Of course, if one really looked into what those rules said, you would find behind them the simple idea that people should be treated with respect. That was Rule Number One, if one liked to put it that way. And what was wrong with that rule?
—Alexander McCall Smith, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine
It is one of those days: early on in a string of days off, with the morning outing accomplished, and things set to bubbling on the stove–beef broth made with the bones from the Christmas roast, spaghetti sauce seasoned with hot Italian sausage Mark brought back from his sojourn in his birthplace in western New York. There’s an apple pie in the oven.
Floors are swept, dishes are done; even the laundry is caught up. The outside air is ten degrees chillier than it was when I let the dog out early in the day; the sky is lowering. The reality of winter pushes around the edges.
In the living room, the tree lights glow; the little dog curls up in her blanket on the couch and stares. James sets up shop in the dining room; his fingers fly as he types up some plans for 2016.
The last hour of daylight shows tree branches gently swaying; it’s almost time to turn the outside lights on, light the way home for the dad, poor man, who doesn’t live by an academic schedule. Home today is a place of order and quiet and wonderful scents; it’s a place where nothing urgent demands to be done and no trips or errands loom heavily overhead.
It is a day to read a quiet book, and I got one for Christmas, a gift from my son.
I have read about halfway through The Woman Who Walks in Sunshine, the latest in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels. The main character, Precious Ramotswe, is, like me, on holiday. Unlike me, she is not happy about it: her days loom long and large with children at school and husband at work, and around the edges, a worry nibbles that Grace Makutsi might just be trying to take over her business.
The worry nibbles, and then Precious banishes it and reminds us of all of Grace’s wonderful qualities. And it is true: Grace is steadfast and grateful, gifted and savvy. She is bright and opinionated and she worships Mma Ramotswe, her boss.
This is a novel of mostly decent people in a land with a long history of hospitality and kindness among its harsher legacies. In this book, introspection presides over action–there are (as yet, anyway), no explosions, no violent crimes, and only one sideways mention of lurid sex–and even that is more comfortably gossipy than rancid or racy. There is a mystery–a deceased public figure may or may not have a scandal buried with him. There is a conflict: Grace does not know how to investigate this, so she offloads the project to a temporary assistant. That man goes to Precious and asks for help and intervention. Precious, delighted to be called away from her enforced leisure, attempts to intervene.
Bad things happen in these novels, but they happen gently; they happen with time to think about their implications. Precious might investigate something and find evidence of human brutality or uncaring; she always acts on the knowledge. She always makes the situation better.
She is, in fact, a person who understands her gifts and talents and has created a career from them. McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe is a large woman with a large curiosity about other people, and an unbounded compassion. It is the perfect combination for a lady detective in Botswana: she is driven by that curiosity to unravel the mystery she encounters. Her compassion guides her to respond in the best way when the answers are laid bare.
And this is the perfect novel for this soft and homey day. Time, now, to stir the sauce and to turn the heat down on the pie; time to strain the broth and put the steaming, meaty bones aside to cool. And then, I’ll sit back down here, in my chair by the long window; I’ll wander through Precious’s days off as I savor mine.
Mark will come home; we’ll put the pasta on to boil and slice a loaf of crusty French bread, make the salads, pour the wine. By then, the light in the long window will have faded; after we’ve enjoyed dinner together, after the dishes are washed and the dog is walked, I’ll sneak back to the reading chair, tucked in the corner by the tree, and I’ll learn how the story ends–how the orphan settled in, whether there was a scandal in that government man’s life, and what on earth is bothering Grace Makutsi. It will be a satisfying ending: I know this; it will be an ending that ties things up nicely and that makes me smile. I’ll sigh when I put the book down, and I’ll be ready for a different kind of reading challenge tomorrow.
It’s that kind of book.
It’s that kind of day.