Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Pounding

the rain has started.

giant drops and thick thunder.

the lightning is beautiful but the pounding on my roof often keeps me awake at night.



I’m headed to Gaborone for groceries. I always bring a book to pass the time and to discourage overly friendly bachelors. Today moist desert landscape shines and distracts me from Kerouac. I look sleepily out the window fanning myself with the novel’s worn pages.

As we approach the bus skids and sputters to a clumsy halt. The boy who collects our fare turn with wide eyes and screams:

Accident! Accident!

In one frantic motion all the passengers around me stand and press against the bus’ left windows. A woman crashes into my back and the space inside our cabin becomes unnaturally silent.

One car has been completely flipped. Another sits crushed into the middle of the road. A hundred yards further lies the third. Despite the rain, smoke billows from their engines and tires.

I am far more fascinated by these bus passengers than I am by the mangled cars.

Their urgency feels abnormally frenzied. Frantic even.

And then I realize. This is not mere curiosity factor.

1.7 million. Tiny villages. Few cars.

They are looking to see if they recognize the vehicles. They are holding their breath.

And they are praying.



The sun has returned but the streets remain saturated in milky puddles and wet sand.

When I find him Mr. Bathi is sitting hunched over his desk staring at a paper without reading it. He turns to look at me with blank, heavy eyes. I am shocked to see such vacancy in the face of our star athlete – the one who villagers come to watch on the football field, the one who flirts relentlessly with all the female teachers, the one whose students stay late to solicit his feedback on their art projects.

I forget the reason I’ve been looking for him.

What is it?

Bad weekend.

What happened?

He looks out of the corner of his eye at me and then back to his paper. He’s holding it firmly with both hands. Hanging on.

The words come slowly.

My cousins have died. Two of them.

I pull a seat beside him and wait. In the wake of his composure I watch him run an index finger along the edges of the paper. When his poise returns Mr. Bathi clears his throat and continues.

It was a car accident. On the Thamaga road. Just before Kumakwane. Five cars. The Thamaga counselor was killed too.

These words pull all the air from his body and he deflates farther into the chair.

I look from his fallen profile to his crumbled paper and then to my own hands. From out of me spills all those empty things that are meant to console and never do.

And then we sit. I don’t remember for how long. But sitting there feels like the most honest gesture I can offer. And he does not protest.



The PACT girls are making donation-posters in my office. We’re collecting Christmas clothes for the Kumakwane orphans and they girls are ecstatic for an excuse to draw all afternoon.

Okay guys 15 more minutes. The Headmaster says you need to be heading home at 5:00.

But Ms. Charles it’s pouring. Don’t you have a plastic bag we can use to walk home under?

I scan the office and find a stash of trash bags.

Alright, let me ask the teacher on duty if you can take some of these.

When I walk into the lobby the air feels black and dense. Seven teachers sit together beneath this cloud, shaking their heads and speaking in whispers.

Their Setswana is too soft for me to pick up words so I find a seat beside one of the younger teachers.

What is it?

An accident. Just there. She says pointing to the road a quarter mile from our school.

Was anyone hurt?

Yes, several school children from the next village. Primary school kids.

Were they hurt badly?

The teachers look away from me. Some at the floor. Some out the window.

We don’t know yet, Ms. Hane says. They’ve been taken to the hospital.

The ladies continue shaking their heads and mumbling. They seem to know something I don’t and the graveness in their posture terrifies me.


the rain has started.

giant drops and thick thunder.

the lightning is beautiful but the pounding on my roof often keeps me awake at night.

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