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The Edge of the Pot by Liesl Jobson

            After he was gone, the gossips smoking in the courtyard beside the defunct water feature said he was telling only half the story. Someone said his wife refused to sleep with him because he brought home 'Omo'.

            "Washing powder?" I asked, woozy from two beers. But even when I'm sober, nothing makes sense in Soweto. I thought I would get used to people's ways after a while, but it's two years I've been here and I'm not used to this place yet.

            "Not washing powder," said Lebo looking away, "that disease... you know..."

            "Eish!" I said.

            Why the euphemism, I wanted to ask. Nobody talks straightforwardly about AIDS. Especially not at funerals, where we gather to bury a young mother or father, nobody mentions the A-word. The colleagues we have buried got sick. In just a few weeks they were 'late'. The first time I heard the word used like that, I didn't know what it meant. I thought someone was behind schedule and would soon turn up. It was my comprehension that was slow to arrive.

            Moshoeshoe has never been found, either dead or alive. It is an embarrassing mystery. At least the press has not got hold of the story. His vehicle is still missing and his service pistol is gone too. For six months after he disappeared, Inspector Msomi wrote AWOL beside his name. At first he wrote it in large red capitals that sprawled out the lines of the register.

            "Typical!" he grumbled, "all Sothos malingerers and mamparas."

            It gave him pleasure to splash the angry letters in the empty space where the absent constable's signature belonged.

            "Unreliable and lazy, every one of them."

            But when Moshoeshoe's wife and his girlfriend both claimed they had not seen or heard from him for a week, the AWOL grew smaller, fitting between the lines. Msomi's anger turned to apathy. The Commander instructed him to file a missing person report. I phoned all the hospitals in the city, then all the morgues around the country. Later I checked all exiting vehicles at the border posts. His vehicle was still in the country somewhere. Every few months I'd go through the firearm register.

            Sometimes my body betrays me when I'm with Lebo, like after the high-speed car chase. We were doing a night raid in conjunction with the Anti-Hijacking Task Team. Lebo and I pulled up at a house in Tshiawelo with our headlights turned off. It was a moonless night. One of the team banged on the door, a dog barked.

            "Vula isivalo! Amaphoyis' akhona!" he shouted. Open the door for the police.

            I'd just got out the van. Detectives in unmarked sedans had led us to the house. My bulletproof vest weighed me down and I moved slowly, then a shot was fired from inside the house, whizzing past. I dropped instinctively behind the sedan. Lebo, on the near side of the gunman, went down hard. I saw him lying on the ground beside the car. He was breathing heavily. That was a good sign. He was silent. That was good too. If he were hit, he'd be groaning. When another member shouted from behind a tree that the suspect had escaped through the back yard, through the maze of houses, Lebo jumped up.

            "Get in," screamed Lebo, pulling himself into the car. He took the road to the bridge. The rest of the convoy went to the river. We raced around corners, tyres screeching, hurtling through robots at 3am. I was afraid the vehicle would roll if we hit a pothole. I couldn't put my seatbelt on. Lebo was driving too fast, my bulletproof too cumbersome. Lebo wouldn't have liked it anyway; he'd have perceived it as an insult, a lack of faith in him. I braced myself against the dashboard, clung to the door handle. My thigh bumped against his. If we survived the night I would want to relax with him afterwards, I would want to beg him to come home with me. After another team apprehended the suspect, they radioed us to return to the station.

            As we drove back, I felt an intense burning between my legs. I didn't ask him to my room. I didn't want to test the limits of a condom with an unscrupulous partner. Undressing alone, my panties were moist and I blushed for shame at myself.

            By 9 am I've filed the vehicle log with the fuel chits stapled to its cover. Lebo doesn't seem the suicidal type. Then again, neither did Phiri. Lebo often arrives at work smelling of Slim Lizzie's home-brewed umqomboti from the night before, hands trembling, but he's never missed a day. Lebo is a good cop with a high rate of successful arrests and convictions. He's one of the few I think I trust. I've never seen him take a bribe. He doesn't treat immigrants as mobile ATMs.

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006