It all started when Jomo came rushing into The Good Lucky Shop late that morning.
“Lola, something is wrong!” he said breathlessly.
I was at the back of the shop tidying the shoes. Nokeng is a village with far too many unpaved roads, so dusting the shoes is not a job I am unfamiliar with. I like things to be tidy and as I was dusting I was also arranging them according to colour. You’d be surprise the range of colours Mr Wang, the owner, stocks at The Good Lucky Shop. There were five different shades of orange shoes so it wasn’t as easy as it might sound.
But back to the story. So that day, Jomo came rushing in. To make things clear, Jomo rarely rushes. I’ve known him since primary school – he was a grade ahead of me – and rushing was never part of Jomo’s life. Slow and steady is our Jomo. But that day he rushed in. That alone was something that should be noticed.
I looked up from my arranging. “Jomo, calm down. Let me get you some water. You know you’re not made for excitement.”
Jomo sat down as I went to fetch water. Bonang, my best friend, was at the till applying new purple nail varnish to replace the old purple varnish.
“What’s he shouting about?” she asked me.
Bonang has been my friend since Grade 7. In almost every way we are opposites. It’s like I’m an anthropologist studying a newly discovered tribe. The Bonang Tribe. My notes, if I were that anthropologist, might include:
• Tall, very tall, abnormally tall
• Thin, too thin for most mothers
• Tribe has an unusual obsession with changing hairstyle, on a daily basis at least, sometimes every six hours
• An unusual obsession with clothes
• Has habit of spending most of the day observing herself in mirrors
Bonang wants to be a model; I am not clear what the purpose of models is. I want to be a private detective; Bonang thinks it’s a job only ugly girls with thick glasses should have. See? Different. She attends nightly sessions at Martie Jaanke’s House of Style; I’m saving money to do the first six-month course at Ronnie Ron’s Detective School in Joburg. We’re the practical example of that old saying, ‘opposites attract’.
Bonang follows me back to Jomo who now sits on one of the yellow, plastic Pokémon kiddie chairs that are for sale. He’s so low to the ground he might have just sat on it, but The Good Lucky Shop has very little free floor space. That’s because it tries to sell every possible thing a person might want to buy, from nail clippers to wigs, from car batteries to duvets.
“Here. Drink it down,” I said.
“But I drank–”
“Drink!” I ordered.
When he was finished I said, “OK, so what’s wrong?”
“If I know Jomo, he spotted Leah Warona and she waved at him and now he’s having a coronary,” Bonang said, clicking her tongue in annoyance.
Jomo’s face crinkled up like it does when he’s annoyed. “Don’t start in on Leah Warona. Leah Warona has nothing to do with any of this and I suggest you apologise, Bonang.”
I could see nothing would go further without an apology, though actually I didn’t understand what Bonang was meant to have done. Everyone in Nokeng knows Jomo has had a crush on Leah Warona for years, such a crush that when she is within a radius of six metres from him he loses the ability to speak. A coronary would not be far away … but, to hurry things I looked at Bonang with the fierce eyes she knew all too well.
“OK,” Bonang said. “Sorry.”
“Now, what are you all excited about?”
“It’s Mr Wang.”
Jomo is Mr Wang’s driver. Mr Wang is a nervous, cautious man and he thinks driving in South Africa is only a step away from suicide. So Jomo drives him around on his daily errands.
“What about Mr Wang?” I asked.
“Well, you know on a Tuesday Mr Wang goes to the bank at 9:16 a.m. From there we go to Koppies for his cream doughnut which he will eat with his tea at 11:17 a.m. After the Tuesday cream doughnut is purchased, we come directly back here. There are no detours. No changes in the schedule unless they are made the day before, explained carefully in a meeting in his office. We had no meeting in his office yesterday! There can be no changes!”
I checked my watch. It was 11:22 a.m. I looked through the window into Mr Wang’s office – he was not there! At 11:22 a.m. on a Tuesday, Mr Wang should be in his office finishing his cream doughnut and the last dregs of his tea – but he was not. Something was indeed wrong.
“And today? Did something happen?” I asked, though obviously it had.
“Yes! That’s it, that’s what I’m trying to say!”
“And what happened?”
“We went to the bank like normal. But when Mr Wang came out of the bank, he was acting odd. He’s a nervous guy, you know, but he was worse, worse than ever. He was looking behind himself like someone was following him. He got in the car and said: ‘No Koppies. I’ll tell you where to go’.”
“And?” It really was very difficult to get information from Jomo.
“So we drove out of town.”
Bonang gasped and covered her mouth. She had been listening quietly, but this was too much. Mr Wang never left Nokeng, except on Christmas Day and Chinese New Year when he went to Joburg to visit his brother and his brother’s wife.
“And where did you go?” I asked.
“He directed me to a farm outside town. I drove down a long, long gravel driveway. He got out of the car and he told me to leave. He told me that he wouldn’t be back today. He told me you must close the shop.”
“Something is wrong, Lola,” Bonang said. “This is out of Mr Wang’s character, very much out.”
Bonang knew the first rule in The Private Investigator’s Handbook by T.S. Lanchaster: ‘Rule No. 1: Always pay attention to people acting out of character.’
Something was definitely going on.
Tell us what you think: Are Jomo, Bonang and Lola jumping to conclusions?