Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Vanishings Chapter 19 and 20





Chapter 19
Dambuza decided to leave Delly behind in the bush and rush into town to get some other officers to help him collect the evidence. “You going to be okay out here?” Dambuza asked before leaving her.

“Hey, I’m a long time bush woman, this is my element. Get off with ya!” Delly sat down next to the hole where they’d been digging.

Dambuza trotted off to the Corolla and set off toward town. He tried not to think about Khathurima’s words warning them that Delly should take care. Delly was in no danger. That man had no special powers to see things in the future. Still he sped the whole way to Maun ignoring the metallic protests from the Corolla.

He found Blue at the desk. “Listen I got a body in the bush, can you put together a team to go out with me?”

“Sure, Dambuza.” Blue made a few calls and the two waited for the others to arrive. It was night and the staff that was on duty was out patrolling. “So does this have anything to do with the white guy you beat up?”

“Was he here?” Dambuza could not believe the balls of this guy. He buries a body in the bush and he still wants to make a complaint?

“Ee Rra. He even had a report from the hospital.”

“What? Already?”

“Well from that private clinic. They do things quick-quick if the money’s right.”

“Shit.” Dambuza didn’t need another police brutality complaint on his record, he had enough already.

“Doesn’t matter,” he told himself more than Blue. “Someone needs to go and collect the guy and lock him in, at least for the night, on suspicion of murder. That ought to really piss the bastard off.”

***
The four officers arrived and they raced back to Delly. They pushed through the bush with their equipment and the metal police coffin- but Delly was not there.

“Delly!” Dambuza called. There was no answer. He didn’t let his mind wander to his worst thoughts. She was fine. Everything was fine. “Fuck! Spread out. We need to find her!”

Dambuza couldn’t believe after all of the warnings from the doctor he had left Delly out here. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to her. He only knew her for about a month but they’d become close. He was not someone who kept many friends, he never had a woman as a friend, especially a white woman, a much older white woman, but he suddenly realised how much Delly meant to him. She was sensible and practical and wise and funny. He respected her and her friendship meant everything to him through the last few weeks. How did he leave her here? What had he been thinking?

“Delly!” he shouted into the darkness.

Just then he heard something moving behind the bush, he turned thinking the elephants had finally arrived on the scene.

 Sis man! Can’t a girl take a leak?” Delly said coming through the bush buttoning her ever present shorts.

Dambuza grabbed Delly up in his arms. “God! I thought something happened to you.”

Delly pushed him back and smiled. “Ao! Dambuza are you getting sweet on me?”

Dambuza ignored her teasing and shouted to the others, “She’s over here guys!”

***
In the dark the digging was difficult. From the finger they found, it appeared the body had been cut into pieces and the pieces were buried all over the scene. About midnight they found a thigh. After that it was quicker: an arm, a torso, two feet, another arm. The body parts were being carefully laid out on a plastic tarp. Delly stood nearby surveying the progress.

“Hey Dambuza, come here a minute,” Delly said. “Look at that.”

“What?”

“The arms.”

“What about them?”

“They’re from different people.”

“What? How do you know?” Dambuza asked looking at the arms on the plastic.

“Look at them,” Delly said. “Look at the distance from the top to the elbow, it’s not the same. These are from two different bodies.”

Dambuza looked closer. Delly was right. He couldn’t believe it. Did this guy kill all of them? He called the other police officers over and they agreed with Delly. These parts were not from one body, they were from at least three different bodies.

The eastern sky was turning light grey and soon the sun would be up.  “Listen I need to get some sleep,” Dambuza said to the other police officers. “Delly and I will head into town. I’ll pass by the station and tell them what’s happening. The boss ought to be in by now. He’ll send a new team out to relieve you guys. I think we’re going to have to do a whole lot of digging out here.”

When they got back to the cars the Corolla refused to start, too much bouncing and bucking on the dirt roads for one day. He climbed into Delly’s vehicle just as the sun came up, and they headed back to Maun.


Chapter 20
Dambuza woke up confused. Out the window the sun was low in the sky but he took a minute to work out if it was morning or evening. After briefing the boss, Delly dropped him at home and he fell sound asleep. He couldn’t believe he’d slept the whole day away just when he finally got a break in his case. He called the station and Tito was still there.

“Yeah we got him in lock up,” Tito said. “He’s not talking, waiting for a big shot lawyer from Joburg to pitch. We’re going to be in for it then.”

“So what’d they find in the end out there?”

“All sorts of odd body parts. No full bodies. Looks like about seven different people. We need an expert to sort this out. Tomorrow a team is coming up from Gabs. Nothing more we can do tonight, you might as well get some sleep. Things are going to get crazy real quick.”

“Thanks Boss.”

“Listen, good job, Dambuza. Good police work.”  It felt good to hear his boss say that but Dambuza knew if it wasn’t for Delly and her new found profession, he would have never got the break he did. However he got there, he was just happy they were about to solve these cases.

Dambuza opened a beer and popped some day-old takeaway in the microwave. His phone rang and he answered without looking at who it was. “Hello.”

“Hi, it’s me.” His high collapsed.

“Hi Bontle… what do you want?” He didn’t want any drama right now. Despite his and Delly’s gruesome find, he was feeling pretty good and he didn’t want a big fight with Bontle to ruin his mood.

“I just wanted to talk.” There was something about her voice. 

“Are you okay? Are the kids okay?” Dambuza was getting scared. Why was she calling him?

“Everyone is fine. I don’t know… I …maybe I shouldn’t have called….”

“But you did. What is it Bontle?”

“Dambuza… I …” He could hear her crying.

“What is it Bontle? What’s wrong?”

 Some minutes passed as she cried into the phone. She pulled herself together and said, “I miss you. God, Dambuza, what am I doing?”

Dambuza sat down on the sofa. The microwave beeped in the background and he ignored it. “I don’t know, what are you doing Bontle? You tell me.”

“Why are we getting a divorce when I still love you?”  Dambuza waited. Was he supposed to answer that? “What are we supposed to do, Dambuza? I can’t be with you and I can’t stay away from you?”

“What happened to your new man?”

“That was nothing.”

They sat in silence for some minutes. He could hear her crying, almost 500 kilometres away in Francistown and he could do nothing to help her. He wished he was there to take her in his arms.  “I need to see you Dambuza. Can I come this weekend? Can I spend the weekend with you?”

“I don’t know, Bontle. You’re the one who started everything.”

“Please, Dambuza. I just need to see you.”

“How is it going to help anything?”

“I don’t know ….I just know I need to see you, baby…please.”

Dambuza would not let the mother of his children beg. He respected her too much for that. “Okay. Okay fine. I’ll see you this weekend, we can talk then.”

“I love you, Dambuza,” she said.

Dambuza kept quiet and hung up the phone.

***
Baleka woke up feeling nauseous. She had a terrible headache and had two places where pieces of her body had been cut away, small wounds on her thigh and her upper arm. They’d covered the wounds with gauze. They’d taken her out four days ago now and they’d done nothing since. They brought the food and water and that was all. She wondered where they’d gone to. She wondered what would happen to them if the people got caught and arrested. They could die in this hole.

She wondered if there was some way she could stay awake when they took her that side, if she could stop herself from breathing the chemical on the cloth. She was desperate to know what they did to her. How they violated her body. The mystery was nearly the worst part of it.

“Come and eat,” George said from the bed. He’d laid out the food they recently brought. It was beans and samp.

“Are you feeling any better?” he asked.

“A bit, eating might help.”

She sat down opposite George. They’d been together for twenty-six days now, he felt more like family to her than her own family who were disappearing in her mind. She feared she was disappearing for them too. Would Moarabi even know her when she finally left this room? For a three year old, twenty-six days was a long time. She missed Les, even as much as they fought she loved him. She knew he’d still be looking for her, still be thinking about her. She knew that. It had to be true. She held on to that thought.

“I guess your parents just think you’re still in Botswana.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Maybe my brother will come to check. He said he might come in February or March. Maybe he went back and told them I’m gone. I sort of hope he didn’t. I don’t want them to worry about me. They have enough to worry about in Zimbabwe.”

“Yeah.” Baleka ate a few bites of the food and then stopped. It wasn’t helping. She hoped this sickness would pass. She hoped it wasn’t the beginning of the end. She wondered if they got sick because of something their captors did to them or something they gave them. Being in that dark underground room with only a tiny hole for air could be the problem too.

“George, do you think we could fight them when they come next time? They’re only two and one is a woman.”

“But that man is big. And the chemical. It’s like magic, one sniff and you’re out. They’d just knock us out with it. Phatsimo said Tiny tried once and that was when they took her out forever…killed her I guess.”

Baleka was surprised George said that, he still talked as if he believed the others, especially Phatsimo, were released. “But if we got the cloth first. We could wait in the dark, in the corner and grab the cloth first. We could use it on them.”

“I don’t know. You’re sick and weak. If it fails they’ll kill us.”

“George, they’re going to kill us anyway,” Baleka said. “We might as well try.” 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Xenophobia has no place in Africa


The  xenophobia in Durban is heartbreaking.  It reminded me of my story, Birthday Wishes. I thought today might be a good day to post it. It's included in the book Birthday Wishes and Other Stories published by Vivila Publishers in South Africa.


  
Birthday Wishes
  
 “They’ve taken all of the jobs,” Bongani spat with his head down, shovelling forkfuls of food into his mouth. Lungile watched him while she played at eating, but stayed quiet.
     “People say that, but is it true?” Bongani’s mother got up and turned off the tea kettle whistling on the stove. “I think people are getting excited about nothing. And you, Bongani, should stay away from them. It will lead to no good.”
   Bongani’s head shot up, his eyes flashing left and right with anger. “Keep out of it, Mama! How many more Zimbabweans must come here? They will work for nothing; how can a South African like me expect to ever find a decent job when they will work for nothing? Tell me that!”
     “Bongani, please,” his mother pleaded, sitting down next to him and running her hand along his arm. “Please, promise me you won’t get mixed up in all of this. It is not your concern. Things will work out, you will find a job soon enough. You’ve finished your matric now, you will find a job. Please Bongani, promise me you’ll stay out of it.”
    Lungile watched her brother and her mother. She knew her brother thought what he was saying was right. He pulled away from his mother’s tender touch. “I need to go out.” He stood up, grabbed his coat from the hook and headed for the door.
     “Please, Bongani, please don’t go,” his mother tried again, but Bongani turned and left.
     Lungile sat at the table pushing her uneaten food around on the plate. She worried about her brother and what he did in the dark, dusty lanes of Alexandra, but she knew that her brother’s activities helped her; they helped her to keep her secret quiet from everyone.
***

    Two weeks ago the talk started. At first, Lungile paid no attention to it. People were jealous and nasty and liked to blame others for problems they created. It didn’t mean anything, and it was best not to pay it any attention. Such random talk could do no real harm.
“Those Somali shopkeepers charge too much. They should go back to
their country and leave us alone.”

“Mugabe’s children have no home here. They just want to steal
our property in the night.”

“The Nigerians are all drug dealers, the government
 should send them home.”

“They are taking all of our jobs, is this not the New South Africa?
They must all leave or we will make them leave.”

    Talk, talk, talk. Other things filled Lungile’s mind. It was her final year of primary school and she was the head girl. She had a lot of responsibilities; she couldn’t be troubled with silly talk from jealous people. But then something about the talk changed. It was more organised. People were repeating the same things. The words gained momentum, they gathered strength. It was all taking on a sharp edge.

“The foreigners must go home or we will make sure they do.”

   From odd corners and crowded streets the words were repeated;  repeated enough times they took on a more real, truthful role. Soon they were no longer words, but calls to action. This was when Mudiwa took Lungile to the side and the secret began.
     Mudiwa had come to Lungile’s school two years before. Her father was a teacher in Mashvingo, Zimbabwe, but the family had to leave when whispers in the night told them that the war veterans were coming for him, the regional MDC organizer. Mudiwa, her mother, and her father packed up what they could and slipped over the border the same night.
     They had friends living in Alexandra. They would stay only until after the elections. They were sure that MDC would win and Mugabe and his friends would be out. Then it would be safe for them to go back to Zimbabwe. It would be safe for them to go back home.
     Mudiwa’s father left for Zimbabwe when the elections started. Though Mudiwa and her mother begged for him to stay in South Africa, he knew he could not leave such important work for others. They had heard from him regularly before the elections, but suddenly he stopped calling. Mudiwa’s mother spent hours at the phone shop calling people they knew, trying to get any information about her husband. The last they heard was that he had been arrested with other MDC members. Mudiwa’s uncle spent every waking hour searching for his brother, and Mudiwa and her mother waited in Alexandra for any hopeful word.
     Lungile knew all this because soon after Mudiwa arrived in Alexandra, they became friends. Mudiwa, though the same age as Lungile, was much smaller than her with delicate hands and tiny feet. Though they looked very different from each other, they had many things in common, one of which was their birthday- the 22nd of May.
      Once her father left, Mudiwa’s bubbly personality disappeared.  Lungile was worried about her friend. “Have you heard any news about your father?” Mudiwa asked her that day.
      “No, my uncle thinks he knows where they’ve been taken. He is waiting to raise some money then he’ll go there. Then we’ll know more.”
     “At least that’s something,” Lungile tried. She changed the subject hoping to carry her friend to a better place. “What are you doing for your science project?”
     Mudiwa turned to her, her tiny face full of worry. “Lungile, I’m scared. “
     Lungile took Mudiwa’s hands in her and led her to a bench under a nearby shade tree. “I know, Mudiwa. But you’re uncle is there, he will find your father and get him out of jail and then he will come back to South Africa.”
      Mudiwa shook her head. “No, not that. Lungile. I think we’re in danger, my mother and I.”
     “Danger? From what?”
      “Where we stay, they’re talking. They want the foreigners out. My mother is getting scared, but we don’t have any money to leave. My father took everything. We don’t know what to do, we can’t go anywhere.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
     Lungile reached forward and wiped the tears away. “Do you think it’s that bad? Does your mother think that they will harm you?”
      “She doesn’t say it, but I can see it in her eyes. Near our house, the young men are meeting in the night. They leave those meetings shouting that the foreigners must go. They might kill us, Lungile.”
     Mudiwa cried into her hands and Lungile grabbed the smaller girl up in her arms. As  Mudiwa explained, Lungile knew that the comments made in the dark had changed into something else altogether. She was afraid for her friend, but she vowed that she would not sit by and do nothing.
***
       Two days later, the first attacks started. A Mozambican man was beaten in the street while everyday, ordinary people watched. They were the woman down the road with the baby with long eyelashes, and the man who rode the black Humber, the girl who sold cell phone units and the tall boy who played cards on the corner. They were the couple that had invited Lungile’s family for a braii and the old woman who had an orange and black cat. They were not evil. They were not criminals. They were just the people that lived with them, who had listened one too many times to the whispered words, and now believed that they were true and that action was needed. Perhaps the speakers were right, the foreigners were the problem. They were what kept them from the life the Rainbow Nation had promised them.
     After school, Lungile caught Mudiwa by the sleeve before she went out the gate. “I have made a place for you to stay, you and your mother, until all of this is over,” Lungile whispered to her friend who seemed to be shrinking, getting smaller and smaller, until Lungile feared she might disappear altogether.
     “A place to stay?” Mudiwa was confused so Lungile took her to her house. They sneaked through the side gate, taking care not to allow its usual squeak. Lungile took Mudiwa to a storeroom at the back of the house. No one ever went in there. It was full of her uncle’s property. He had gone to work at the mine and had left his things with Lungile’s mother. Lungile had managed to break in and moved his things around to create a hidden room at the back. She had set up her uncle’s bed and a small side table with a paraffin lamp on it. The small room was hidden at the back by the remainder of his property.
    “You can stay here,” Lungile said. “They won’t find you.”
     “But how? How will we manage?” Mudiwa asked confused.
      “I’ll bring you food. It’s just for during the night, that’s when they start everything.”
     And that was when the secret began. As the foreigners were killed or ran to police stations looking for protection, Mudiwa and her mother were safe in Lungile’s yard. No one would search for foreigners there, especially now with her brother Bongani becoming one of the ring leaders. Though Lungile feared for what Bongani was doing, she knew that without it, the gangs might search their house for hidden foreigners. As long as Bongani kept active, Mudiwa was safe. It was not an easy thought for Lungile, but she also knew that with or without her secret, Bongani would do what he wanted. He had always been ready to blame others for his problems. It was just as easy to blame the foreigners as it was to blame their father who had gone off one day and left them, maybe even easier.
***
     Days passed as Lungile and Mudiwa kept their secret. Mudiwa went to school everyday and her mother went searching for piece jobs outside of the township, and made her daily trip to the phone shop to call home to hear news about her husband. But at night, they snuck into their hiding place and when Lungile’s mother went to sleep, and Bongani went out to be part of his own secret life, Lungile crept to the back of the house and brought food and water to Mudiwa and her mother.
     Lungile sat at the table with her mother after Bongani left. She moved her food around on her plate, not eating, trying to save as much as she could for her friend. Suddenly, her mother looked up from her hands; her face was wet with the tears she cried each night for Bongani. “What is the date today?”
    “I don’t know,” Lungile said. “Maybe the 21st or the 22nd?”
     Her mother got up and went to the calendar from the local service station that hung on the wall. “It is the 22nd! Oh Lungile! In all of this, we have forgotten all about your birthday. You’re twelve today!” Her mother grabbed her up in her strong, working arms. “Oh what kind of mother forgets her own daughter’s birthday?”
     Lungile let her cry for a few minutes. “It’s okay, Mama. I know you’re worried about Bongani and all of this violence. We’ll celebrate another time. I don’t mind.”  She smiled at her mother to put her at ease. “Let me make you some tea before you go to bed.”
     Her mother sat back down on the chair. “You are such a good girl, Lungile.”
     Lungile quickly made the tea. What she wanted now was to get her mother off to bed. She had a lot to do for she had forgotten the date too. Her mother drank her tea slowly, bringing the cup up to her lips and sipping the hot liquid. She started telling some of her stories. Tonight they were all about growing up in the lush valleys of the towering Drakensburg Mountain. They were happy days, and when she was calming herself that was where her mind found most comfort. Soon her eyes drooped and her cup emptied. “My daughter, I must get off to bed. Don’t stay up long now.”
     “I won’t Mama. I have a bit of maths to do and then I’ll join you,” Lungile lied.
     As soon as she heard the rhythmic snore from her mother in the other room, Lungile burst into action. She pulled out the flour, sugar, and eggs from the side cupboard. She mixed a small cake and put it in the oven. When it was ready, she looked around for some decorations. She didn’t have anything for icing, but she found some toothpicks. She dug out her coloured pencils from school and made a small flag written “Happy 12th Birthday”. She stuck it on the toothpick and then stuck the toothpick into the cake.  She found a half used candle in a side drawer and, though it was very big, she stuck it into the cake anyway. Every birthday cake needed a candle. Then she carried the cake and the leftover food from dinner carefully out to the shed.
      Baking the cake had taken some time, and Mudiwa and her mother were already asleep. Lungile shook Mudiwa awake, careful not to wake her mother. “We forgot something important today.”
     Mudiwa turned her sleepy face toward her friend. “I’m too tired. I don’t want to eat.”
     “It’s not time for eating. It’s time for a party!”
     Mudiwa open her eyes. Lungile lit the candle and she sang very softly, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!” until the song finished.
      When Lungile was through, Mudiwa said, “Happy birthday to you too!”  She closed her eyes and made a wish then blew out the candle. Lungile split the cake in half and handed one piece to Mudiwa. They smiled at each other as they ate.
     “I was waiting to tell you something”, Mudiwa said, suddenly serious. “My mother spoke with my father today. He’s in Bulawayo, staying with his parents. He’s sending money tomorrow; we’re leaving.”
     Lungile wasn’t sure what she was feeling. She wanted her friend to be reunited with her father and she wanted her to be safe again at home, but she also didn’t want her to leave, though she knew that was very selfish. “I’m happy for you, Mudiwa.”
      Mudiwa took Lungile’s face in her small hands and kissed her on both cheeks. “This is my best birthday cake ever. Thank you.”
***

     The next morning, Lungile woke up early and got ready for school. She put on her uniform and shined her school shoes. Her mother had long left for her job in the city centre. Just as she was leaving, Bongani burst through the door, only just arriving from his night time activities. Lungile stood at the door. “Do you even know what you’re doing?” she asked him suddenly very angry.
      “What does a small girl like you know about anything?” Bongani spat back.
     “I know what you are doing is wrong and the time will come when you will look in the mirror and be ashamed of who you see.”
      Bongani  thinned his eyes and clicked his tongue in annoyance and headed for the bedroom, where he’d sleep all day so as to be ready for the night once again.
      Lungile went outside. She found Mudiwa and her mother waiting down the road for her. “We’re leaving, Lungile. Thank you so much for your help,” Mudiwa’s mother said and then she reached forward and hugged her. “You’re a brave little girl. I see a bright future for a girl with such courage.” 
      Lungile was too shy to answer such big compliments. She looked at Mudiwa. “Good bye. I hope you’ll travel well to your home,” Lungile said keeping her emotions steady with formal words.
     Mudiwa rushed forward. Lungile could feel her tears wetting her uniform. “I’ll remember you always. You’ve been the best friend a girl could have had. Do you know what I wished for last night?”
     “No,” Lungile said. “What?”
     “I wished that on our birthday, sometime in the future when everything is good again, that we will be together. We will have a big party with balloons and games and dancing.... and a big cake... with lots of cream.”
     Lungile watched quietly as Mudiwa and her mother made their way down the block. Just as they were about to turn the corner to the bus station, she shouted, “I hope your wish comes true!”
 She wasn’t sure if Mudiwa heard her, but somewhere inside she was positive birthday wishes  came true and she would see Mudiwa again.

The End







   

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Case of the False Prophets- A Lola Molefi Mystery

FunDza has made a lovely icon for the Lola Molefi Mysteries. What do you think of it?
And they're trying something new, putting up all seven chapters on the first day of the week. So today my entire story, The Case of the False Prophets, is up over at FunDza- read it here.

"In the previous Lola case, The Case of the Wedding Curse, her friends Bonang and Jomo married. Six months later Bonang feels plagued by bad luck: she’s not had a single modelling job, and she’s not falling pregnant. Then she meets Radithedi and Enoch, prophets who promise to fix all her problems – for a price. Bonang will hear nothing bad about the pair. Can Lola prove to Bonang they are just crooks, before she loses all of her money?"

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chapters 17 and 18- The Vanishings





Chapter 17

“I can hear them. They’re coming,” George whispered in Baleka’s ear as she lay on the bed. She looked up at the high window and it was still dark. They never came for them in the dark. She suspected it was early morning, maybe three or four but couldn’t be sure. 

George also knew it was odd. “Maybe they’re bringing Phatsimo back.”

Baleka kept quiet. She knew that was doubtful. She’d been gone seven days. She had either been let out or she died. They hadn’t been to take either one of them since they took Phatsimo out. Baleka thought maybe Phatsimo died and now they had far too many human bits to sell for their muti, they didn’t need to take their blood and pieces of their flesh.

The footsteps came closer. They were definitely two people. They were coming closer and they were coming for one of them. Baleka stood up readying herself.

The door opened. The taller one entered first. Baleka knew now, since she’d grabbed him that day, that he was a Motswana and he was a man. A married Motswana man. Baleka stood in the shadow under the window. The man said nothing but looked around. George was there, but he had no interest in him. He’d come for Baleka but couldn’t see her.

George asked, “When are you bringing Phatsimo back?”

The man said nothing. The shorter one behind had locked the door. The two captors looked at each other. Baleka could tell they couldn’t see her. The shorter one reached for the chain of the one bulb in the long room and turned it on. As soon as the light came on, Baleka spoke in Setswana. “How can you do this to your own people? You’re dirt!”

Voetsek you bitch!” the man spat out.

“Shut up!” the shorter one said. Now Baleka knew. As she suspected, the shorter one was a woman, and a foreigner. Every bit of information was important. Baleka knew it would help her, help her to survive, to escape.

The man came forward with the cloth and Baleka kicked him hard between the legs many times. Her feet hit his legs and his arms as he tried to use them to protect himself. He bent over in pain but still managed to hold her arms tightly. The woman took only seconds to grab the cloth from the man’s hand and push it over Baleka’s mouth then everything went black.

***
Dambuza and Delly went back to her house. They’d spoken with the university administration and apparently the human foetus in Renet’s lab belonged to the department. They had nothing on the man yet, but Dambuza knew he was hiding something. And like Delly had said, he was very creepy.

It had been a scorching hot day, the kind Maun had in numbers during the long summer. The sun had set and the cool breeze coming off the river blew across the veranda like a welcomed gift. Delly had one of the prime spots in Maun. When she got it shortly after coming to Maun, she’d been out in the bush. Now the town had grown to meet her.

“I think he was sleeping with that woman. I bet it,” Delly said. “He was lying.”

“Maybe…By the way, I was going to ask you when you managed to open your private investigating firm.”

Delly looked at him. “That fucker wanted to bully me. I needed a plan, that’s the plan that came to me. Sue me. Anyway, who’s to say I don’t have a private investigating firm?”

“Well, one thing I can say, there was indeed some lying going on in that office, that’s one thing I can say with certainty, and it wasn’t only coming from the good doctor.” 

“So what do you think? Is he involved?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like the guy. Arrogant, ugly, and rude all in one package, just doesn’t seem fair.” Dambuza finished his beer. Delly got up to get another one and Dambuza raised his hand to stop her. “Nope, I’m off.”

“Off to where?”

“Church.”

Delly laughed and Bob woke up in the corner and howled twice and fell back down to sleep. “You? To church? You don’t seem like the church going type.”

“We all have to start somewhere.”
***

It’d been almost two weeks since Dambuza had last visited the Spiritual Awakening Church and those two weeks had been a time of transformation. The walls of the church had all been plastered and painted a golden yellow. Glass had been fitted in the windows and the window frames painted white. A new face brick stop nonsense wall encircled the plot with a wrought iron gate at the front. Yes, business was good in the God business.

Plenty of cars were parked in the plot and Dambuza could hear he was late. Voices sang from inside and, from the sound, he suspected the place was packed. He slipped in and stood at the back. The place couldn’t even be recognised as the same church. Inside, the walls had been plastered and electric lights and ceiling fans were installed. There were rows and rows of new benches, but even those were not enough to hold the gathering. People lined the walls and sat at the front. The place was overflowing.

Reverend Tladi stood at the front. Next to him stood a shorter, smartly dressed, middle aged white woman. As the music died down Reverent Tladi moved to the pulpit. He spoke in Setswana which he immediately translated into English for his guest.

“Welcome my sisters and brother. I am warm in my heart to see how many of you have come to pray for the vanished ones. We live in fear in Maun. Evil walks among us. We do not know who they are, but know they are here. Do not doubt that. They live with us. Only God can keep us safe, only God can keep us from joining the vanished ones. Let us pray.”

He prayed and Dambuza looked around. He saw MmaShorty at the front. In the middle was Phatsimo’s mother. Even Les was in the crowd. Everyone was hoping God would find their lost loved ones.

“I want to introduce our guest who really needs no introduction. Church members know her as our mother.” The crowd answered back with a hail of Hallelujahs and Amens. “For those new to the church, this is Mma Johnson. She has come back to us to help us in our fight.”

Dambuza looked up at the woman. She waved her hands at the crowd, her fingers heavy with rings of gold and diamonds. She’d come back, Dambuza suspected, not to fight evil and help find the disappeared people but because the money was rolling in and she didn’t want to miss the gravy train-but then he was suspicious by nature.

Dambuza tried to stay hidden behind people. He didn’t want Tladi to know he was there. The good Reverend moved to the side and let the American woman speak, while he translated into Setswana.  She piled on more about the evil and the saving by God. Stoke up the fear, show them where to be safe, get them dependent. Dambuza had to admit she was good.

Dambuza was just about to leave when the collection baskets came out. The congregation sang while the baskets were passed. Dambuza was shocked. People who looked as if they hardly had a Pula to their names were pulling out pink P200 notes and dropping them in the basket. The collection men carried the full baskets to the front and dumped the money on a table. Reverend Tladi pushed the cash into a big bin at the end of the table.
***

Dambuza slipped out of the service before it ended, he didn’t want to be spotted. He stopped at Chuck’s on the way home. It was a Tuesday night so the crowd was thin. Dambuza got a beer and a shot and sat at the end of the bar in the shadows to watch a repeat of a Zebras game.

After some minutes a woman came up next to him. “Anyone sitting here?”

“No.” Dambuza could tell she was not just looking for a place to sit, she wanted that bar stool, despite the fact there was almost a bar full of empty ones. He looked back at the TV.

She ordered a Hunter’s and poured it in a glass. “You new here?”

“Yep.” Dambuza turned to her. She looked about 35, a rough 35 trying to cover the bumpiness of life with far too much make-up. She wore a low cut, tight fitting shirt and a push-up bra that was doing serious overtime. He went back to looking at the TV.

He knew this woman. He’d met her a hundred times before. They were in bars all over Botswana, maybe all over the world. They were not bad women, they were playing a game. She was just testing if he was playing it too. It would be easy. God knew he could use the relief. Sex had made an exit from his life since he’d moved to Maun.

He’d heard nothing from Nana since their date on Friday. In a way he was thankful. It was too much. He was feeling too much. Right now he needed numbness. His life was upside down. He missed his kids and, despite the fact that he told himself he didn’t give a shit about Bontle, he did. He missed her. She’d been a constant in his life for as long as he could remember. Now where she was supposed to be was empty and he felt lost, drifting away without his anchor. When he thought of her with someone else he became furious. Just the thought that someone else was touching her body drove him wild with fury. He had enough emotions from all sides of the spectrum, the only thing he needed was a tall, cold, glass of numb.

He called the bartender over. “Bring another shot and a beer for me and whatever the lady’s having.”

“Well thanks, baby.” When the bartender set their drinks on the counter, she picked up her pink shot and held it up to Dambuza’s whiskey. “Cheers!”

They downed them and she smiled. “So what’s your name?”

“Dambuza, Dambuza Chakalisa.”

Just then the door at the front opened. Hamilton Ride walked in with his arm around Nana’s shoulders. Dambuza quickly looked away. He hit his shot glass on the bar and the bartender filled it up. He looked at Nana but she couldn’t see him. She stood behind Hamilton as he ordered drinks at the far end of the bar. Her body pressed against his, her arms wrapped around his waist.

“What’s your name?” Dambuza asked the woman next to him.

“Tebogo. But my friends call me Tebby. If you want you can call me Tebby.” She drank another pink shot and then sipped at her Hunter’s.

Dambuza kept quiet as he watched Hamilton and Nana move to a table around the corner where he couldn’t see them anymore. Another whiskey shot maybe two and he’d be about where he needed to be, Dambuza thought. He watched the game and drank his whiskey.

He was sure that was all he needed to get through the night. In the end, he was wrong on both counts. It took five more shots to get him to the place he needed and the whiskey was not going to be enough.

“So Tebby, how about we go to my house for drinks. This place is getting crowded.”

Tebby looked around at the empty bar and laughed. “Okay… sure.”

Chapter 18

The alarm went and the sound banged against the inside of Dambuza’s head like a hammer on a piece of iron. He sat up and waited as his parts recognised the new vertical position they were in before opening his eyes and letting in the blast of light he was sure would send another spike through his brain. His guest was gone. Thankfully, Tebby had insisted she had to bring her own car as she had to work in the morning and slipped away in the early hours.

He downed a Grand-pa with half a beer and stumbled to the shower. As the water beat against his face he wondered if he had a gene that dictated that he would be a fuck-up. Maybe he was fighting a losing battle. Perhaps everything had been set the moment his father’s sperm met his mother’s egg. You couldn’t mess with genetics, and you couldn’t be blamed either. If that wasn’t the case, why did he keep doing the same thing over and over like a hamster on a metal wheel? Couldn’t he just step off?

He kept seeing Nana hugging Hamilton. Even though she said he wasn’t her type, he certainly seemed her type the night before. Why had he even got himself in the position that he cared who Nana’s type was? He wasn’t Nana’s type. He knew that the first day he saw her, how had he forgotten? And besides, he was fucked-up. He didn’t need anyone like Nana. He needed Tebbys -a long, long line of Tebbys one after another. He wanted no feeling. Tebbys let him coast. But Bontles and Nanas were another story. They pushed his emotional buttons and sent him to the place where all he was were feelings. No Bontles, no Nanas. That was his new policy. He hoped he’d stick to it.

He wiped himself off and threw on some clothes. He felt refreshed. He had a new plan and he was backdating it so today was day two of Operation No Feelings. Good. He drank a cup of coffee with a beer chaser, brushed his teeth and left for work.

***
He decided he needed to head back to Makalamabedi. He needed to speak to Tiny Thebeetsile’s family. Maybe they knew something about her relationship with Dr Renet. He asked around once he was in the village and got directions to the compound. It had three small cement houses. He saw a broken car at the back of the plot. When he pulled up a woman came out of the house. She looked about forty, dressed in a letaise and a doek.

“Dumela Rra,” she said when he entered the yard. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, is this the compound for Tiny Thebeetsile?” Dambuza asked.

“Who is asking?”

“I’m Detective Dambuza from the Maun Police.”

She went in the house to fetch some chairs. When she came out she was followed by a very old woman, hunched over and walking with a stick. “This is my mother-in-law, Tiny’s mother,” the woman said.

They pulled the chairs out of the hot sun and sat down.  “I wonder what the police want about Tiny. They said the lion got her. We had a funeral,” the old woman said as if speaking to herself.

“I’m just trying to clear up a few issues.” Dambuza had no interest in reopening wounds that were starting to heal. “Did you know a friend of Tiny’s, a white man from the university called Dr. Renet?”

The older woman nodded. “Ee, he’s a very good man. A good man.”

“Yes, he was Tiny’s friend. He came for the funeral. He gave my husband a lot of money to pay for things,” the younger woman said.

“Do you know what his relationship with Tiny was?”

“Do you mean were they lovers?” the younger woman asked and Dambuza nodded. “Tiny used to say that and we teased her about it. We thought she was talking nonsense. You know she was not well mentally so sometimes she said things that made no sense. We wondered what an educated, rich, white man would want with Tiny. But after the funeral we thought otherwise. The way he behaved. Maybe they were lovers, I don’t know. She spent a lot of time in Maun, we thought it was with that church of hers, maybe she was with him.”

“And the church?” Dambuza asked. “What did you think of it?”

“I went with her for a while. I liked that young priest, the black one, but those whites- no.”

“Why?”

The younger woman shook her head. The old woman spoke. “They’re greedy. They liked making you feel like if you don’t do what they say you’re going to hell. A lot of nonsense! I told Tiny the ancestors don’t like her being with those kinds of people. I even took her to Rre Khathurima to try and get her some help, to get her away from them. But he failed. They’re very strong those white people. Maybe they sent the lion when they heard Tiny might leave the church. They are powerful with their magic. Look how the people give them all of their money until they can’t even feed their children.”
***
Dambuza left the two women and started heading back to Maun but then thought twice and turned back to the village. He wanted to speak to the traditional doctor again. He wanted to hear if he’d learned anything else about Tiny and Dr Renet during the sessions he had with Tiny. Or even something else that might help the case.

When he pulled up to the shady compound the doctor was already waiting at the gate. “Policeman, you are here.”

“Yes, I wondered if you had any time to talk to me or were you on your way somewhere?”

“No, I was waiting for you.”

Dambuza felt a chill run through his body when the doctor said that. He followed the old man into the consultation hut. “Have you found them yet?” the doctor asked.

“No.”

“Time is going. You must find them. They will soon all be dead.”

Dambuza didn’t want to believe that Khathurima had special powers that let him see things others couldn’t but how did he know Dambuza was coming to him? But then Dambuza reminded himself that news travelled quickly in small villages. The doctor likely knew Dambuza was around.

“I understand one of the missing, Tiny Thebeetsile, came to you for help before she disappeared.”

He nodded his head, closing his eyes as if trying to remember. “Her mother brought her, she was the one wanting help. Tiny was happy. She didn’t need anything from me.”

“You spoke to her about her church.” Dambuza was trying to get information that the doctor seemed unwilling to part with.

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you anything that might help us find her?”

“No, you can’t find her, she’s dead.”

“Yes, I know there was a funeral and the family believe she was killed by lions….” 

“No, no lions,” the doctor interrupted.

“How do you know she’s dead?”

“I know.”

Dambuza was getting annoyed. “Perhaps you know because you’re involved. Many doctors use human parts to make powerful medicines. Is that it then Rre Khathurima? Is this why you know so much about this case?”

The doctor smiled. “You’re frustrated. You can’t find these people. That’s fine. I will accept that. There are doctors who do as you say, but I’m not one of them. Spend your time finding that answer to the wrong question, but it will be a waste. Wasted time is what you don’t need right now.”

Dambuza sat back against the low chair he’d been given. “Do you know anything about the white man Tiny was seeing?”

“They were lovers. Her troubled mind was finally settled and then she was taken.”

“Did she tell you that?”

“Not exactly, but I knew. But didn’t you come to ask me about the church?”

Again Dambuza was caught off guard. “Yes. Was Tiny going to leave the church?”

“I doubt it, she believed them. They have a powerful pull for people who are weak.”

“Do you think the church is involved in these disappearances?”

“I can’t say. I see nothing in my dreams. It could be anyone.” The doctor suddenly reached forward, his eyes focussed, and grabbed Dambuza’s arm. “I told your white friend, they’re dangerous and they are close. You must be vigilant. And you must hurry. They will not last much longer.”

Dambuza shot to his feet as soon as the old man let go of his arm. He rushed to his car and sped away from the village. He wanted to get away from Makalamabedi and back to Maun.

As he drove back to Maun his hangover tried to regroup and his head pounded. He tried to concentrate on pulling all of the connections together. Was the church somehow involved? Could they really kill people to make money for the church? It seemed impossible but then money was a common, powerful motive for murder.

Something was up with Renet too, but his only connection was to Tiny. Dambuza reminded himself he still had no solid reason to think the disappearances were linked. Maybe he had five cases not one. But what was Renet sleeping with Tiny for, an uneducated village woman? And then what was this doctor on about? Was Delly in some sort of danger?

Just then his phone rang, it was Delly. “Dambuza, I’m out ferrying tourists to South Gate and guess who I just spotted?”

“I don’t know, who?”

“Renet! Creeping around in the bush like some weirdo. Meet me about fifty kilometres along the road in about an hour- I think we should follow him.”

Dambuza hung up but wondered if Delly’s new image of herself as a private investigator had not gone to her head. Now she was following suspects.

***

By the time Dambuza found Delly’s Land Rover parked at the side of the road, the sun was setting. He was sure they were wasting their time. He parked the Corolla which settled itself with an unhealthy sounding rattle and climbed into the Land Rover next to Delly. She had her binoculars out and was staring into the bush.

“He’s burying something,” Delly said keeping her eyes firmly on her suspect. “He’s been at it for more than an hour.”

“You have been sitting here watching him all that time?”

She put the binoculars down and looked at him. “Sure, I’m on stakeout.”

“A stakeout?” Dambuza took the binoculars. Renet was out there and he was digging. He seemed to be digging all over and then covering the holes up. Dambuza put the binoculars down. “I think he’s looking for bugs. Let’s go.”

“Nope. Yeah, now he’s doing that, but I’m telling you for about an hour he was digging a big hole and then covering it up. A grave, I bet.”

“Okay, Delly, I think you need to chill a bit. It would mean he brought a dead body out here in broad daylight. Even an inexperienced killer wouldn’t do that. You seem to have watched a lot of detective movies, I would have thought you’d have picked up on that.”

She ignored his jibes. “Maybe. Or maybe he thought nobody would expect him to do that so he did it. Reverse psychology. So now- what do we do?”

“Why don’t we walk over there and ask him what he’s doing?” Dambuza suggested and Delly’s enthusiasm took a dive. “So what now you want car chases and gun fights?”

“Not really… well, maybe a car chase.”

“In these heaps of ours?” Dambuza asked.

They locked up the cars and started walking towards Renet. Without the binoculars, Renet was much further away than Dambuza had expected. Deep in the bush where the snakes and the other wild animals were waiting with empty stomachs. “Don’t you have a gun in the Rover?”

“They don’t let us have guns. It’s the law. What about you? Police must have a gun somewhere.”

“Only in a locked cabinet back at the station. It’s the law. I guess if we don’t get eaten by lions, we’ll get killed by the criminals.”

“Comforting thought.”  They walked a bit further and Delly said, “But lions won’t trouble us here. It’s elephants we need to keep our eyes open for.”

Great, Dambuza thought. Trampled to death by an elephant Dambuza suspected was one of the worst kinds of deaths. He could just see Renet through a patch of trees ahead. He was still busy with his shovel, but Dambuza couldn’t see exactly what he was doing. There seemed to be a long case of some sort on the ground and Renet kept bending down and doing something in it.

When they came out of the patch of trees Dambuza stepped on a stick that cracked loud enough for Renet to hear. He looked up and saw them. He immediately bent down to close the case and then stood with his shovel waiting. He was far too arrogant to run.

When they got up to him, he said nothing just looked at them with his empty eyes. Dambuza could see that Delly was right. He had dug quite a long trench and then filled it back up again. There were also several smaller holes recently dug and refilled. There was no pattern to the holes. The case he’d been fiddling with was very long, much like a wooden tool box, with six small drawers at the front. Dambuza could see it was closed tightly and padlocked.

“So Dr. Renet, what a strange place for us to happen upon you,” Dambuza said.

“I could say the same for you. I think you’re following me,” Renet said.

“What are digging out here?” Delly asked. Renet ignored her.

Dambuza could see a university vehicle parked behind some low bushes. It looked like it had been parked so as to be hidden. “Could I borrow your shovel, Doctor?”

“No.” Renet held the shovel with two hands.

“You can continue to be uncooperative but you’re not making any friends. I can get a shovel and dig up what you buried. Or you can tell me and we all go home nice-nice,” Dambuza said.

“This is my work. Why do you want to interfere with it?” Renet snapped.

Delly moved closer and looked at the case. “The question is -what is your work?”

“You know my work- don’t play at being stupid. I really don’t know what this old woman wants here.”  He started walking to his car with the shovel.

Delly made to go after him but Dambuza held her back.

“Open the case,” Dambuza said. He knew he had no authority to force him to do it but hoped a foreigner instructed by a police officer to do something might be enough, though it hadn’t worked with the shovel.

“No, there is nothing in there you need to see.”

“Why lock it if it’s only bugs?” Delly asked while walking toward it. Renet was still at the car so took a moment to get back to guard his case. By then Delly had opened the drawers at the front. The lock was only for the bigger middle part. In the drawers were vials with insects in. Maybe he was telling the truth, Dambuza thought, but if he was, why was he being so troublesome?

“Why did you say you hardly knew Tiny Thebeetsile?” Dambuza asked.

Renet was on the ground closing the drawers in his case and then he lifted the heavy box and struggled to get it in the back of the vehicle. Once done he turned to Dambuza. “I don’t need to tell you anything.”

Dambuza walked over to where Renet stood and moved closer and closer toward him as he spoke. “I’ve always hated a coward. A man who beats a woman is a coward and, worst still, when he beats his own woman, the one he claims to love and protect. Did you beat Tiny until you killed her? Is that why you felt so fucking guilty you emptied your pockets out at Makalamabedi?  Is that it, you piece of trash?”

By the time he was through, he had Renet by the neck and was pushing his head into the side of the van. Delly rushed in just before Dambuza started bouncing Renet’s head off the metal.

“Okay, I think he gets it,” she said removing Dambuza’s fingers from around Renet’s neck. Red marks, preparing to turn purple, were left behind.

Delly pulled Dambuza away and Renet quickly packed up his van and sped off through the bush.

“What was that about?” Delly asked.

Dambuza shook his head. He didn’t know. He never knew where that anger came from, but when it came he had little control over it. It frightened him. It made him feel weak; a real man can control himself, he doesn’t lose his head like that. He sat down on a rock. It was getting dark now, they needed to go, he thought vaguely.

“I have a couple shovels and a torch in the car. You want to do some digging? It might wear off a bit of that excess energy you got?” Delly asked.

Dambuza nodded but stayed sitting. Delly pulled out her pocket torch and headed to the car. Dambuza felt weak from the sudden adrenaline rush. His head was pounding and what he really needed was a beer, not to be out here shovelling in the dark.

“Here.” Delly handed him a shovel. “I think we should start on the big one.”

They both started digging as the heavy orange moon whitened and rose in the sky. Soon they didn’t even need the torch the moon was so bright. They dug for about a half hour and found nothing. “Maybe the asshole was telling the truth,” Dambuza said.

“Don’t speak so quickly. What the hell is this?” Delly held her shovel out for Dambuza to see.

He grabbed the torch from where they’d dropped it and shown a light on the soil on her shovel. There was something in there. He pushed the soil to the side and then he saw it. It was a finger and it was from a human.

“He killed her, the sonofabitch. He killed Tiny,” Delly said. “And then he cut her up and buried her out here.”