Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chapters 3 and 4 (The Vanishings Project)

The Vanishings

Chapter 3

 Dambuza got in his Corolla and shut the door. The unhealthy metallic clang shook the entire car. Like most things in Dambuza’s life, his car was hanging on by a very thin, precarious thread. He pulled some tissue from the roll of toilet paper on the passenger sheet and wiped the ubiquitous white dust off the dashboard. Already he and Maun were not friends and this dust was not helping the situation. He’d only been in the place for four days, but he’d come with a bad attitude to start with which the town had done nothing to change.

He grew up in Francistown, he knew the place, he liked the place. He was made for the city, not the edge of the bush where wild animals waited to pounce. He liked concrete not sand- and more sand- under his feet. The transfer to Maun was a not so hidden demotion. His life had gone a bit haywire and it had spilled over to work, giving the impression that he was incompetent. His boss agreed with what he saw and thought a change of scenery might help Dambuza get sorted. Now Dambuza would spend his days searching for pick-pocketers having fun at the tourists’ expense, ticketing speeders, and looking for people with bits of illegal elephant tusk. That was no job for an investigator, and this was no place for a city boy.

He’d left his wife and kids in Francistown which was a mixed blessing. He missed his kids already, but his wife Bontle was another story. Their relationship was problematic and neither one of them was willing to make the move to fix it or put it out of its endless misery.  The transfer gave him an out. He was free of her, at least in distance. No more complaining about his drinking and late nights out. No more lists of how he had let her down. No more shouting matches that had the kids up and crying in the middle of the night. No more tantrums thrown at the police station. No, Maun did have its upside.

Dambuza pulled onto what served in Maun as its main road and suddenly the air pulsed with the wail of a hooter being seriously overused and he quickly pulled back onto the gravel. A flash of white combi zipped around him and sped off. Dambuza watched the combi-driver-with-an-attitude disappear down the road. Across its back window in solid black writing was written: DEAD END. Dambuza considered this. Dead-end. That was about where he felt he was. Career wise, relationship wise, life wise: Maun was his dead-end.

He checked his watch-7:15, he’d soon be late for his first day on the job. He looked behind him, and carefully inched onto the road. Just as he switched into fourth gear, he saw something up ahead. There were two people shouting at each other. It looked like a fight, he slowed down when he was nearer, pulled over, and jumped out for the car.

When he was closer, he could see it was a middle-aged white woman and a twenty something black man. They were indeed fighting. In the mix was a huge dog, the biggest Dambuza had ever seen. The dog was barking and licking at both the woman and the young man.

“You better stop it right now, Bob!” the woman said.

Dambuza got up to the two and shouted, “I’m a police officer. Move away from the woman, Bob.”

The woman looked up and smiled while she flipped the young man around and, before Dambuza knew what was happening, the man was sitting on the ground, his legs kicked out from under him, with his arms tied behind his back with a piece of rusty wire.

“There! Now sit still!” The woman turned to Dambuza. “So officer, this young man seemed to think while I was out on my morning walk that I’d like to hand over my cellphone to him. I thought otherwise.”

“So you know him then?” Dambuza asked.

“Nope. Never saw him a day in my life.”

“So why’d you call him Bob?” Dambuza asked.

The woman threw her head back, her long blond hair braided into two long plaits flew back and she laughed a loud, raucous laugh, her weathered face folded along well used lines in response. “Bob’s the dog!” she squeezed out.

As soon as the dog heard his name he was on his feet wagging his tail. Friendly, he was, but winning any dog beauty pageants was not going to be part of Bob’s future. Besides being the biggest dog Dambuza had ever seen, Bob also might be the ugliest. His head showed he had boerbull, it was as big as a roasted ham, but he was obviously a Tswana mix. His body was long and lanky and covered in dark brown stripes. Where he got his long haired white tail was anyone’s guess.  He moved as if his head was too heavy and his legs too long. Bob’s redeeming factor was his personality. As they spoke, he lay down next to the thief and put his big ham head on the thief’s lap.

“So you want me to take this guy in?” Dambuza asked.

“That would help. I’d like to finish my walk undisturbed if possible.” The tall, muscular woman looked Dambuza over. “Are you new? I know a lot of the police here in Maun, most actually.”

“Yeah, I’m new, first day on the job. I’m transferred from Francistown. Detective Dambuza Chakalisa” He held out his hand and the woman took it up in a firm hold, firmer than he expected.

“I’m Delly, Delly Woods. I own Delta Tours about 3 kms down the road from here. Listen, if you let me finish what I started, I’ll come by the police station in about an hour and fill in the paperwork.”

“Sure no problem.”  Dambuza bent down and pulled the young man, who was not more than a boy really, to his feet with little effort. “Come on. I think you chose the wrong woman to mess with this morning.”

Go nntse jalo,” he said shaking his head while he climbed in the passenger seat of the Corolla.


Dambuza took the last puff of his cigarette and crushed it out in the gravel of the parking lot. He helped his passenger out of the car. “Here we are. You should be happy, your morning mischief has made me late for work on my first day.”

Dambuza pushed the thief through the door. Inside there was a long wooden bench. “Sit there,” he ordered him, and then he went to the counter where a tall, very dark constable waited to be of assistance.

“Dumela Rre, can I help you?” he asked. The new customer service initiatives had been taken to heart by this young man. Dambuza smiled.

“Yes, I’m Detective Dambuza on transfer from Francistown.”

The constable looked at Dambuza’s charge sitting on the bench. “Oh yes I was told to keep an eye out for you. They call me Blue. So did you come with your own criminals from Francistown then?”

“No, I picked this one up on the way to the station. He was trying to get a cellphone from a local woman, Delly Woods.”

The constable laughed into his hand. He called to the back room.  “Zero! Hey Zero-we tlaa kwano!”

A short, round, baby-faced constable came around the corner. “Our new detective brought you a customer. Take this fool to lockup. The idiot tried to rob Delly.”

They both laughed. Constable Zero was still shaking his head when he pulled the thief to his feet. “You new around here?” he asked the young man. The thief nodded.

“Thought as much. Lucky for you the detective was around. Delly usually deals with people like you in her own way. You’ll prefer the beating you’re going to get at the kgotla to the punishment Delly would have handed down.”

Dambuza watched Zero lead the thief away. Blue said, “So Detective Dambuza, the boss was looking around for you this morning. You better go through and let him know what you’ve been up to.”

Dambuza walked down the dark hallway to the end. He knocked softly on the door. “Tsena!”

The man behind the desk didn’t look up. He wore a uniform with pleats so straight and sharp Dambuza wondered if they would cut a finger drawn along them. His desk was tidy and he clicked away on a laptop finishing what he was doing while indicating Dambuza should take a seat at one of the wooden chairs in front of his desk. A few minutes passed while he finished then he looked up. “Yes, what can I do for you?”

“I’m Detective Dambuza from Francistown.”

He saw the boss’ eyes pass over the clock on the wall. “Trouble finding us this morning?”

“No, I ran into something on the way. A man trying to rob a woman of her cellphone. I brought the culprit in.”

The boss stood up and held out his hand. “Sorry… we get all kinds as I’m sure you know. I’m Assistant Superintendent Tito Barulaganye. Most around here just call me Tito.” He reached for a file on top of his in tray. “Looks like you’ve been having some problems in Francistown.”

Dambuza wondered how much was in that file. “Yes, sir. But I think I’ve sorted most of the problems out now.”

“Is it?” Tito asked sceptically. “I’ll be honest. I don’t like chasing after my staff. They should do what the government has hired them to do. You don’t trouble me, I won’t trouble you. From your file I can see you get the job done, impressively in fact. You seem to do it in an unconventional way, but I don’t care about that. What I want is a clean, quiet town. My officers make sure I get what I want. Do we understand each other?”

“I think we do, sir.” Dambuza already liked this man.

“Okay. As for your personal life, well that’s it-it’s yours- and it’s personal. I don’t care unless it keeps you from doing the job up to my specifications.”

“I understand, sir.” Dambuza was beginning to see that the file contained everything and he thought as much. His past boss was a crazy, born-again Christian with a pathological hatred for alcohol. He’d do raids on bars that were operating legally just to give the customers a fright and send them to their homes. He hated Dambuza the moment they met. He was happy his current boss seemed not to be weighed down by so much baggage.

“Okay, so this thief you collected this morning, is the victim with you too?” Tito asked.

“No, she said she’d come in later. She says she knows you, her name’s Delly Woods.”

Tito smiled and shook his head. Dambuza was beginning to wonder about this woman all the police knew. “Okay, no problem. Tell Blue at the desk to show you your office. Ah…I’m a bit short staffed today. I wonder if you could do me a favour.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Let Blue and Zero take care of Delly’s case. I’m supposed to go to some official opening thing today and I have a monthly stats report due in Gaborone. They expect us to attend all of these community meetings, if I’m not at the kgotla I’m at the airport greeting some actor from America. How they think I can do my job I don’t know. So maybe you could attend this official opening thing. I’m supposed to be there at eleven.”

“No problem, what is it?”

“We have a new AIDS laboratory opened here in Maun. Quite important actually.  They’re employing about 200 people down there. They’ve been open for about a year now but the official opening is today.” He dug around in his drawer. “Go with this. Say you’re standing in for me. The President is coming up and the Minister of Health. It’s a big deal. And like most big deals, it will take the whole day. You’ll be doing me a huge favour.”

Dambuza took the invite and went looking for Blue who led him to an office opposite the hallway leading to the jail cells. It was small and painted army green, but it had a big window looking out on the main street. Furniture included a scratched wooden desk that looked like it weighed at least 200 kg, a rickety secretary’s chair with one wheel missing and two metal chairs that when moved made a noise much bigger than they should. “This looks great, thanks.”

Dambuza collected a box of office things from the Corolla. He was at his desk putting pens in holders and files in draws when he looked up to see Blue again. “You have a visitor Detective Chakalisa.”

“Call me Dambuza.”  Blue smiled and moved aside to let the visitor in.

Dambuza looked at the man with Blue and knew without a second glance he was a lawyer. It was a combination of the pin-striped suit and the arrogant sneer. For some reason lawyers saw themselves at the top of the food chain and were oblivious to the fact that everyone else saw them significantly lower down.

“How can I help you?” Dambuza asked.

Dambuza’s mind trawled through all the possible people that might be sending a lawyer after him in Maun. A few unpaid debts, the owner of the ancient BMW he knocked one night when trying to make his way home from the bar, he remembered one guy threatening to sue him for libel after a verbal fight they’d had at the Marang. The list was long, but still he was surprised when he opened the summons. It was from Bontle, his wife, and she was filing for divorce.

“Sign here.” The lawyer’s face was skewed up as if he didn’t like the smell of Dambuza’s new office. He disappeared as soon as he had the papers back in their envelope.

Dambuza signed mechanically and fell back in his chair which jerked onto its three wheels making him reach out for the desk before he toppled over. Divorce? He knew their marriage was in problems. It had been for a long time. He was never quite good enough for Bontle. They fought. He drank. She shouted. He left. She followed him. Francistown knew about the fights they had in public and likely some they had in private too. They were legendary. But even with all of that, she was his wife. For eighteen years she was his wife, he was her husband. The fighting was their way. But divorce? He couldn’t believe she had the nerve to do it.

He thought the transfer would help them. He’d get home when he could, and they’d be together for short period of times where they might find a way to talk and get through some of their problems. He thought being apart would give them both a bit of air. He thought it was the beginning of a new chapter. Apparently, Bontle saw it in a different way, a chance to finally be free of him.

If that’s how she wanted it fine. He reached in his box and pulled out a thermos. Found his “Greatest Dad in the World” mug and filled it a quarter with the gin from the thermos. Downed it in one gulp. Fine divorce it will be. Cheers!

He popped a mint in his mouth, and just as he was putting the lid on the thermos bottle, Blue’s face appeared in the doorframe. “Dambuza, the driver’s here to take you to Hope Institute.”

Chapter 4

Dambuza was shown his seat in the one step down from the VIP section. He sat with heads of departments and some of the local business leaders.  They were waiting for the President and the Health Minister to arrive. Dambuza looked around.

This was some place. Three blocks of two story face brick buildings made up the Institute. The grounds were immaculate with lawns of green grass and flower beds sprinkled with all of the colours of the rainbow. So unlike the rest of Maun that operated on shades of grey and brown most of the year. The employees had uniforms in various styles, all in the turquoise corporate colours of the Institute.  They sat in a big group under the wide tent opposite to where Dambuza was sitting.

Dambuza paged through the booklet he’d been given by the usher. Hope Institute was started by an American named Dr. Hamilton Ride. He’d worked at Brown University and was part of setting up the Lifespan/Tuft Brown Center for AIDS Research, “one of the leaders in HIV/AIDS research” according to the promotional material. From there he came to Botswana, a country hard hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and set up the Hope Institute. Their goal was to produce products that stopped the spread of the disease and helped those already infected lead a normal healthy life. Their first product they came up with was a viricide called Total Protection. According to the book, there is a spray form for men and a suppository of women. It could be applied 48 hours before sex and kills all human immunodeficiency viruses on contact. It allows people to go back to having sex without condoms according to the booklet. Dambuza was impressed. Could change the whole scenario, he thought. These people were doing some important things.

He looked up and everyone was standing. The President was arriving. Straight away Dambuza recognised the boss of the place, Dr Hamilton Ride. He looked just like his photo in the brochure. He was walking with the President. Behind them was the Minister of Health, Dr Lesang Morapedi, who was walking with a woman Dambuza could not stop looking at. She wore a suit trimmed in the turquoise of Hope Institute, so obviously worked for them. She said something to the Minister and they both laughed and for a moment Dambuza was sure the world shook. He’d never in his life seen such a beautiful woman, he was sure of it.

As the VIP guests moved to their seats at the front, Dambuza could not pull his eyes away from the woman. She had curly brown, shoulder length hair, tossed as if without effort but looking fabulous.  She was tall and strong looking, taller than the Minister who was a tall Kalanga woman, even taller than the President. Her skin was a glowing caramel colour. Dambuza couldn’t decide if she was Indian, or coloured, or Arabic. He could pay attention to nothing else.  He was so fascinated with the woman that he didn’t notice someone sitting down next to him.

“So we meet again.”

Dambuza turned, finally cut from his hypnotic state. He turned to see the woman from the morning, the victim of the cellphone robbery, Delly Woods. “Well Mrs. Woods, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Ms. – I’ve been divorced, much, much longer than I was married. Doesn’t seem right hanging on to the Mrs.” 


“Don’t be. Sometimes divorce is the best thing for a couple. He’s still a good friend, just a complete mess of a husband.”

Dambuza certainly understood that. He looked back to the front where Dr. Hamilton Ride was at the podium speaking about the assistance the Hope Institute had received from the government. Besides generous tax breaks, the government was a 40% shareholder in the project.

Hamilton Ride spoke with a practiced voice, deep and full. He had everyone’s attention. “We’re very thankful that the government has been able to partner with us to produce Total Protection. We are already exporting to the entire world. So it is a product that is creating jobs in Botswana where unemployment is so high as well as helping curb the escalating HIV infection rate that your country and so many others has been struggling with for years.”

The crowd applauded. “I’d like to introduce my other partner in the project -Portia Delany.” A thin, blonde woman sitting at the end of the front row stood up. She waved at the crowd, smiling with a face that was not used to such movements. She was not an ugly woman, but she was unattractive because of her hard face. She looked at the audience with her forced smiled, but it changed when she looked back at her partner, Hamilton Ride. It softened, Dambuza expected there was something more than business between to the two.

“Ms Delany is a world renowned expert on viruses and bacteria. She’s actually the owner of the patent for Total Protection, she did the research on it. She’s quite a hero if you ask me.”

The crowd applauded. “Again,” Dr. Ride continued, “Thank you for coming and please enjoy the day. Feel free to move around and take a look at our lovely facility. You are indeed welcome!”

A traditional dance troupe moved to the stage and Dr. Ride took his seat back next to the President.

“Slick one that guy,” Delly whispered.

“Who?  That guy?” Dambuza said. “You mean Hamilton Ride?”

“Sure, look at him. I don’t trust a guy who looks like that. Too polished, must be hiding something.” 

Dr. Hamilton Ride was indeed a handsome man. His suit, if Dambuza knew anything about makes and costs of suits, would have likely impressed him. Dr Ride had thick, dark hair with just enough strands of grey to give him an air of respect, but not enough to tone down his sexiness factor which was through the roof. While Dambuza and likely most of the men in the crowd were captivated by the woman with the Health Minster, the women were likely equally drawn to Dr Ride. All the women except Delly Woods, but already having known Delly Woods for less than a handful of hours, Dambuza had come to the conclusion that she was not like any other woman.

Dambuza’s eyes drifted back to the woman at the front he couldn’t stop watching. She had beautiful hands. Long fingers, manicured nails. He searched everywhere for something that was not perfect on her. She had to have something. Maybe her feet smelled. Or she had a terrible, high-pitched voice. He hoped so. As soon as he thought that he looked at Delly Woods, hadn’t she said almost the same thing about Hamilton Ride?

He was looking at the woman he now thought of in his mind, no matter how crazy the thought might be, as “his woman”, and for a moment he thought she smiled at him. He looked around. Did anyone else see that? Dambuza was realistic. At 49, he knew enough about himself to know that this woman was miles out of his league. Her league was so far away he’d need another lifetime just to walk to the edge of it. But she did smile at him? Right? That was something. Or was he delusional?

Despite the fact that he’d been sent to the edge of the world, to a town where police are called out to chase elephants out of maize fields, where white dust covered everything, a place where his career was going to come to a grinding halt, and he’d been served with divorce papers only hours before, the most beautiful woman in the entire world just smiled at him and he was feeling pretty fantastic.


Long, white-clothed tables had been set out for the VIPs and the not so VIPs in the dining hall of Hope Institute. Dambuza sat down next to Delly with his plate of the prerequisite diet for such affairs: seswaa, Tastic rice, butternut, beet roots, and the one piece of leather-hard, overcooked chicken. The one saving grace was wine on the tables. Dambuza was not normally a wine drinker, but when push came to shove alcohol was alcohol.

Delly reached her long arm out for the bottle of red in the middle before he could get a chance. “Thank God for this.”

She filled Dambuza’s glass to the top and then hers then set the bottle near to them in a proprietorial way. They’d finish the bottle the two of them before they’d leave the place. It was decided without speaking a word. Dambuza liked this woman.

“So you, are you married?” Delly asked taking a bit of seswaa with her hands and popping it in her mouth, Setswana style.

“Yeah.” Technically that was still true.


“Three, one girl, two boys.”

“So where are they?”

“With their mother. She’s a nurse at Nyangabwe, supervisor.”

“You and your husband ever have any kids?” Dambuza asked.

“No, I wasn’t interested in kids by then, I was already 34 and I had my business to take care of. No time for babies when you need to be carting foreigners around to look at giraffes and lions.”

An old man in a frayed suit jacket and a hat he’d likely bought in the 1950s came up to their table. “Dumela, MmeDelly. O tsogile jang, ngwanaka?”

Delly stood up and shook the old man’s hand, holding her right arm with her left in the traditional Setswana way of showing respect. “Kgosi Mpho ke tsogile sentle, Ntate.” 

Then they were off on a long discussion about the rain, all in perfect Setswana. Delly introduced Dambuza and the old man was on his way.  Delly sat back down and took a drink of her wine.

“So how long have you been here?” Dambuza asked seeing yet another aspect of this odd, unexpected woman. 

“Long time. I arrived here as a young girl of twenty in 1968.”

Dambuza did the math in his head. That made her sixty-two. He couldn’t believe that. He thought they were about the same age. She was weathered looking, but she was so active and strong. Looked like life in the bush was good for the aging process, maybe Maun deserved another notch in his book.

“What brought you here?” Dambuza asked.

“Hmmm…now that’s a long story. One day when we’ve drank a lot more than one bottle of wine I’ll tell you.”  Delly smiled thoughtfully then nodded her head as if answering a question in her head.

Dambuza was checking his watch. It was already four, he thought he better pass by the station before Tito knocked off to give him a report. “I better get going.”

Delly held out her hand to stop him. “No, wait, I want you to meet my daughter.”

“Your daughter? I thought you said you didn’t have any kids.”

“No, you asked me if I had kids with my husband. We didn’t have any kids together, but I do have a daughter.”

Just then Dambuza saw “his woman” heading their way. He sat back down. He had the excuse of waiting around to meet Delly’s daughter so he didn’t feel awkward waiting for the woman to get closer, which she seemed to be doing. If he was lucky he might get a few minutes with “his woman”, maybe talk to her a bit. He was regretting not looking for one of his ties in the back seat of the Corolla before coming. 

He tried not to watch her as she walked their way. “So does your daughter work here?” Dambuza asked, not very interested.

“Yeah, just temporarily. She usually lives in UK, but needed to come home for awhile and is working doing marketing for these folks.”

Dambuza tried his hardest to pay attention to what Delly was saying, but “his woman” was coming closer and closer and his nerves were getting the better of him. He looked her direction and she smiled at him – again. Damn. Was this really happening? He couldn’t believe it. He practiced what he would say to her in his head.

“Marketing eh?” he asked Delly, trying to appear engaged.

“Yeah, it’s not really her passion but she does a lot of it for the theatres she works for in London. Oh here she is.”

Delly stood and Dambuza looked up from his plate where he’d been pushing a chicken bone around with his fork trying his best not to stare at “his woman”. Delly was standing with her arms around someone. When she pulled back Dambuza couldn’t believe his eyes- “his woman” was Delly’s daughter.

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