We noticed some people waving to us from the bottom of the steps and she called them over.
They climbed the steps and stopped at a level where their faces were level with ours. I’d met the Portuguese couple before. He was a keen rider and sometimes rode with my mother. His wife, very petite and fashionably dressed, was not the sort of person you’d imagine riding horses. She didn’t. The other couple were strangers. Most people there were Portuguese but there were always a lot of South African riders and visitors around when the Centro Hipico was having an ‘international’ show jumping event. These people didn’t look Portuguese nor did they look South African. Once they opened their mouths, I realised they were American.
I’d never met an American before. Well, not a real one. Mr Lehmann from next door was American but he was hardly ever there. And, anyway, the Lehmanns weren’t rich. He definitely didn’t count as a real one.
These people looked rich.
He was tall and slim and wore a pale safari suit. Lots of men wore them in those days. Not that many wore white hats and big black sunglasses like this man did. She was also tall and slim and wore a yellow blouse tucked into tight dark trousers. Her hair was pulled back by a scarf and she was wearing the most amazing cats-eye sunglasses that sparkled in the blazing sun. Diamonds, I thought! I was disappointed later when I found out that the shining bits were bits of glass. Rhinestones to be correct.
They were introduced to us and the grown-ups got chatting while I got staring. They were fascinating, especially the woman who looked just like a movie star. She was probably quite a lot older than my mother but she was so much more glamorous and looked absolutely beautiful. I wished that I could see her eyes behind her glasses. While she talked, she kept smiling at me, aware, I’m sure, of the way I was looking at her. I tried not to stare but couldn’t help it.
Each time I looked at her, I drank in more of her exotic glamour. This was better than the movies, it was like being in the movies! She wasn’t wearing as much jewellery as I’d have expected on a rich ‘movie star’. In that regard, she was slightly disappointing as I’d have loved it had she dripped with jewels like Richie Rich's mother. All she wore were two yellow bangles on one arm, a few rings and her brooch, a dark golden beetle with big green jewels on its back. It was beautiful and almost made up for the lack of jewellery.
My eyes had taken her in several times by the time I noticed her brooch move, some five minutes after they’d joined us. At first I thought it was just my imagination or that it had moved as she moved while talking. I watched it very closely.
It was definitely moving on its own!
I started whispering into my mother’s ear, loudly and insistently, ‘Mom, mom, mom.’
My mother hated being interrupted if she was talking to someone. She tried to ignore me at first then, irritated, she tried to shush me. I carried on.
‘Mom, look at her brooch,’ I whispered loudly, ‘it’s moving!’
By the time she’d heard what I said, the American woman knew that I was fascinated by her brooch.
‘It’s alive, sweetie, that’s why it’s moving,’ she said.
‘Alive?’ both my mother and I said, almost in unison.
‘Yes, it’s a real beetle. See, its attached to my blouse with this little chain. When I’m not wearing her, I put her in her cage.’
In the Victorian era, there was a fascination with the natural world that manifested itself in some very weird fashions such as wearing stuffed humming birds as earings and real, live insects as brooches.