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The Edge of the Pot by Liesl Jobson

"... He did something wrong?"

            "He was under investigation for corruption, Jessie." Msomi reverses out of the parking lot and leans in close to me. His gold-capped tooth reflects the sunlight and sparkles momentarily. "He had Nigerian connections..."

            Phiri? I can't imagine him doing anything irregular. I frown.

            "You don't believe?" asks Msomi, shoving the gear into first and pulling off. The vehicle judders under a ropy clutch.

            "I don't know."

            "Serious. I'm telling you."

            Msomi is saying something else, but I still can't figure what he's really saying. "Can you explain some more, Inspector?"

            He clicks his tongue at me. He obviously considers me an idiot. Inspector Msomi looks about furtively, as if checking that he will not be overheard, even though there is nobody about.

            "You always have money, Jess. If someone gets jealous..."

            "I teach English to foreigners, Inspector. You know that."

            "If one day you discover you are unable to help somebody out, somebody for example, like Lebo who needs your assistance, you could find yourself under investigation."

            "Lebo's my buddy. Of course I'll help him." My jaw hangs open. He rests his hand on my thigh. I clench my stomach.

            "You should choose your friends carefully, Constable."

            "But, but..."

            The pressure increases against my knee. I want to push his hand off me. Instead I move my knees together discreetly, squirming away from his touch. I tell myself the touch means nothing, it is familial, not sexual.

            "I'm just giving you a fatherly tip."

            He grins at me in a way my father never did. Now I'm supposed to express my gratitude, but I want him to take his heavy hand off my leg. I can't think of anything else.

            "But I've got permission from the Station Commissioner, Inspector, written permission."

            I tell myself I'm imagining his advances. He doesn't even like me, or my scrawny body type. He likes the voluptuous females, the 'Number 7, Heavens' that flock to the police van when we are out together. They are girls with huge bosoms and full bellies, thick lips and solid bums. I'm a 'Number 2, Maseru', scrawny and undernourished.

            I tell myself his hand on my leg is just Soweto friendliness. His people are more open, less inhibited than mine. I dismiss my concern, tell myself I'm paranoid, but I know I haven't understood all there is to this dark man.

            "I teach after hours. It doesn't interfere with my duties." My voice is shrill. I hate my defensive tone.

            "I understand, but everyone knows the Chinese are drug traffickers..."

            I remember Mrs Tsuen's wall-hanging. An elaborate embroidered dragon guards the entrance to her tiny home in Cyrildene where I remove my large black boots each week, placing them beside her dainty sequinned slippers, small as a child's. She told me that in her country the dragon brings power and good luck. On Tuesday evenings I follow her to the dining room table. My footsteps are conspicuously silent in my blue wool socks as I tower above her.

            "That's rather a generalisation, Inspector," I say, risking his disapproval. He dislikes opposition, especially from women, particularly from white women. He clicks his tongue, dismissing my opinion. I expect him to start ranting, telling me I think myself a 'clever', but I'm really a know-nothing idiot. He is oddly silent and replaces his hand on the steering wheel before turning across two lanes of traffic on Columbine Avenue.

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006