Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
“I still think—,” Mma Makutsi began, only to be interrupted by Mma Ramotswe.
“Let’s leave it where it should be—as an open question. This letter may be from some other lady, or it may be from our client. So the teacher may be innocent—as I thought she was—or, if the letter is from another person, then she may not be so innocent. I have had a letter myself this morning.”
She picked up the letter that had been usurped by the note Mma Makutsi had found.
“Oh yes,” said Mma Makutsi. “You said you’d received a letter.” She was not particularly interested, as she was still thinking of the note and the possibilities it raised.
“It’s from the husband,” said Mma Ramotswe, passing the letter to Mma Makutsi.
“What husband?” asked Mma Makutsi.
“The husband of our client—Mma Mogorosi. She is the one we’ve been talking about. The husband of that lady.”
Mma Makutsi glanced at the letter but did not bother to read it. “He’ll be saying, ‘Thank you for clearing me, Mma.’ That’s what he’ll be saying—and what man wouldn’t, Mma?”
Mma Ramotswe smiled. “Perhaps you should read the letter, Mma.” She almost quoted Clovis Andersen, but refrained. She was sure he had said—in one of his chapters somewhere—that many people read into things the meaning they want to find; that was why it was so important to read everything twice, not just once, or not at all, as Mma Makutsi seemed to be doing.
Mma Makutsi adjusted her spectacles and began to read. Her expression changed as she went along, and ended in outrage. “He is a very shameless man,” she said. “There is no end, Mma, to the shamelessness of men—no end at all.”
Charlie asked if he might read the letter, and it was handed to him. His reaction was to laugh. As he handed the letter back to Mma Ramotswe, he said, “If you want to understand men, ladies, then you
need to think like a man
. Yes, you have to put yourself in a man’s shoes.”
Mma Ramotswe accepted the challenge. “All right, Charlie. That is a very good point. So I am now thinking like a man. I have heard that a private detective lady has said I am not having an affair. Why should I tell her she’s wrong?”
Mma Makutsi joined in. “Because you want her to divorce you. You want to get rid of her, but you do not think that people will approve of your divorcing her. So she must do it.”
“Why?” asked Charlie.
“Social pressure, Charlie,” said Mma Makutsi. “Many people have odd ideas about this sort of thing. They think it’s all right for a man to have affairs as long as he continues to support his wife and family. They do not like him to throw a woman out.”
Mma Ramotswe agreed. But there was something in the tone of the letter that puzzled her. She turned to Charlie and encouraged him to continue.
“I do not think this has anything to do with a divorce,” he declared. “It is quite different—if you think like a man.” He paused. They were rapt. He was pleased that they were taking him seriously. “I’ll tell you what he is thinking, Mma Ramotswe. He is thinking: this woman thinks I am no good with women. This woman is thinking that I am unable to get any girlfriends—that I am just a useless husband-type who has nobody thinking lustful thoughts about him. How dare she? She doesn’t know that I am a big Romeo-type with lots of women hanging about me all the time. She doesn’t know that, and so I had better tell her.”
It was not what they had expected, and it took a few moments for either of them to react. Then Mma Ramotswe said, “Vanity?”
Charlie nodded. “Yes, Mma. Vanity. Every man thinks he is the best thing ever when it comes to women. Every man thinks that. I can tell you that—one hundred per cent for sure.”
Mma Makutsi hesitated. “Maybe, Charlie. Maybe a bit. But you are also a bit wrong. There are many men who think that about themselves—I have met many, many. But you cannot say all men think that way.”
“But they do,” Charlie insisted. “That is how men think, Mma. I can tell you because I am one—I mean I am a man. I know.”
“You are out of date, Charlie,” Mma Makutsi said. “There are plenty of men these days who do not think about women like that. Or, rather, they do not think of themselves as being the best thing with women. Champions, if you see what I mean. Number one in the attractive-to-ladies department. First prize. Not every man.”
Charlie stood his ground. “You are wrong, Mma. I told you: I know. I am a man myself. I know how men think. It’s all here.” He tapped his forehead—the seat, he imagined, of knowledge of the world and, in particular, of the ways of men.
Mma Makutsi made her point with a certain air of triumph. “What about men who like other men, Charlie? What about them? They will not think the way you’re thinking.”
There is a certain reticence in Botswana society that discourages direct reference to private matters. Now it came out, while they skirted this delicate subject.
“Mma Makutsi has a good point, Charlie,” said Mma Ramotswe. “There are some men who prefer the company of other men.”
Charlie stared at them. “There are not many men like that,” he said quietly. “I was not talking about those men.”
“But you can’t ignore them,” said Mma Makutsi. “Phuti has a man working in the furniture store who is wearing lipstick. He said he saw him putting it on.”
Charlie frowned. “How could he tell it was lipstick, Mma? There are those things for sore lips—you know that balm stuff. It is for sore lips. Maybe it was that.”
“It was lipstick,” said Mma Makutsi. “Phuti knows the difference between lipstick and that stuff. He saw it with his own eyes.”
“That does not make him a man who likes other men,” said Charlie. “Why should men not wear something if they want to?”
“Anyway,” said Mma Ramotswe, “it doesn’t matter who you like. If you are kind and good to people, then you should be left in peace. Nobody should care—it’s not their business.”
Mma Makutsi agreed. “These days it is not important. And there are many men who like other men just a little bit, you know. Look at a group of men together—they are smiling and laughing and drinking beer and so on. All the time. They must like those other men. They must want to hug them from time to time.”
Charlie shook his head vehemently. “No, Mma. They do not. They do not like to hug other men.”
“Then that’s very sad,” said Mma Makutsi. “Perhaps they really do want to hug other men but have been told that they cannot, because it is not allowed.” She remembered something. “I have read somewhere that all men feel a bit like that at some point in their lives. Just now and then. I have read that ninety-seven per cent do. Something like that.”
She was taunting Charlie, who was unaware of it. “No, Mma,” he said. “No, that is not right.”
“Perhaps you should stop worrying about these things, Charlie. Perhaps you worry too much.”
Mma Ramotswe decided that it was time to abandon this discussion, interesting though it was. “We shall have to think a bit more about this case,” she said. “But perhaps not right now. I would like to tell you about what I found out this morning.”
MMA RAMOTSWE TOLD THEM
about her attempt to visit Nametso in the diamond-sorting office. She described the security consultant—“He was a security guard, really, but you know how everybody has become a consultant these days”—and she told them what he had revealed about Nametso. “He said that she now has a Mercedes-Benz, but she parks it elsewhere, not in the parking place she used to have.”
“It’s best to put a car like that in a safe place,” said Charlie. “If you put it in a public parking place, then bang, some lady comes and reverses into you.”
Mma Makutsi glared at him. “Some
Charlie? Why do you say some
? Is it because you think we women can’t drive safely? Is that what you think?”
Charlie made a conciliatory gesture. “I only said ‘some lady’ because I do not want to use sexist language, Mma Makutsi. If I said ‘some man,’ then you would come and say to me, ‘Why are you always talking about men, what about ladies?’ And so I say ‘some lady’ and you jump up and down and say, ‘Why are you picking on ladies?’ ”
“You’re not fooling me, Charlie,” snorted Mma Makutsi. “You said ‘some lady’ because you think it is always ladies who are bumping into other cars in car parks. That is what you think.”
Mma Ramotswe was staring at the ceiling. Over the last twelve months, she had bumped her van into two other cars, both of them in parking places. She had done no real damage, and the owners of the two cars in question had been understanding. One of them was a woman, and she had said to Mma Ramotswe, “Don’t you worry, Mma. I’m always bumping into other cars myself.” It was best, perhaps, not to mention that now, she thought.
And Mma Makutsi was thinking of how Phuti had come back from the Double Comfort Furniture Store one day recently and told her that his secretary had come into the office in tears because she had bumped into a furniture van in the off-loading bay at the back of the building. “He should not have been there, Rra,” she said. “He normally comes at eleven in the morning. This was at nine. What was he doing there? It’s his fault, Rra.”
And yet Mma Ramotswe had read that women were safer drivers than men, and these stories were both unfair and inaccurate. It was young men who caused many of the accidents—young men like Charlie, who only wanted to go fast and show off to people in the back seat. They were the bad drivers, not women. That was well known. Indeed, it was probably the sort of thing that Seretse Khama himself might have said.
“It doesn’t really make much difference,” said Mma Ramotswe. “It seems to me that it is a reasonable explanation to say that she does not want her Mercedes-Benz to be damaged. But—and it’s a big but, I think—the real question is this: Where does a young woman like that get a Mercedes-Benz?”
Mma Makutsi looked thoughtful. “Diamonds, Mma.”
Nobody spoke for a good minute or so. Illicit activities in relation to diamonds was a sensitive subject in Botswana: the authorities took precious-stone offences extremely seriously.
At last, Mma Ramotswe spoke. “Are you suggesting she’s been stealing from her employer?” she asked. “That’s a very serious matter, Mma Makutsi.”
Mma Makutsi defended herself. “I am not accusing anybody of stealing anything,” she said. “All that I am saying, Mma, is this: If you work each day with very valuable things—small things—and then you start driving a Mercedes-Benz, what are people to think?”
“They would think that you’re removing some of the diamonds,” said Charlie. “They would think that you are selling these diamonds and have saved up to buy a Mercedes-Benz.”
Mma Makutsi nodded. Further possibilities were occurring to her. “And if you have a Mercedes-Benz, would you want the people you work with to see you arriving for work in it? I do not think you would.”
“No!” exclaimed Charlie. “No, you would not, Mma Makutsi. You are one hundred per cent right—not ninety-seven per cent, ha ha, but one hundred per cent right. You would not want people in the office to think you had been stealing diamonds and buying a Mercedes-Benz.” He waited for his moment. He watched. He could come up with deductions every bit as significant as any of theirs. They thought he was just a man, and that men were hopeless at these things—far too clumsy in their way of looking at the world, thinking only of cars, girls, soccer; things like that. Mind you, he said to himself, I am one of those men who think about cars, girls, and soccer; but not
the time; there were times when he thought of other things. And now, unbidden, into his mind there came the image—and the smell—of a good Botswana steak, a T-bone that gave you something to gnaw on when you had eaten all the rest. He thought about food rather a lot, he had to confess. But so did women. Listen to the way they went on about clothes—and babies too. Women loved babies. They also loved shoes, he had noticed; especially Mma Makutsi, who had many pairs now, green, blue, red—all those colours, inside and outside; and bows and pieces of coloured glass, heart-shaped and stuck on the toe. Why would you have a piece of coloured glass on the toe of your shoe? What was the point of that? No man would do something like that, because men had better things to do, Charlie thought, than stick pieces of glass on their shoes.
Oh, there was so much unfairness in the way women thought about men. It was true, he conceded, that men had treated women unfairly in the past, but now things were stacked the other way and women were exacting their revenge. This is what you get for making us stay at home and stopping us from doing the things you thought it was your right to do; this is what you get. Well, yes; well, yes, but what will happen to all those young boys who grow up and find there’s nothing for them to do? Charlie had sometimes wondered about that.
Women said that men were a big problem for them. Charlie had heard them saying just that. Now he thought: You are a big problem for us, because maybe you are a bit smarter than we are. Maybe that is true. But men could still do some things; men were still of some use. Women thought they were the only ones who could work out what was what; well, he would show them.
“So what does this person do, Mma Ramotswe? Mma Makutsi? Any ideas? Let me tell you: She says to herself, I will park round the corner so that nobody thinks I have stolen any diamonds. They will think I have walked to work because I do not have that much money.” He drew breath. “That’s what she would have said to herself, I think.”
The end of Charlie’s explanation was greeted by silence. Charlie thought: They do not like a man who can think for himself; that is what they think. They would prefer it if a woman came up with a good conclusion like mine. They would say, “Exactly, Mma,” and “How right you are,” just because she was a woman and all women will agree with everything that other women say. That is the way they work. That is the way they unite against us.
Injustice heaped upon injustice—in Charlie’s view at least—and now just this silence.
Then Mma Ramotswe nodded and said, “Exactly, Charlie.”
Mma Makutsi pursed her lips. Then she said, “How right you are.” But then added, “Well done, Charlie. Sometimes you can get things right—if you’re pointed in the right direction.”