Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
The Double Comfort Safari Club
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café
The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine
Precious and Grace
The House of Unexpected Sisters
The Colors of All the Cattle
To the Land of Long Lost Friends
The Sunday Philosophy Club
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
The Right Attitude to Rain
The Careful Use of Compliments
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday
The Lost Art of Gratitude
The Charming Quirks of Others
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds
The Novel Habits of Happiness
A Distant View of Everything
The Quiet Side of Passion
My Italian Bulldozer
The Second-Worst Restaurant in France
The Department of Sensitive Crimes
The Dog Who Came in from the Cold
A Conspiracy of Friends
Portuguese Irregular Verbs
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs
At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances
Unusual Uses for Olive Oil
44 Scotland Street
Love over Scotland
The World According to Bertie
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
The Importance of Being Seven
Bertie Plays the Blues
Sunshine on Scotland Street
Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers
The Revolving Door of Life
The Bertie Project
A Time of Love and Tartan
The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales from Africa
La’s Orchestra Saves the World
Trains and Lovers
The Forever Girl
Emma: A Modern Retelling
The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Alexander McCall Smith
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Little, Brown, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, a Hachette U.K. company, London, in 2019.
Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Name: McCall Smith, Alexander, [date] author.
Title: To the land of long lost friends / Alexander McCall Smith.
Description: New York : Pantheon Books, 2019. Series: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency; 20
: Ramotswe, Precious (Fictitious character)—Fiction. Women private investigators—Botswana—Fiction. No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Imaginary organization)—Fiction. Botswana—Fiction.
6 2019 (print) |
326 (ebook) |
record available at
ebook record available at
Ebook ISBN 9781524747831
Cover illustration by Iain McIntosh
This book is for Sue and Neil Douglas.
founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, doyenne of private investigators in Botswana (not that there were any others, apart from her assistant, Grace Makutsi), wife of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni (
and past chairman of the Botswana Motor Trades Association), citizen of Botswana—that same Precious Ramotswe was sitting in the second row of chairs at the open-air wedding of Mr. Seemo Outule to Ms. Thato Kgwadi. The chairs were lined up under a large awning protecting the guests from the sun, which, since the wedding ceremony was taking place at eleven-thirty, was almost at its highest point in the echoing, empty sky. It was a hot day in October, a month of heat and unremitting thirst for the land and all that lived upon the land: the cattle, the wild animals, the small, almost invisible creatures that conducted their lives in the undergrowth or among the rocks, creatures whose very names had been forgotten now. They were all waiting for the rains, which would come, of course, in greater or smaller measure at a time when they were ready. And that was a time nobody could predict, even if they hoped against hope that it was not long off.
The land was waiting for that first rain, and the people too, but this did not mean that life did not go on as normal in spite of the dryness. Those who planned to move house or change their job, or start studying for something, or paint their kitchen, or turn over a new leaf—all of these people would go ahead with these things even though many of their waking hours were spent waiting for the relief of rain. You had to, because otherwise life would grind to a halt, and nobody would be ready for the rains once they came. And of course this applied to those who wanted to get married and get on with family life. Their weddings would take place in the heat, but that was probably better than getting married in the cold season—such as it was—and shivering before the preacher because you couldn’t wear an overcoat at your own wedding.
The two young people now taking their vows were well known to Mma Ramotswe, who was friendly with the families on both sides. The engagement of Seemo and his long-time girlfriend, Thato, had given her particular pleasure, as it seemed to her that the two families were ideally suited to one another. This was not only because both fathers were interested in cattle-breeding—although who wasn’t, in Botswana, a famous cattle-owning democracy?—but also because the mothers on both sides were passionate picklers and bottlers, preserving all sorts of fruits and vegetables in pickling jars of one shape or another. A shared interest in cattle and pickling may seem to be peripheral and not all that important in the overall scheme of things, but to take that view would be wrong, thought Mma Ramotswe, because these everyday things were often much more important to people than matters of politics or principle, or tribal affiliation. Cattle, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni once remarked, bring people together. Mma Ramotswe fully agreed with this observation, and felt that the same could be said of pickled marulas and kumquat jam, which also brought people together, in their own particular way.
Of course those were parental interests rather than the interests of the bride and groom themselves, but it was of the utmost importance, Mma Ramotswe had always maintained, that families should get on in any prospective marriage. The reason for that was that you did not just marry a man, you married his father and grandfather, his grandmother and, most important, you married his mother. That last relationship was weightier than any of the others, because a mother-in-law could make or break a marriage, sometimes even without saying anything at all. Sometimes body language was quite sufficient.
So she had no reservations when she heard that Seemo and Thato were going to marry on the fifteenth of October, in the grounds of Tlokweng Orphan Farm, courtesy of Mma Potokwane, who was a cousin of the bride’s family and who arranged with the housemothers to do the catering at a special cut-price rate. The Kgwadis had been generous to the Orphan Farm in the past, donating a used tractor and paying for the renewal of several bathrooms in which the concrete floor had cracked beyond repair. These were things that fell beyond the scope of Mma Potokwane’s normal budget, and the munificence of donors was the only way in which they would ever be done. If she could repay by hosting a family wedding in the Orphan Farm’s low-walled
enclosure, near the vegetable fields, then that was what she would do. And from the point of view of the housemothers, this was an opportunity to show off their culinary skills and make a small amount of pin money into the bargain. The children themselves, of course, would love it. They would be happy were a wedding to take place every weekend; weddings gave the older children the chance to act as waiters and plate-washers, while the smaller children could help by fetching and carrying all the things that needed to be fetched and carried at such an occasion.
Mma Ramotswe knew Seemo a bit better than she knew his bride. She had first become acquainted with him when he was in his late teens, and doing well at Gaborone Secondary School. He had occasionally washed and polished her tiny white van on Saturday mornings to raise money for his boy-scout troop, and this had impressed her. Then he had gone off to do a course in dental mechanics, and had recently returned to be one of the few people in the country who could assemble and fix a set of false teeth or a complicated dental plate. This profession paid well, and within a few months of his return he was able to afford to propose marriage to his girlfriend, and pay her family every single pula agreed to in the bride-price negotiations. As both families were traditionalists, this price was expressed in head of cattle, and, although money equivalents were broadly acceptable, in this case there had been an actual transfer from the herd of one father to that of the other. Few people saw that transfer other than the cattlemen and herd boys retained by both at their remote cattle posts, who carried out the transaction at the behest of their employers. A new brand was burned into fifteen head of cattle—a substantial dowry, when eight was more normal—and that sealed the bargain. Now all that remained was for the bride and groom to exchange their vows and for the assembled guests to fall with enthusiasm upon the beef and
already sizzling over the cooking pits dug in the Orphan Farm grounds for this very occasion. The smells that accompanied this wafted over to where the congregation was sitting, causing more than one set of nostrils to turn slightly to savour the delectable odour of Botswana beef being prepared for an imminent wedding feast.
As at most Botswana weddings, the guest list had been drawn up in a spirit of generosity. A wedding was a very significant event for the entire community, and the general expectation was that anybody who had the slightest dealings with the families or with the bride and groom themselves was entitled to be at least considered for an invitation. Of course, limits had to be set, as this circle of acquaintanceship could be a very wide one, in some cases involving thousands, and a line had to be drawn somewhere. The drawing of that line was a difficult task, and not always was it described in just the right place. Nor was it always expressed in a sufficiently tactful way—as was the case, Mma Ramotswe feared, with this particular wedding. Here, the invitation, which was in all other respects normal, created a new precedent by disclosing whether the invitee could expect a seat or not. Mma Ramotswe had received one that stated unambiguously,
Seats available for two persons,
while less fortunate guests received an invitation saying,
In view of the fact that seating is limited by the venue, we regret that you will not be able to sit down for the actual ceremony. Please bring a blanket to sit upon, if
Looking about her, Mma Ramotswe understood why it had been necessary to distinguish between guests in this way. The
was not large, essentially being a well-swept circle of packed earth surrounded by a waist-high, whitewashed wall. Within this space twelve rows of folding chairs had been set out, enough to accommodate just over one hundred and twenty people. The other guests, who numbered at least two hundred, were expected to stand around the
walls, looking in on the ceremony. Once assembled, these guests made up a crowd five or six persons deep all the way round, unprotected by the shade afforded by the awning and consequently relying on umbrellas for protection against the hammer blows of the sun. It was not ideal, particularly if you were Mma Makutsi and her husband, Phuti Radiphuti, who had received standing-only invitations, and who were now surveying the rows of seated guests and wondering about the criteria upon which selection for that privileged group had been made. It was not moral merit, thought Mma Makutsi, as her eye fell on a well-known Gaborone businessman, seated near the front, who had only the previous week been exposed as having not only one but two mistresses, and three children by each of them. Nor was it good looks or fashion, as there, she noted, was that woman whom she sometimes saw at the supermarket who looked, she decided, remarkably like a hippo and had a voice that sounded like a hippo’s too. She was there, and they might even be able to pick her voice out once they started to sing hymns. She would sing exactly as a hippo would sing, thought Mma Makutsi, who smiled at the rather uncharitable thought.
And then Mma Makutsi spotted Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, firmly and comfortably seated, and thought, Why should Mma Ramotswe receive a better invitation than mine?
Was it because they thought she was more important, being the managing director of the agency, whereas she, Mma Makutsi, was only an ordinary director? Was it because Mma Ramotswe had been written about occasionally in the
Botswana Daily News
and was therefore, in the view of people who did not know any better, a local celebrity of some sort? Was that it? The possibility was an uncomfortable one for Mma Makutsi; after all, who was the Botswana Secretarial College’s most distinguished graduate (with ninety-seven per cent) of her year—and indeed of all years, before and after? She was that person, and she had a certificate to prove it. Mma Ramotswe had many merits—Mma Makutsi would never dispute that—but she had no paper qualifications to speak of, other than some small and insignificant certificate from that school at Mochudi to the effect that she had completed three years or so of secondary education. If there were any justice in the world, people would be more aware of these things and not need to be given a reminder, as Mma Makutsi had to provide from time to time, of who got what in which examinations.
Of course, a more innocent, less provocative explanation for Mma Ramotswe having the superior invitation was possible, and this would be cousinage with one of the families. In Botswana everybody was related to everybody one way or another, and it was perfectly possible that this was the basis on which Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had been preferred. That made relegation to the outside a little easier to bear, although it was still an annoyance.
“I see that Mma Ramotswe is sitting down,” Mma Makutsi remarked to Phuti Radiphuti.
Phuti glanced over the wall. “Yes, I see that, Mma. She is very lucky to be in the shade.”
“And sitting on a chair,” said Mma Makutsi, “while ordinary people are having to stand in this heat.”
“It will not be for hours,” said Phuti. “This part of the wedding is usually short enough, isn’t it? As long as they don’t sing for too long. Or make endless speeches.”
“Endless speeches are not a problem if you have a chair,” muttered Mma Makutsi. “Provided the chair is strong enough.”
Phuti gave her a puzzled look.
“Strong enough,” whispered Mma Makutsi. “There are some very traditionally built people over there. Those chairs do not look too strong, Rra. It would be a big pity if some of them gave way.”
Phuti made a silencing gesture. “We should be happy when people have chairs,” he admonished. “We should be happy, even if we do not have a chair ourselves.”
Mma Makutsi looked down at the ground. Her husband was right, of course, and his gentle reproach made her feel guilty. She should be pleased for Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni—they were older than she was and they had a much greater claim to shade, and to chairs. Phuti was right.
By now the bride had arrived and was standing with the groom at the front of the congregation. A photographer crouched and darted about to get the best angle for his shots; necks craned in an effort to see the bride’s finery; several women ululated, the traditional way of expressing joy. There would be more ululations, shrill and exultant, when the business of the ceremony was concluded.
The preacher, a tall, bespectacled man whom Mma Ramotswe knew vaguely through some distant Mochudi connection, now raised a hand to silence the congregation.
“My brothers and my sisters,” he began, “we are gathered together in the sight of God.”
My brothers and my sisters.
Those words, as simple and direct as they were, never failed to resonate with her. They were words that said so much about how people should feel about one another. When you addressed others as your brothers or your sisters, you professed something deep and essential about how you felt towards them. You were saying
We are not strangers to one another
. You were reminding them, and yourself as well, of your shared humanity. You were not claiming to be anything more than they were; you were not claiming any advantage or chance of advantage. You were saying: Here I am, as I am, and I am speaking to you, as you are, as a brother or a sister must speak to one with whom he or she was brought up, from whom no secrets would be hidden, to whom no untruths would be told.