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Blue Shoes and Happiness: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Aunty Emang, Solver of Problems

When you are just the right age, as Mma Ramotswe was, and when you
have seen a bit of life, as Mma Ramotswe certainly had, then there
are some things that you just know. And one of the things that was
well known to Mma Ramotswe, only begetter of the No. 1 Ladies'
Detective Agency (Botswana's only ladies' detective agency), was
that there were two sorts of problem in this life. Firstly, there
were those problems-and they were major ones-about which one could
do very little, other than to hope, of course. These were the
problems of the land, of fields that were too rocky, of soil that
blew away in the wind, or of places where crops would just not
thrive for some sickness that lurked in the very earth. But looming
greater than anything else there was the problem of drought. It was
a familiar feeling in Botswana, this waiting for rain, which often
simply did not come, or came too late to save the crops. And then
the land, scarred and exhausted, would dry and crack under the
relentless sun, and it would seem that nothing short of a miracle
would ever bring it to life. But that miracle would eventually
arrive, as it always had, and the landscape would turn from brown
to green within hours under the kiss of the rain. And there were
other colours that would follow the green; yellows, blues, reds
would appear in patches across the veld as if great cakes of dye
had been crumbled and scattered by an unseen hand. These were the
colours of the wild flowers that had been lurking there, throughout
the dry season, waiting for the first drops of moisture to awaken
them. So at least that sort of problem had its solution, although
one often had to wait long, dry months for that solution to

The other sorts of problems were those which people made for
themselves. These were very common, and Mma Ramotswe had seen many
of them in the course of her work. Ever since she had set up this
agency, armed only with a copy of Clovis Andersen's The Principles
of Private Detection-and a great deal of common sense-scarcely a
day had gone by without her encountering some problem which people
had brought upon themselves. Unlike the first sort of
problem-drought and the like-these were difficulties that could
have been avoided. If people were only more careful, or behaved
themselves as they should, then they would not find themselves
faced with problems of this sort. But of course people never
behaved themselves as they should. "We are all human beings," Mma
Ramotswe had once observed to Mma Makutsi, "and human beings can't
really help themselves. Have you noticed that, Mma? We can't really
help ourselves from doing things that land us in all sorts of

Mma Makutsi pondered this for a few moments. In general, she
thought that Mma Ramotswe was right about matters of this sort, but
she felt that this particular proposition needed a little bit more
thought. She knew that there were some people who were unable to
make of their lives what they wanted them to be, but then there
were many others who were quite capable of keeping themselves under
control. In her own case, she thought that she was able to resist
temptation quite effectively. She did not consider herself to be
particularly strong, but at the same time she did not seem to be
markedly weak. She did not drink, nor did she over-indulge in food,
or chocolate or anything of that sort. No, Mma Ramotswe's
observation was just a little bit too sweeping and she would have
to disagree. But then the thought struck her: Could she resist a
fine new pair of shoes, even if she knew that she had plenty of
shoes already (which was not the case)?

"I think you're right, Mma," she said. "Everybody has a weakness,
and most of us are not strong enough to resist it."

Mma Ramotswe looked at her assistant. She had an idea what Mma
Makutsi's weakness might be, and indeed there might even be more
than one.

"Take Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, for example," said Mma Ramotswe.

"All men are weak," said Mma Makutsi. "That is well known." She
paused. Now that Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni were married,
it was possible that Mma Ramotswe had discovered new weaknesses in
him. The mechanic was a quiet man, but it was often the
mildest-looking people who did the most colourful things, in secret
of course. What could Mr J.L.B. Matekoni get up to? It would be
very interesting to hear.

"Cake," said Mma Ramotswe quickly. "That is Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's
great weakness. He cannot help himself when it comes to cake. He
can be manipulated very easily if he has a plate of cake in his

Mma Makutsi laughed. "Mma Potokwane knows that, doesn't she?" she
said. "I have seen her getting Mr J.L.B. Matekoni to do all sorts
of things for her just by offering him pieces of that fruit cake of

Mma Ramotswe rolled her eyes up towards the ceiling. Mma Potokwane,
the matron of the orphan farm, was her friend, and when all was
said and done she was a good woman, but she was quite ruthless when
it came to getting things for the children in her care. She it was
who had cajoled Mr J.L.B. Matekoni into fostering the two children
who now lived in their house; that had been a good thing, of
course, and the children were dearly loved, but Mr J.L.B. Matekoni
had not thought the thing through and had failed even to consult
Mma Ramotswe about the whole matter. And then there were the
numerous occasions on which she had prevailed upon him to spend
hours of his time fixing that unreliable old water pump at the
orphan farm-a pump which dated back to the days of the Protectorate
and which should have been retired and put into a museum long ago.
And Mma Potokwane achieved all of this because she had a profound
understanding of how men worked and what their weaknesses were;
that was the secret of so many successful women-they knew about the
weaknesses of men.

That conversation with Mma Makutsi had taken place some days
before. Now Mma Ramotswe was sitting on the verandah of her house
on Zebra Drive, late on a Saturday afternoon, reading the paper.
She was the only person in the house at the time, which was unusual
for a Saturday. The children were both out: Motholeli had gone to
spend the weekend with a friend whose family lived out at
Mogiditishane. This friend's mother had picked her up in her small
truck and had stored the wheelchair in the back with some large
balls of string that had aroused Mma Ramotswe's interest but which
she had not felt it her place to ask about. What could anybody want
with such a quantity of string? she wondered. Most people needed
very little string, if any, in their lives, but this woman, who was
a beautician, seemed to need a great deal. Did beauticians have a
special use for string that the rest of us knew nothing about? Mma
Ramotswe asked herself. People spoke about face-lifts; did string
come into face-lifts?

Puso, the boy, who had caused them such concern over his
unpredictable behaviour but who had recently become much more
settled, had gone off with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni to see an important
football match at the stadium. Mma Ramotswe did not consider it
important in the least-she had no interest in football, and she
could not see how it could possibly matter in the slightest who
succeeded in kicking the ball into the goal the most times-but Mr
J.L.B. Matekoni clearly thought differently. He was a close
follower and supporter of the Zebras, and tried to get to the
stadium whenever they were playing. Fortunately the Zebras were
doing well at the moment, and this, thought Mma Ramotswe, was a
good thing: it was quite possible, she felt, that Mr J.L.B.
Matekoni's depression, from which he had made a good recovery,
could recur if he, or the Zebras, were to suffer any serious

So now she was alone in the house, and it seemed very quiet to her.
She had made a cup of bush tea and had drunk that thoughtfully,
gazing out over the rim of her cup onto the garden to the front of
the house. The sausage fruit tree, the moporoto, to which she had
never paid much attention, had taken it upon itself to produce
abundant fruit this year, and four heavy sausage-shaped pods had
appeared at the end of a branch, bending that limb of the tree
under their weight. She would have to do something about that, she
thought. People knew that it was dangerous to sit under such trees,
as the heavy fruit could crack open a skull if it chose to fall
when a person was below. That had happened to a friend of her
father's many years ago, and the blow that he had received had
cracked his skull and damaged his brain, making it difficult for
him to speak. She remembered him when she was a child, struggling
to make himself understood, and her father had explained that he
had sat under a sausage tree and had gone to sleep, and this was
the result.

She made a mental note to warn the children and to get Mr J.L.B.
Matekoni to knock the fruit down with a pole before anybody was
hurt. And then she turned back to her cup of tea and to her perusal
of the copy of The Daily News, which she had unfolded on her lap.
She had read the first four pages of the paper, and had gone
through the small advertisements with her usual care. There was
much to be learned from the small advertisements, with their offers
of irrigation pipes for farmers, used vans, jobs of various sorts,
plots of land with house construction permission, and bargain
furniture. Not only could one keep up to date with what things
cost, but there was also a great deal of social detail to be
garnered from this source. That day, for instance, there was a
statement by a Mr Herbert Motimedi that he would not be responsible
for any debts incurred by Mrs Boipelo Motimedi, which effectively
informed the public that Herbert and Boipelo were no longer on
close terms-which did not surprise Mma Ramotswe, as it happened,
because she had always felt that that particular marriage was not a
good idea, in view of the fact that Boipelo Motimedi had gone
through three husbands before she found Herbert, and two of these
previous husbands had been declared bankrupt. She smiled at that
and skimmed over the remaining advertisements before turning the
page and getting to the column that interested her more than
anything else in the newspaper.

Some months earlier, the newspaper had announced to its readers
that it would be starting a new feature. "If you have any
problems," the paper said, "then you should write to our new
exclusive columnist, Aunty Emang, who will give you advice on what
to do. Not only is Aunty Emang a BA from the University of
Botswana, but she also has the wisdom of one who has lived
fifty-eight years and knows all about life." This advance notice
brought in a flood of letters, and the paper had expanded the
amount of space available for Aunty Emang's sound advice. Soon she
had become so popular that she was viewed as something of a
national institution and was even named in Parliament when an
opposition member brought the house down with the suggestion that
the policy proposed by some hapless minister would never have been
approved of by Aunty Emang.

Mma Ramotswe had chuckled over that, as she now chuckled over the
plight of a young student who had written a passionate love letter
to a girl and had delivered it, by mistake, to her sister. "I am
not sure what to do," he had written to Aunty Emang. "I think that
the sister is very pleased with what I wrote to her as she is
smiling at me all the time. Her sister, the girl I really like,
does not know that I like her and maybe her own sister has told her
about the letter which she has received from me. So she thinks now
that I am in love with her sister, and does not know that I am in
love with her. How can I get out of this difficult situation?" And
Aunty Emang, with her typical robustness, had written: "Dear
Anxious in Molepolole: The simple answer to your question is that
you cannot get out of this. If you tell one of the girls that she
has received a letter intended for her sister, then she will become
very sad. Her sister (the one you really wanted to write to in the
first place) will then think that you have been unkind to her
sister and made her upset. She will not like you for this. The
answer is that you must give up seeing both of these girls and you
should spend your time working harder on your examinations. When
you have a good job and are earning some money, then you can find
another girl to fall in love with. But make sure that you address
any letter to that girl very carefully."

There were two other letters. One was from a boy of fourteen who
had been moved to write to Aunty Emang about being picked upon by
his teacher. "I am a hard-working boy," he wrote. "I do all my
schoolwork very carefully and neatly. I never shout in the class or
push people about (like most other boys). When my teacher talks, I
always pay attention and smile at him. I do not trouble the girls
(like most other boys). I am a very good boy in every sense. Yet my
teacher always blames me for anything that goes wrong and gives me
low marks in my work. I am very unhappy. The more I try to please
this teacher, the more he dislikes me. What am I doing

Everything, thought Mma Ramotswe. That's what you are doing wrong:
everything. But how could one explain to a fourteen-year-old boy
that one should not try too hard; which was what he was doing and
which irritated his teacher. It was better, she thought, to be a
little bit bad in this life, and not too perfect. If you were too
perfect, then you invited exactly this sort of reaction, even if
teachers should be above that sort of thing. But what, she
wondered, would Aunty Emang say?

"Dear Boy," wrote Aunty Emang. "Teachers do not like boys like

Excerpted from BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS: No. 1 Ladies Detective
Agency © Copyright 2011 by Alexander McCall Smith. Reprinted
with permission by Anchor, , a division of Random House, Inc. All
rights reserved.

Blue Shoes and Happiness: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
by by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 1400075718
  • ISBN-13: 9781400075713