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Precious Ramotswe weighs in. May 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Have you noticed that sometimes your favorite fictional characters tend to take on a life of their own, sometimes appearing in your own life and offering advice? I’ve found this to be true of the characters in Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series.

I’ve been savoring the latest book in the series, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. It involves the ongoing adventures and misadventures of the two lead characters, Mma Precious Ramotswe, the “traditionally built” (aka elephantine) and solidly grounded founder of the agency, and her somewhat more eccentric but always passionate and almost invariably accurate (even if extremely tactless) assistant detective and former secretary, Mma Grace Makutsi, best known for her enormous glasses and weakness for new shoes.

Mma Makutsi’s shoes have a disconcerting habit of talking to her, generally in an attempt to bring her back down to earth and point out the sensible path back to everyone’s best interests when she’s been getting a little, shall we say, carried away. In the same vein, I discovered today that Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (along with my favorite character, Mma Potokwane, indomitable matron of the Botswana orphanage and purveyor of irresistible fruitcake) were apparently trying to communicate with me.

It all came about this way: Every Saturday, I’m confronted with the prospect of cleaning the filters in our two aquariums. I have the choice of lifting out the filter pads, rubbing them vigorously in the sink to remove the accumulated slime from the previous week, and replacing them in the filter, or tossing and replacing them with new filter pads. Let me just say upfront that I hate touching filth and slime. One of our friend Ben’s most endearing qualities is his willingness to wash the pots, pans and dishes after I’ve cooked our meals.

I’d already washed one of the filters, and was contemplating whether to wash out the filter pad in the smaller aquarium or decide that after five weeks’ washing it was time to give it the heave-ho and replace it, when I suddenly heard a voice. I realized that it was Mma Ramotswe, and she was trying to get my attention:

Precious Ramotswe: Excuse me, Mma. I can’t help but notice that you’re thinking about tossing that aquarium filter rather than wash it out in the sink and put it back in the tank.

Silence: You’re right, Mma. I’ve already washed it out five times, and I absolutely hate touching filth, so every single time has been a torture. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to just toss it and replace it with a nice pristine filter pad instead. 

Mma Ramotswe: But Mma, just think! Isn’t it a perfectly good filter, with lots of life in it yet? Think of my tiny white van. I loved that van, despite its shortcomings, and I’m sure it loved me. I never wanted to get rid of it just because it took some extra effort to restore it to working order. I was devastated when Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni decided to replace it with a newer van, and have never ceased to search for it every day.

Silence: Yes, but Mma, your van! A vehicle has a personality and life of its own. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have our ancient red Volkswagen Golf, the Red Rogue. It is used, but not yet late, Mma. Many people have told us it should be late, that we should trade it in on a less-used vehicle, Mma. But we will not consider that until the tiny red Golf has breathed its last. It is ours, and we are loyal.

Mma Ramotswe: True, but a fish filter is not a vehicle, Mma.

Mma Makutsi, breaking in: Besides, Mma, have you noticed the price of new fish filters? Fish filters are not cheap, Mma. A package of fish filters costs almost as much as a new pair of shoes, at least, if the shoes happen to be on sale and the shop proprietor happens to know my fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop.

Silence, now terminally confused: Uh, you don’t say?

Mma Makutsi: Not that I’m suggesting that you bring up Phuti’s name in order to bring down the price of fish-tank filters, Mma. Rather, I suspect that continuing to wash the filters rather than replacing them would be a wise economic move.

Mma Makutsi’s shoes: Good thinking, Boss. 

Silence: Uh, did you say something else, Mma? I’m not sure I caught that. 

Mma Potokwane, scenting trouble and screeching up to add her two thebes: Mma Ramotswe! Mma Makutsi! Mma Dogood! I’ve just dropped by to see if anyone wanted to come back with me to the orphanage for red bush tea and a slice of fruitcake. Make that two slices.

Mma Ramotswe, visibly brightening: What a wonderful idea, Mma! Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck at an impasse here regarding Mma Dogood and her aquarium filters.

Mma Potokwane: What’s the problem, Mma?

Mma Ramotswe: Replacement filters are pricey, but cleaning off encrusted, slimy filter pads, as she must every weekend to keep the aquarium water clean and fresh, grosses Mma Dogood out.

Mma Potokwane, thinking quickly: Mma Dogood, I heard a rumor that your Rra our friend Ben is rather fond of desserts.

Silence: You heard right, Mma.

Mma Potokwane: I think I saw that today’s Wall Street Journal had a special feature on Key lime pies.

Silence: Right again, Mma, OFB and I were reading that article just this morning and I was thinking how easy it would be to make one, even embellishing it with fresh blueberries or raspberries.

Mma Makutsi: Aha! So you could use the money you’d otherwise have spent on new fish filters to buy those berries for the Key lime pie!

Mma Makutsi’s shoes: Excellent point, Boss.

Silence: Hmmm, you’re right, Mma.

Precious: And wouldn’t you and OFB enjoy a nice, luscious Key lime pie more than a new fish filter?

Silence: Of course, Mma. But what about the poor fish?!

Mma Ramotswe: As my dear daddy, the late Obed Ramotswe, often said, “Precious, cows are cows.” Wash the filters and give them another week.


1. h.ibrahim - May 15, 2011

How delightful!

Thanks, Huma! Such a fun post to write.

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