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.
“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.
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?”
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.