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Zodijak Taurus
Pol Žena
Poruke 18761
Zastava Srbija
CHAPTER NINETEEN
WHAT HAPPENED


MMA RAMOTSWE felt afraid. She had experienced fear only once or twice before in her work as Botswana's only lady private detective (a title she still deserved; Mma Makutsi, it had to be remembered, was only an assistant private detective). She had felt this way when she had gone to see Charlie Gotso, the wealthy businessman who still cultivated witch doctors, and indeed on that meeting she had wondered whether her calling might one day bring her up against real danger. Now, faced with going to Dr Ranta's house, the same cold feeling had settled in her stomach. Of course, there were no real grounds for this. It was an ordinary house in an everyday street near Maru-a-Pula School. There would be neighbours next door, and the sound of voices; there would be dogs barking in the night; there would be the lights of cars. She could not imagine that Dr Ranta would pose any danger to her. He was an accomplished seducer perhaps, a manipulator, an opportunist, but not a murderer.
On the other hand, the most ordinary people can be murderers. And if this were to be the manner of one's death, then one was very likely to know one's assailant and meet him in very ordinary circumstances. She had recently taken out a subscription to the Journal of Criminology (an expensive mistake, because it contained little of interest to her) but among the meaningless tables and unintelligible prose she had come across an arresting fact: the overwhelming majority of homicide victims know the person who kills them. They are not killed by strangers, but by friends, family, work acquaintances. Mothers killed their children. Husbands killed their wives. Wives killed their husbands. Employees killed their employers. Danger, it seemed, stalked every interstice of day-to-day life. Could this be true? Not in Johannesburg, she thought, where people fell victim to tsostis who prowled about at night, to car thieves who were prepared to use their guns, and to random acts of indiscriminate violence by young men with no sense of the value of life. But perhaps cities like that were an exception; perhaps in more normal circumstances homicide happened in just this sort of surrounding-a quiet talk in a modest house, while people went about their ordinary business just a stone's throw away.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni sensed that something was wrong. He had come to dinner, to tell her of his visit earlier that evening to his maid in prison, and had immediately noticed that she seemed distracted. He did not mention it at first; there was a story to tell about the maid, and this, he thought, might take Mma Ramotswe's mind off whatever it was that was preoccupying her.
"I have arranged for a lawyer to see her," he said. "There is a man in town who knows about this sort of case. I have arranged for him to go and see her in her cell and to speak for her in court."
Mma Ramotswe piled an ample helping of beans on Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's plate.
"Did she explain anything?" she asked. "It can't look good for her. Silly woman."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "She was hysterical when I first arrived. She started to shout at the guards. It was very embarrassing for me. They said: 'Please control your wife and tell her to keep her big mouth shut.' I had to tell them twice that she was not my wife."
"But why was she shouting?" asked Mma Ramotswe. "Surely she understands that she can't shout her way out of there."
"She knows that, I think," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "She was shouting because she was so cross. She said that somebody else should be there, not her. She mentioned your name for some reason."
Mma Ramotswe placed the beans on her own plate. "Me? What have I got to do with this?"
"I asked her that," Mr J.L.B. Matekoni went on. "But she just shook her head and said nothing more about it."
"And the gun? Did she explain the gun?"
"She said that the gun didn't belong to her. She said that it belonged to a boyfriend and that he was coming to collect it. Then she said that she didn't know that it was there. She thought the parcel contained meat. Or so she claims."
Mma Ramotswe shook her head. "They won't believe that. If they did, then would they ever be able to convict anybody found in possession of an illegal weapon?"
"That's what the lawyer said to me over the telephone," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "He said that it was very hard to get somebody off one of these charges. The courts just don't believe them if they say that they didn't know there was a gun They assume that they are lying and they send them to prison for at least a year. If they have previous convictions, and there usually are, then it can be much longer."
Mma Ramotswe raised her teacup to her lips. She liked to drink tea with her meals, and she had a special cup for the purpose. She would try to buy a matching one for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, she thought, but it might be difficult, as this cup had been made in England and was very special.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni looked sideways at Mma Ramotswe. There was something on her mind. In a marriage, he thought, it would be important not to keep anything from one's spouse, and they might as well start that policy now. Mind you, he recalled that he had just kept the knowledge of two foster children from Mma Ramotswe, which was hardly a minor matter, but that was over now and a new policy could begin.
"Mma Ramotswe," he ventured. "You are uneasy tonight. Is it something I have said?"
She put down her teacup, glancing at her watch as she did so.
"It's nothing to do with you," she said. "I have to go and speak to somebody tonight. It's about Mma Curtin's son. I am worried about this person I have to see."
She told him of her fears. She explained that although she knew that it was highly unlikely that an economist at the University of Botswana would turn to violence, nonetheless she felt convinced of the evil in his character, and this made her profoundly uneasy.
"There is a word for this sort of person," she explained. "I read about them. He is called a psychopath. He is a man with no morality."
He listened quietly, his brow furrowed with concern. Then, when she had finished speaking, he said: "You cannot go. I cannot have my future wife walking into danger like that."
She looked at him. "It makes me very pleased to know that you are worried about me," she said. "But I have my calling, which is that of a private detective. If I was going to be frightened, I should have done something else."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni looked unhappy. "You do not know this man. You cannot go to his house, just like that. If you insist, then I shall come too. I shall wait outside. He need not know I am there."
Mma Ramotswe pondered. She did not want Mr J.L.B. Matekoni to fret, and if his presence outside would relieve his anxiety, then there was no reason why he should not come.
"Very well," she said. "You wait outside. We'll take my van. You can sit there while I am talking to him."
"And if there is any emergency," he said, "you can shout. I shall be listening."
They both finished the meal in a more relaxed frame of mind. Motholeli was reading to her brother in his bedroom, the children having had their evening meal earlier. Dinner over, while Mr J.L.B. Matekoni took the plates through to the kitchen, Mma Ramotswe went down the corridor to find the girl half-asleep herself, the book resting on her knee. Puso was still awake, but drowsy, one arm across his chest, the other hanging down over the edge of the bed. She moved his arm back onto the bed and he smiled at her sleepily.
"It is time for you to go to bed too," she said to the girl. "Mr J.L.B. Matekoni tells me that you have had a busy day repairing engines."
She wheeled Motholeli back to her own room, where she helped her out of the chair and onto the side of the bed. She liked to have her independence, and so she allowed her to undress herself unaided and to get into the new nightgown that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had bought for her on the shopping trip. It was the wrong colour, thought Mma Ramotswe, but then it had been chosen by a man, who could not be expected to know about these things.
"Are you happy here, Motholeli?" she asked.
"I am so happy," said the girl. "And every day my life is getting happier."
Mma Ramotswe tucked the sheet about her and planted a kiss on her cheek. Then she turned out the light and left the room. Every day I am getting happier. Mma Ramotswe wondered whether the world which this girl and her brother would inherit would be better than the world in which she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had grown up. They had grown happier, she thought, because they had seen Africa become independent and take its own steps in the world. But what a troubled adolescence the continent had experienced, with its vainglorious dictators and their corrupt bureaucracies. And all the time, African people were simply trying to lead decent lives in the midst of all the turmoil and disappointment. Did the people who made all the decisions in this world, the powerful people in places like Washington and London, know about people like Motholeli and Puso? Or care? She was sure that they would care, if only they knew. Sometimes she thought that people overseas had no room in their heart for Africa, because nobody had ever told them that African people were just the same as they were. They simply did not know about people like her Daddy, Obed Ramotswe, who stood, proudly attired in his shiny suit, in the photograph in her living room.
You had no grandchildren, she said to the photograph, but now you have. Two. In this house.
The photograph was mute. He would have loved to have met the children, she thought. He would have been a good grandfather, who would have shown them the old Botswana morality and brought them to an understanding of what it is to live an honourable life. She would have to do that now; she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. One day soon she would drive out to the orphan farm and thank Mma Silvia Potokwane for giving them the children. She would also thank her for everything that she did for all those other orphans, because, she suspected, nobody ever thanked her for that. Bossy as Mma Potokwane might be, she was a matron, and it was a matron's job to be like that, just as detectives should be nosy, and mechanics . . . Well, what should mechanics be? Greasy? No, greasy was not quite right. She would have to think further about that.

"I WILL be ready," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, his voice lowered, although there was no need. "You will know that I am here. Right here, outside the house. If you shout out, I will hear you."
They studied the house, in the dim light of the streetlamp, an undistinguished building with a standard red-tiled roof and unkempt garden.
"He obviously does not employ a gardener," observed Mma Ramotswe. "Look at the mess."
It was inconsiderate not to have a gardener if, like Dr Haiiiu, you were in a well-paid white-collar job. It was a social duly In employ domestic staff, who were readily available and desperate for work. Wages were low-unconscionably so, thought Mma Ramotswe-but at least the system created jobs. II everybody with a job had a maid, then that was food going into the mouths of the maids and their children. If everybody did their own housework and tended their own gardens, then what were the people who were maids and gardeners to do?
By not cultivating his garden, Dr Ranta showed himself to be selfish, which did not surprise Mma Ramotswe at all.
"Too selfish," remarked Mr J.L.B. Matekoni.
"That's exactly what I was thinking," said Mma Ramotswe.
She opened the door of the van and manoeuvred herself out. The van was slightly too small for a lady like herself, of traditional build, but she was fond of it and dreaded the day when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would be able to fix it no longer. No modern van, with all its gadgets and sophistication, would be able to take the place of the tiny white van. Since she had acquired it eleven years previously, it had borne her faithfully on her every journey, putting up with the heights of the October heat, or the fine dust which at certain times of year drifted in from the Kalahari and covered everything with a red-brown blanket. Dust was the enemy of engines, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had explained-on more than one occasion-the enemy of engines, but the friend of the hungry mechanic.
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni watched Mma Ramotswe approach the front door and knock. Dr Ranta must have been waiting for her, as she was quickly admitted and the door was closed behind her.
"Is it just yourself, Mma?" said Dr Ranta. "Is your friend out there coming in?"
"No," she said. "He will wait for me outside." Dr Ranta laughed. "Security? So you feel safe?" She did not answer his question. "You have a nice house," she said. "You are fortunate."
He gestured for her to follow him into the living room. Then he pointed to a chair and he himself sat down.
"I don't want to waste my time talking to you," he said. "I will speak only because you have threatened me and I am experiencing some difficulty with some lying women. That is the only reason why I am talking to you."
His pride was hurt, she realised. He had been cornered- and by a woman, too; a stinging humiliation for a womaniser. There was no point in preliminaries, she thought, and so she went straight to the point.
"How did Michael Curtin die?" she asked. He sat in his chair, directly opposite her, his lips pursed. "I worked there," he said, appearing to ignore her question. "I was a rural economist and they had been given a grant by the Ford Foundation to employ somebody to do studies of the economics of these small-scale agricultural ventures. That was my job. But I knew that things were hopeless. Right from the start. Those people were just idealists. They thought that you could change the way things had always been. I knew it wouldn't work."
"But you accepted the money," said Mma Ramotswe, He stared at her contemptuously. "It was a job. I am a professional economist. I study things that work and things that don't work. Maybe you don't understand that."
"I understand," she said.
"Well," he went on. "We-the management, so to speak- lived in one large house. There was a German who was in charge of it-a man from Namibia, Burkhardt Fischer. He had a wife, Marcia, and then there was a South African woman, Carla Smit, the American boy and myself.
"We all got on quite well, except that Burkhardt did not like me. He tried to get rid of me shortly after I arrived, but I had a contract from the Foundation and they refused. He told lies about me, but they didn't believe him.
"The American boy was very polite. He spoke reasonable Setswana and people liked him. The South African woman took to him and they started to share the same room. She did everything for him-cooked his food, washed his clothes, and made a great fuss of him. Then she started to get interested in me. I didn't encourage her, but she had an affair with me, while she was still with that boy. She said to me that she was going to tell him, but that she didn't want to hurt his feelings. So we saw one another secretly, which was difficult to do out there, but we managed.
"Burkhardt suspected what was happening and he called me into his office and threatened that he would tell the American boy if I did not stop seeing Carla. I told him that it was none of his business, and he became angry. He said that he was going to write to the Foundation again and say that I was disrupting the work of the collective. So I told him that I would stop seeing Carla.
"But I did not. Why should I? We met one another in the evenings. She said that she liked going for walks in the bush in the dark; he did not like this, and he stayed. He warned her about going too far and about looking out for wild animals and snakes.
"We had a place where we went to be alone together. It was a hut beyond the fields. We used it for storing hoes and string and things like that. But it was also a good place for lovers to meet.
"That night we were in the hut together. There was a full moon, and it was quite light outside. I suddenly realised that somebody was outside the hut and I got up. I crept to the door and opened it very slowly. The American boy was outside. He was wearing just a pair of shorts and his veldschoens. It was a very hot night.
"He said: 'What are you doing here?' I said nothing, and he suddenly pushed past me and looked into the hut. He saw Carla there, and of course he knew straightaway.
"At first he did not say anything. He just looked at her and then he looked at me. Then he began to run away from the hut. But he did not run back towards the house, but in the opposite direction, out into the bush.
"Carla shouted for me to go after him, and so I did. He ran quite fast, but I managed to catch up with him and I grabbed him by the shoulder. He pushed me off, and got away again. I followed him, even through thorn bushes, which were scratching at my legs and arms. I could easily have caught one of those thorns in my eye, but I did not. It was very dangerous.
"I caught him again, and this time he could not struggle so hard. I put my arms around him, to calm him down so that we could get him back to the house, but he fell away from me and he stumbled.
"We were at the edge of a deep ditch, a donga, that ran through the bush there. It was about six feet deep, and as he stumbled he fell down into the ditch. I looked down and saw him lying there on the ground. He did not move at all and he was making no sound.
"I climbed down and looked at him. He was quite still, and when I tried to look at his head to see if he had hurt it, it lolled sideways in my hand. I realised that he had broken his neck in the fall and that he was no longer breathing.
"I ran back to Carla and told her what had happened. She came with me back to the donga and we looked at him again. He was obviously dead, and she started to scream.
"When she had stopped screaming, we sat down there in the ditch and wondered what to do. I thought that if we went back and reported what had happened, nobody would believe that he had slipped by accident. I imagined that people would say that he and I had had a fight after he discovered that I was seeing his girlfriend. I knew, in particular, that if the police spoke to Burkhardt, he would say bad things about me and would tell them that I had probably killed him. It would have looked very bad for me.
"So we decided to bury the body and to say that we knew nothing about it. I knew that there were anthills nearby; the bush there is full of them, and I knew that this was a good place to get rid of a body. I found one quite easily, and I was lucky. An anteater had made quite a large hole in the side of one of the mounds, and I was able to enlarge this slightly and then put the body in. Then I stuffed in stones and earth and swept around the mound with a branch of a thorn tree. I think that I must have covered all traces of what had happened, because the tracker that they got in picked up nothing. Also, there was rain the next day, and that helped to hide any signs.
"The police asked us questions over the next few days, and there were other people, too. I told them that I had not seen him that evening, and Carla said the same thing. She was shocked, and became very quiet. She did not want to see me anymore, and she spent a lot of her time crying.
"Then Carla left. She spoke to me briefly before she went, and she told me that she was sorry that she had become involved with me. She also told me that she was pregnant, but that the baby was his, not mine because she must already have been pregnant by the time she and I started seeing one another. "She left, and then I left one month later. I was given a scholarship to Duke; she left the country. She did not want to go back to South Africa, which she didn't like. I heard that she went up to Zimbabwe, to Bulawayo, and that she took a job running a small hotel there. I heard the other day that she is still there. Somebody I know was in Bulawayo and he said that he had seen her in the distance."
He stopped and looked at Mma Ramotswe. "That is the truth, Mma," he said. "I didn't kill him. I have told you the truth."
Mma Ramotswe nodded. "I can tell that," she said. "I can tell that you were not lying." She paused. "I am not going to say anything to the police. I told you that, and I do not go back on my word. But I am going to tell the mother what happened, provided that she makes the same promise to me-that she will not go to the police, and I think that she will give me that promise. I do not see any point in the police reopening the case."
It was clear that Dr Ranta was relieved. His expression of hostility had gone now, and he seemed to be seeking some sort of reassurance from her.
"And those girls," he said. "They won't make trouble for me?"
Mma Ramotswe shook her head. "There will be no trouble from them. You need not worry about that."
"What about that statement?" he asked. "The one from that other girl? Will you destroy it?"
Mma Ramotswe rose to her feet and moved towards the door.
"That statement?"
"Yes," he said. "The statement about me from the girl who was lying."
Mma Ramotswe opened the front door and looked out. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was sitting in the car and looked up when the front door was opened.
She stepped down onto the pathway.
"Well, Dr Ranta," she said quietly. "I think that you are a man who has lied to a lot of people, particularly, I think, to women. Now something has happened which you may not have had happen to you before. A woman has lied to you and you have fallen for it entirely. You will not like that, but maybe it will teach you what it is to be manipulated. There was no girl."
She walked down the path and out of the gate. He stood at the door watching her, but she knew that he would not dare do anything. When he got over the anger which she knew he would be feeling, he would reflect that she had let him off lightly, and, if he had the slightest vestige of a conscience he might also be grateful to her for setting to rest the events of ten years ago. But she had her doubts about his conscience, and she thought that this, on balance, might be unlikely.
As for her own conscience: she had lied to him and she had resorted to blackmail. She had done so in order to obtain information which she otherwise would not have got. But again that troubling issue of means and ends raised its head. Was it right to do the wrong thing to get the right result? Yes, it must be. There were wars which were just wars. Africa had been obliged to fight to liberate itself, and nobody said that it was wrong to use force to achieve that result. Life was messy, and sometimes there was no other way. She had played Dr Ranta at his own game, and had won, just as she had used deception to defeat that cruel witch doctor in her earlier case. It was regrettable, but necessary in a world that was far from perfect.

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Zodijak Taurus
Pol Žena
Poruke 18761
Zastava Srbija
CHAPTER TWENTY
BULAWAYO


LEAVING EARLY, with the town barely stirring and the sky still in darkness, she drove in the tiny white van out onto the Fran-cistown Road. Just before she reached the Mochudi turnoff, where the road ambled down to the source of the Limpopo, the sun began to rise above the plains, and for a few minutes, the whole world was a pulsating yellow-gold-the kopjes, the panoply of the treetops, last season's dry grass beside the road, the very dust. The sun, a great red ball, seemed to hang above the horizon and then freed itself and floated up over Africa; the natural colours of the day returned, and Mma Ramotswe saw in the distance the familiar roofs of her childhood, and the donkeys beside the road, and the houses dotted here and there among the trees.
This was a dry land, but now, at the beginning of the rainy season, it was beginning to change. The early rains had been good. Great purple clouds had stacked up to the north and east, and the rain had fallen in white torrents, like a waterfall covering the land. The land, parched by months of dryness, had swallowed the shimmering pools which the downpour had created, and, within hours, a green tinge had spread over the brown. Shoots of grass, tiny yellow flowers, spreading tentacles of wild ground vines, broke through the softened crust of the earth and made the land green and lush. The waterholes, baked-mud depressions, were suddenly filled with muddy-brown water, and riverbeds, dry passages of sand, flowed again. The rainy season was the annual miracle which allowed life to exist in these dry lands-a miracle in which one had to believe, or the rains might never come, and the cattle might die, as they had done in the past.
She liked the drive to Francistown, although today she was going a further three hours north, over the border and into Zimbabwe. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had been unwilling for her to go, and had tried to persuade her to change her mind, but she had insisted. She had taken on this enquiry, and she would have to see it through.
"It is more dangerous than Botswana," he had said. "There's always some sort of trouble up there. There was the war, and then the rebels, and then other troublemakers. Roadblocks. Holdups. That sort of thing. What if your van breaks down?"
It was a risk she had to take, although she did not like to worry him. Apart from the fact that she felt that she had to make the trip, it was important for her to establish the principle that she would make her own decisions on these matters. You could not have a husband interfering with the workings of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency; otherwise they might as well change the name to the No. 1 Ladies' (and Husband) Detective Agency. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was a good mechanic, but not a detective. It was a question of ... What was it? Subtlety? Intuition?
So the trip to Bulawayo would go ahead. She considered that she knew how to look after herself; so many people who got into trouble had only themselves to blame for it. They ventured into places where they had no business to be; they made provocative statements to the wrong people; they failed to read the social signals. Mma Ramotswe knew how to merge with her surroundings. She knew how to handle a young man with an explosive sense of his own importance, which was, in her view, the most dangerous phenomenon one might encounter in Africa. A young man with a rifle was a landmine; if you trod on his sensitivities-which was not hard to do-dire consequences could ensue. But if you handled him correctly-with the respect that such people crave-you might defuse the situation. But at the same time, you should not be too passive, or he would see you as an opportunity to assert himself. It was all a question of judging the psychological niceties of the situation.
She drove on through the morning. By nine o'clock she was passing through Mahalapye, where her father, Obed Ramotswe, had been born. He had moved south to Mochudi, which was her mother's village, but it was here that his people had been, and they were still, in a sense, her people. If she wandered about the streets of this haphazard town and spoke to old people, she was sure that she would find somebody who knew exactly who she was; somebody who could slot her into some complicated genealogy. There would be second, third, fourth cousins, distant family ramifications, that would bind her to people she had never met and among whom she would find an immediate sense of kinship. If the tiny white van were to break down, then she could knock on any one of those doors and expect to receive the help that distant relatives can claim among the Batswana.
Mma Ramotswe found it difficult to imagine what it would be like to have no people. There were, she knew, those who had no others in this life, who had no uncles, or aunts, or distant cousins of any degree; people who were just themselves. Many white people were like that, for some unfathomable reason; they did not seem to want to have people and were happy to be just themselves. How lonely they must be-like spacemen deep in space, floating in the darkness, but without even that silver, unfurling cord that linked the astronauts to their little metal womb of oxygen and warmth. For a moment, she indulged the metaphor, and imagined the tiny white van in space, slowly spinning against a background of stars and she, Mma Ramotswe, of the No. 1 Ladies' Space Agency, floating weightless, head over heels, tied to the tiny white van with a thin washing line.

SHE STOPPED at Francistown, and drank a cup of tea on the verandah of the hotel overlooking the railway line. A diesel train tugged at its burden of coaches, crowded with travellers from the north, and shunted oft; a goods train, laden with copper from the mines of Zambia, stood idle, while its driver stood and talked with a railways official under a tree. A dog, exhausted by the heat, lame from a withered leg, limped past. A child, curious, nose streaming, peeped round a table at Mma Ramotswe, and then scuttled off giggling when she smiled at him.
Now came the border crossing, and the slow shuffling queue outside the white block in which the uniformed officials shuffled their cheaply printed forms and stamped passports and permissions, bored and officious at the same time. The formalities over, she set out on the last leg of the journey, past granite hills that faded into soft blue horizons, through an air that seemed cooler, higher, fresher than the oppressive heat of Francistown. And then into Bulawayo, into a town of wide streets and jacaranda trees, and shady verandahs. She had a place to stay here; the house of a friend who visited her from time to time in Gaborone, and there was a comfortable room awaiting her, with cold, polished red floors and a thatch roof that made the air within as quiet and as cool as the atmosphere in a cave.
"I am always happy to see you," said her friend. "But why are you here?"
"To find somebody," said Mma Ramotswe. "Or rather, to help somebody else to find somebody."
"You're talking in riddles," laughed her friend.
"Well, let me explain," said Mma Ramotswe. "I'm here to close a chapter."

SHE FOUND her, and the hotel, without difficulty. Mma Ramotswe's friend made a few telephone calls and gave her the name and address of the hotel. It was an old building, in the colonial style, on the road to the Matopos. It was not clear who might stay there, but it seemed well kept and there was a noisy bar somewhere in the background. Above the front door, painted in small white lettering on black was a sign: Carlo, Smit, Licensee, licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. This was the end of the quest, and, as the end of a quest so often was, it was a mundane setting, quite unexceptionable; yet it was surpris-ing nonetheless that the person sought should actually exist, and be there.

"I AM Carla."
Mma Ramotswe looked at the woman, sitting behind her desk, an untidy pile of papers in front of her. On the wall behind her, pinned above a filing cabinet, was a year-chart with blocks of days marked up in bright colours; a gift from its printers, in heavy Bodoni type: Printed by the Matabeleland Printing Company (Private) Limited: You think, we ink! It occurred to her that she might issue a calendar to her own clients: Suspicious? Call the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. You ask, we answer! No, that was too lame. You cry, we spy! No. Not all the clients felt miserable. We find things out. That was better: it had the necessary dignity.
"You are?" the woman enquired, politely, but with a touch of suspicion in her voice. She thinks that 1 have come for a job, thought Mma Ramotswe, and she is steeling herself to turn me down.
"My name is Precious Ramotswe," she said. "I'm from Gaborone. And I have not come to ask for a job."
The woman smiled. "So many people do," she said. "There is such terrible unemployment. People who have done all sorts of courses are desperate for a job. Anything. They'll do anything. I get ten, maybe twelve enquiries every week; many more at the end of the school year."
"Conditions are bad?"
The woman sighed. "Yes, and have been for some time. Many people suffer."
"I see," said Mma Ramotswe. "We are lucky down there in Botswana. We do not have these troubles."
Carla nodded, and looked thoughtful. "I know. I lived there for a couple of years. It was some time ago, but I hear it hasn't changed too much. That's why you are lucky."
'You preferred the old Africa?"
Carla looked at her quizzically. This was a political question, and she would need to be cautious.
She spoke slowly, choosing her words. "No. Not in the sense of preferring the colonial days. Of course not. Not all white people liked that, you know. I may have been a South African, but I left South Africa to get away from apartheid. That's why I went to Botswana."
Mma Ramotswe had not meant to embarrass her. Her question had not been a charged one, and she tried to set her at her ease. "I didn't mean that," she said. "I meant the old Africa, when there were fewer people without jobs. People had a place then. They belonged to their village, to their family. They had their lands. Now a lot of that has gone and they have nothing but a shack on the edge of a town. I do not like that Africa." Carla relaxed. "Yes. But we cannot stop the world, can we? Africa has these problems now. We have to try to cope with them."
There was a silence. This woman has not come to talk politics, thought Carla; or African history. Why is she here?
Mma Ramotswe looked at her hands, and at the engagement ring, with its tiny point of light. "Ten years ago," she began, "you lived out near Molepolole, at that place run by Burkhardt Fischer. You were there when an American called Michael Curtin disappeared in mysterious circumstances."
She stopped. Carla was staring at her, glassy-eyed. "I am nothing to do with the police," said Mma Ramotswe, hurriedly. "I have not come here to question you."
Carla's expression was impassive. "Then why do you want to talk about that? It happened a long time ago. He went missing. That's all there is to it."
"No," said Mma Ramotswe. "That is not all there is to it. I don't have to ask you what happened, because I know exactly what took place. You and Oswald Ranta were there, in that hut, when Michael turned up. He fell into a donga and broke his neck. You hid the body because Oswald was frightened that the police would accuse him of killing Michael. That is what happened."
Carla said nothing, but Mma Ramotswe saw that her words had shocked her. Dr Ranta had told the truth, as she had thought, and now Carla's reaction was confirming this.
"You did not kill Michael," she said. "It had nothing to do with you. But you did conceal the hotly, which meant that his mother never found out what happened to him. That was the wrong thing to do. But that's not the point. The point is that you can do something to cancel all that out. You can do that thing quite safely. There is no risk to you."
Carla's voice was distant, barely audible. "What can I do? We can't bring him back."
"You can bring an end to his mother's search," she said. "All she wants to do is to say goodbye to her son. People who have lost somebody are often like that. There may be no desire for revenge in their hearts; they just want to know. That's all."
Carla leaned back in her chair, her eyes downcast. "I don't know . . . Oswald would be furious if I talked about . . ."
Mma Ramotswe cut her short. "Oswald knows, and agrees," "Then why can't he tell her?" retorted Carla, suddenly angry, "He did it. I only lied to protect him."
Mma Ramotswe nodded her understanding. "Yes," she said "It's his fault, but he is not a good man. He cannot give any thing to that woman, or to anybody else for that matter. Such people cannot say sorry to another. But you can. You can meet this woman and tell her what happened. You can seek her forgiveness."
Carla shook her head. "I don't see why. . . After all these years ..."
Mma Ramotswe stopped her. "Besides," she said. 'You are the mother of her grandchild. Is that not so? Would you deny her that little bit of comfort? She has no son now. But there is a ..."
"Boy," said Carla. "He is called Michael too. He is nine, almost ten."
Mma Ramotswe smiled. "You must bring the child to her, Mma," she said. "You are a mother. You know what that means. You have no reason now not to do this. Oswald cannot do anything to you. He is no threat."
Mma Ramotswe rose to her feet and walked over to the desk, where Carla sat, crumpled, uncertain.
'You know that you must do this," she said.
She took the other woman's hand and held it gently. It was sun-specked, from exposure to high places and heat, and hard work.
'You will do it, won't you, Mma? She is ready to come out to Botswana. She will come in a day or two if I tell her. Can you get away from here? Just for a few days?"
"I have an assistant," said Carla. "She can run the place."
"And the boy? Michael? Will he not be happy to see his grandmother?"
Carla looked up at her. "Yes, Mma Ramotswe," she said. "You are right."

SHE RETURNED to Gaborone the following day, arriving late at night. Her maid, Rose, had stayed in the house to look after the children, who were fast asleep when Mma Ramotswe arrived home. She crept into their rooms and listened to their soft breathing and smelled the sweet smell of children sleeping. Then exhausted from the drive, she tumbled into her bed, mentally still driving, her eyes moving behind heavy, closed lids.
She was in the office early the following morning, leaving the children in Rose's care. Mma Makutsi had arrived even earlier than she had, and was sitting efficiently behind her desk, typing a report.
"Mr Letsenyane Badule," she announced. "I am reporting on the end of the case."
Mma Ramotswe raised an eyebrow. "I thought that you wanted me to sort that out."
Mma Makutsi pursed her lips. "To begin with, I was not brave enough," she said. "But then he came in yesterday and I had to speak to him. If 1 had seen him coming, I could have locked the door and put up a closed sign. But he came in before I could do anything about it."
"And?" prompted Mma Ramotswe.
"And I told him about his wife's being unfaithful."
"What did he say?"
"He was upset. He looked very sad."
Mma Ramotswe smiled wryly. "No surprise there," she said. "Yes, but then I told him that he should not do anything about this as his wife was not doing it for herself, but was doing it for her son's sake. She had taken up with a rich man purely to make sure that his son would get a good education. I said that she was being very selfless. I said that it might be best to leave things exactly as they are."
Mma Ramotswe looked astounded. "He believed that?" she said, incredulously.
"Yes," said Mma Makutsi. "He is not a very sophisticated man. He seemed quite pleased." "I'm astonished," said Mma Ramotswe. "Well, there you are," said Mma Makutsi. "He remains happy. The wife also continues to be happy. The boy gets his education. And the wife's lover and the wife's lover's wife are also happy. It is a good result."
Mma Ramotswe was not convinced. There was a major ethical flaw in this solution, but to define it exactly would require a great deal more thought and discussion. She would have to talk to Mma Makutsi about this at greater length, once she had more time to do so. It was a pity, she thought, that the Journal of Criminology did not have a problem page for just such cases. She could have written and asked for advice in this delicate matter. Perhaps she could write to the editor anyway and suggest that an agony aunt be appointed; it would certainly make the journal very much more readable.
Several quiet days ensued, in which, once again, they were without clients, and could bring the administrative affairs of the agency up to date. Mma Makutsi oiled her typewriter and went out to buy a new kettle, for the preparation of bush tea.
Mma Ramotswe wrote letters to old friends and prepared accounts for the impending end of the financial year. She had not made a lot of money, but she had not made a loss, and she had been happy and entertained. That counted for infinitely more than a vigorously healthy balance sheet. In fact, she thought, annual accounts should include an item specifically headed Happiness, alongside expenses and receipts and the like. That figure in her accounts would be a very large one, she thought.
But it would be nothing to the happiness of Andrea Curtin, who arrived three days later and who met, late that afternoon, in the office of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the mother of her grandson and her grandson himself. While Carla was left alone to give the account of what happened on that night ten years ago, Mma Ramotswe took the boy for a walk, and pointed out to him the granite slopes of Kgale Hill and the distant smudge of blue which was the waters of the dam. He was a courteous boy, rather grave in his manner, who was interested in stones, and kept stopping to scratch at some piece of rock or to pick up a pebble.
"This one is quartz," he said, showing her a piece of white rock. "Sometimes you find gold in quartz."
She took the rock and examined it. "You are very interested in rocks?"
"I want to be a geologist," he said solemnly. "We have a geologist who stays in our hotel sometimes. He teaches me about rocks."
She smiled encouragingly. "It would be an interesting job, that," she said. "Rather like being a detective. Looking for things."
She handed the piece of quartz back to him. As he took it, his eye caught her engagement ring, and for a moment he held her hand, looking at the gold band and its twinkling stone.
"Cubic zirconium," he said. "They make them look like diamonds. Just like the real thing."

WHEN THEY returned, Carla and the American woman were sitting side by side and there was a peacefulness, even joy, in the older woman's expression which told Mma Ramotswe that what she had intended had indeed been achieved.
They drank tea together, just looking at one another. The boy had a gift for his grandmother, a small soapstone carving, which he had made himself. She took it, and kissed him, as any grandmother would.
Mma Ramotswe had a gift for the American woman, a basket which on her return journey from Bulawayo she had bought, on impulse, from a woman sitting by the side of the road in Francistown. The woman was desperate, and Mma Ramotswe, who did not need a basket, had bought it to help her. It was a traditional Botswana basket, with a design worked into the weaving.
"These little marks here are tears," she said. "The giraffe gives its tears to the women and they weave them into the basket."
The American woman took the basket politely, in the proper Botswana way of receiving a gift-with both hands. How rude were people who took a gift with one hand, as if snatching it from the donor; she knew better.
"You are very kind, Mma," she said. "But why did the giraffe give its tears?"
Mma Ramotse shrugged; she had never thought about it. "I suppose that it means that we can all give something," she said. "A giraffe has nothing else to give-only tears." Did it mean that? she wondered. And for a moment she imagined that she saw a giraffe peering down through the trees, its strange, stilt-borne body camouflaged among the leaves; and its moist velvet cheeks and liquid eyes; and she thought of all the beauty that there was in Africa, and of the laughter, and the love.
The boy looked at the basket. "Is that true, Mma?"
Mma Ramotswe smiled.
"I hope so," she said.


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