Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chapters 13 and 14- The Vanishings





Chapter 13
Dambuza opened his fourth beer and picked up his cellphone. He dialled the number for his house- his former house- he reminded himself. It rang three times.

“Hello?”

For a moment Dambuza couldn’t speak. He was surprised to feel tears caught in his throat. It was tough moving away from his kids, but with the divorce pending the whole move took on more serious dimensions. In Botswana husbands never got custody of their kids it’s just the way it was, and besides Dambuza didn’t think he would fight Bontle for custody anyway. She was an excellent mother, they needed her. But he needed them. He needed his kids. He didn’t want to become superfluous, a man they saw on weekends, who they only cared about for what presents he could give them, what money he popped out. Maybe Bontle’s new man would move in and take his place. He knew he wouldn’t be able to handle that and he tried to keep his mind away from the thought. 

“Hey Thabang, it’s me your Dad.”

“Hi Daddy. How’s Maun? Have you seen any elephants?” Thabang was ten years old going on thirty. A serious little boy with a wide range of interests. He’d been so excited when he heard Dambuza was moving to Maun since he loved the wildlife of Botswana.

Dambuza told his middle child all about the hippo fight at Delly’s. He was duly impressed. “So when are you gonna come and get us?”

“Definitely next school holiday. I’ll even splurge on a trip out to the Delta, maybe even a mekoro ride.”

“Cool! Ludo wants to talk to you. See you soon Daddy, love you!”

Dambuza wiped away the tears he hadn’t known were falling down his face and finished his beer. He could hear Ludo telling her younger brother to go out she wanted privacy.

“Daddy?”

“Hey girlie, how’s everything? Where’s your Mum?”

“She took Smallie shoe shopping, he lost one of his shoes at crèche again.”

“So how’s school?”

“Fine. Listen Daddy Mum told me. About the divorce.”

His daughter, a young woman now, about to finish her form five, she’d likely be going to university the next year. Bontle was right to tell her. She needed to know such things. From her voice she seemed to be handling everything better than him.

“Yeah, well, these things happen. I didn’t think we were to that point, but apparently your mother did,” Dambuza said. “But no matter what, Ludo, you’ve got to know I am your father, I love you, and I always need to be part of your lives. I intend to be there as much as I can for you guys.” 

“Yeah, I know, Dad. Mom told me there was no way she would keep us from you. I told her she needed to promise me that. I haven’t told the boys. I think it’s better we all wait until you’re here.”

“I think that’s a good idea.” Suddenly the photo of the missing girl, Phatsimo, came into his mind. “Ludo?”

“Rre?”

“Be careful, okay?”

“Oh Daddy, you know me I’m always careful.”

Dambuza smiled because she was right. Because he and Bontle had spent years in one long argument, behaving like children, Ludo was forced to be the adult. Forced to become an adult too soon he thought. Even now at seventeen she was the only one talking freely about the divorce, setting parameters. All he and Bontle could do was jump back on their well worn treadmill.

“I’m proud of you, Ludo, and I love you. You know that don’t you?”

“I know that, Daddy.”

Dambuza hung up the phone then opened another beer and pulled his new bottle of gin a bit closer.


***
Baleka used a spoon to try to force open the young girl’s mouth. For two days no one had been taken out. They were given food, but no one entered the room.  Phatsimo was getting worse. They had taken her out three days before and she came back a bit better. She was awake and able to walk, but she was still hot. That was three days ago and since then everything had got worse. She no longer woke up. She was always burning hot so Baleka and George kept her constantly wrapped in wet blankets. They took turns forcing liquids into her. They mashed up food and force fed her. Despite what she told George, Baleka knew Phatsimo was dying.

George sat on the bed opposite them looking at the prostrate girl. He rocked back and force, Baleka thought he likely didn’t even know he was doing it. “What do they want from us? Why did they bring us here?” he said in desperation.

“I don’t know,” Baleka said. “I don’t understand. You may be right. Maybe it’s for muti. Or something else. We don’t know exactly what they do to us out there. Maybe they rape us. How would we know?”

“We’d know,” George said in a voice that meant he wanted no more discussion along those lines. “Is she going to die?”

“No, she’s not going to die.  I have a plan. The next time they push the food in I’ll shout at them. I’ll tell them how sick she is. That they must take her out. They must get her to a doctor. They seem to want to keep us alive for some reason. Why would they feed us? They’ll take her out and get her medicine. She’ll be fine.”

She knew this wasn’t the best plan but it was all she had. Phatsimo was going to die in this room and then Baleka would have to deal with George. She knew if Phatsimo died, George would give up. He’d been in here too long; Phatsimo was what kept him alive. Without her he would fall apart. If they were going to kill Phatsimo when they took her out, at least it would be away from this room. She could convince George that they had cured Phatsimo and let her go, just as they had the others. She knew she would be able to convince George of that. She had to. Because she also knew if George died, and she was left alone in this room, she would be finished. She wouldn’t last. She needed George as much as he needed Phatsimo.

Baleka spoke as if she was speaking of people with some sense. But none of this made sense. Why were they being kept here? She didn’t know. What happened to the others who had been kept? Again she didn’t know. Did they finally let them free somewhere? Baleka tried to hope that maybe they did, otherwise why did their captors cover their faces? It was not as if they could escape. She hoped the covered faces meant one day they would be let free too. It was one of the many untenable thoughts she clung to.

Later Baleka heard a person coming; they pushed a trolley so she knew it was food. She waited by the slot where the food was pushed in. She waited and was ready. When the gloved hand came through the slot, she grabbed it tightly with both hands. The person struggled to get loose, but Baleka held tight, as hard as she could, bracing herself with her feet firmly on the wall below the slot.

“You need to take Phatsimo out! She’s sick!” she yelled out the slot.

The person continued to struggle but then stopped. “Okay,” a man’s voice said. He was a Motswana, Baleka could tell from his voice. “I’ll come back with someone, just let me go.”

Baleka thought for a moment, she wasn’t sure she could trust him, but what choice did she have? She let go. The man retreated quickly.

Then she and George waited. It was hard to keep track of time, it seemed like at least an hour had passed, maybe two. They were not coming, she decided, and regretted letting go. Just when she was positive nothing was going to happen, she heard people walking toward them, there were two- and no trolley. They entered and took Phatsimo out.

That was two days ago now. The sun rose and Baleka scratched another line into her makeshift calendar. Twelve days. She’d been gone from Penny and Moarabi and Les and her mother for twelve days. It seemed so much longer.  She could barely remember her life before this grey, stinking room. She got up and didn’t notice George was already up and sitting near the door, his place of vigil since they took Phatsimo out.

“Do you think she’ll come back today?” he asked.

“I don’t know, George. She was pretty sick. I expect she’s at the hospital. She’ll come back when she’s better.” Baleka knew that was what George needed to hear.

“Okay. I’ll be waiting for her then. I’ll be waiting right here.”

Chapter 14
Delly put the bottle of Jack Daniels and a shot glass between them then handed Dambuza a beer. “You look like shit, my friend,” she said sitting down and spreading her long legs out on the coffee table.

“Not sure why. Let’s see- I have five missing, likely dead, people and not a single sensible lead. My wife is divorcing me. I miss my kids like crazy. And despite what I tell the rest of the world, I really do drink more than I should.” As he spoke, he reached forward and poured himself a shot of whiskey and dumped it with a satisfying gurgle down his throat.

“And you’re falling in love with a woman not ready to take on a new man,” Delly said keeping her eyes fixed out over the river. They’d been sitting on Delly’s back veranda ever since Dambuza pitched up after work.

Dambuza sat up. “What? You’re crazy!”

“Am I?” Delly looked at him, one eyebrow arching on her permanently tanned forehead.

Dambuza stood up and walked to the edge of the veranda. He was getting used to the place, he no longer needed to look over his shoulder every two minutes expecting some wild animal to cut him in two. The sun was just setting and the river was calm, reflecting back the oranges and pinks of the sky. He could smell the spicy scent of wild sage and heard the contented grunts of Kgosi, king of all he viewed, at least for the time being.

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. What I’m starting to realise is that maybe Bontle has been right all along. I’m too messed up to be with anyone. I need to get me sorted out or I’ll continue to be the relationship equivalent of an elephant in a china shop.”

“Listen Dambuza, God knows I love my daughter. But she has the propensity for choosing men who are absolutely wrong for her. Look at that Hamilton bloke? What is she thinking? I think she’s lost her mind.”

“He’s a doctor. Normal mothers would be happy about that,” Dambuza said smiling cheekily. He knew Delly didn’t take normal as a compliment.

“Not this mother. Security and money are not the issue here. They’re meaningless. But there’s something about you, despite all of the cursory descriptions you’ve been so kind to point out, there is something about you that I think is right for my daughter.” She poured herself a shot and drank it. “But, frankly, right now, she’s only going to cause you more problems. I can see that already.”

“Don’t worry, Delly, we’re taking it slow. Nothing serious.”

“Those are the words I’m hearing comin’ out of your mouth.” Delly ran her hands over Bob’s big head that he plopped on her bare knees.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means just what I said. You’re talking the talk but, my friend, you’re not walking the walk. And I can see you are over your head for my daughter.”

Dambuza sat back down next to Delly. “Okay, I’ll admit, I like her- but we’re both a bit of mess, we know that, we’ve spoke about it. She just killed her boyfriend for God’s sake.”

“So she told you all that?” Delly ran the thought around her mind for a moment.  “Good. Honesty. I like it.”

“Okay, this is weird. Can we stop? I think there may well be ethical issues about me talking to you about your daughter when I’m trying to date her.”

Delly laughed and Bob sat up and howled, his big head thrown back much the same as his owner’s. “Okay… yeah, you’re probably right,” Delly conceded and then changed the subject.   “Lex came back to work today. The chief called the search off.”

“Just as well. She’s no longer out in the bush anyway. They’d have found something by now if she was. I went out to the cattleposts and spoke with Rre Johane, George Ndlovu’s employer. Mostly a waste of time, except I did discover a wad of money in a tin under George’s bed. How does a guy save up so much money and then go home without it?”

“He doesn’t. I never bought that story from the beginning.”

“So for a week’s worth of investigating all I’ve proven is that Phatsimo was not taken by her boyfriend and George didn’t go back to Zimbabwe. Fuck all really. No closer to finding the answers than I was when I started.”  Dambuza poured himself another shot.

Delly got up and went inside to get them two more beers. “I might have something. I was over to UB today and a friend there reminded me about something that might be important.”

Dambuza became excited, any lead at this point was a cause for celebration. “Yeah… what’s that?”

“A guy there. Creepy guy, who just happened to pitch up last year February.”

“Why’s he creepy?”

“He’s French, not that that makes him necessarily creepy. He came here to do research in the Delta. He works with bugs. My friend says he likes moving around in the bush, always alone. Odd with people too. Also it appears he was friendly with one of the disappeared.”

“Which one?”

“The depressed one from Makalamabedi. Apparently he also suffers from depression, they met at some support group they were trying to start up at the government hospital.”

Dambuza sat back. Normally the fact that the guy walks in the bush and knew one of the disappeared would mean nothing, but Dambuza was struggling. He really didn’t want to fail on his first case in Maun. “Tiny. That’s an odd friendship. An uneducated village woman and a university researcher? But still damn little to place him as our guy.”

“I agree, but listen, Dambuza, I met this guy. There is something seriously wrong about him. It’s his eyes. I’ve never seen those kind of eyes. They’re flat, like a dead person’s eyes, nothing inside of them. Like a shark. You get this feeling that he doesn’t get human emotions; they’re not part of his make-up. He gave me the spooks.”

Dambuza feigned surprise. “Gave the brave and notorious Delly Woods the spooks? Well I’ll need to check that one out just for the novelty of it,” he teased.

Dambuza’s cellphone rang. He looked and it was Nana. “Hello?”

“Hi Dambuza, what you up to on this Friday night?”

“Actually, I’m with your mother.”

“I have a bit of a problem that I thought you might turn to your advantage. I’m at work and this heap of a car has decided it doesn’t feel like going home. I’ve called the mechanics who have taken it away. So… I need a lift home and thought maybe we could go for dinner on the way.”

“Well I can’t leave you stranded can I? I’ll be there in ten.”

***
The impressive Hope Institute seemed an all together different place at night. Most of the people were gone and the long empty halls were not very inviting with their shadowed corners and weak fluorescent lights. The guard at the door told Dambuza he’d find Nana on the top floor, the corner office. As he neared it, he heard voices.

“Tsena!” he heard Nana yell from behind the door in response to his knock. “Oh Detective you’ve come. We were just having a small impromptu party while I waited. A “my-car-has-kicked-the-bucket” party.”

Nana was sitting on the desk already a bit tipsy Dambuza could see. She wore a straight black skirt and a white silk blouse unbuttoned too far for his preference, but apparently not far enough for the young man standing next to the desk who stood leering down her shirt hoping for a peek. It looked like the party had been on for some time. Dambuza felt unwelcome and considered turning around and going back out the door.

Nana slipped off the desk and took Dambuza’s hand giving him a kiss on the cheek which turned his mood around considerably.

“My knight in shining armour.” Like instant medicine he felt better.  “Let me introduce everyone. This,” she said pointing to the young lecherous one, “is  Dr. Tlholego.”

Dr Tlholego was young but that was about all he had in his favour. He was tall and very thin. His skin was pocked with scars from a bad case of acne in his youth. He had that strange way of ugly successful men, who despite everything that placed them at the bottom of the pack, took an aggressive, almost domineering position. Dambuza supposed success was attractive to some women, attractive enough to ignore his litany of physical flaws. From the way he behaved, Dambuza could see that he was under the impression he had a serious chance with Nana.

“Dumela, Detective. Call me Gopolong.”

“Gopolong,” Dambuza said taking his hand and noticing that even though he’d been making moves on Nana he wore a wedding band, not that Dambuza had room to judge, but still.

Sitting side by side on a sofa along the window were a woman and a man, both wearing white lab coats. “This is my girl, Neo, Dr. Mafhoko I mean. We grew up together in Maun. She’s the one who got me this job,” Nana said.

The small woman on the sofa stuck out her hand towards Dambuza, while giving Nana a stern look. “She got the job for herself. You want me arrested for corruption, Nana? He’s a cop you know.”

“In this place? Nepotism is almost company policy,” Nana said.

“Lovely to meet you, Neo.” Dambuza meant it. Her intelligent face and quick wit were very attractive.

“And this is the baby in the group- Leonard Walters. He’s an intern from America,” Nana said.

Leonard stood up, stumbled a bit either from too much alcohol or his foot being caught under the sofa. Once he righted himself he shook Dambuza’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Detective Dambuza.”

An older man sitting on the chair behind the desk stood up. “I hate to break up the party but I need to go, Nana. My wife just smsed that supper is ready and they’re waiting for me.”

“Disang, she’s got you by the balls, my brother,” Gopolong said, but no one laughed.

Disang, who Nana later told Dambuza was a senior researcher and medical doctor at the Institute, turned to the younger man. “No, I just have respect for my wife’s time and effort. You should learn some respect for yours as well, Dr Tlholego.”

Dambuza could see there was some serious history between these two men.

“Nana, Detective, enjoy your evening.” Turning to the others he said, “Go siame, bagaetsho.”  And then he was gone.

Nana gave Dambuza am embarrassed smile.  “Let me get you a drink.”

She went to a cupboard at the side of her spacious office and opened the door to reveal a fridge. Dambuza sat down in the chair Disang had vacated.

“So, Detective,” Gopolong asked. “I suppose Maun is a bit of a dead-end for a policeman’s career, not like Gaborone or Francistown. Cops are sent to Maun when they’ve made a mess of things. ”

This was a man not looking to be friends, Dambuza thought. He wasn’t going to take the bait. He had no interest in giving this idiot the impression that they were in the same league. “Yeah, maybe. It depends how you look at it.”

“How long have you been here in our glorious Maun?” Neo asked.

“Getting on a month now.”

Nana handed him his beer and sat down on the desk next to him with her arm around the back of the chair. Dambuza liked that. He could tell from his face that Gopolong didn’t.

“And how do you like our little town?” Neo asked.

“I like it. Like the people. A bit hot, but I’m getting used to it.”

“Yes, very hot,” Leonard said nodding his head. The group laughed.

“Our baby here turns bright red in any temperature above 30C,” Nana teased. Leonard promptly turned red though the air conditioned office was far below that.

“So how long are you here, Leonard?” Dambuza asked.

“Until Hamilton finishes working him to the bone,” Gopolong said. Dambuza got the impression Gopolong was not a fan of the learned doctor.

“It’s not like that,” Leonard tried.

“Isn’t it?” Neo said. Obviously the dislike of their boss was not the reserve for Gopolong. “Where does an intern, a medical intern from a prestigious school like Harvard Medical School no less, get asked to basically be the foreman for a factory?”

“But they’re manufacturing Total Protect, it’s not like it’s car making,” Nana tried.

“Ao! Nana-we, please. You’re just dazzled by his bright smile!” Neo said and they all laughed.

“What does the guy even do here? Sometimes I wonder if he’s even a doctor, Dr Hamilton Ride, some of the things he says makes me wonder,” Gopolong said. 

“Gopolong- of course he’s a doctor. He’s well known and respected  in America. He’s brilliant, if he wasn’t how did he come up with the Institute?” Nana said.

“All I have to say is WWW.” Gopolong smiled and Neo laughed.

“What?” Leonard asked confused. “What is WWW?”

“Wicked Witch of the West,” Nana said. “So you’re trying to say this whole project, the Institute, Total Protect, the other products in production is all Portia?”

“Open your eyes, Nana,” Neo said. “Without Portia none of this was going to happen.”

“I don’t believe it,” Nana said. “Portia? Her winning personality alone would have scared off all of the donors.”

Dambuza didn’t much care for Nana’s blind allegiance to Hamilton. But too he didn’t want to let Nana see that. He was still working the “light and easy” angle.

“Hamilton seems on top of things here,” Dambuza offered.  “He managed to get our government to invest in the project, that’s something.”

“The only thing Hamilton is on top of is Portia,” Gopolong said. Neo burst out laughing and even Leonard laughed behind his hand.

“You’re such an ass, Gopolong. I wonder if you’re even a doctor,” Nana said getting annoyed.

“Check my certificates, they’re all there. UB, Johns Hopkins. I’m a doctor, sweetheart. Perhaps you’d like me to show you one day? Stop by and we can play doctor if you’d like.”

“Right, in your dreams. And besides I thought somewhere in Botswana there is a woman who has the unfortunate distinction of having to call herself your wife,” Nana said.

“Ouch! Eish, Nana, you play some hardball,” Neo said, then she stood up. “Listen I gotta go. I’m flying to Gabs on the early flight for a meeting. Lovely to meet you, Dambuza. Perhaps we’ll meet when my friend here is not in such a bitchy mood.”

She shook Dambuza’s hand and kissed Nana on the cheek.

“I am not in a bitchy mood,” Nana said.

Neo winked at Dambuza then she turned to the others. “Later Ma-Gents.”

Leonard also stood up to go. “Let’s go Gopolong. You promised you’d teach me how to play snooker tonight.”

Gopolong downed the last of his drink and left the glass on Nana’s desk. “Detective. Nana. We’re off. I need to relieve this man of some of his hard earned American dollars.”

When everyone was gone, Nana moved around collecting the tins and glasses and tidying up. Dambuza could tell she was not pleased with the conversation. He went to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Are you okay?”

She turned around in his arms. “Sure, it’s nothing. Gopolong’s a jerk. It’s nothing really… it’s just I feel like they give Hamilton a lot of flack around here. Like because he’s so handsome, he can’t be intelligent. But he is. He’s brilliant.”

“You’ll soon make me jealous.”

Nana kissed him. “Don’t be. It’s not like that, really. Hamilton is not my type. I was just passing the time.”

“So what about you? Too beautiful to be smart?”

“No.”

“Right.”

Nana smiled and Dambuza was reminded as always how beautiful she was. Her thick luscious lips, her golden brown skin, her dimples. He could feel himself getting excited and he pulled away from her. “I’m hungry. Let’s find somewhere to eat.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

10 Facts About Publishing



I’ve written extensively in my column about the basic facts regarding publishing, but still I get the most amazing emails from aspiring writers. People asking me if I can help them with money to get published or saying that they come from a poor family but want to become a writer. What is that all about? I always ask- do you read my column? Yes, they say, though it is obvious that they don't. I thought it was time to put the simple facts in black and white.

If you read nothing else I will ever write, read this. Cut it out. Make copies, give them to friends. And then when you think of sending me a nonsensical email, read this column again, ...and move away from your laptop.

1. You do not pay a publisher to publish your book.
Publishers publish books that they feel can make them money. Writers submit their manuscripts to publishers. The publisher assesses the manuscripts and accepts the ones that they like. They edit, design, print, and market the book at their expense. The writer pays the publishers nothing, ever.

2. The publisher pays the writer.
The publisher distributes the books. The publisher collects the money from sales. Sales are divided between the publisher and writer, usually 90% for the publisher and 10% for the writer. These figures can be negotiated a bit, but 90/10 is about normal for print. Considering the expense the publisher has incurred on a book that may not sell at all, this is a fair deal as long as the publisher follows the terms of the contract. Only inexperienced writers who know nothing about the publishing business see this as an unfair arrangement.

3. Your manuscript needs to be good enough to get a publisher to make that type of investment
A proper, traditional publisher is a gate keeper. New writers complain that publishers are unfair because they rejected their manuscripts, and they very quickly resort to self publishing. Publishers reject manuscripts they believe they cannot make money from. It has nothing to do with justice, it is a business. They have no obligation to you. None. Your job is to take that manuscript back and work on it until it is absolutely as good as you can make it. That’s what writers do, that’s why the job is not so easy.

4. You find the right publisher by doing your research.
If you are a writer, you are, of course, a reader. (If you are a writer who does not read, please move along. I have no interest in you.) When you read books that are similar to your manuscript, check out who the publishers is. Then research that publisher on the internet. There you will find the submission guidelines. Follow the submission guidelines exactly.

5. Your first draft is a rough draft. No one should see it.
Good writing takes work. No one succeeds the first time through. Do not embarrass yourself or waste a publisher’s time by sending out your rough draft.

6. Agents are middle steps between the writer and the publisher. Writers do not pay money to an agent.
Agents accept clients that they think have manuscripts a publisher will buy. If you get an agent, she or he will shop your manuscript around to publishers on your behalf to find the best deal for you. When royalties are paid out, the agent gets 10-15% of your royalties from the publisher. If someone calling themselves a literary agent asks you for money, run away and do not look back.

7. Printers are not publishers.
A publisher prepares a book for the printer. A publisher markets and sells the book. A printer prints. They print lots of things; one of the things they might print is a book. They take the original designed book and make copies of it.


8. If you have paid money to have your book published, you are self publishing your book.
There are all sorts of “publishers” around who are looking for writers to give them money to publish their books. Most of these “publishers” accept every single manuscript that comes to them; they make no investment, so they care nothing about quality or if the book will sell. They occasionally offer editing services, which you pay for. But mostly they just layout the book and take it to the printer. They hand the books to the author who must now sell them to recoup the money they spent to get their book “published”.

9. Unless you want to look like an idiot, do not approach publishers or agents using SMS writing.
Really, people? You want to be a writer but you don’t capitalise I, you write mumbo-jumbo such as w8? Even a cover letter matters, it represents you, it tells the person who you are. Don’t mess it up looking unprofessional.

10. Self publishing has its place.
I do not discount self publishing. If you have a following of some sort, perhaps in a particular field, self publishing can be the best choice. It will cost you and you now assume all of the risks. You also get all of the money if the book sells well.  On the other hand, if you are a fiction writer who has never managed to get even a short story published, you are wasting your money. Get in the game and learn how the industry works before making a knowledgeable choice to drop out.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chapter 11 and 12- The Vanishings




Chapter 11

If the building in front of him had anything to say about the fortunes of the church that it held, Dambuza was pretty sure the church was dead poor. To the side of the building though he saw stacks of clay bricks and at least a hundred bags of cement. Things looked as if they’d been improving lately, he thought.  

He had done some cursory research about the Spiritual Awakening Revival before he left the station. They set up shop in Maun last year February though the main church was in Gaborone. The Maun church had grown primarily by opening small branches in the surrounding villages. Both the Gaborone branch and the Maun branch were started by an American missionary couple, Mr and Mrs Johnson, who had since gone back home. A Reverend Ronald Tladi ran the Maun church. According to other officers at the station, he was a very energetic young man, they suspected to be about thirty, sometimes a bit too taken up by his religion. Apparently he’d run into the law a few times when he moved around with his “Army of Christ” preaching at shebeens where the patrons weren’t always so keen to hear the word of God. Arguments broke out that occasionally turned physical and the police had to intervene. A few black eyes hadn’t dampened his spirit though, and he still felt compelled to “fight the war”.

“Koko!” Dambuza called at the open door. The church was one large room with unpainted cinder block walls and no ceiling. Poorly crafted wooden benches were scattered around and a metal lectern stood at the front. Though the doors were wide open, it looked empty. “Koko!”

A voice came up behind Dambuza. “Can I help you?”

Dambuza turned to see a tall, handsome man. He wore a long, purple robe with a gold sash around his neck. Dambuza gathered he was the man he’d been looking for. “Are you Reverend Tladi?”

“Yes, I am.” He smiled. “How can I be of service?”

“I’m Detective Dambuza from the Maun Police. I wonder if we could talk for awhile.”

The Reverend led him to some plastic chairs at the back of the church under a shade tree. There was a table there with papers held down with stones. It appeared to be the Reverend’s office.

“I’m investigating the disappearance of Baleka Phatshwane. I understand her mother goes to your church.”

“Yes, of course. MmaShorty is a very active member, the head of the branch in Makalamabedi, in fact. I know about her daughter. We have been holding daily prayers here for her. People have been coming, more and more every day. The power of prayer is amazing. Has there been some good news?”

 Dambuza shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not.”

The Reverend’s face fell. He seemed to really believe that praying would find the woman. “Well the Lord God has a plan. We should not be fearful.”

“Okay…” Dambuza wasn’t sure how to deal with such people. He doubted the good Lord had a plan for him or anyone else. If he did have such well designed plans why was everything so fucked up? But now was not the time for a religious debate. “Do you know Baleka Phatshwane yourself?”

“Yes, I met her a few times. But she’s not a church goer though.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“About a month ago I think.” If he was thirty, he seemed younger. Perhaps it was the blind innocence of the holy, Dambuza thought.

“Someone mentioned that your church has some unconventional methods.”

“Unconventional methods?” Reverend Tladi asked, smiling. “People are funny, why would they say that?”

“There are churches that require things from their members. Sometimes illegal things.”

Reverend Tladi lost his smile and nodded his head as if answering some internal question. “So you think me or the church were involved in the disappearance of this woman?”

“I’m not saying that.” Dambuza could see the young man was losing his grip on God’s divine plan theory. “There’s been others who have disappeared. Were they also church members or relatives of church members?”

The Reverend’s kind face disappeared. Apparently when his church was attacked he was willing to go on the attack mode. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating. I know there are such so-called churches that mix Christianity with witchcraft, but that is not Spiritual Awakening Revival. We’re a part of the Baptist Church. We don’t condone such things.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Did you know any of the other missing people? I think you know there have been quite a few disappearances recently, actually they all started since your church starting operating.” Dambuza wondered why he was dodging a simple question.

Reverend Tladi stood up. “I really don’t like the accusations you’re making, Detective.”

“What you like or don’t like is none of my concern. I’m trying to find five missing people. Now just answer my question; did you know any of the other people who have disappeared?”

The Reverend looked trapped. “Yes! Yes...okay… I knew them.”

Dambuza never expected that. “You knew all of them?”

“Yes… Of course everyone knew Bakang. He was always begging on the streets at the mall. I sometimes brought him here to the church to sleep, especially in winter. Phatsimo, the young girl, was brought to the church by her parents for counselling. They didn’t like her being with the boyfriend from Gaborone. She attended counselling a few times, maybe four of five times before she ran off. Tiny was a member of our Makalamabedi branch. And I know George too. We started a group for Zimbabweans in Maun. We keep the group quiet because most of the members are illegal. I was the one who pressured Rre Johane to go to the police. I knew George would not leave without telling his employer. I knew something had happened.”

“You know all of the disappeared. Doesn’t that seem odd?” Dambuza certainly thought it did.

Reverend Tladi was pacing back and forth now. He was no longer the confidant young man with his life in God’s hands. He ran his hand over his head in frustration. “Maun is a small place and I know a lot of people. These disappearances have affected me badly. At first I thought Bakang had just gone off to another town to beg for awhile and, well even Phatsimo’s parents thought she’d run off with the boyfriend. But now when more and more were disappearing… I think something evil has entered the area. I’ve been trying to remain calm, but I think things are becoming serious. I’ve been praying and asking God for assistance. But I fear for the worst. We’ve been praying hard to God to protect us from the evil that is moving among us, but still people are going missing.”  

Dambuza was starting to understand where the money for the new building material was coming from. “Have you got a lot of new members since Baleka disappeared?”

Reverend Tladi was confused. “Yes, actually. People are getting scared. People are vanishing. They want God to protect them. They know they can find God here, in His house.”

“More disappeared people, more fear, more church members- and more money for you,” Dambuza said.

He stopped pacing and looked at Dambuza surprised. “You must be joking. Do you think I’d take these people for money? Kill them for money?”

“No one said that they’re dead. And yes, if you want an answer, yes, many, many people get killed for money, Reverend Tladi. So an answer to your question, do I think you could kill these people for money? My answer is yes.”
***

Dambuza  left the church with more questions than answers. How odd that Reverend Tladi knew all of the disappeared. And he was obviously benefiting by the fear that was creeping through the area. He has something to gain by the fear continuing. But could he be the one? Dambuza was not sure about that.

He thought it might be a good idea to visit some of the other people involved in the five cases and he headed to the home of Phatsimo Ditiragalo, the young girl who allegedly ran away with her boyfriend. He drove to the other side of the village and, just before turning onto a dirt road that lead to the compound, his cellphone rang.

“Hello.”

“Hi Dambuza, it’s me, Nana.”

It had been three days since their date. Dambuza hadn’t called her. He didn’t want to seem too eager. He knew she was also seeing the good doctor and maybe Dambuza was just something to occupy her time while he was out of the country. He didn’t like the idea much, but he knew beggars couldn’t be choosers, and he was decidedly the beggar in this picture. Besides he was legally still married. Yes, he’d cheated on Bontle before, but it was always with women who meant nothing to him. They were drunk near wrestling matches in the backs of cars most of the time. They meant nothing. He knew what it was about. It was always about Bontle. It was about showing Bontle that he could. She could hurt him with words, often nearly mortally, but he could hurt her too. It was part of the argument, the fight that never ended.

But Nana was something else. And though now he was on his way to a divorce, and essentially could be called legally separated, now he felt like spending time with Nana was cheating on Bontle. For the first time he felt like an adulterer.

“Yes, how are you?” Dambuza said.

“What? What’s that about? You sound so formal. Is something wrong?” Nana asked.

“No, I’m just driving… I’m working.”

“I was calling to say hi. Hadn’t heard from you after Friday and I thought I’d see how you were doing. I had fun by the way.” Dambuza wondered how she could be so casual when he felt like the whole world rested on his every word.

“Yeah, so did I. So is Hamilton back?”

Nana was quiet for a minute. “Is that what this coolness is all about?”

“No. it’s not like that.”

“Okay good. I’m not ready for anything serious with anyone, including Hamilton. To be frank, I don’t think you should be getting serious with anyone either. You need to let your heart rest a bit. We both need fun and lightness right now.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Dambuza tried a laugh he thought might sound fun and light. “It’s not like that anyway. You’re right, I’m not ready for that.”

“Good.  I had fun the other night and maybe we can have fun again?”

 Dambuza still needed to get his head sorted. He knew what a mess he could make of things if he rushed in when all of the boxes were not ticked. Nana was right. “Sure I’ll give you a call, Nana.”

Dambuza put the phone back in his pocket. Fun and lightness. Dambuza never did fun and lightness. He wasn’t sure he’d recognise fun and lightness if it bashed him over the head. But for this woman, he’d try fun and lightness -or the closest facsimile he could come to it. Who knew maybe he could be an actor too.




Chapter 12
Phatsimo Ditiragalo’s family lived in a council house past the bridge. Her father was a driver and her mother a housewife, taking care of Phatsimo and her three sisters. Dambuza was offered tea in their tiny sitting room. MmagoPhatsimo sat across from him on the sofa, her nervous hands never resting and her eyes always watching the door.

“RragoPhatsimo will be home any minute. I think he can answer your questions better than I can.” She placed her feet under her chair and then moved them out in front of her and then back under.

“Perhaps,” Dambuza said, “but why don’t we get started and he’ll find us along the way.” Dambuza added five spoons of sugar and stirred. MmagoPhatsimo nodded reluctantly. “So that day she went missing, what happened?”

“Nothing really.”

“What do you mean nothing really?”

“It was a Saturday. Normally RragoPhatsimo tries to get work on Saturdays since it’s more pay. So we thought he was gone. I was cooking with Phatsimo’s sisters and suddenly he arrived.”

“He?”

She lowered her voice and looked at the door and then back at Dambuza. “Ray, Phatsimo’s boyfriend.”

“He was here that day?” There was nothing of this in the report.

“Yes. He’s from Maun. He had come to give his mother some money. It was month end, he always came month end to give his mother money and see Phatsimo. He was with some friends. They came in a car. RragoPhatsimo said it was stolen. I don’t know, maybe it was stolen …but I don’t know. I was cooking at the back of the house and didn’t know what was happening at first.”

“So what happened?”

“RragoPhatsimo arrived while Phatsimo was at the gate talking to Ray. There was a big argument, a terrible argument. Ray and his friends left. When I went that side RragoPhatsimo had taken off his belt and was beating Phatsimo. He was shouting and she was crying. She was lying in the dirt rolling around and he was beating her everywhere. It was bad. I pleaded with him to leave her and he finally did. I wanted her away from him. I know how he is when he’s angry. He might have started beating her again. I told her I needed wood…”

She began to cry. Dambuza could see that she’d been suffering for a long time. He tried to imagine how he would feel if his own daughter, Ludo, disappeared. He knew he’d never be able to move forward with his life until she was found. MmagoPhatsimo was stuck.

“It was my fault really. I should have never sent her for wood. If I hadn’t sent her, they wouldn’t have got her. I was just trying to keep her safe.”

“Who are they? I thought you told the police you thought she ran away with her boyfriend?” Dambuza asked.

“Yes, okay, yes. That’s right.” A car pulled up outside and MmagoPhatsimo wiped her face quickly with the corner of her apron. She tidied the tea things on the tray. Then she stood quickly and went to the door, waiting at the side like a soldier. “RragoPhatsimo is here.”

Dambuza expected a big burly man to enter the house, but RragoPhatsimo was a small, tight man. His face set in a grimace. He greeted his wife who quickly introduced Dambuza then she disappeared into the back of the house.

“So do you have news about our daughter?” he asked after making himself a cup of tea.

“No, but there has been another disappearance and we’re thinking they might be connected.”

“I’ve heard others have gone missing, but like I told the police, Phatsimo is with that no good thug Ray Selato. You find him, you find her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s pregnant by now. That girl cares nothing about what she’s done to this family. Even if she’s found she’d rather stay away. I can’t feed an unruly girl like that one. Let the Selatos feed her. She has no respect, they can have her if they want her so bad.”

They spoke a bit longer but Dambuza could see RragoPhatsimo had closed his mind to all other options. His daughter had run off with her boyfriend. That was the end of the story. From the feeling he got in the house, she might have just run off to get away from her abusive father, but Dambuza didn’t mention that.

Dambuza left the house and head toward the station. When he got to the turn off onto the tarred road he was surprised to find MmagoPhatsimo waiting there. She came to the window of the car, obviously scared. She looked around and checked who was watching her before she spoke.

“Detective...I   waited for you. Please I need to tell you something,” she whispered.

“Get in.”

She got in the car and Dambuza drove away from the house so that they wouldn’t accidentally be seen by her husband. He stopped the car on a side road in a grove of trees that hid them and turned to the woman. “Yes, what is it?”

“I’ve spoken to Ray.”

“The boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Many times. He’s in South Africa. He’s afraid of the police because they think he took Phatsimo. They believe my husband. But he didn’t. He left with his friends for Gaborone just after RragoPhatsimo arrived. They never came back. He loves Phatsimo, he wants to marry her. He calls me to find out any news. He thinks she’s alive somewhere, but he can’t come to look for her. He’s very upset about that.”

Dambuza thought for a moment. “What about the church?”

MmagoPhatsimo looked confused. “The church? You mean Spiritual Awakening?”

“Yes.”

“RragoPhatsimo insisted I take Phatsimo there for counselling to try and get her to stop seeing Ray. We went a few times. That’s all. Of course now RragoPhatsimo wants nothing to do with the church. He thinks Reverend Tladi failed and was part of what led Phatsimo to run away. I go there for the prayers for the vanished people. It’s my only hope that God might find her for me.” Tears flowed down her face as she spoke but she didn’t trouble to wipe them away. It didn’t matter anymore to her.

“What do you think happened to your daughter?”

“Whoever is taking the people from the bush took my daughter. I thought I was sending her to the bush to protect her, but instead I sent her into the arms of the evil ones. I’m to blame for my daughter being taken. I’m the one.”

Dambuza could find no words to comfort this mother. Even if he had he could see her guilt was very deep. “It doesn’t matter what your husband told the police. I’m on this case now, and I believe you. I believe Ray is innocent as you say. I’m going to do everything I can to bring your daughter home, I promise.”

He hadn’t lied, he was going to do everything he could for the girl and her family, but he wasn’t sure it was going to be enough to bring their daughter home.