Dambuza got home to his tiny police house in a fantastic mood considering he had what might be considered a date with the most beautiful woman in the world. On top of the world and high on residual energy, he was willing to face his still unopened boxes that littered the floor of his tiny government house. He cracked a beer, lit a cigarette, and got to work.
He didn’t have much. He left most everything with Bontle thinking that was his home; this house was to be just a place to stay during work time. That situation had obviously changed. Now this was his home. One set of cutlery, a plate, a cup and a glass were not going to do. He’d have to do some shopping one of these days.
He finished unpacking in a little more than an hour. He turned on the TV and sat back to watch a repeat of a Zebras game when his cellphone rang. It was Bontle. He hesitated to answer. Damn! Why did she have to call him tonight and ruin is mood? He wasn’t sure he was even ready for the conversation. He’d been dodging her since he got served the divorce papers. He decided he might as well get it over.
He pressed answer. “Ee.”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Ao! That’s how you answer the phone when your wife calls? Ee?”
He wondered how she thought she had the right to get angry with him. “Wife? Not for much longer, thanks to you.”
She was silent for a moment. “So they brought the papers?”
‘Yes, Bontle, they brought the papers. Isn’t that what you paid them to do? What the hell! You didn’t think it might be a good idea for us to talk about it before you filed for divorce.”
“Talk about what? We don’t know how to talk. We shout. You shout, I shout -we get nowhere. For how long were we going to continue like this? Years and years of shouting. Someone had to make a move. We need to get on with our lives.”
“I thought now with me here in Maun we could get things sorted; now you just go and get a lawyer, like a coward, when I’m gone.”
“I’m the coward? I’m the one who took the step we should have taken years ago. Neither one of us is happy. I got tired of being unhappy. I deserve to be happy. I deserve it!” Her voice went up an octave so he knew she was getting worked up.
“What the hell does that mean? If you want to be happy quit being a bitch all of the time. It has nothing to do with being married to me.” He didn’t want this conversation. Once they started though they had to finish, it was like a massive ball rolling down a steep hill. It gathered momentum, crashing and destroying everything in its way until it came to the bottom, slowed down and came to a stop. The damage done.
“You’ve got it wrong, Dambuza. You made me like this. I wasn’t like this before I married you. I know I can be happy. I can be happy with someone else -not you.”
He heard something in her voice. “So what? Now you found someone? Is that it? You found someone else so now you want a divorce? You certainly didn’t waste any time.”
“What if I did? So what if I did, Dambuza? How many someones have you found over the years?” She stopped. A few seconds of silence passed and when she spoke again her voice was back to normal. “No- no- I’m not going down this road with you. Not again. Never again. Did you sign the papers?”
“Good. The quicker this is done the better for both of us. I need to get on with my life. We’re not getting any younger, Dambuza. You need to get yourself sorted out too. You need to get your head sorted about what happened, you need to get over it. This is your only life and I wonder how long you’re going to continue to make a mess of it. I wonder how long you’re going to continue to punish yourself and everyone around you.”
Her words made him so tired. He was tired of all of it. He barely had the energy to hang up on her. “Good night, Bontle.”
He clicked the phone off and threw it across the room where it hit the wall and fell to the floor in two pieces. He filled his one glass to the top with gin from the bottles under the sink and sat down, slowly sipping it and waiting for the numbness he craved to spread over him.
Baleka used the tiny bit of metal she broke off one of the beds to scratch another line on the wall. There were five there already. The slash of window high up on the wall showed the sun just coming up on her sixth day. Six days since they snatched her in the bush and threw her in this room. She kept track of the days and was trying her best to collect as much information as she could about her captors and what they wanted from her. She knew everything she learned would help her to survive, would help her escape if she needed to.
“Are you awake, Baleka?” It was George. In six days the three captives had learned a lot about each other. George was Zimbabwean as Baleka had suspected. He was twenty-one and had worked in Botswana for three years. He left home because they were starving, there was nothing to eat. He’d slipped over the border and quickly found a job at the cattlepost. At least at Rre Johane’s cattlepost he ate. Occasionally his boss gave him some money. He’d been saving it up to go home for good. He hadn’t been home since he crossed the border and now he wondered if he would ever see his family again. He wondered what they thought at home, if they thought he’d run away and never thought of them, if they thought he was dead. He was very protective of Phatsimo, the other one trapped in the long underground room with them. She was only fifteen and he took care of her like a little sister.
“Yeah I’m awake,” Baleka whispered.
She rubbed her arm where they’d stuck some sort of needle the day before. It was painful and swollen. She didn’t know what they did to her when she was taken, none of them did. They only saw holes and wounds on their bodies, from what she didn’t know.
They would come into the room, two of them, dressed in white coveralls with black balaclavas over their faces. During the six days Baleka had been held in the room, they’d been to take someone every day, a different person each day, in a kind of unpredictable rotation. They would grab the person they wanted and immediately cover the person’s face with a cloth soaked in the same chemical they’d used when they captured her by the river. After that, everything would be gone until she woke up back in her bed. What they did to them when they were out they weren’t sure about though they discussed it often, but the real fears of what went on when they were blacked out they never discussed. Baleka tried not to think of all of the awful things they might be doing to them that they knew nothing about. She tried to keep her mind as positive as she could; she tried to focus on surviving, that was all that mattered.
Baleka knew they put something in her arm, she suspected it was a needle but wasn’t sure, it could be anything. George and Phatsimo were convinced it was some sort of muti. They believed the people sold their blood for medicine and when the captured people became too weak, they killed them for the special parts: brains and private parts some of the other organs, which were needed for the most powerful medicines. They’d watched the others: Bakang and Tiny. They both weakened and then were taken out and never brought back again. Traditional doctors became very wealthy selling medicines made from human parts. These medicines were used by politicians to help them win elections and business people to make them even richer. They paid handsomely for these human parts.
Baleka was trying to keep her mind open and her eyes sharp. She paid attention to her captors’ every move when they were there. They were always the same two who came for them. At first she thought they were both men, one big and one smaller, but something about the smaller one made her think she might be a woman. Baleka wondered how a woman could be part of such things, but then too she knew that witches were usually women, or so people said.
If they were coming to take them, they always came in a pair. For food and water one person could be heard pushing a cart of some sort on wheels and a small hole in the steel door was opened and the food and water pushed through. But when they came for them, the footsteps of two people coming closer and closer could be heard outside the door as they approached. When two sets of footsteps were heard, they all became afraid.
.Once when Baleka was fighting them, trying not to let them put the cloth over her mouth and nose, the bigger one’s glove slipped off. She saw his hand. He was black and he was married, he wore a silver wedding band on his left hand ring finger. She wondered if they were husband and wife these captors. Perhaps this muti business was a family enterprise, the way they fed their children. It made Baleka sick to think about.
She agreed with George and Phatsimo that they likely took blood from them. Though they were given plenty of food and water, Baleka always felt weak and lethargic. She was sure they were taking too much blood. She tried to rest and eat everything they were given. She wanted to stay strong for as long as possible. Phatsimo had managed to stay strong and healthy for more than six months, she could do the same.
“I think Phatsimo’s sick.” George’s voice was full of concern.
“She’s hot, burning hot. And she’s struggling to breathe.”
Baleka got up and went to where Phatsimo lay. She shook her. “Phatsimo, Phatsimo wake up.”
But the girl wouldn’t open her eyes. She moaned in her deep sleep. George was right, she had a fever.
“We can’t let them know she’s sick. Once you’re sick, they kill you,” George said. Baleka could hear panic growing in his voice. “They can’t kill Phatsimo.”
“They won’t come for her today, they took her yesterday. They don’t normally take the same person two days in a row.”
“But sometimes they do. Sometimes they do, Baleka. You don’t know, you haven’t been here very long, but sometimes they do that.” His voice was speeding up and she feared he was beginning to panic.
“Listen George, you need to calm down. We need to get her cooled down. Get a blanket from the bed. Pour water on it. We’ll wrap her in it. If we get the fever down, she’ll be better.”
George did as he was told. He brought the blanket and Baleka helped him to wrap the girl up in it. She struggled to move the young girl even though she hardly weighed anything. Baleka couldn’t believe how weak she’d become only in six days. By the time they had Phatsimo wrapped in the wet blanket Baleka was breathing hard from the effort.
“She’ll be fine, George. She’s just tired from what they did to her yesterday. We’ll get her fever down, get her to eat, and she’ll be better. There’s nothing to worry about,” Baleka said.
In the blanket, Phatsimo shivered, her teeth chattering, but still she would not wake up. Her breathing was laboured and her chest rattled. Whatever they’d done to her the day before must have been too much for her body. Though Baleka spoke to George confidently, she didn’t believe it herself. Phatsimo was sick and Baleka accepted she would likely die.
Just then they heard something. Someone was coming. Baleka wished to hear a cart being pushed. She wanted to hear the footsteps of a single person pushing a cart, she wanted to hear it so badly that for a few moments she was relieved, believing that was indeed what she heard. Then George said, “They’re two. They’re coming for one of us.”
As soon as he spoke the sounds confirmed the truth. There were two people coming. There were two people coming and they were coming to take one of them away.