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.
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?”
school holiday. I’ll even splurge on a trip out to the Delta, maybe even a
“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.
“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?”
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
“Oh Daddy, you
know me I’m always careful.”
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,
Dambuza hung up
the phone then opened another beer and pulled his new bottle of gin a bit
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?”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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
“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
excited, any lead at this point was a cause for celebration. “Yeah… what’s
“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 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
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.
cellphone rang. He looked and it was Nana. “Hello?”
“Hi Dambuza, what
you up to on this Friday night?”
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.”
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
“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
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 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.
Detective. Call me 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
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
“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.
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
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.
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
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
“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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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
“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.
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
“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.”
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
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
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
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?”
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.”