It was 6:45 pm and just when Dambuza was wondering if something had gone wrong he looked up and saw Bontle getting off the bus. She was tall and dark and elegant with her hair cut short, nearly to her scalp, her sculptured face undisturbed by the years that had passed and beautiful, still as beautiful as the first day he saw her. Dambuza watched her while she still hadn’t seen him. She walked with such confidence, something he’d always loved about her. She was secure and settled in herself, she’d passed that confidence on to their daughter too and he was forever thankful for that. He loved that about her, since he was always lost, or felt he was, he liked being with a woman who always knew where she was. People turned and looked at her as she passed, they couldn’t not.
Then she spotted his car. She stumbled a bit when she saw him. She tentatively waved her hand at him as she turned towards where he was parked. It frightened him, that hesitation, that uncertainty in his wife. Had he done that to her?
She threw her bag in the backseat and climbed into the front. “Dumalani,” she said and leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
He didn’t know many restaurants and had enjoyed the food at Audi so decided to take Bontle there. It was only a bit after 7pm when they arrived so the place was fairly empty which was better, Dambuza thought. They needed no distractions; they had too much to discuss.
“So how are the kids?”
“They’re okay. They miss you of course. They’re looking forward to coming to Maun during the holidays.” Bontle looked down at her drink. “You look good.”
They ate and spoke of everything that was not important. Her work. His work. The kids’ school. It all felt so awkward as if they hadn’t known every little thing about each other forever. There was a stranger sitting with him Dambuza thought, a familiar stranger, and he suspected Bontle saw him the same way. They had so many things to say small talk seemed an insult to the importance of what lay between them.
He decided it was better he jump in. “What is it, Bontle? Why did you come here?”
She looked up and her eyes were wet with tears. “God, Dambuza I can barely stand it. I get up, I go to work, I feed the kids -and it’s all just nothing. I look ahead and there is all of this empty space. You’re supposed to be there. But you’re not. And now there’s nothing.”
“Then why divorce? Why did you do it? It nearly killed me to sign those papers.”
“Why? Why do you and I do anything? Pride, I wanted to be the winner. I wanted you to know I was the winner. But it was stupid, I don’t want to be the winner, I want to be your wife. That’s all that matters.”
He pushed the plates away and grabbed her face in his hands pulling her closer. They kissed and it felt like home, everything was back in place. He was going to be fine. They were going to be fine. Dambuza couldn’t believe it was all going to work out okay; he would have his wife back, his family back. For once things were going to turn out right for him.
Dambuza lay in bed the next morning listening to Bontle moving around the house. She was likely cleaning, he thought, he knew she hated a dirty house and his was dirty primarily because he’d never cleaned it, not once since moving to Maun, not high on his list of priorities. He could smell bacon and eggs. His stomach growled in response and he pulled himself out of bed to go and investigate.
He found Bontle bent over the sink washing dishes. He came up behind her and grabbed her around the waist, kissing her neck at the back. She moaned in response leaning into him. “Last night was fantastic. I don’t remember us ever having such great sex before,” he said.
She turned around in his arms and kissed him on the lips. “Your breakfast is ready, do you want to eat?”
They sat down at the table and ate in companionable silence for some minutes. “What did you mean by that comment?” Bontle asked.
“What comment?” Dambuza asked, taking a bite from his toast while looking across the table at his beautiful wife. He couldn’t believe how great things were going. Last night reminded him of those heady days when they first got together. Exciting and intoxicating. Just thinking about it made him want to grab his wife and drag her back to the bedroom.
“You don’t remember us having sex like that? What did you mean by that?”
Dambuza could hear a tone in her voice and his mood dampened. The old tone from the old patterns they’d followed like robots. He didn’t want this, he hoped he could dodge it, knock it off its rails. “Nothing. I just meant it was great.”
Bontle kept quiet but the air between them quivered waiting for the words to be said. Dambuza could just about hear the anticipation of failure; it wasn’t like he wasn’t familiar with the sound of it.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. “No, you meant something. You want to know about him? Don’t you? You think I changed by being with another man. I can tell you about him if that’s what you want.”
Dambuza had done his best to keep the thought of another man being with Bontle out of his mind. He’d been just about successful. He had no right to be angry, he’d been with other people too, so he tried to pretend that it hadn’t happen and now here she was throwing it in his face.
“You seem to want to relieve your conscience despite how it might affect me, so go on. Get on with it.” Dambuza leaned back in his chair, his hands at his sides. “Get it off your fucking chest!”
“So are you trying to say you were not with anyone? I know you were. You always are. Why must I tell you anything?” Bontle shouted.
This was craziness. The same craziness they’d lived with for eighteen years. Dambuza couldn’t even rile up the anger anymore. Here they were back in their normal game and he felt only tired. Overwhelming tiredness. And sad. The night before had been so perfect and he thought they were going back; he thought they were going to start anew. He felt new. And Bontle felt new. But it only took a few hours for the newness to disappear and then they only had history a huge block of heavy history, historical hurts that someone needed to pay for. Forgiveness was only skin deep, under that was blood and guts and wounds so severe Dambuza realised now they could never heal. Hope and love and caring for each other would never be enough to soothe those hurts. They could forgive only in words and forgetting was never going to happen.
Dambuza stood up. He couldn’t be with her now. He needed air. He went out to the Corolla and drove away. Away from everything. He drove nowhere, just out away from Maun, on the long, straight, flat roads of his country. Past fields of mealies and kilometres of acacia scrub. He passed cows and donkeys at the roadside and herds of goats idling on the road itself. He watched an old lady sleeping at the back of a slow moving donkey cart and a girl, the wind blowing her threadbare purple dress as she raced by on a too-small bicycle. He wanted space and air and time alone. He parked under a wide morula tree, its shade dense and cool in the hot late morning sun. He opened the doors of the car to let the air blow through. He didn’t realise it at first, until his hands were wet, that he was crying. The tears poured out silently. The emotions were too much, they spilled over like an overfilled tea cup. He had tried so hard not to have expectations about Bontle’s visit. He thought he had been cautious, but he hadn’t. He had filled his heart with hope and the night before had confirmed he’d been correct and everything would be alright. And now it wasn’t and he accepted it would never be and he felt like shit.
He headed home as the sun began its descent to the western horizon, hours lost. He opened the door of his tiny house and wasn’t surprised to find Bontle gone.
“Any luck over the weekend with Pops?” Dambuza asked Blue when he arrived on Monday.
“Nope, not yet. It was hectic this weekend. Bar fights, some domestic calls, we even have a woman up at the hospital morgue, murdered. They’ll get back out looking for Pops today, if the crazies can tone it down a bit.”
“Anything else?” Dambuza asked.
“The Boss has that Joburg lawyer in his office.”
“Yep, and he’s angry as heck. Shouting about how he wants his client out of jail. Same old thing.” Blue rolled his eyes and got back to his paperwork.
Dambuza didn’t feel up to Mr Viljoen just yet. He was worried about them not finding Pops. He told himself it would be okay but he was concerned, too concerned . Why was that so upsetting to him? He didn’t have time to dissect it. Besides his head was a mess. After Bontle left, he’d turned off his cellphone and spent the rest of the weekend locked up in his house maintaining a high level of drunkenness with ample amounts of Black Label and Jack Daniels. Monday morning arrived like a sack of rocks thrown against his head. Two shots and a beer for breakfast had dimmed the pain, but the new injection of alcohol had yet to reach all points in his body.
“I’ll be in my office if the Boss needs me.” He thought Tito could handle Renet’s lawyer better than him, especially in the state he was in.
Dambuza closed the door and poured a shot of vodka into his coffee mug from the stash in his desk drawer. He felt like shit. The last meal he had was the one at Audi with Bontle. He supposed that was part of the problem. He didn’t care though. He didn’t care about much of anything right then.
His cellphone rang and Dambuza looked down and saw it was Delly. He thought of ignoring the call. She likely wanted to know how the weekend with Bontle went, and he wasn’t up to talking about it. Still he answered.
“Dambuza, did you fall off the edge of the earth? Damn it, Man- I’ve been calling you since Saturday night.” He could hear urgency in her voice. She was genuinely angry at him.
“Yeah… sorry. What’s up?”
“That girl…she’s missing.”
“Girl?” Dambuza didn’t know what Delly was talking about.
“The girl…. Annah Ditiro. The one that id’ed Lebo and the guy from Makalamabedi. She disappeared. Her parents realised she was gone Saturday night. They came over and asked me to help them look around, but we found nothing.”
And then he remembered. How had he forgotten? In all of the drama with the bodies and Bontle he had completely forgotten. That was why Pops being free was a problem. That girl, Annah, had been petrified they’d come after her. Dambuza promised her they’d be in jail and she’d be safe. But they weren’t in jail and she wasn’t safe, she was missing. How the hell did he forget about her? In all of his own drama, she fell away to the back of his mind and got lost and now she could be dead because of his fuck-up.
Dambuza’s office door opened and Tito was there, not looking very pleased. “Can I see you in my office?” Dambuza nodded.
“Listen Delly, I got to go. I’ll come around as soon as I can.” He hung up and looked up at his boss.
“What was that about?” Tito asked.
“Doesn’t sound good but let’s take one problem at a time,” Dambuza said. “What’s Viljeon on about?”
“You’re not even going to believe it.” Tito walked out without explaining and Dambuza followed him. In the office, Viljoen sat with a very worried looking man. He wore a white lab coat stencilled “Botswana Government Property”, so Dambuza assumed he must be a civil servant.
“Dambuza, you know Mr Viljoen and this is Mr Oagile,” Tito said. “This is Detective Dambuza Chakalisa, he’s working on this case. Perhaps Mr Viljoen, you might catch Dambuza up to speed.”
Mr Viljoen turned to Dambuza as if speaking to him was an unsightly task he was compelled to do. “As you know, Detective, you are illegally holding my client in your cell.”
“Are you aware we now know that he was burying seven bodies out in the bush? That is seven counts of murder. Illegally holding your client is the least of your problems,” Dambuza said.
Mr Viljoen looked to Tito for help. “Dambuza, let him finish. You’re going to want to hear this,” Tito said.
“See Detective, you jump to conclusions, that’s your biggest problem. Were there seven bodies out in the bush? No, that is not what the evidence has shown you, but yet you jump to a conclusion in a very unprofessional manner. I wonder how you people solve any crimes up here doing such shoddy police work, I really do,” Viljoen said, shaking his head.
Dambuza looked at Tito for permission to sort this man out. Tito put up his hand to slow him down. “Mr Viljoen, please, just explain your case. We’re not interested in any opinions you might hold regarding how we do up jobs here in Maun,” Tito said trying to calm things down.
“Yes, well, I was just trying to make a point. They are not bodies, they are parts of bodies. My client was burying parts of bodies.” Viloen sat back as if he’d won some sort of point.
“And? How does that make him less guilty? Those parts were originally attached to complete human beings. You can’t take them without killing the person. It just shows me he is a sick bastard,” Dambuza said. “I’m not sure what it shows you.”
“I think if you could muster up some semblance of composure and patience, and listen to Mr Oagile you might change your opinion of Dr Renet.” Viljoen turned to the man sitting next to the lawyer who had managed to shrink down into his lab coat hoping perhaps they would forget he was there. No such luck. “Mr Oagile, tell the detective what your relationship with Dr Renet is.”
Oagile looked at Tito with a questioning face. “Our deal stands Rre Oagile, you can speak freely to Detective Chakalisa,” Tito assured him.
“Okay…well…I met this man, this Dr Renet, at the hospital. He had a woman friend sick there, he was visiting. I work there….in the morgue. We talked and then he asked me if I ever get bodies that no one collects. I told him we do, especially illegal Zimbabweans. They sit in the morgue for weeks, sometimes even months, waiting for someone to claim them. If no one comes, then the government eventually buries them. It takes some time, you know, just in case relatives show up. So he wants to know if anyone checks the bodies. I tell him we’re the ones who put these people in the coffins and then they’re just buried, no body viewing since there aren’t any relatives.”
Dambuza looked at Tito. What was this all about?
“So,” Oagile continued, “he wants to pay me to give him some parts. Not like private parts or anything, it’s not for muti. That I can’t do. Me, I’m a Christian. I don’t care how much he would pay me; I wasn’t going to do something like that. I don’t believe in all of that. He wanted it for science work, research he said. Just a leg or arm, things like that. I didn’t see the harm. They were just going to be buried anyway.”
“So you cut off parts of these unclaimed bodies and gave them to Dr Renet?” Dambuza asked.
“Yes,” Oagile said.
“What was Renet doing with these body parts?” Dambuza asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” Oagile said. “I just know he took them.”
“Did he pay you?” Dambuza asked.
“I… I was taking a risk. I coulda been fired. I … yes, a small amount,” Oagile said.
Dambuza turned to Viljoen. “So what was he doing with the body parts?”
“As you know Dr Renet is a well respected entomologist. In France, he was attempting to refine his forensic entomology skills. This is a field of entomology where insects, especially insects that feed on dead decomposing bodies, are studied to learn more about the body they feed on. It is a fascinating field of science. In more developed countries they use forensic entomologists to solve murder cases and other suspicious deaths. Dr Renet found it difficult to get the bodies he needed to perfect his skills while living in France. They have many stringent laws regarding such things. This was the main reason for moving to Botswana. He hoped he would have better access to dead bodies to continue his research.”
“So he thought it was a good idea to get body parts like this?” Dambuza couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Black African bodies are fine to tear apart and use as you like but white French bodies are not?”
“I’ll admit his thinking was faulty, but still these were unclaimed bodies. No one was coming for them. And scientists are like that, the ends justify the means for them. They are desperate for knowledge and have a sort of tunnel vision.”
“Why didn’t he try a legal route to get permission to do such a thing?” Dambuza asked.
“He had no time. He only intended to stay in the country for four years and he had many things to investigate.” Viljoen spoke as if what he was saying was perfectly sound and logical. Dambuza felt like he’d walked through the looking glass and was in an alternate universe. What were these people thinking? Had they no shame, no compassion?
“Still, Tito, even if Renet didn’t kill these people, he committed a crime. Desecration of a corpse, corrupting a civil servant. He still has cases to answer for,” Dambuza said.
“Yes, of course, he has charges to answer. He won’t be released today. But he’s not our man for the missing persons’ cases, nor has he murdered anyone,” Tito said.
Dambuza could hardly hide his anger over the look of victory on Viljoen’s face. He needed to get out of the office. He looked at his watch; it was almost an hour ago that Delly called. He needed to get out there; he needed to find that girl.
“Boss, I have another case…the call from Delly…” Dambuza didn’t want to reveal too much in front of Viljoen and Oagile.
“Yes, go, I’ll sort this out. Let me know what’s happened.”