty meal and a double helping of ice cream slathered in a shiny chocolate sauce, Bill Johnson sat back and using the damask table napkin for a final clean up of his mouth, he simply said, 'thank you sir for the best meal I’ve probably ever eaten and for listening to my story.
I’m going to work hard with my Mam and let her know I don’t blame her a single bit. We’ll make it together.'
With that he rose to his feet and put his hand out across the table to shake mine as he obviously thought he had taken up enough of my time.
I told him I had a proposition for him and could he write down his address and telephone number on the damask table napkin he had used. I assured him that I would pay for it as he looked about anxiously. I’ve got a good feeling about your future young man, I told him. Keep on keeping on.
I wrote to him inviting him to come into my business on Saturday the 19th at 10am to do a couple of tests which would show me his potential as a lawyer.
We met and he seemed to be very tense and uncertain so I told him that I had been a surfer and did he like the sea. It appeared that he had surfed and even won a club championship at a junior level.
Then I got him to do some aptitude tests.
He was quick and clever once he had calmed down and was required to complete some tasks.’
At this point of our lunch Sam sat back and looked at Sarah and myself thoughtfully.
‘I have heard the offer that the Johnson’s have made you of a cottage on their property while you find your feet here in Durban. It seems to me that after the incredibly stressful time the pair of you have been through, you need someone to take the stress off you. I would recommend that you allow Bill Johnson to be that man, AND his family comes highly recommended too. Those twins can surf…….’
He resumed his story about Bill….
‘I suggested to Bill that my firm would sponsor him for his entire university career on condition that he worked for us a total of 6 weeks a year during his vacations, allowing him time to surf of course!
He got paid a small salary and served his internship with merit and when he graduated, the entire board agreed that he work for Browne and Browne.
The fact that after 8 years of working for us he was voted in as the youngest partner ever considered speaks for itself.’
Sam then got up, took Sarah’s hand in both of his and said, ‘that man Bill will open doors for you and your nephew that in time, as you sort yourself out, you'll appreciate as pure gold.’
And with that he was gone, nodding his head and raising a hand to various employees on his way out of the dining room.
‘Pure gold,’ hmmmmm sighed Myra. ‘Now that will give you sleepless nights hey Sarah?’ she joked giving her a friendly poke on her hand.
We all relaxed visibly. We slumped in our chairs and enjoyed the ice cream and exceptional chocolate sauce………a second helping for me.
I felt that surge of happiness that I had felt at the Johnson’s, wash over me once again. We still had to decide major things, my schooling for instance, and whether or not I’d go surfing with Bill, Gary and Billy Bob, but I felt less over whelmed.
I experienced that good feeling of having some back up support in the months ahead.
This time when I looked into Sarah’s eyes I saw that she had already decided to trust Bill Johnson and his family.
I couldn’t wait to move our belongings into The Cottage behind their thatched lapha and begin life in Durban, new friends, dogs, pizzas, waves and all.
A new home................my heart soared.
Read about Trevor’s further adventures in Durban in Instalment 5.
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