The early-morning sun promised a scorcher of a day, and David “Kubu” Bengu’s clothes were already damp with sweat—not unusual for a man of his size in a hot climate. He was standing in front of the Criminal Investigation Department on Queens Road, excited and nervous about walking through the front door—excited because it was his first day as a detective in the Botswana Police; nervous because he’d been hired to the position without having had any time as a constable on the beat. In fact, he’d never even been in uniform. He was expecting to take some heat for that.
Kubu pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He leant over and cleaned his shoes, which were covered in dust from his long walk to work. When he was satisfied, he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “Here goes,” he said out loud and strode towards the door. “I’ll always remember the thirtieth of November, 1998—my first day at work.”
“Detective Sergeant Bengu reporting for work,” he told the man at reception, who looked him up and down with a frown.
“Bengu?” The man shuffled through a stack of papers. “Bengu?”
A few moments later, he found what he was looking for. “David Bengu?”
“Yes, but everyone calls me Kubu.”
The man snorted, taking in Kubu’s bulk. “I can see why.”
Kubu didn’t react. He was used to that sort of response. After all, he’d had the nickname for over five years, ever since he first met Angus Hofmeyr, a rich white boy, at Maru-a-Pula School.
“You’re David?” Angus had exclaimed in disbelief when they first met. “David Bengu? That’s not right. You aren’t a David. Not even a Goliath! You’re a kubu. That’s what you are—a big, friendly hippopotamus.”
Kubu remembered being upset at first, but he’d come to like the special familiarity of the name. The other kids had laughed, of course, but soon Kubu was his name. Now he was sure that some of his friends didn’t even know his real name.
Miffed that his snide comment had failed to raise even one of Kubu’s eyebrows, the receptionist ordered Kubu to go immediately to Assistant Superintendent Mabaku’s office. “He’s going to be your boss! I don’t envy you because he eats nails!”
“Sit down. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Mabaku waved at one of the chairs in front of his desk. Kubu lowered himself, carefully maintaining some of his weight on his legs until he was sure the chair wouldn’t collapse. He waited patiently while Mabaku growled at a letter he was reading.
Mabaku’s office was small and very hot. The window air conditioner was on, judging by the strained noises, but very little cool air was being pushed into the room. There were stacks of files on every horizontal surface, and on top of one filing cabinet was a colour photo of a woman whom Kubu took to be Mabaku’s wife.
Eventually Mabaku looked up and glared at Kubu. He shook the letter in the air. “It’s your fault. The director wants me to file all the paperwork so that you get paid, that you have health insurance, and that you start contributing towards your pension. I thought that’s why we have secretaries—to do all the tough work.”
Kubu didn’t respond.
“Do you have a driver’s licence?”
“And a car?”
Kubu nodded and smiled. “An old Land Rover, sir.”
He was still amazed that he’d been able to buy it. It was mainly due to the generosity of one of his lecturers at the university, who had wanted to sell it and had told him to pay it off as he could afford to. At his police salary, it wasn’t going to be paid off anytime soon.
Mabaku glanced up, surprised. “How old?”
The smile vanished. “Um…quite old, sir.”
Mabaku picked up a sheet of paper from his desk and handed it to Kubu. “Fill this out and take it to Miriam, the director’s assistant. It authorizes you to take a car from the pool if you need one. Use one of them for business rather than your Land Rover. There are usually two or three pool cars at the back of the building. Check they haven’t been reserved before you take one.”
Mabaku scratched his head. “I’m sure I’ve missed something, but it’ll come to me, probably at an inconvenient moment.”
There was a long silence, something that Kubu was good at maintaining.
“Do you fit into your office?” Mabaku asked at last. “I’m sorry it’s so small, but it’s the only one we’ve got. Have they stocked it with pens, notebooks, the usual forms, and so on?”
“Nobody’s shown me my office, sir.”
“Goddamn it.” Mabaku pounded the top of his desk. “That Elias at reception is already trying to cause trouble for you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s my fault! I just hope it doesn’t become too much of a problem for you.”
“You impressed the right people at the university. They persuaded me you’d be wasted spending several years in uniform on the beat, so we took a chance and hired you as soon as you graduated. We’ve never done that before. Just ignore Elias and others like him. That’s my advice. They’re just jealous.”
“I was expecting something like that.” Kubu shrugged.
Mabaku looked through the papers on his desk. “I think that’s all for now. Any questions?”
“Yes, sir. What’s my first job? I’m keen to get to work.”
“We meet every Monday in the room at the end of the passage. We’re meeting in fifteen minutes to be exact. We’ll find out then what’s happened over the weekend. That’s all. Go and tell Elias that he’s to show you to your office and to make sure you have the supplies you need.”
With that, Mabaku lifted a file from one of his stacks, opened it, and started reading.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Kubu heaved himself out of his chair. He closed the door quietly as he left the room and walked back to reception.
“What do you want now?” Elias asked.
“Assistant Superintendent Mabaku would like you to show me to my office and to make sure I have all the supplies I need.”
“I’m busy right now.”
“The assistant superintendent wants me to be settled in my office before the staff meeting in fifteen minutes,” Kubu responded, stretching the truth a little. “But if you are too busy, I’ll go and ask him who can help me.”
Elias glared at Kubu, knowing he’d lost the round. “Follow me,” he barked.
As they walked down the corridor, Kubu made a mental note to double check anything Elias did for him. He was sure Elias would try to even the score.
“That’s your office.” Elias pointed to a door. “I’ll bring the stuff you need in a few minutes.”
“Thank you for your help.” Kubu wasn’t quite able to keep the sarcasm from his tone.
Sure enough, Elias walked into Kubu’s office a few minutes later with a box full of supplies.
Again, Kubu thanked him, but Elias just glowered.
With only a few minutes left, Kubu grabbed a notebook and pencil from the box and headed to the meeting room, where Director Tebogo Gobey would preside.
At last, Kubu thought. He was about to start doing what he’d wanted to do for such a long time—be a detective.