To the Land of Long Lost Friends (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #20) - Alexander McCall Smith



PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE, 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 (garagiste 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