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The Edge of the Pot by Liesl Jobson

            First we found a sneaker, spotting it at the same time. We split up then. Lebo called out. He'd found the other one under a bush well worn with Velcro fasteners for little fingers that cant yet manage to tie shoelaces. Then I found a pink sweater, size 4, with a lime green dinosaur stitched on the front. Its one remaining eye was a surprised button, snagged in a scraggly acacia. I pulled on rubber gloves and placed the sweater in a plastic zip-loc bag. Matching green leggings and a vest with a ragged lace trim had been tossed aside nearby. Her white cotton panties had a muddy boot print on them.

            Lebo jogged back to the van to radio our find back to the station while I bagged the clothing and noted its location in my pocket book. A fly buzzed around my head and settled on my lip. I swatted it away. Bile and certainty rose in my stomach as I followed the fly down to the reeds.

            When I found her head with its row of braided cornstalks ending in tiny rainbow beads, her eyes were still open. They stared, as if disappointed with me for arriving so late. I screamed, staggering backwards, and dropped the plastic bags. Then I saw her torso, naked, caked in mud and blood, her genitals cut out, flies buzzing over the slashed flesh. I emptied my stomach violently before collapsing in a foetal ball on the marshy ground.

            Lebo ran past the girl and knelt behind me, encircling me in his arms. "Sh-sh-sh. Thula sisi, thula," he whispered, Quiet, sister, be quiet, rocking me as I keened and sobbed. He stroked my head, brushing away a strand of hair that had escaped my ponytail and stuck to my lips. "Be strong now, Jessie, poor Jessie." He held my head against his chest. His nameplate was cold against my cheek. As my tears subsided, a sick weird lust rose up in me. I lifted my face to him, saying, "Why? Why?" I wanted to kiss him.

            That was how Inspector Msomi found us. Lebo helped me up and dusted the muddy earth from my knees. Our Senior Officer is jealous. He wants to fuck me. It would grant him super-stud status from his cronies.

            Msomi moves to stand behind me. He is too close, but I'm seated against the desk and can't move forward. I hand him the logbook. The odometer readings in the book now tally with the vehicles. He reads over my shoulder with sour breath that smells of grape Chappies and Camels. I am pinned against the chair. He turns to the woman at the counter. She has been waiting for twenty minutes. The baby is screaming. The chicken seller ignores it.

            "Yebo?" he says, slouching toward her. Yes? It is a perfunctory greeting.

            She places two papers on the counter. They've been folded so often there is a brown smear along the crease. She whispers her request for a certified copy. Msomi bangs the stamp on the page and signs it off without reading it. I can barely contain my sigh of relief as she shuffles out the door.

            "Was Lebo at Emancipation last night?" I ask one of the other guys on the shirt, a regular at the illegal shebeen behind the barracks. He wasn't.

            "Dunderhead. I'll default him if he's gone AWOL."

Before Phiri's suicide, Constable Moshoeshoe went missing one Friday night. Wed knocked off early to celebrate payday. We sat around the green swimming pool outside the Mess Hall at the Diepkloof barracks, staring into the flames of a braai fire. We smoked in the dying light. An electric urn had been unplugged and filled with ice; beer and Jack Daniels bottles were wedged between the grey-white chunks. The plug from the urn trailed in the sand. The urn never worked again properly after that night.

            Moshoeshoe, who was a talented darts player, refused to join in. he sat apart from the rest of us, guzzling whiskey from a chipped coffee mug. He'd been tipped off that a neighbour was comforting his wife while he was at work. As it so happened, Mrs Moshoeshoe had her own spies who had discovered her husband's police car stopped outside the schoolmistress' home for long periods each afternoon. The schoolmistress was a churchgoer and conducted the Sunday School choir. Mrs Moshoeshoe figured her husband was not undertaking more than criminal investigations on such a regular basis.

            By the time he was ready to leave, Moshoeshoe was vrot, weaving unsteadily towards his car. Lebo urged him to sleep a while in one of the empty rooms at the barracks, but all he wanted was to discipline his wife.

 

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006