IN BOTSWANA, home to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for the problems of ladies, and others, it is customary—one might say very customary—to enquire of the people whom you meet whether they have slept well. The answer to that question is almost inevitably that they have indeed slept well, even if they have not, and have spent the night tossing and turning as a result of the nocturnal barking of dogs, the activity of mosquitoes or the prickings of a bad conscience. Of course, mosquitoes may be defeated by nets or sprays, just as dogs may be roundly scolded; a bad conscience, though, is not so easily stifled. If somebody were to invent a spray capable of dealing with an uncomfortable conscience, that person would undoubtedly do rather well—but perhaps might not sleep as soundly as before, were he to reflect on the consequences of his invention. Bad consciences, it would appear, are there for a purpose: to make us feel regret over our failings. Should they be silenced, then our entirely human weaknesses, our manifold omissions, would become all the greater—and that, as Mma Ramotswe would certainly say, is not a good thing.
Mma Ramotswe was fortunate in having an untroubled con- science, and therefore generally enjoyed undisturbed sleep. It was her habit to take to her bed after a final cup of red bush tea at around ten o’clock at night. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, her husband and by common consent the finest mechanic in all Botswana, would often retire before her, particularly if he had had a tiring day at work. Mechanics in general sleep well, as do many others whose day is taken up with physically demanding labour. So by the time that Mma Ramotswe went to bed, he might already be lost to this world, his breathing deep and regular, his eyes firmly closed to the bedside light that he would leave for his wife to extinguish.
She would not take long to go to sleep, drifting off to thoughts of what had happened that day; to images of herself drinking tea in the office or driving her van on an errand; to the picture of Mma Makutsi sitting upright at her desk, her large glasses catching the light as she held forth on some issue or other. Or to some memory of a long time ago, of her father walking down a dusty road, holding her hand and explaining to her about the ways of cattle—a subject that he knew so well. When a wise man dies, there is so much history that is lost: that is what they said, and Mma Ramotswe knew it to be true. Her own father, the late Obed Ramotswe, had taken so much with him, but had also left much behind, so many memories and sayings and observations, that she, his daughter, could now call up and cherish as she waited for the soft arms of sleep to embrace her.
1. What Our Furniture Says About Us William French, wine merchant, Master of Wine (failed), somewhere in his early ﬁfties (hardly noticeably, particularly in the right light), loyal subscriber to Rural Living (although he lived quite happily in central London), longtime supporter of several good causes (he was a kind man at heart, with a strong sense of fairness), widower, dog-owner, and much else besides; the same William French looked about his ﬂat in Corduroy Mansions, as anybody might survey his or her ﬂat in a moment of self-assessment, of stocktaking. There was a lot wrong with it, he decided, just as he felt there was a lot that was not quite right with his life in general. Sorting out one’s ﬂat, though, is often easier than sorting out oneself, and there is a great deal to be said for ﬁrst getting one’s ﬂat in order before attempting the same thing with one’s life. Perhaps there was an adage for this—a pithy Latin expression akin to mens sana in corpore sano. Which made him think . . . Everybody knew that particular expression, of course; everybody, that is, except William’s twenty-eight-year-old son, Eddie, who had once rendered it within his father’s hearing as “men’s saunas lead to a healthy body.” William had been about to laugh at this ingenious translation, redolent, as it was, of the cod Latin he had found so achingly funny as a twelve-year-old boy: Caesar adsum iam forte, Pompey ad erat. Pompey sic in omnibus, Caesar sic in at. Caesar had some jam for tea, Pompey had a rat . . . and so on. But then he realised that Eddie was serious.
The discovery that Eddie had no knowledge of Latin had depressed him. He
knew that the overwhelming majority of people had no Latin and did not feel the
lack of it. The problem with Eddie, though, was that not only did he not have
Latin, he had virtually nothing else either: no mathematics worthy of the name, no
geography beyond a knowledge of the location of various London pubs, no
knowledge of biology or any of the other natural sciences, no grasp of history.
When it came to making an inventory of what Eddie knew, there was really very
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