"We came to here and I saw there was a white man in the water," Butana said. "It was Captain Pretorius. Dead."
"What did you do?" Emmanuel asked.
"We ran." Vusi rubbed one palm against the other to make a swishing sound. "Fast, fast. No stopping."
"You went home?"
"No, baas." Vusi shook his head. "We came to the policeman's house and told what we saw."
"What time?" Emmanuel asked Shabalala.
"It was past six o'clock in the morning," the black policeman said.
"They just know what time it is," Hansie supplied helpfully. "They don't need clocks the way we do."
Blacks in South Africa needed so little. A little less every day was the general rule. The job of detective was one of the few not subject to policies forbidding contact between different races. Detectives uncovered the facts, presented the brief, and gave evidence in court to support the case. White, black, coloured, or Indian, murder was a capital offense no matter what race the offender belonged to.
Emmanuel spoke to the older boy. "Did you see or hear anything strange when you came down to the river this morning?"
"The unusual thing was the body of the captain in the water," said Vusi.
"What about you?" Emmanuel asked the smaller boy. "You notice anything different? Besides the captain in the water?"
"Nothing," the little brother said.
"When you saw the body, did you think of anyone you know who could have hurt Captain Pretorius?"
The boys considered the question for a moment, their brown eyes wide with concentration.
Vusi shook his head. "No. I thought only that today was not a good day to go fishing."
"You both did a very good thing by telling Constable Shabalala what you saw. You will make fine policemen one day."
Vusi's chest puffed out with pride, but his little brother's eyes filled with tears.
"What's the matter?" Emmanuel asked.
"I do not want to be a policeman, nkosana," the small boy said. "I want to be a schoolteacher."
The terror that came with discovering the body had finally surfaced in the little witness. Shabalala laid a hand on the crying boy's shoulder and waited for the signal to dismiss the boys. Emmanuel nodded.
"To be a schoolteacher, first you must go to school," the black policeman said, and waved to one of the farmworkers standing on the ridge. "Musa will take you home."
Shabalala walked the boys past the Pretorius brothers to a man standing at the top of the path. The man waved the boys up toward him.
Emmanuel studied the riverbank. The green spring veldt and wide sky filled his vision. He pulled out his notebook and wrote the word "pleasing" because it was the first thing to come to his mind when he examined the wider elements of the scene.
There would have been a moment just after the blanket was spread and the lantern turned to full light when the captain would have looked out over the river and felt a sense of joy at this place. He might have even been smiling when the bullet struck.
"Well?" It was Erich, still put out by being moved away from the questioning. "Did you get anything?"
"No," Emmanuel said. "Nothing."
"The only reason we haven't taken Pa home," Henrick said, "is because he would have wanted us to follow the rules..."
"But if you're not getting anything," Erich said, his short fuse lit, "there's no reason for us to stand here like anthills when we could be helping Pa."
The wait for the big-city detective to work the scene had taken a toll on the brothers. Emmanuel knew that they were battling the urge to turn the captain faceup so he could get some air.
Copyright © 2009 by Malla Nunn
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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