He assumed she was the mother. Something about her quite, mourning demeanour and low cast eyes told him so.
She was wearing a black faded dress and her right shoe had a hole where two toes peeped out from the black cloth. Kago had seen women like her spot the two-toe trend. For some strange reason, their shoes always tore and revealed those particular two toes. Cheap shoes.
Her headscarf was maroon like the ones his mother’s burial society ladies wore. He wondered why no one lent her a black headscarf. She walked slowly towards the courtroom in-between two women, elbows interlocked. The older one was in a sleeveless yellow dress and the younger one in a skirt and green T-shirt with the words OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY across the chest.
Kago had thought she would be older. He put her to be in her early thirties, maybe even late twenties. He wanted to see her eyes. If only she would look up and meet his eyes. What sort of questions would her eyes ask him? Would he have the answers?
He looked upward and petitioned the heavens to support him, more specifically his legs which were feeling jelly-like, about to buckle under him. When he felt some strength return he started kicking at the ground, removing a patch of grass with the point of his shoes.
There was another reason Kago looked heavenwards, so no one could see hot tears forming in his eyes. Part of him knew he had no right to petition the heavens for help. He was a hypocrite who only thought of God when the prospect of prison seemed a frightening reality.
He kept replaying the scenario in his mind with endless permutations; none of which led to the courtroom he had been summoned to.
The women entered the courtroom first. The smaller woman was squeezed in-between the two ladies as before but the older one was a step ahead and slightly out of sync. The black lace shawl on the woman’s shoulders fell to the ground and the younger one bent to pick it up while the older one dragged them along. They looked like children playing “train” across a dusty playground.
Kago wanted to reach out and touch her. Perhaps he could, in that way, feel her pain. It was never hers to carry. It was all his pain. Inflicted by him, his alone to bear.
There were things he wanted to tell her, just her. That his heart had lost its shine the moment it all happened. That thereafter he walked around with a bewildered look on his eyes and a constant thud in his heart. That he could not sleep at night.
He wanted to tell her that he had cried, for himself and for her. Maybe, just maybe, then he would then ask for forgiveness.
Carol, his fiancé, pulled at his elbow and bought him back to himself. He slowly put down the arm he had extended in the direction of the three ladies, embarrassed and hoping no one else had seen the subconscious gesture he had made. Carol looked puzzled.
“It’s okay my love, it will be over soon.” Her sweet voice soothed him temporarily. He pretended that something had irritated his eyes and he rubbed them as the tears came. He sniffed in hard, squared his shoulders and squeezed Carol’s hand.
Beautiful, sweet Carol in her radiant self. She was wearing a pencil skirt and those fitted tops that blew into a conical line structure at the waist, peplum or whatever it is that they are called; she looked good in it.
His gorgeous Carol in her high-heeled shoes, her face well-made and every strand of her weave in place. She put in time and effort to look good and it showed. Carol lived for the compliments that came thereafter. She basked in their glory.
Carol had been in the car when it happened.
Kago sat down next to his lawyer and started furiously tapping his foot on the floor. Time and the judge with a beer belly were the only things standing between him and knowing his fate. The judge who would probably never remember his name. He’d be taking his kids for ice cream this weekend while he’d be languishing in a prison cell.
He had been rushing Carol to one of her friend’s baby showers.
“Bae! I need to go so these people will support me during my bridal shower and showstopper wedding!” Carol cooed as she put on the diamond earrings he had bought her in Sandton.
“But there are so many of them babes. Every weekend you are away, I miss you kana,” he said, feigning puppy eyes. Kago did not like the endless stream of parties, especially these baby and bridal showers.
To him they were events where women corrupt each other’s minds about men, ruin their diets with all the fatty and sweet refreshments and then proceed to cry about an inability to lose weight. Women!
“Owaii, you think I don’t know you enjoy me going away so you watch your soccer in peace?” she asked as she generous applied her crimson lipstick on.
“How do I look?” she asked him as she smacked her lips and blew him a kiss.
“Fabulous, as usual my love!’’
He was going to proceed to Mojako’s house to watch the Manchester United versus Liverpool game. He was a Manchester United fan while Mojako supported Liverpool. They had been taunting each other all week. Mojako had invited him to watch the game at his house in Phakalane.
Mojako always had a few other Liverpool fans at his house to have a good laugh at him in case Manchester United lost. Both were currently on a winning streak, the game could go either way.
Kago had it all figured out: leave his house in Broadhurst, drop Carol in Block Three for the baby shower and proceed to Mojako’s in Phakalane via the Western bypass.
He was well aware that Carol asked him to drop and pick her so that her girlfriends could see that her man drove a black Mercedes Benz S-Class. It was not about fuel saving as she said. Since when had Carol been the saving type? She was a Gaborone girl who was all about the life and he obliged her.
Over the Segwana rail crossing they went before making a quick stop at a liquor store to buy his drinks and a bottle of wine for the lady and her friends. Kago then headed towards a primary school.
He took the third turn on the left as per the instructions given to Carol in her WhatsApp group. The game was starting in 10 minutes so he drove a little faster than he normally would through the neighbourhood.
Kago thought he had seen the group of kids playing on the road about 25 meters down the dirt road and in his mind he had planned to swerve slightly when he reached them. Why did people leave their dirty kids to play on the road, at dusk when children should be receiving their evening baths and watching the television, their bellies warm from the dinner they just had?
He was listening to Carol attempting to read the French words on the wine bottle when from the corner of his eye, Kago saw a figure of a child dart across the road to join his mates on the other side.
“Appellation d’origine contrôlée,” read out Carol, giggling at her fake French accent.
“Dodo!” a voice screamed out from one side of the road.
It all happened so quickly. Kago slammed on the brakes as hard as he could and a cold sweat ran down his back as the bottle broke and red wine stained his white shirt. It spattered across Carol’s yellow pants and the leather seats.
Kago heard a loud thud and felt the left wheels drive over whatever they had hit. His palms felt sweaty on the steering wheel and a cold hollow pit opened in his stomach where all his emotions and normal functions went.
“Shoot! My new top!’’
Kago hung his head on the steering wheel. He was afraid to find out what had happened.
Gadi had woken her son that morning and fed him leftover soft porridge. It was the last Saturday of the month and she had a few clients lined up that day. She needed her son well fed and playing with his friends so that he did not disturb her.
She was out of a job and surely a girl needed to make money and feed her son. Besides, her small hustles did not bring in as much as she earned while working at Mma Motheo’s.
Her hands worked quickly as she mixed the porridge with warm water and perched herself on the side of the bed and called her son to breakfast. The little boy stirred as she gently shook him.
She did not have time for his meal time nonsense today because her first client would arrive at any time. He sensed that and did not give her a hard time either. He got out of bed and stood in between his mother’s legs and gulped down spoon after spoon of sugarless porridge.
When he was done, Gadi produced a candy bar and he squealed in delight, reaching out with his little greedy hands. And so their ritual began. He unwrapped the candy and made the first lick, his little eyes darting about with happiness. It would then be her turn to lick the opposite side and return it to him.
After a few licks she would then give him the candy and urge him to finish it outside as she got ready. She had talked to her mother in Gweta to take the boy for some time as she worked on getting back on her feet.
“I already have your sister Kedi’s kids with me and cannot support them on my old age pension money,” her mother had said through the phone. Her voice sounding tired and far off.
“But I will send you money to look after Dodo.”
“That’s what Kedi said as well. I simply cannot afford another mouth to starve under my care. Lea nkimetsa bongwanaka. I just cannot manage”
In spite of what her mother said, Gadi had resolved that Dodo would rather starve in Gweta than under her care. When she gets a little cash, she will make that trip. Surely her mother will reconsider.
Gadi had spent the past week going from salon to salon looking for a job in vain. As she walked home one evening, she stopped at a roadside seller. The lady sold airtime and sweets and Gadi wanted to buy something for her son. She thought of getting a table to sell airtime and sweets as well by the side of the road. The thought of long days under the harsh sun or in the wind and rain put her off the idea. Then there would be combi drivers and conductors hitting on her and begging cigarettes on credit in that uncultured way they spoke to everyone.
She was still lost in thought when her customer arrived. She got out two wooden benches and set them by her door.
It was a beautiful April morning. The sun was out, darting about and keeping all warm and light. In a few weeks, the chill of Botswana winter would set in.
Gadi had four other customers coming later that day. It was going to be a good day.
She collected money from the first client, a particularly bothersome Mochudi girl who always gave her a hard time when it came to payment.
One day, after her hair was done, the girl went on to tell Gadi how her rent was overdue and her uncle had passed away so she would pay the following month. It was only after Gadi took out a pair of scissors to cut away her weave that the P200 note came out from the girl’s bra.
Plaiting hair gave Gadi satisfaction. The order and repetitive nature of the job was a delight.
“Can you believe I caught him cheating with a girl who sold in a tuck shop? A tuck shop, my friend, not even a proper shop where the girls wore uniform,” said her second customer, a girl eager to share a story about her latest boyfriend
Gadi rolled her eyes. She never replied, just listened. Most of the stories she listened to where about boyfriends or husbands, cheating boyfriends, new boyfriends, non-committing boyfriends, drunkard boyfriends, Mama’s boy boyfriends. She had heard it all.
She quickly realized that they did not really need her advice. All she had to do was listen and agree with how terrible the boyfriends were. It always had to be the boyfriend’s fault.
It was at dusk, while working on her fifth client, a thick matronly lady going through a divorce, that she felt something was wrong. It was hard to explain, more like a gnawing at the soul. Something just did not sit well with her.
The matronly lady was going on about how her husband had insulted her in front of her own mother and sister and how they had proceeded to beat him up.
“We gave him the beating of his life. My fat sister sat on him while I worked on his face. Then we…”
Something was still not right. The lady droned on. Gadi left the lady and walked towards the yard entrance.
Dodo was no longer playing by the side of the house making mud cakes with pilchard cans.
He must have gone down the street playing with Kay’s children. How many times had she told him not to play with those unruly kids! An expensive looking black car turned and sped down the street.
“How could someone speed like that in a street filled with playing children?” she asked herself. Cars like these were seldom seen in these ends. There were children playing on the side of the road. One child shouted here little boy’s name, beckoning him to come join them across the road. She saw Dodo ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. He was not going to make it against the black monster speeding down the dirt road.
Gadi opened her mouth but no words came out. She was transfixed by some power on the spot and saw everything as if it were a movie in slow motion: the screech of the tires, the screaming of the children, a loud thud and what looked like a lifeless rag doll going up in the air.
“Oh God, let this not be happening,” Gadi’s mind kept chanting as she looked at the scene in front of her. A buzzing sound grew louder and louder in her head.
The last thing she remembers was the street filling with people as her vision went black as her heart and knees gave in.
Caiphus Mmino Mangenela is a Health and Safety Specialist by day and a writer by night. He is the 2016 winner of the Botswana-based Bessie Head Foundation Literature Award for his short story “A Mother Amongst the Stars”. Caiphus is a proud Motswana, an honorary Kenyan and an Afro-Optimist.