Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chapter 31 and 32 - The Vanishings

Chapter 31
Dambuza sat at his desk going over the coroner’s report. When he looked up Neo was standing in the doorway. It had been four days since Gopolong beat her up and Dambuza was surprised she looked worse than she had that first night. Her lip was cut and still swollen, but the eye was what looked the worst. It was purple and green around the edge and her eye was still bloodshot from the blow.

“Neo,” Dambuza said as he got up to give her the good chair and he took the one with three legs. “Did you have a doctor look at that eye?”

“Yes, it’s okay, it just needs to visit every rainbow colour before it decides to heal.”

Dambuza smiled. At least she had her sense of humour back. “So how are you doing?”

“I’m fine actually. I’m back at work today, though I’m still staying by Nana’s.”

“I think it’s better you do for a while.”

“Yeah…well, actually I came to thank you. Delly told me what you did. You didn’t need to, I think he was pretty much done with me, but thanks,” she said.

“I had my own selfish motives for sorting him out. I don’t care for someone like him.” Dambuza stood up and the chair tried to fall over but he grabbed it in time. “Can I get you some coffee?”

“No, I just wanted to thank you. And… there’s something else actually.”


Neo got up and closed the office door. “Nana told me that she gave you the papers I had.”

“Papers?” At first, Dambuza didn’t know what she was referring to.

She lowered her voice even further. “The communications about the biological weapons.”

“Yes, yes she did. Do you really think it’s true? Could Hope Institute be a front for something like that?”

“I don’t know what to think. I wanted to find out, I knew that Gopolong was involved in something, and when I found those papers I got scared. But Nana wants to get Gopolong more than ever now. She’s positive he’s the one, that he’s Carl. But I’m worried. I think we all know now he’s a dangerous person.  I told her, but she’s not listening. I’m worried even more now.”

“Worried? Why?”

“Nana wants to take everything to Portia. She thinks Hamilton and Gopolong are working together.” Dambuza remembered the day he saw Gopolong and Hamilton going to lunch, talking as if they were long time friends.

“But why would she think that was a good idea? If Hamilton and Portia are as close as they are, if one is in, they likely both are.”

Neo became more agitated. “I told her this, but she won’t listen. She’s decided Portia can help. She thinks maybe Portia already knows something and has been trying to get information from Gopolong. It’s crazy. I know Gopolong likes spending time with Portia, but I think he was just hoping they’d hook up. Portia is a straight arrow, she’s committed to fighting HIV, she would never allow anyone to destroy her dream... even Hamilton.”

Dambuza couldn’t believe Nana was being so reckless. Maybe she knew something she hadn’t told Neo. “Listen Neo, I’ll speak to her. There’s no need to rush everything. We need to know what’s going on first. This is a complicated thing, a dangerous thing. It looks like powerful people in the States could be involved if those emails are anything to go by. We need a lot more evidence before we make any moves. I’ll speak with her.”

Neo stood to go, at the door she turned to Dambuza and hugged him. “I know she’ll listen to you. She cares quite a lot about you, I hope you know that.” 

After Neo left, he tried Nana’s cell but she didn’t pick up. He had an appointment at the morgue and would try her later.

“Manga, I wanted to see the guy who hung himself,” Dambuza said to the massive person that was the Maun coroner.

“Ya, he’s over here. I was just putting him away.” He waddled over to the metal table and zipped open the black bag with his fat sausage fingers. “They messed him up.”

“Messed him up? I thought he hung himself.”

The big man looked down at Dambuza. “Nope. He was hung up on the tree, but he was already dead. They crushed him with something; I think it might have been a car, if he was lucky. But they crushed everything in him. Then they hung him up on that tree like a Christmas decoration.”

Dambuza looked down at the dead man. So he hadn’t hung himself out of guilt, someone wanted him shut up for good. That put a different spin on everything. He looked familiar but Dambuza couldn’t place him right away. He seemed to be a professional thug like his friend Lebo, maybe he did a few jobs in Francistown. But that didn’t seem right. It was something else. Then he remembered- he had offered his car that day in Makalamabedi when they were organising a search party to go out and look for Baleka. He had been there!

What did it all mean? Pops killed Annah and then someone kills him? Why? Dambuza was positive Pops was involved in the disappearances. But there had to be others. Who were they and what did they want with these people? The only one who could tell him was Lebo. He needed to get to Lebo.

“Okay, thanks Manga,” Dambuza said and made to leave. Then he stopped and turned back. “When do you think this guy was killed?”

“This body’s pretty ripe. I’d say at least three days ago, more likely four.”

Dambuza stopped. Three days ago? That meant Pops was not Annah’s killer. Even if Dambuza had collected Pops that night he promised Annah he would, she would still be dead. That meant there was someone out there ready to kill anyone who got in his way and he knew now that they were closing in on him.  Someone like that was very dangerous.


Lebo had obviously not been brought up-to-date with the latest information. He was acting a bit too cocky for someone with a target on his back. Dambuza sat across from him. “So how’s lockup, Lebo?”

The young man shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not nothing to me, I been in here before.”

“So that girl, the one you were trying to get, did you hear she’s dead?” Dambuza asked. He watched Lebo’s response. He seemed almost proud; maybe he thought his cohorts had his back.

“Now no witness, no case. Right?” he said.

“Yes, I think you’re right.” Dambuza waited, spinning a pen in a circle on the table. “You might find it a bit lonely outside though.”

“Lonely? Why?”

“Oh? No one told you then?”

“Told me what?”

“Your pal, your buddy Pops, they found him out in the Delta.”

“Found him? What’s that mean? You arrest him or what?”

“No, he was hanging from a tree out there.”

“He killed himself?” Lebo asked not believing it.

“It looked that way,” Dambuza said.

Lebo hit the table with his hand. “No ways! Pops was not like that. You cops musta done it to him. I know how you people operate.” 

“Like I said it looked like he hung himself, but he didn’t. Looks like the same people that killed our witness, must have killed your friend Pops.”

Lebo was slow, but soon he understood what was going on. Dambuza saw the shadow of fear pass through Lebo’s eyes, he pushed it away with false bravado. “And yeah… so, what’s that mean to me?” he asked, though he knew full well what that meant to him.

“Well.” Dambuza stood up. “I guess it doesn’t mean anything to you. But, like I said, without a witness, we don’t have a case against you. So you’re free to go. Let me call an officer to come and take off those cuffs and leg irons so you can be on your way.”

Dambuza waited for Lebo to make all of the connections he needed to.

“No! Let’s wait a minute. I don’t think we need to be in a hurry and all,” Lebo said. “You know maybe I can help you.”

“Help us? We’ve had you here for almost a week and you didn’t seem very keen on helping us. Why would you change your, mind now?”

“Yeah, but things change, eh?”

“Okay, Lebo, what do you have?” Dambuza sat back, crossed his arms, and waited.

“I… you know these people, they’re not joking around. I mean fuck, they killed Pops. They don’t care about nothing. Nobody means nothing to them. You must see what they do.”

“Who are these people, Lebo?”

“I don’t know the guy’s name. Pops organised everything, I was just helping out. But I’d know him if I saw him.”

Dambuza just wanted to confirm Renet was out. “You haven’t seen him in the cell with you?”

“No ways. You think I’d stay in a cell with that guy around. No, listen I can be a witness, when you collect him. Just keep me in here. Come on man, you know I’m dead if I walk out that door.”

“How many people did you collect for this guy?”

Lebo sat back, suddenly confidant. “Don’t I need a lawyer or something to make a deal before I speak?”

Dambuza jumped up and pulled Lebo from his chair banging him against the wall. “You want a fucking lawyer? Is that it? Just forget it then. Forget any deal. I can’t be messing around with you when people are dying out there. I think I’ll just let you out on the street and wait for the fucker to come and kill you. What about that? Now I want information and I want it now. I’m not fucking around. Now are you playing or not?”

Lebo nodded his head since the arm pressed across his neck ruled out speech.

Dambuza threw him back into his chair. “Now, how many people did you get for this man?”


“Were they alive or dead when you handed them over to him?”

“Alive, but the first one was hurt. We weren’t so good at capturing them at first. Maybe he died later. I don’t know.” 

“How much did he pay you?”

“P1000, each of us for each person.”

“What was he doing with these people?”

“I don’t know.”

Dambuza reached across the table and grabbed Lebo’s shirt. “Don’t fuck me around, you piece of shit!”

“I mean it. I don’t know. Pops didn’t know either. No questions. That was part of it. No talking, we just give this guy the person, he gives us the money.”


“We’d meet him different places. Usually out of town. In the bush and stuff.”

“Where was he from? Is he from Maun?”

“Ga ke itse. I thought maybe, but I never seen him anywhere.”

Whoever it was he’d been smart to keep the information away from petty thugs like Lebo. “Okay, you stay locked up until we find the guy. We’ll see what happens after that. Anything you remember you tell me, only me. Don’t be flapping your lips in the cell or you’ll get yourself killed. People can get to others inside and money is a powerful motivator as you know. So keep it shut.”

A uniform took Lebo back to his cell. Dambuza knew all the information he’d got was getting him no closer to the killer. It would help if he could find him and Lebo could ID him, but how to find him? That was his problem.

Chapter 32
Dambuza opened all of the windows and doors of his tiny house. Though the sun had gone down, it was still sweltering. Not a breeze in the air and no hint of the rain that might have cooled things down. He lay back on his sofa, sipping at a beer. His cellphone rang and he could see it was Bontle. They hadn’t spoken since he left her in his house that morning. He didn’t want to speak to her now, but he feared it might be something about the kids, so picked up.


“Hi Dambuza.”

“How are the kids?”

“They’re fine. I….”

“Listen, Bontle. I’m beat. I’m in the middle of a serious case and it is hotter than shit here. I really am not in the mood to get into everything. Not now.”

“Yeah…okay. I just wanted to check you were okay. I… I mean Dambuza I didn’t want things to go like that okay? I don’t know…maybe we can’t do anything else.”

“Bontle, please. When this is over, when I’m ready I’ll call, we can talk then. I promise. I just can’t do this now.”

He hung up. He only had so much energy and right now he needed every bit for this case. Somehow he felt time closing in on him. Were any of the missing people still alive? If they were, where the hell were they? If the guy wasn’t from Maun, they could be anywhere in the country, even over the border in Zimbabwe or Namibia. God knew what kind of suffering they were going through. If it was for muti, the belief was that the more the victim suffered, the more powerful the medicine made from the parts. Ears, fingers, eyeballs and private parts were routinely removed while the person was alive and conscious. Dambuza tried not to think about that.


Shocked out of his morbid thought, Dambuza sat up and saw Delly at the door. She’d never been to his place before, at least not inside. He wondered if what he revealed to Nana had brought her to his house. He knew he’d breeched their trust, and he felt bad about that, but also in this case he thought it was the right thing to do.

“Come in,” Dambuza said, looking for his T-shirt he’d removed. He moved around trying to move newspapers and beer tins to make space for Delly to sit down. “Can I get you a beer?”

“Sure.” Delly sat down on the only other seat in the house. She had some papers in her hand.

“I guess Nana spoke to you about her Gran,” Dambuza said.

“Yeah, she did, it’s okay, Dambuza. I would have liked to tell her myself, but I guess I’ve just been putting it off. You likely did us both a favour…but that’s not why I’m here. I have these. Nana gave them to me for safe keeping. They seem to implicate Hamilton and Gopolong.”

Dambuza read through the papers. They were more tables of data like the ones Nana had shown him before. There were comments written in the margins initialled GT, Gopolong Tlholego. He couldn’t see any reference to Hamilton. “So how does this implicate Hamilton?”

“She found them in his office.”

“And now? Where is she? I’ve been trying to call her?”

“She told me she was going for a meeting with Portia. She thinks Hamilton and Gopolong are doing this behind Portia’s back.”

“Why would she think that?” Dambuza felt something was missing in the picture. Why couldn’t all three of them be involved? To do something like they were doing could involve many people, it would have to.

“Did you read everything? There is a comment at the end somewhere?” Delly leaned forward and took the papers, paging though until she found what she wanted. “Here, ‘just between you and me is best. GT’. That made Nana think Portia must be out of the loop and therefore the only person who could help.”

Dambuza looked at the last message. Maybe Nana was right. He certainly didn’t know anything about handling such a case. “So when was the meeting?”

“This evening. She stopped by my place and left these, told me to show you, and then she was off.”

Dambuza tried Nana’s cellphone but she didn’t answer. “I wonder why she’s not picking up it’s nearly nine, she must have been done with the meeting by now.”

“Let me call Neo, maybe Nana’s back home and her phone is off. She does that sometimes.” Delly dialled and waited. She spoke to Neo for a few minutes and hung up.

“Neo thinks she might have left for South Africa. Neo moved back home today and Nana told her she’d be leaving for South Africa to look for her grandmother straight away.”

“But would she go without telling you?” Dambuza asked.

“We did talk about it. I gave her some addresses; a few phone numbers in Kimberly. She did say that as soon as Neo was ready to move home, she was going to leave. She felt everything was urgent, so much time had been wasted already. To be honest Dambuza, I didn’t ask much, I was feeling guilty. Yeah, I know Nana, she operates like that. All emotion that girl.”

Still Dambuza thought it was strange for her to just disappear. “Do you have keys for her house?”

“Yeah…sure, you think we should go check?”

Dambuza stood up as an answer. 
Inside Nana’s house everything was tidy. Delly looked around and Dambuza waited. Maybe Nana thought it was best she go now, right after spilling everything to Portia, so she wouldn’t be around when the whole thing fell apart.  Hamilton would likely guess she was the one who had found the papers; she had access to his office thanks to their relationship. People didn’t question her going in and out of it.

Delly came out of the bedroom holding a small case of some sort. “It looks like her big suitcase is missing and there’s this.” She handed the case to Dambuza. “It’s her case for her passport. She took it. I think Neo’s right. She’s gone off to Kimberly. She’ll call us once she gets there. Honest, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”

“That’s an odd way to leave,” Dambuza said.

“That’s my Nana, never does anything in a conventional manner. Takes after her mother I’ve heard.”

Baleka tried to pull herself out of the deep sleep she was in. “Are you awake?” George asked.

“George…can I have some water?”

He picked up the nearby cup and held it to Baleka’s lips. “You’ve been sleeping since they brought you back, that was two days ago. I was so scared.”

Baleka struggled to sit. She looked at her arms. One had a bandage. She removed it and saw they’d taken blood as usual. Before they took her out she’d been very sick, vomiting and with a high fever. Though she’d been sleeping so long and they’d obviously done something to her when they took her out, she felt better.

“I made you something while you were sleeping.”  George handed her a small bird he’d carved out of a tiny piece of wood he’d found in the corner. He rubbed it against the leg of the bed to carve it into the beautiful shape of a flying fish eagle.

Baleka held it in her hand. He’d smoothed all of the rough edges. The eagle looked so free, its wings outstretched, and she thought of how she used to walk in the bush with her goats and watch the pied crows play in the updrafts, sometimes if she was lucky she’d see an eagle too.  They had the freedom of the entire sky, not bound to earth like humans. She held the bird to her heart and began to cry.

George grabbed her in his arms. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry, I thought it would make you happy. I was so scared when you were sleeping. I thought you were going to die and I would be all alone here. I even thought how if you died I would hang myself with a blanket. I couldn’t think of living with you gone. First Phatsimo and then you.”

Baleka pushed him away to arm’s length. “No! No! You must never ever say that. If I die, you must live. You must get out of here and tell everyone what they’ve done to us. Just like I will if I live. We must! We must promise that. You must promise me you will be strong no matter what, George.”

George looked down ashamed. “I’ll try, but I’m not like you Baleka. You’re so strong and brave, I’m not. You’re the one who keeps me alive here.”

Baleka took his face in her hands. She kissed him on the cheek. “No George. You are who keeps me alive. Promise me. Promise me you will survive no matter what.”

“Okay… I promise.”

Baleka held the bird to her lips and ran it slowly over them. The silky surface felt lovely. “Thank you for this, George. It’s beautiful. I cried from happiness.”

“Do you really like it then?” He smiled at her.

“Yes.” She stood up, though weak, she was pleased she was no longer sick. So much of their time in that place was spent in various kinds of sickness. She couldn’t decide if they were feeding them bad food or the water wasn’t good or it was just being in this dark, closed-in place with no fresh air and sunlight. “I’m hungry though, any food?”

George jumped to his feet. “You sit, I’ll get it. They just brought food. I didn’t eat. I hoped you’d wake up and we could eat together.”

George brought the basins of food. He dumped half of his on top of Baleka’s food. She tried to stop him, but he refused.  They started eating. It was a kind of thick beef soup. Baleka stopped eating and raised her head.

“What is it?”

“I thought I heard something,” she said.

They both stopped eating and got quiet. Someone was coming. But why? George said they’d just brought food. They never came quickly after bringing food.

“They’re coming to take one of us. I can hear, they’re two,” George whispered.

Baleka listened, George was right, there were two, but there was something else, like they were dragging something maybe the food cart. Why would two of them come to bring food, especially since they only just brought food?

George grabbed Baleka’s hand and pulled her to the furthest corner of the room. “I don’t want them to take one of us again.”

Baleka let herself be led by him, but knew if they wanted to take her or George they would do it. They tried to fight and never won. They crouched in the darkness. The door opened and it was the same two people. They came into the room their faces covered as usual, but they carried something. They dropped it and turned and went out locking the door behind them.
George and Baleka waited until the steps were no longer audible, had disappeared back to where they’d come, and then approached. As they moved into the light, they could see it was a person. They had captured someone else and brought them to this horrible place.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

African Crime: Fiction and Facts- an event at The Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala

Last Thursday (21 May) I was in Uppsala Sweden as part of a full day event looking at "African Crime: Fact and Fiction" held at the Nordic Africa Institute. The first half of the day was mostly focussed on the factual/ research side with a researcher looking at policing in Africa and another speaking about "Improvisation as detection in African crime fiction". The time after lunch was about African crime writing and included discussions with author Helon Habila from Nigeria, Margie Orford from South Africa, and myself.

After the event at the Nordic Africa Institute, the Botswana Embassy in Stockholm held a reception at The Institute. The writers then headed for a short discussion at the public library in Uppsala.

For me, it was a crazy trip having missed my connection from Joburg to Frankfurt because President Mugabe was visiting Gaborone and all flights were delayed. I ended up arriving on the day of the event, a few minutes late, literally walking from the plane to the stage. I arrived in Sweden on Thursday and came home on Saturday. A very long flight there and back with so little time in the middle is something I advise you never to do. I've made a vow never to do it again myself. From Joburg to Stockholm is twelve hours on a plane and I still had another 45 mins to Gaborone. Just too much for a human body. I have real empathy for flight crew on these airplanes who do this all of the time. But it was an interesting trip.

Below are a few photos from the trip. I realised when I got home that I took a very odd collection of photos. I blame it on sleep deprivation.

The people in Uppsala love riding bikes. They are everywhere!

The other thing I found interesting was that they didn't ride mountain bikes or bikes with many speeds. Most preferred these old fashioned, one speed bikes.

A church in Uppsala

This is a photo from the Botswana embassy's reception after the event. It was in their library. The man to the left is Tshepo Mogotsi, the Minister Counsellor from the Embassy.

Flowers in the park

Food at the reception

Nigerian writer and Caine Prize winner, Helon Habila. At the back you can see a friend who visited me in Botswana about a month ago, Pekka Peltola. He is from Finland and a researcher with The Nordic Africa Institute.

Helon and the director of The Nordic Africa Institute, Iina Soiri. If you look closely, you can see Iina is carrying my short story collection, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories. :)

The river in Uppsala

A building in Uppsala with a tunnel under it.

Flowers on the bridge

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chapters 29 and 30- The Vanishings

Chapter 29
Dambuza drove out to Delly’s. He still hadn’t processed what he’d heard in Tito’s office.  What the hell kind of place was Maun? A man is chopping off pieces of bodies at the government morgue and taking them back to his lab to watch bugs eat them? Then when he’s done with the parts, he throws them in the back of his bakkie, drives out to the bush and buries the lot in a big hole. Meanwhile the prestigious new laboratory is fronting as a hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS and may be building biological weapons in the back office.  Doctors are beating the shit out of their mistresses. And then on top of that people are disappearing like ghosts in the night. When Dambuza was transferred from Francistown he thought lazy Maun was going to bore him out of his mind. Was this really happening in Botswana? Quiet, stable Botswana? It seemed impossible.

If this girl, Annah, had been taken or killed, Dambuza couldn’t help but be blamed. She had begged him to put her in the jail; she knew she was in danger. But he’d been confident they would collect both men the same night. And besides he was positive Renet was their guy, the leader of the entire thing, he was sure the whole thing was over it was just a matter of tying up loose ends. When they hadn’t found Pops, he somehow forgot about Annah. He was so caught up in his own drama with Bontle coming that a scared girl had been forgotten, and now she might be dead.

Dambuza parked the Corolla outside Delly’s plot as there were quite a few cars already parked inside. As he walked up to the house, he could see there was some sort of meeting taking place in the office. Delly was sitting at the front but when she saw Dambuza she came out.

“It’s the family and some neighbours. They’re about to go out again to look for her. She just disappeared. The mother says she was behind the house washing clothes. When it got dark she went out back to see if she was finished and she wasn’t there. From the look of the washing, she must have been taken shortly after she started. Dambuza, she’s just a kid. I’ve known her since she was born. She used to come and ride her bike in the driveway when she was small. Have they found the other guy?”


“No? But you said they’d get him that night. Why didn’t someone tell the family? They might have been more cautious knowing the man their daughter was accusing of kidnapping and killing five people was out on the loose. Someone fucked up, Dambuza!”

“Yeah, you’re right. It was me. I should have done it. I knew she was scared and she was right to be.” He rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Are there any leads at all?”

“We haven’t found anything. We have a Bushman guide following the trail but it stops at the tarred road and he’s can’t find anything from there.”

Dambuza nodded at the crowd in the office. “What’s their plan?”

“As you can imagine they’re pretty worked up. About half of them are heading out to Makalamabedi, the rest are going to keep searching Maun. They want to find Pops, and I think when they do they won’t be very kind to him.”

Dambuza felt impotent. This didn’t need to happen. He’d been careless and selfish and stupid. She’d been so frightened; she’d begged him to keep her safe. He was failing everyone everywhere he turned.   He heard movement and looked up to see the meeting was disbursing.  He needed to alert the boss about what was going on. Some uniforms needed to get to Makalamabedi because if this mob found Pops, in the excited state they were in, they’d likely kill him.

He called Tito and let him know what was going on, but then Dambuza didn’t know what to do. He needed to find the girl- but how? Then he remembered the traditional doctor in Makalamabedi, Khathurima. Dambuza had no other leads, maybe he could help. He headed for the Corolla.

Delly rushed after him. “Dambuza, I’m sorry, about what I said. How were you to know they’d come after her? You were sure Pops would be caught.”

They both knew her words weren’t honest. He was supposed to do his job, that was it, and he hadn’t. She was trying to make him feel better but they both knew it was futile.

“No, Delly, I messed up. You’re right. It seems to be all I can do lately. I let Gopolong nearly kill Neo, and now this. I can’t get my head straight. For now on I need to focus, focus on my job before anyone else gets hurt.”


Like before, Khathurima seemed to be waiting for him. Before Dambuza could explain why he’d come, Khathurima spoke. “She’s dead, but you already know that.”

He was right. As soon as he’d arrived at Delly’s place, Dambuza knew it was too late. He knew the girl was dead. “Where is she?”

“Not far from home. By the water, hidden, in the reeds. You’ll find her. You will.”

Dambuza got up to leave but Khathurima grabbed his arm with his large, strong hand. “Be cautious, ngwanake, you’ve made enemies, bitter enemies. They are not finished harming those you love. They are in danger, the closer you come to the answer, the more danger they will be in.”

“Who? Who is in danger?”

Khathurima shook his head. “I can’t see clearly, but it is someone near to your heart. Be very careful or the person will die.”


It was already night by the time Dambuza turned back to Maun, the moon rose massive and orange in front of him. A haunting moon- was it a foreshadow of what was to come? Who could Khathurima be speaking about? Could Bontle and the children be in some sort of danger? And how would solving this case cause harm to them?

He drove quickly toward Maun. If he could do nothing else, he wanted to find Annah’s body for her family. He decided to pass by Delly first. He didn’t relish traipsing around along the river with Kgosi and his archenemy patrolling the shores. Delly would know better where to look and how to do it safely.

He found her sitting at the back of her office at the edge of the parking lot waiting, smoking a cigarette. “I didn’t know you smoked,” Dambuza said pulling up next to her.

She shook her head. She suddenly looked her age sitting so still on the edge of the stoop. “I don’t really, not anymore. It was the only thing I could think of doing.”

Dambuza explained what Khathurima had told him, leaving out the warning. Delly went in the office and came out with two powerful torches and they headed down to the river with Bob trailing behind. The moon was now high in the sky, white and full, casting a silver glow on everything. They started at Delly’s house and headed up river. They walked slowly shining their beams carefully back and forth in the tall reeds. Neither one of them felt like talking, they both seemed to accept the traditional doctor’s words as the truth and knew they were searching for the young woman’s body.

They walked for close to two hours and had found nothing. Twice Dambuza heard the deep rumble of a hippo, but Delly assured him, though it sounded near, it was quite far away. “Do you think we should turn back? Maybe we need to retrace where we’ve been. He said she was near to her home, we’re quite far now,” Dambuza said.

“Not really…wait…what’s that?” Delly focussed her torch beam near the water. There she was. The body was laying half submerged in mud; only her shoulders, arms, and head were out of the water. Dambuza looked at her delicate hand laying in the water, her fist half open, and he was sure he could feel her grabbing his arm and begging to be kept safe.

Dambuza and Delly guarded the body until the uniforms and the forensic staff arrived. They’d not touched anything just watched the young girl in the muddy water, protecting her from any more harm. They sat in silence, only the lapping of the water against the reeds filled the night air.

Once the team arrived they made their way back to Delly’s place. Dambuza slumped into one of the low chairs on the veranda. He told her about Renet trying to put off the conversation he knew they both wanted to have.

Delly handed him a beer and sat down next to him. “It’s not your fault, really, it’s not,” she said. “Some asshole killed her, he’s to blame.”

“I may not have killed her, but I didn’t stop it from happening either. And I had the chance, that’s the thing, I had the chance to save this one. I don’t think I have a chance with the other ones, not anymore.”

“No one’s perfect. You made a mistake. But actually you thought they’d get him, just like we got Lebo. Renet was in jail. You thought she’d be fine.”

“Yeah... well she wasn’t.” Dambuza was tired of talking about this since he and Delly both knew he’d fucked up so anything else she said was just words. “How’s Neo?”

“She’s been staying with Nana. Wants to get back to work tomorrow, but she looks like shit.  The story she’s telling is she fell down. Not very creative but that’s it. No one’s gonna buy it of course.”

Dambuza was always surprised at how Delly’s veranda relaxed him. Hanging out over the ledge, the branches of trees jutting onto the deck, the river a few metres away. He never thought much about the restorative powers of nature, but he had to admit sitting back there was almost always the medicine that he needed, that and ample alcohol. Delly had slipped a bottle of Jack Daniels and a shot glass on the table in front of him and as they spoke he’d forgotten how many shots he drank, though the magic of the liquid was beginning to take its effect.  And the cold, hard truths of life were receding into the background getting fuzzy and warm and far less sharp.

He leaned back in his chair and tried to clear his mind. He didn’t want to think about dead young women or beaten up researchers or pieces of human bodies used for science or wives that were gone forever. Closing his eyes he felt the cool night breeze blow over his body and took in the scent of wild sage and lavender. This crazy mad place had something that he was settling into. “Do you think when my kids come during school holidays you can take us out into the Delta?”

“I’d love to. Despite your city ways, I have a feeling you and the fabulous Okavango Delta are going to become fast friends,” Delly said.

Dambuza opened his eyes and looked at her. “You know, I can’t believe it really, but sometimes I think you know me better than I know me, but we’ve only known each other for a few months. How did that happen?”

“I’ve always thought there are people who just find each other. It’s meant to be. I was meant to find you. Maybe so I could start my new career as a private detective.” Her laugh boomed out over the river. Bob got up from the corner and stood next to Delly, his tail wagging, but when he realised nothing fun was going to happen, he sat down next to her and let his big heavy head fall onto her lap.

“Ko! Ko!”

As soon as he heard the first ‘Ko’, Dambuza knew it was Nana. Did he need more drama in this day? He’d been avoiding her since the incident at the bar. He still hadn’t figured out what it all meant. He didn’t want to feel anything and that wonderful state was hard to maintain whenever Nana was around.

Nana bent down and kissed her mother then sat down on the sofa. She reached forward for the bottle on the table, poured herself a shot, and drank it down in one gulp. “That’ll help.”

She got up and went into the house for a beer and still hadn’t greeted Dambuza. She came back and sat down. “In my world,” she started in the middle, as if the conversation was continuing from the other night in the bar, “a man doesn’t kiss a woman and run.”

Dambuza kept quiet and the air prickled with anticipation, unanswered questions.

“Okay then…” Delly stood up, suddenly very uncomfortable in her own house. “I think I’ll go fetch us a pizza in town.” Neither Dambuza nor Nana acknowledged Delly’s leaving.

“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” Dambuza said. “But please, if you care anything about me at all, don’t force me into discussing this now. I will explain everything, I will I promise. As soon as I figure it all out, I’ll let you know. But another time, any other time- except tonight. I’ve had a crap day of epic proportions preceded by a weekend that might have killed a weaker man, and all I want is to get quietly drunk and speak of nice things. Please, I beg you to have mercy on me just this once.”

Nana sat back on the sofa and sighed, then smiled. “Okay. In fact, Mum called and told me a bit. I will acquiesce to your wish kind sir.”

“Thank you.”

Nana stood up in front of him where he sat on his chair and held out her hands. He took her hands in his and she pulled him to his feet and led him to the sofa where she’d been sitting. She laid him carefully down and then sat at the end. Placing his head in her lap. She slowly rubbed his head, her fingers making circular motions, moving slowly to every patch of his scalp.  The pressure relaxed his entire body and all of his senses were attuned to her expert hands. With every circle of her fingers, he could feel the tension dissipating. Soon all he focussed on was the movement of her hands and the pressure of her fingers. And then she began to speak, softly.

“Once when I was a little girl, my mother told me the most wonderful story. It was about a woman, an old woman who’d lost her son,” Nana began. “He’d been a good son. He worked hard to help his mother when he was young and when he grew up he finished school and got a fine job. His mother worked as a maid for some people, mean people, but the mother stayed so she could pay for her son’s school fees. She stayed to pay his university fees. He promised that once he got a good paying job, he would buy her a house and pay for a maid to take care of her instead. But just after finishing school, he suddenly disappeared. The old woman was frantic with heartache. Time passed and only the franticness wore off, the heartache grew roots and took up everything inside of her. Everyone told the old woman- your son is dead. Your son has run away forever. The old woman didn’t want to believe it. She knew her son was alive somewhere. All she had to do was wait, and so she waited at the house where she worked, with the horrible people, but her son never came. Her will was strong, though. Somewhere inside she knew her son would return.”

“One day she sat on the stoop, for she was old now and could do very little work, but the horrible people made her polish the stoop anyway, but to do this she had to sit down and scoot along, one bit at a time. She looked up. She wasn’t sure why, she just felt the longing to look up, and then she saw him. She saw her son. But he was not in the form of the young man who disappeared so long ago, but it was her son in every other way. The young woman came forward and took the old woman by the hand. She helped her to her feet. They walked hand-in-hand away from that place, the place of sadness and horrible people. The young woman, the old woman’s son in another form, took the old woman to a beautiful house where maids took care of her and soothed all of the sadness and waiting from her aching body and the two; the old woman and her son, the young woman who he arrived in, lived happily ever after.”

Dambuza listened to the song of Nana’s voice and felt the medicine of her fingers and soon he was better. His problems receded and he was only a man lying in a woman’s lap in the breeze of an African night and that was all there was in the world. He recognised the story, of course. He knew it was Delly trying to tell Nana the truth about her father, but not having the courage to tell her everything. It was a beautiful story, a story he hoped would come true.

Chapter 30

Dambuza woke up and looked around. He was in his bedroom. It was dark outside the window, but the sound of the rooster three houses away told him morning was not far away and next to him lying in his arms was Nana. That’s all he knew. How they got there, what happened between that point and now, these things were a mystery to him.

“Good morning,” Nana said.

Dambuza looked under the blankets and they were both wearing their clothes so that told him an important detail. “Did you bring me home?”

“Yes, and I hope you don’t mind me staying over.”

“No, I need to admit I’m a bit foggy on what took place, though. Sorry.”

“Nothing took place. You were very sleepy, I drove you here and then we lay down on the bed and fell asleep. That’s it. Promise.”

Dambuza remembered the story and Nana massaging his head. “Yes, okay, it’s coming back. Thanks for giving me a break last night though I’m not sure I deserved it. I didn’t mean to run out on you at Chuck’s, I didn’t mean to kiss you either. I was working on autopilot I think.”

Nana sat up in bed, a sign that some serious talk was about to happen. Dambuza sat up too. “You promised me an explanation,” Nana said. “Any chance I might get it now?”

“Yes, yes I did. Okay… that night, I didn’t want to start anything because Bontle was coming, my ex-wife. She came on Friday. She’d called, she wanted to see me. She wanted to get back together.”

“Back together? Wasn’t she the one who initiated the divorce?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t really matter. It could have been either one of us, she was just first.”

“So what happened?”

“Yeah, well she came. I was really trying not to feel. Nana, I want to be honest with you, completely. I can’t lie and say I don’t love Bontle, I do, I love her. And I feel sick from missing my kids and I can’t even think about what a divorce is going to do to them. I wanted it all to be fixed. I wanted us to be a family again. When she said she wanted to get back together, I tried not to be happy, tried not to feel excited. I thought I was doing okay. I wasn’t.”

“And then there’s you. We have something. I’m not sure it’s very healthy, healthy for either of us, but then too, I’m not sure I’m built for health, mental or otherwise. I’m just banging along. So now Bontle was here and I’d kissed you and I wanted my family back and I couldn’t stand that Bontle had been with someone else and then there was that Tebogo at the bar. …It’s a mess…I’m a mess. It’s just a huge fucking complicated mess. The first night it was working with Bontle and by morning it was gone. We can’t be together, at least now, maybe never.”

Dambuza stopped. He’d never said that out loud before, that he and Bontle might really and truly be finished. He’d held out that all of this was temporary or not real somehow, that he and Bontle would get back together some way, sometime. But when he said that, when he admitted the possibility that they wouldn’t, it all seemed suddenly real. It could happen. For a moment he couldn’t breathe with the thought of it, he felt sick.

Nana grabbed him in her arms and held him, rocking gently. And then it happened, the thing he never wanted, he heard himself sobbing in her arms. A Motswana man crying in a woman’s arms? But he couldn’t stop himself. Wild messy waves of emotions poured out of his body and he could stop none of it. When the room became silent again, he couldn’t say how much time had passed. He laid back weak from what had happened and then he was embarrassed.

“Nana…I…I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened…”

“No, say nothing. God, Dambuza, you’ve had a horrible time. How long did you think you could hold it in?”

He lay back and she crawled into the crook of his arm. He held her and it felt wonderful. He thought about the night before and the story she’d told him, a story Delly had told her as a young girl. But he knew it wasn’t just a story. He knew Delly had told her a wish. Perhaps he was wrong to reveal what he was about to, but he felt beholden to Nana and he wanted to return a gift to her.

“Your story last night, the one Delly told you…” Dambuza started.

“Yes?” Nana looked up at him.

“It’s not a story,” Dambuza said. He explained what Delly had told him about Nana’s father and her grandmother waiting for her return. “Please don’t blame Delly for not telling you. She was scared.”

Nana listened carefully. “No, I never would. I completely understand what Mum did. But I must go to her. I must go to my grandmother. She’s waiting for me.”

“Yes, yes you should.”

“Yes, quickly. As soon as I’m sure Neo is alright, I’m going. I’ll go with Delly if she’ll agree.” She got out of bed, suddenly very excited. Then she got back in bed and kissed Dambuza. “Thanks. You’ll never know what a wonderful thing you’ve done for me. I know you think you’re a mess, an emotional mess, someone set out to make a wreck of everything he touches, but you’re wrong. You’re a blessing, and, honestly, everyone you touch is made better by you.”

She jumped out of the bed. By the time he got up, she was gone.

“Howzit Dambuza?” Blue said when he got to the station. “Hey where’s that woman of yours?”

“Blue, you nearly lost your tongue last time she was here, what do you want her for now?”

“Just wondering. Hey, the boss says you should pass by his office when you arrive.”

Tito was on the phone when Dambuza got to his office. “Ee,” he said. “Okay, I’ve got it. I expected as much.”

He hung up the phone. “Well that was Manga the pathologist. About that dead young woman, Annah Ditiro, she was strangled, dead before they threw her in the river.”

“Has anyone found Pops yet?” Dambuza asked.

“No, and now we have that riled up group looking for him too. It’s making it all more problematic. I really do not know what has happened to this town. And we can’t seem to make any headway in this case. Just more and more problems.”

The phone rang. Tito listened but said little. He hung up and looked at Dambuza for a moment before speaking, his face fallen. “Well... they found Pops.”

“Where? Is he talking?”

“Nope, he’s not talking. They found him out past Khwai. Seems he found a bit of guilt for what he’d done,” Tito said. “They found him dead, hanging from a tree.”