Seabe accepted that his wife thought she no longer loved him. Despite that, Seabe also believed the world was a fair and just place. He had done everything correctly. He married his wife properly, going to her family, paying lobola before the marriage, not after like so many. He never cheated on his wife. He took care of her and their son, made sure all the bills were paid. He built them a solid house in a good area of Mahalapye. He respected his wife and consulted her before making any major moves in his life. He never raised his voice or hand to her. He was a good husband; no one could deny it, even his wife. So this was why, even though he accepted his wife no longer loved him, he did not think it was fair.
“Will you drop Bonolo at school on your way to work?” his wife, Kamogelo, asked.
“Yes, I’ll be home a bit late,” he told her, “I have a meeting.”
“Okay.” She grabbed her bag and left. The morning good-bye kiss had fallen away some years ago. Conversation stripped down to the bare necessities only.
He finished getting his son ready for school. Bonolo was in standard five now, a clever boy who never gave them any problems. Seabe was proud of his son, prouder than most fathers he often thought; he loved him fiercely from that first day he was born. Now Kamogelo was speaking of divorce. Seabe thought that meant she would take Bonolo with her, the courts normally worked that way. Seabe would be left all alone. He tried not to think about that, the life he seemed destined for.
He parked the car in the shaded area of the expensive private school Bonolo attended. Seabe shut off the engine and his son looked at him.
“What’s wrong? Are you coming in with me?” Bonolo asked.
“No,” he told him. “I just wanted to sit a minute. We’re a bit early.”
“I know. I thought I’d ask Ms Miller if I could practice my song for assembly on the piano.”
“Yes, that’s good. You go on then. Your mother will pick you up.” Seabe didn’t want his problems to trouble his son, that wasn’t fair.
His son got out and ran into the school building. Seabe sat longer than he needed to. He couldn’t quite get himself to leave. After a while a few parents looked in on him through the window, curious about his strange behaviour. He started the car and headed out of the parking lot. Instead of going right, into town, to his office at the council, he headed left out of the village. He was not going to work today.
The place was much further than he had anticipated. It was a cattle post in the Tuli Block, he’d been told. The roads were wretched and his Hilux rattled in an unhealthy way. The white dust filled his car and covered his face though the windows were closed. He found the old tyre and rusty piece of corrugated iron that indicated the place where he must turn. Though the road on which he found himself could barely be called that; it was little more than a cattle path. He followed it and it began to slope downward, and as it did the trees became taller and the vegetation greener. He saw the silver thread of the river, the Limpopo, and as he’d been instructed, he looked to the right and there on its bank was a compound of four mud huts. This was the place.
He parked his car at the gate and got out. “Ko! Ko!” he said.
“Tsena! I’ve been waiting for you,” the old man said, coming out of the house carrying two white plastic chairs. He set them in the shade of a wide morula tree, then sat down on one of the chairs and waited.
Seabe greeted the old man and then sat down opposite him. The man wore a dated brown jacket over an Orlando Pirates T-shirt. The jacket’s elbows had been worn through. He could have been anywhere from sixty to a hundred, who could tell?
“I came because…” Seabe started.
“I know why you came. It is love. Am I right?”
Seabe was surprised. A man from work had told him about Rra Pitse, but Seabe didn’t tell the man why he needed help. “It’s my wife.”
“Other things are easier. Is it another man?”
“No… well, I don’t think so anyway. She just doesn’t love me anymore.” Seabe felt silly saying it out. What did it matter? People fell out of love every day. It meant nothing, but for him it meant everything.
“True love is nearly impossible to force and I don’t think you’d come here if you wanted anything less than the true kind.”
Seabe nodded. They’d had it once. Would it be so hard to find it and bring it back?
“For such a thing, they require commitment.”
“I’m committed. We’ve been married for eleven years. I’m a good husband, I love my wife.”
Rra Pitse held up his hand. “Not that. You must show commitment to them.”
Seabe wanted to ask who “them” were but it seemed as if he was meant to know. Perhaps the old man meant badimo. Seabe was unfamiliar with these things. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in the ancestors and the religion around them— he didn’t believe or not believe— he just never had experience with any of it. He was not a spiritual man. He’d never attended a church. He thought people who did were weak in some way, that they were looking for a crutch to get through their problems. And though he thought that, here he was, sitting with this ngaka, asking him to bring his loving wife back.
Rra Pitse began rocking. He closed his eyes and mumbled words too quiet and jumbled for Seabe to hear. He did this for a few minutes. Seabe looked around the empty compound and wondered how an old man like this survived in such a remote place all alone.
Rra Pitse stopped. He opened his eyes and looked at Seabe. “They want a heart.”
“A heart? Of what?”
“Of a child.”
Seabe tried not to act surprised. He’d heard of such things, surely, but to be here, to hear such a thing with his own ears. “It…I …I don’t think that’s possible,” he finally said.
“Possible? Of course it is possible— the question is if you are as committed as you say you are.”
“I’m committed. I can’t live without my wife… without my son. I’ll die.”
“Then you must prove your commitment.”
“But how would I get the heart?”
“You would need to kill a child.”
“But…but I can’t do that.”
“We all must make sacrifices; it is the way life is.”
“But to kill a child? For love? That’s madness. I can’t do that. I’m not that kind of man.”
Rra Pitse stood up. He held out his hand to Seabe and Seabe shook it. “Be careful making your way back. The road is not good.”
The old man went back inside his house and closed the door. Seabe got in his car and climbed up the hill and back to the white, dusty road. He drove back to Mahalapye feeling as if he were leaving a dark, hideous tunnel and emerging into the light.
“How was your meeting?” Kamogelo asked him as he sat down to dinner. He was late and Bonolo was already in bed. Kamogelo waited up to eat with him. Even without love, there was still politeness— sometimes that made Seabe sadder than anything else.
“It was… fine.”
She sat across from him at the table. He looked down at the chicken leg on his plate and wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat it. He kept seeing Rra Pitse and how easy it had been for him to say it all, as if killing a child was a prescription he gave every day to his patients. Was it, Seabe wondered. Should he tell someone?
“Seabe, I spoke to a lawyer today,” his wife started in the same tone of voice that asked how his day was. “He thinks since things are amicable between us the divorce will be easy.” Seabe pushed the rice around on his plate. “He said if we begin the process now, it should be all finished within six months.”
Seabe’s hand shot across the table and grabbed Kamogelo’s thin wrist. She looked down at his hand but did not struggle to be freed.
“No!” He spoke too loudly; he could see this in the alarm on Kamogelo’s face. He let go of her wrist. He spoke with more control. “I mean— no. I don’t want a divorce.”
“I thought we discussed this,” she said. “I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce. I thought we agreed.”
How could she say I don’t love you as if it caused no harm to anyone? “But what about what I want? I love you. Why doesn’t that matter?”
“I’m sorry about that, Seabe, I really am. I don’t want to upset you. I just don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
She spoke so calmly as if everything that she said was reasonable. She spoke as if she had no feelings at all. That all of the years they’d been together were nothing, meaningless. He wanted to shake her and make her cry. He wanted to scream and throw things. He wanted to punch a hole in the door and race his car down the road. And he wanted her to do that too. He didn’t want amicable. He wanted wild, vicious fights. He wanted pain and tears and passion. Did she know where she was pushing him to? Did she understand what she was making him do? Who he was being forced to become?
“I don’t want you speaking to any more lawyers.” He spoke sternly leaving no space for dissent. “We’re not getting a divorce. We’re married. Of course you love me, I’m your husband. We won’t talk about this again.”
Seabe stood up. Kamogelo didn’t speak. Seabe was happy to see fear in her eyes. She should be fearful, yes, she should be just as fearful as he was of himself.
Months went by and Kamogelo stopped speaking about divorce and her feelings. Seabe was sure everything had been sorted out without the help of Rra Pitse. He even thought that Kamogelo’s love for him was slowly returning. They’d had sex twice, not like before, but it was a start. They were slowly climbing out of their problems. Everything was going to be fine after all.
Seabe was in his office that day. They were working on the survey for the new shopping mall. The man did not knock; he rudely opened the door as if he owned the office, and said, “Seabe Kgosi?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
The stranger placed a paper on his desk. “Can you sign that you received this?”
“What is this?
Seabe signed and the man gave him a brown envelope and left. He opened the envelope— inside were divorce papers.
For days, Seabe drove around. His boss called him and he said he was sick; he was in a way, so it was not a lie. Each day he’d get in his car and drive out of Mahalapye. To the west he’d drive to Shoshong and Kalamare, to Bonwapitse, waiting to see the right child: a child that would not be missed, one that was not wanted, one easily sacrificed for love. Other days he’d tour the lands north of Mahalapye as far as Radisele. He knew he’d see the child and know. There would be something to give him a sign that this was the right one. He wanted to do the least amount of harm. An unwanted child, an unloved child, taken, put out of his suffering— is it not a blessing to the family? Not a relief for the child? Surely it was. The mind could convince itself of nearly anything— even this, Seabe discovered.
“I’ve made you your favourite, oxtail,” Kamogelo said. She rubbed Seabe’s shoulder while setting the plate on the table; he held her hand for a moment and smiled up at her.
“Thank you, darling,” Seabe said. Everything was back as it should be; their home was full of love again. Seabe was happy, finally happy again.
Bonolo, always a hearty eater, began eating straight away. “I met a friend of yours today, Dad. He was outside school when I was waiting for Mom.”
“Really? Who was that?”
“An old man. It was funny, he was old but he was wearing an Orlando Pirates T-shirt.”
Seabe steadied himself. It was nothing, only a coincidence.
“What did he say?”
“He said some people were looking for love and that maybe I could help him. I didn’t know what he was on about.” Bonolo reached for a slice of bread from the plate in the middle of the table.
“That’s odd. Who could that be, sweetheart?” Kamogelo asked.
“Did he say anything else? Anything else at all?” Seabe asked, now desperate.
“What’s wrong? You look upset,” Kamogelo said. “Let me get you some water.” She rushed to the kitchen and came back with the glass. Seabe ignored it.
“What else did he say, Bonolo?” Seabe spoke louder than he should have and could see he scared his son. “I’m sorry, it’s just… that man, you must stay away from him. What did he say? Try to remember.”
His son looked at him, his beautiful, clever son who he adored. What had he done to them? What had Seabe got them into?
“I…I don’t know,” the boy said. “He said something about commitment…something about how…how he needed to test your commitment.”
Lauri Kubuitsile is a writer from Botswana. She has many published books and short stories. The Scattering, her historical fiction novel, was published in 2016 by Penguin, and won Best International Fiction Book 2017 at the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates. Her second historical novel, But Deliver Us from Evil was published in May of 2019. Her short stories have won or been shortlisted for numerous prizes including winning the Golden Baobab Prize for children's writing twice and being shortlisted for the Caine Prize among others.