148. Ronnie at auctions

By Peter Fraenkel

Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia – my home town in my youth: a dump!  Cairo Road, the only tarred road “downtown” had one stationary shop. There they sold a pictorial postcard showing the main street of Lusaka and stating “population 1,250.” That excluded possibly ten or twenty times that number of blacks and browns. Non-Whites simply didn’t count in those days. Today, however, it is a capital city with two million inhabitants in a black-ruled country… and one of the few countries in Africa that has never had a military coup!

If – in the days of my youth – you had asked a local “what’s new in town?”  they would probably have answered rudely “Bugger all”!    But every second Friday there was an auction sale at McFedyans.   Since people were constantly escaping the town, they sent their furniture to these sales. Newcomers, having to furnish new homes, could sometimes pick up bargains.   Others came simply because there was nothing better to do. One who attended regularly – to the despair of his wife – was Ronnie. He owned a men’s outfitters which was doing well so he was comparatively affluent.  The auction bug had bit him badly.

At the next auction he found himself bidding for a tall cupboard. The folksy carving at the top reminded him a little of Westphalia, where he had come from. His bid was the highest and he acquired the cupboard. It needed two porters and a lorry to transport it to his house. His wife was in despair. She cheered up a little when the cupboard proved too tall to go through their front door.

Tongue in cheek, one of the porters asked “Shall we cut off those funny carvings at the top?”

Ronnie had to have it taken back to the auction house to await the next sale. They charged him for a fortnight’s storage! It was sold, eventually, but for less than he had paid for it.

His wife begged him to keep away from auctions and – to the disappointment of McFedyan, the auctioneer – he did miss one. But only one. Friends suggested he needed medical attention but neither he nor his wife would agree to that.

His wife, who, earlier had been so very critical of him, rallied to his defence: “He’s a clever man and a good businessman. You want him locked up, do you? Where? In a madhouse?  It’s you – you – who need your heads examined!”