The Full Cupboard of Life
Alexander McCall Smith

This page:

The Full Cupboard of Life


detective fiction

index pages:

The Full Cupboard of Life

Copyright © 2003 by Alexander McCall Smith

Chapter One
A Great Sadness Among the Cars of Botswana
A man could be a hereditary ruler, or an elected president, but not be a gentleman, and that would show in his every deed. But if you had a leader who was a gentleman, with all that this meant, then you were lucky indeed.
Well, there were men like that; nice men who were fond enough of women but who were wary of getting married. [...] It was not a bad situation to be in, after all; indeed, there were some arguments for preferring an engagement to a marriage. You often heard of difficult husbands, but how often did you hear of difficult fiancés?



Chapter Two
How to Run an Orphan Farm
All the women in her family had been that build, and it had brought them good fortune and success; there was no point, she felt, being a thin and unhappy person when the attractions of being a comfortable person were so evident. And men liked women like that too. It was a terrible thing that the outside world had done to Africa, bringing in the idea that slender ladies [...] should be considered desirable. That was not what men really wanted. Men wanted women whose shape reminded them of good things on the table.
Chapter Three
Mma Ramotswe Visits Her Cousin in Mochudi, and Thinks

The world was a large place, and one might have thought that there was enough room for everybody. But it seemed that this was not so. There were many people who were unhappy, and wanted to move. Often they wished to come to the more fortunate countries—such as Botswana—in order to make more of their lives. That was understandable, and yet there were those who did not want them. This is our place, they said; you are not welcome.

It was so easy to think like that. People wanted to protect themselves from those they did not know. Others were different; they talked different languages and wore different clothes. Many people did not want them living close to them, just because of these differences. And yet, they were people, were they not? They thought the same way, and had the same hopes as anybody else did. They were our brothers and sisters, whichever way you looked at it, and you could not turn a brother or sister away.

“Women have not had much of a chance to be wicked in a big way,” she muttered. “Men have taken all the best jobs, where you can be truly wicked. If women here were allowed to be generals and presidents and the like, then they would be very wicked, same as all those wicked men. Just give them the chance.”

Chapter Four
A Woman Who Knows About Hair
Many of her clients referred to advice from friends, and in her experience this advice was often wrong. Friends tried to be helpful, but tended to misadvise, largely because they had unrealistic ideas of what the friend whom they were advising was really like. Mma Ramotswe believed that it was usually better to seek the advice of a stranger—not just any stranger, of course, as one could hardly go out onto the street and confide in the first person one encountered, but a stranger whom you knew to be wise. We do not talk about wise men or wise ladies any more, she reflected; their place had been taken, it seemed, by all sorts of shallow people—actors and the like—who were only too ready to pronounce on all sorts of subjects. [...] She, for one, would never pay any attention to the views of such people; she would far rather listen to a person who had done something real in life; these people knew what they were talking about.



Chapter Five
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni Has Cause to Reflect

One had to be firm with her, just as he had been firm with her on the issue of the pump. One had to stand up to a woman like that.

The difficulty, of course, with standing up to women was that it appeared to make little difference.

Chapter Seven
Early Morning at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors

The apprentice smiled. “You must not think too much, Mma,” he said. “It is not good for women to think too much.”

Mma Makutsi decided to ignore this remark, but after a moment she had to reply. She could not let this sort of thing go unanswered [...]

“It is not good for men if women think too much,” she retorted. “Oh yes, you are right there. If women start thinking about how useless some men are, then it is bad for men in general. Oh yes, that is true.”

“That is not what I meant,” said the apprentice.

“Hah!” said Mma Makutsi. “So now you are changing your mind.”

Chapter Eight
Tea Is Always the Solution

“But you cannot push men around. They do not like it. They like to feel that they are making their own decisions.”

“Even when they are not?” interjected Mma Makutsi.

“Yes,” said Mma Ramotswe. “We all know that it is women who take the decisions, but we have to let men think that the decisions are theirs. It is an act of kindness on the part of women.”


Women and Men

Chapter Nine
How to Handle Young Men Through the Application of Psychology
Psychology, she thought; that is what they called it these days, but in her view it was something much older than that. It was woman’s knowledge, that was what it was; knowledge of how men behaved and how they could be persuaded to do something if one approached the matter in the right way. [...] If men were prepared to use psychology, which they usually were not, then they too could get women to do what they wanted them to do. Perhaps it was fortunate, then, that men were so bad at psychology.



Chapter Eleven
Meeting Mr Bobologo
It would be strange to live in a country where people were silent, passing one another in the street wordlessly, as if frightened of what the other might think or say. This was not the African way, where people would call out and converse with one another from opposite sides of a road, or across a wide expanse of bush, careless of who heard. Such conversations could be carried on by people walking in different directions, until voices grew too faint and too distant to be properly heard and words were swallowed by the sky. That was a good way of parting from a friend, so less abrupt than words of farewell followed by silence.



It was a traditional Botswana pursuit to watch other people and wonder what they were up to; this modern habit of indifference to others was very hard to understand. If you watched people, then it was a sign that you cared about them, that you were not treating them as complete strangers. Again, it was all a question of manners.



Chapter Twelve
Mr Bobologo Talks on the Subject of Loose Women
If you were in the mood for falling in love, or marrying, then perhaps it did not matter very much whom you would see when you turned the corner. You were looking for somebody, and there was somebody, and you would convince yourself that this random person was what you were really looking for in the first place. We find what we are looking for in life, her father had once said to her; which was true—if you look for happiness, you will see it; if you look for distrust and envy and hatred—all those things—you will find those too.
Now people treated teachers like anybody else, which was a grave mistake; no wonder children were so cheeky and ill-behaved. A society that undermined its teachers and their authority only dug away at its own sure foundations.



Chapter Fourteen
Inside the House of Hope
A large black dung beetle was optimistically rolling a tiny trophy, a fragment of manure from the vegetable beds, back towards its home somewhere—a small bit of nature struggling with another small bit of nature, but as important as anything else in the world.
Chapter Eighteen
The Parachute Jump, and a Universal Truth About the Giving and Taking of Advice
So there was nothing more for her to say, other than to congratulate her on her forthcoming marriage and to reflect on the truth that when people ask for advice they very rarely want your advice and will go ahead and do what they want to do anyway, no matter what you say.

text checked (see note) May 2006

top of page