He was a tired man. Thirty years of township violence in varying stages of intensity had left him cynical and drained. Carson Mhlongo was almost fifty-five. He had five children and two wives. The first wife he buried in Augustus Cemetery for Policemen and Immediate Family. She had borne him twins before dying from loss of blood, in a hospital near KwaMashu. Carson, only a lowly cadet in the South African Police at the time, had been devastated by the tragedy, and overwhelmed by his new responsibility as a father of not one but two very wriggly and incomprehensible babies; a boy and a girl. Truly, he had been blessed and cursed by his Ancestors, and he was at a loss in every respect.
Carson's mother, MaBhengu, had taken charge of the situation. She had handled the funeral arrangements, kept Carson fed and in clean clothes, and the house tidy, had fed and changed the babies for the first three months of their lives, and then had called her youngest daughter, Jabule, up from her job in the city to stay epulazini and help with the children, much to Jabule's dismay. Jabu enjoyed her job as a domestic worker in a well-off home in the suburbs, and knew she would never be able to find such a comfortable situation again once she had been replaced. Jabu consequently held it against the children that her life as a city girl had been interrupted, and MaBhengu did not fail to notice it.
She made a few enquiries within the community and discovered that one of the elders of her church had a daughter who had been widowed, who was looking for a husband. She was a little older than Carson and not very attractive, but MaBhengu did not believe that any woman would hold the same allure for him that his first wife, Thandiwe, had. So she went about the marriage arrangements, finding the right member of the community to act as marriage mediator, and going through the traditional rituals of enquiring with the woman's parents and offering a token payment during the initial talks. It was all mostly unnecessary, since the woman's first husband had already paid lobola for her and had done all of the rituals and steps of courtship in the correct manner, so she was really not her father's responsibility any more, but MaBhengu, despite being a prominent Christian churchgoer and activist within the church, also desperately wanted this to work out for Carson, and so she sought the blessings of the Ancestors through the proper ways of their people. She was a woman who covered all of her bases.
MaBhengu 's efforts did not go unnoticed by either the Ancestors or the new wife, Zamile, who persevered through Carson's continuous rejection of her as a wife, for the sake of her mother-in-law. She was a mother to the babies and a wife to Carson, and she was a good housekeeper. Carson focused on his career, which consisted of all-night patrols to keep the peace in the Apartheid-era townships. During one of these patrols, Carson was shot in the chest by a child with a home-made weapon. The child turned and fled when he saw the results of his target-practice, and those gang members who had put him up to it followed closely. Carson had been taken to the same hospital his first wife had died in, preparing to meet her. And yet this was not his fate. Carson received a solid dose of O negative and was stable by the time Zamile and MaBhengu arrived. Zamile had cried silently for hours, not saying a word, but holding Carson's hand and keeping her eyes on her lap.
After that day, Carson and Zamile had begun the tentative process of building a marriage. They discovered, to their delight, that it was not as difficult as they had feared. Zamile was a very clever woman, and mature for her age. Carson could only respect Zamile for her persistence, and day by day, he realised that she was a truly unique and brilliant woman. He could talk to her about his day, as he would talk to a man, and she would understand and empathise, even suggesting novel ways to solve his more common problems.
She had three children, each with a two-year gap, and Carson began to think about a quieter, safer lifestyle. One in which he could enjoy being a husband and a father. It became his ambition. Not power and wealth and political status, which drove almost all of his colleagues, but peace and quiet; a simple and happy life somewhere away from the city.
And he had been given this post, a tiny charge office on the backwaters of the edge of the municipality. The prospect of few men to command and even fewer problems to deal with appealed to Carson, and he looked forward to his new job as much as some old-timers looked forward to retirement, and it was viewed by all his workmates as much the same thing. A man of few words and placid temperament, Carson had simply smiled at the jibes and sideways sympathy of the other officers at his going-away (some called it early funeral) party. His enthusiasm for a gentle ending to his story, with his family in the farmland, was undiminished.