Lesego was carrying a cloth bag heavy with shopping and another with her schoolbooks and, even though it was a threadbare hand-me-down, her school uniform was hot. She was already tired when she came to the steep hill leading to her aunt's house in the upper section of Mochudi. She sighed, and her eyes followed the road upwards causing her to miss her footing. She stumbled, nearly dropping her shopping. The two potatoes she had bought rolled from the top of the bag towards the road, and her shopping list, which had been shoved between them, fluttered into the weeds on the verge. She gave a small cry and scurried after the potatoes; her aunt would be furious if she lost anything. Just as she retrieved the fugitive vegetables, a red Volkswagen pulled over and stopped next to her. The driver leaned across and opened the passenger door.
"Hello, Lesego," he said. "Jump in. I'll give you a lift up the hill."
She gave a grateful smile and wrestled her shopping and school books into the car. "Hello, rra. It's very kind of you. It's a long hill."
He smiled back, put the car into gear, and started on the road up. There was a click as he engaged the central locking. Lesego took no notice. She looked around.
"This isn't your usual car."
"You're very observant, Lesego. My car is at the garage. They loaned me this one while they service mine."
She nodded, wondering about people who were so rich that they could just lend you a new car with no trouble. But she thought it would be rude to say that, so instead she pointed at her supplies.
"I got everything my aunt wanted except the two sweet potatoes. They were too expensive - and old as well - so I bought two ordinary potatoes instead, which were cheap. Do you think she'll be cross?"
"I'm sure she won't be. It was a sensible decision."
She nodded, relieved.
When they reached the top of the hill, she turned to the driver.
"You can drop me here if you like, rra. I can walk home now. Thank you."
But the car started to move faster now that it was on the level.
"Let's go for a short drive first," he said.
Dikeledi looked down at her bowl of gravy with a few kidney beans floating in it. She hoped the question wasn't meant for her, but her aunt looked directly at her: "Dikeledi, I asked you where Lesego was."
"I don't know, aunt," Dikeledi said in a frightened voice. "She didnt come back from school."
"She didn't bring the shopping either. I gave her money." This seemed to offend Constance Koma the most. "Where is she?"
Dikeledi glanced around the table desperately, looking for rescue. But the boys were silent, their eyes downcast. Surprisingly, it was Tole who came to her aid. The children were supposed to call him uncle, but between themselves they had other names for Constance's partner with his bad breath and groping hands.
"Who cares where she is, Constance," Tole said. "She probably stayed over with a friend. We'll give her a good hiding when she gets back. Teach her a lesson." He reached across the table, pulled the dish of pap towards him and dug into it with his fingers. "Lets eat."
"We havent said grace yet!"
Tole hesitated, still holding the lump of pap.
“For-what-we-are-about-to-receive-may-the-Lord-make-us-truly-thankful-Amen.” He dipped the ball of pap into his watery gravy and slurped it into his mouth.
The boys started to eat the same way, and Dikeledi joined in, hungry despite her worry for her younger sister. Her aunt scowled at her, but said no more.
Soon the food was all gone.
"The pap was burned," Tole said. "And there wasnt enough."
"If you got off your ass and found work, we'd have more," Constance said.
"Don't talk to me that way!"
Constance just looked at him. After a few moments he shoved back his chair and stalked out. They all knew where he was going: to the Bootleggers Bar. He would come back drunk, and Dikeledi wished they could lock the door of the room where she and the boys slept. Putting it out of her mind, she jumped up and started to clear up the dishes. The pap had burned, and the pot would be hard to clean. As she scoured it, she worried about her sister. It was really late now, and a ten-year-old girl shouldn't be out.
At first Dikeledi couldn't sleep. When she did eventually drift off, her sleep was fitful, and she muttered and tossed, disturbing the boys lying alongside her on the same thin foam rubber mattress. Suddenly she sat straight up and screamed. The oldest boy reacted at once, covering her mouth with his hand. If they woke Constance or Tole, they'd all get a beating. Dikeledi struggled free.
"Oh God," she said. "It was so awful, so real. I was lying on a table, tied down. It was dark but I saw a knife. A huge knife. It stabbed down, here and here and here." She pointed to parts of her body. "Oh God!" She started to sob.
"It was only a bad dream, Dikeledi. Its okay. Careful, or you'll wake them."
Dikeledi just shook her head and went on crying.
The next morning there was still no sign of Lesego. Dikeledi left early, tense with worry, and walked to the cafe in town where she had a part-time job, serving customers for tips and a few pula. Slipping out at about eleven, she walked to Lesego's school, which had its morning break then, and found two of Lesego's friends. They both told the same story: Lesego left straight after school to go shopping. No one had seen her since. Dikeledi hurried back to work, sick with fear.
She left the cafe as early as she could, determined to persuade her aunt to go to the police. Perhaps it was not too late.
"Go away, Dikeledi," Constance snapped. "Lesego probably skipped school and knows what'll happen to her when she gets back home."
Dikeledi tried again and received a slap for her trouble, so for the moment she gave up and started on her chores.
By the next day it was clear that Lesego wasn't coming back, and Constance gave in to Dikeledi's pleading. She brought Dikeledi with her to the police, as if to prove her concern to the girl.
The duty constable listened to the full story before he asked any questions.
"Has she ever done this before? Disappeared for a few days?"
"Never. Now she's run off with my money. That's the thanks you get. I took the girls in when their mother died of AIDS. What could I do? They had no father either. At least no one who'd claim them." Her hand tightened on Dikeledi's shoulder as if she thought she might also vanish. "And this is the thanks I get. She runs away with my money!"
"How much money did she take?"
The constable frowned. "She won't get far on that."
Constance glared at him. "Twenty pula is a lot of money to me!"
The constable nodded. "So you believe she ran away from home. Where would she go? Does she have other relatives here?"
Constance shrugged. "Everyone has relatives. I dont know."
"Have you asked them if they've seen her?"
"Tole - that's my man - asked around. He knows everyone. No one's seen her."
The constable had run out of questions. "I'll file a missing persons report."
Dikeledi burst out, "Please, can you look for her? I'm sure something awful has happened. Something really awful. I'm so scared." Tears ran down her face.
"Don't worry, Dikeledi," the constable said. "We'll look very hard. We'll find her. The police here are very good. We'll find her for you."
As he watched them go, the constable wondered if they would find the girl or if she even wanted to be found. Maybe she had run away from the hard-faced Koma woman. But perhaps the sister was right. It wouldn't be the first time something awful had happened in Mochudi.
The next day Dikeledi slipped away from work early and went home past the police station. The same constable was on duty, and she asked him whether they had found anything.
"We asked at the school. She was there, and she left to buy some things and walk home."
Dikeledi nodded. She knew this.
"We found a shopkeeper who remembers her. She wouldn't buy sweet potatoes even though they were big and fresh. But she bought other stuff. Then she left."
Dikeledi nodded again, waiting.
"We haven't found anyone who saw her after that."
Dikeledi shook her head. "But someone must've. She would've walked up the hill. To get home."
The constable hesitated, then said kindly, "Dikeledi, perhaps she decided not to go up the hill. Maybe your aunt is right. Maybe she did run away. Would she have a reason to?"
Dikeledi just shook her head, thanked him, and left.
She stopped outside the police station wondering what to do. Lesego might have run away from Tole and Constance - Dikeledi could understand that - but she'd never do it without saying goodbye to her sister. Never.
Dikeledi wandered around for a while and spoke to a few more people, but she learned nothing new. Eventually she gave up and headed for home. But when she came to the hill, she stopped. There was no other way for Lesego to get to their aunt's house. She must have been here.
Dikeledi scanned the area. It looked the way it always looked. Houses clustered at the base of the hill, then clinging to the road as it climbed. On the edge of the road ahead, a couple of Coke cans, candy wrappers, two cigarette packets, a number of plastic shopping-bags, and a grubby scrap of paper. She caught her breath. She recognized the handwriting at once even from a distance, the bottom loops of the gs bulging out in the telltale script. She grabbed the paper, her heart pounding. It couldn't be a coincidence. She was meant to find this! She checked it for a message, but it was only Lesego's shopping list. She felt a surge of disappointment, but at least she knew Lesego had been here. She shouted and ran back towards the police station.
Dikeledi didn't recognize the man at the front desk, but she blurted out the story to him. He found the constable she'd spoken to earlier, eating a sandwich. He wasn't pleased to be disturbed.
"What is it now, Dikeledi? What do you want?"
"Look. I found her shopping list! Where the road goes up the hill. That proves she was there and something happened to her."
The constable carefully examined the piece of paper on both sides. He shrugged.
"Are you absolutely sure its her's? Anyway, she could've dropped it on the way down the hill in the morning. And even if she was on her way back, its only a few hundred yards from the shops. Maybe she threw it away when she decided she wasn't going home." He shook his head. But when he saw the girl start to cry, he added: "I'll get one of the men to look around there and see if we can find anything else."
But Dikeledi grabbed the list and left, hopeless, ashamed of her tears. She walked home up the hill with the list tucked into her dress. She knew that the list meant something, despite the constables dismissal. One day it would be important. Until then, she wouldnt tell anyone else about it. Certainly not her aunt. Not even the boys. No one.
It was several days before she had the courage to return to the police station. Again there was nothing new, and she forced herself to wait another week before she went back. The constable grew tired of her and became short and unhelpful. It was clear to Dikeledi that the police were no longer working on the case.
A week went by and Christmas came. Dikeledi and Lesego had always celebrated together. In the past, they found happiness together with their small, secret gifts. But with this lonely Christmas, Dikeledi finally gave up.
She knew she would never see her sister again.
It was the Tuesday morning after the four-day Easter holiday. Assistant Superintendent David Kubu Bengu drove to work with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. Actually the song was in his throat - Rossinis largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville. He loved the piece with a passion, often startling other drivers with his slightly off-key, booming rendition. In some ways he saw himself as the factotum of the Criminal Investigation Department.
Just after the Game City mall, Kubu turned right off the Lobatse road into the Millenium Park offices of the CID. Every day that he came to work, he was grateful that the detectives had their offices at the foot of Kgale Hill - a wild enclave with the city lapping around its base, a rocky outcrop of natural bush that offered walks with wonderful views, and provided homes for baboons, small buck and other wildlife. Not that Kubu had ever been very far along the walks; his bulk and general belief that the best exercise involved lifting something delectable to his mouth rather dampened his enthusiasm for clambering up the hill. Nevertheless, as he squeezed himself out of his old Land Rover in the narrow parking bay, he could enjoy the wildness of the hill above him and hear distant calls from the baboons.
Kubu had spent a quiet weekend with his wife and daughter, and had particularly enjoyed the pleasure three-year-old Tumi had given his parents when they were all together on Easter Sunday. They were besotted by her.
He had barely walked into his office, however, when he realized that the day was not going to be a quiet one. There were already four messages on his desk.
The top one read "The Director wants to see you immediately." The word immediately was underlined many times. The director's assistant was not shy about making a point.
The second was from his wife, Joy, reminding him not to forget to pick up Tumi at noon for her doctor's appointment. He felt a twinge of irritation. Stop nagging, he thought. You told me about it as I was walking out the door.
The third message read "Detective Khama would like to speak to you." Kubu raised an eyebrow. Samantha Khama was new to the Criminal Investigation Department and the only female detective. Kubu had met her briefly when she joined the CID a few weeks earlier, but hadn't worked with her on any cases. Already the rumor mill was active, with people whispering that she disliked men and was possibly a lesbian. This was a dangerous reputation to have in a country where same-sex relationships were illegal. What did she want? he wondered.
The final message was in his own handwriting - he'd left it for himself on Thursday afternoon, before the long weekend. It had but one word on it Funeral.
"Sit down." Director Mabaku was not known for his pleasantries.
Kubu carefully lowered his considerable frame into the armchair that faced the desk. Mabaku took a folder from the stack on his desk and opened it.
"What do you know about Bill Marumo?"
Kubu frowned. Marumo was a charismatic politician who had defected from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party to found the Freedom Party. Disgruntled voters were flocking to him, and pundits were beginning to think that he could become a real threat to the BDP. But Kubu didn't think much of Marumo, regarding him as an upstart with no respect for tradition. A crowd pleaser with no substance.
"He's getting a lot of attention. Swaying a lot of voters. Even Joy's talking about supporting him." He rolled his eyes. "And as for Joy's sister, Pleasant, she and her husband, they've actually joined his party."
"Who would want him dead?"
"He's dead?" Kubu gasped.
"I didn't say that! I asked who would want him dead."
"Obviously the BDP would be delighted if he went away. There's no other real opposition. But they'd never do anything as stupid as that." He paused. "I dont know much about him otherwise. He may have some private enemies. Why? What's happened?"
"There was a dog's head at his front door this morning. And a message smeared on the door in blood. Here's a photo."
Kubu looked at the print. The words your next were scrawled across the door. The writer had obviously dipped his hands in the dogs blood to write the warning.
"At least we know whoever wrote the message wasn't well educated," Kubu said with a smile.
Mabaku didn't appreciate the joke. "I want you to dig around and see what you can find. Marumo will see you at his house at noon. The address is on the back of the photo. This had better not be the BDP's doing!"
"Has Forensics been there?"
"Yes. Your friend Zanele Dlamini had her people there right away. She may still be there. The head was only found two hours ago."
Kubu heaved his large body out of the chair.
"And, Kubu," Mabaku growled, "this is very important. I want to know what's going on. And quickly. Report to me when you get back."
"Yes, Mr. Director."
It's going to be one of those days, Kubu thought as he walked back to his office. How am I going to pick up Tumi, take her to the doctor, and be at Marumo's house at the same time? I'll bet Marumo will be an hour late anyway. Maybe I should get Tumi to the doctor half an hour early and hope he can see her right away. I may even be at Marumos on time - 15 minutes late at most.
He shook his head. He knew it was wishful thinking. The doctor liked to talk about criminal behavior with Kubu and always dragged out Tumi's appointments when he was there. If Marumo was on time, and he, Kubu, was late, Mabaku would banish him to a distant village like Tshwane or Shakawe, where he'd be far from his family, and the food would be inedible.
No. He'd better reschedule Tumi's appointment for later in the week. Joy would not be happy.
He sat down behind his desk with its orderly piles and picked up the phone.
"Joy Bengu, please. It's her husband speaking." He held the phone away from his ear to minimize the noise of shouting children. Joy worked at a day-care center.
After a few minutes, she came to the phone.
"Hello, my dear," Kubu said in his most loving voice.
"Don't tell me you can't take Tumi to the doctor!" Joys voice was not loving.
"Something's come up, and the Director's made an appointment for me at noon. There's nothing I can do."
"Since when has the Director made your appointments? You know I can't take Tumi today."
"I feel terrible about it, my darling. I hadn't forgotten." He paused. "Confidentially, a threat was made against Bill Marumo this morning. Mabaku's given it top priority. I'm sure the Commissioner is worried that people will accuse the BDP of intimidating the opposition. It could all blow out of control if it's not well handled. I'm sure that's why he wants me involved."
"Is Marumo all right?"
"Yes. It was just a threat. I'll tell you about it later. Promise me you won't tell Pleasant. Its really confidential at the moment." Joy and her sister Pleasant were inseparable. They shared everything, sometimes to Kubus embarrassment.
Kubu sensed the reluctance in her voice as she promised.
"I'll call the doctor and reschedule."
He heard Joy sigh. "I'll do it," she said. "And you'd better make sure that nothing happens to Marumo. He's going to save this country, if anyone can. And don't forget the funeral. You'd better pick us up at three. And you promised to think about the little girl. Will you do that?"
"Yes, dear. I will. Thank you, dear." Kubu was indeed grateful.
Before Kubu could settle down, there was a knock, and a short, thin woman walked in, her police uniform hiding any hint of femininity.
"Good morning, Assistant Superintendent," she said. "I'm Detective Khama." She extended her arm to shake hands, touching her right forearm with the fingers of her left hand in the respectful way.
"Ah, yes. We met the day you arrived." He was surprised by the firmness of her grip. "Please sit down. How are things going?"
"Thank you for seeing me. It's been a hard two weeks - so much to learn. So much bureaucracy. I'm pleased I took all those computer courses. I can see some of the older detectives really struggling."
"I'm one of them!" Kubu smiled. "So how can I help you?"
"Rra, I've been assigned . . ."
"Please call me Kubu. Everyone does. I've had the nickname since I was about fourteen. A friend of mine told me that I wasn't a David - my real name - but a Kubu. I was really upset at first at being called a hippopotamus, but soon everyone was using the name, and it actually made me feel a little special. I came to like it. Now I barely know my real name."
"That's a nice story. As I was saying . . ."
"You're older than most of our new detectives. What did you do before coming here?"
"Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be in the police. But my family is poor, so I couldn't go to university. And I'm small, so they didn't want to take me as an ordinary constable. So I worked for seven years as a secretary in a law firm so I had enough money to get a degree through the University of South Africa."
Kubu nodded, impressed. UNISA was a correspondence university, and the degrees were challenging. Samantha must have been very focused.
"That's impressive. But how did you get into the CID?"
"I made an appointment with the Commissioner of Police and told him I wanted to be a detective. He wasn't very helpful at first, but when I pointed out there were no women in the CID, and the constitution gave women equal rights, he changed his mind." A glimmer of a smile flitted across an otherwise impassive face.
I'm sure the conversation didnt go quite like that, Kubu thought. Maybe that's where the rumors started. Taking on the Commissioner of Police!
"We always need new blood." He hesitated. "And new perspectives. I'm sure you'll be a great asset. Now, how can I help you?"
"Director Mabaku gave me this case. It's my first. I'd like as much help as I can get. I want to do well, and everyone says you're always willing to help. So here I am."
Kubu nodded. "Tell me about it."
"About four months ago, a young girl, Lesego Betse, disappeared in Mochudi. I'm told you know the town well."
"I was born there, and my parents still live there."
"I'm from there too. Anyway, the local police never found any trace of her. After a while they assumed she was dead and cut back the effort to look for her. Then a bit later they declared the case cold and stopped looking altogether."
"Hmm. I wonder why the Director gave you a cold case. He should've given you something straightforward to cut your teeth on - a grocery-store robbery or a hold-up at a gas station."
"I asked for it."
Kubu stared at her for a few moments. "A cold case is the hardest to tackle, even for experienced investigators. You could be setting yourself up for failure."
"I know it's a risk. But I've sacrificed a lot to become a detective, and I want to make a difference."
"And I admire that, Samantha. But sometimes it's better to take things a little slowly. Take time to learn the ins and outs of the business. I was lucky. I hung around detectives while I was getting my degree. I learned more from that than I did at university. Experience really does make a difference."
"Assistant Superintendent, you're a man. I don't think you understand what it's like to be a woman in a man's world. All we ever hear is to take it slowly, not to rock the boat. You know what that means? It means men don't want to change, and anyone who pushes, threatens their cozy lifestyle . . ."
"Not all men are like that . . ."
"Women who complain are branded as nuisances. I hear what the other detectives are already saying about me. A troublemaker, they say. They resent an intrusion into their male club. How do you think it feels? I want to make a difference for women. To give crimes against them the same attention as the police give crimes against men. Is that unreasonable?"
Kubu sat quietly, pondering the truth of what Samantha had said.
"Kubu," she said in a quieter voice. "I'm told you have a daughter. Do you want her to be a second-class citizen? What if she wants to be a detective, and then is treated like me? Could you sit back and do nothing?"
"Samantha, I appreciate what you want to do. But I think you'll have more chance of success if you get to know the other detectives first and earn their respect. Then they'll listen to you. Change is always a slow process. Nobody who joins the force and immediately rocks the boat accomplishes what they want. They get peoples backs up."
Kubu felt the atmosphere chill. "And I was told you would be sympathetic, that you weren't like the others! But youre the same, aren't you? In favor of women's rights in words, but not in action."
Kubu felt a flush of anger. Nobody talked to him like that, let alone someone new. She didnt know him; didnt know what he believed. Look at his relationship with Joy. They were equals. He took a deep breath. "I do want to help. I'm going to get a cup of tea for myself. And then we can talk. Can I get one for you?"
A few minutes later Kubu returned. He opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a tin of mixed cookies. "I'm on a diet, actually. So I only eat these on special occasions. Welcoming a new detective is one of those." He picked out his two favorites and offered the tin to Samantha, who refused. "In fact, it's two special occasions, as you're our first lady detective." He extracted two more cookies. He carefully replaced the top and slid the tin back into the drawer.
"I do want to help, so let's get to work. I remember reading about the case you're talking about. My mother was very upset. She thought it was another Mogomotsi case. You know about that one? Segametsi Mogomotsi was fourteen when she disappeared while trying to sell oranges to raise some money for a church excursion. Her dismembered body was found months later."
Samantha sat perfectly still for several moments, eyes unfocused. "I know about it. It was also in Mochudi." She looked into Kubus eyes. "The government was forced to call in Scotland Yard to take over, but never made their report public. Why do you think that was? Because high up men in Botswana were involved. That's exactly what I'm talking about. Justice for some; a blind eye for others. Who cared that a little girl was murdered for body parts, when the reputation of men had to be protected. The same thing may have happened to Lesego Betse, and the trail is fresher."
What happened to her that makes her so intense? Kubu wondered. He made a mental note to ask his mother whether she knew Samantha's parents.
"We need to keep all the possibilities in mind," he said. "With no word after four months, we have to assume she didn't just run off. Someone abducted her. That could have been for a variety of reasons. It could have been for sex, or to take her out of the country and sell her as a sex slave. There have been cases of that. The fact that we haven't found a body suggests that might be the case."
"Or it could be a witch doctor who's taken her. For muti."
Kubu nodded. "In any case, this is how I would proceed."
For the next hour Kubu gave Samantha insights about undertaking such an investigation - the people she should speak to, the evidence she could trust, the evidence that may be unreliable, and the hostility she would encounter, both from people she would question and from Betse's family, who likely thought the police had not taken the investigation seriously. He also suggested that she check on unidentified bodies of children that had turned up since December. If she could find Lesego's body, that would be her best break.
Eventually Samantha stood up to leave.
"I hope you're successful. Let me know how it goes. Come and see me anytime. Cases like this need to be solved."
She thanked him and left.
Kubu sat quietly for several minutes, reflecting on what had just happened. The CID will never be the same, he thought. I just hope that what emerges is a better place.