Mma Ramotswe and Rra Burns by Alexander McCall Smith – A Burns Night treat for readers everywhere
The invitation was a matter of great interest to Precious Ramotswe, creator and proprietrix of Botswana’s only detective agency, the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It was not that Mma Ramotswe did not receive her fair share of invitations – she did – but she had certainly never received an invitation quite like the one she now held in her hands. The Convenor of the Burns Club of Botswana requests the pleasure of the company of Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi at a Burns Supper to be held at the President Hotel. Dress: Casual smart.
“Now, Mma Makutsi,” said Mma Ramotswe. “What is this Burns Supper? What is all this about?”
Mma Makutsi, her assistant, and graduate magna cum laude of the Botswana Secretarial College thought for a moment. “I think that it is a supper that Scottish people have at this time of the year,” she said. “It has something to do with Mr Robert Burns. He is late now. But they still have suppers for him.”
“Indeed?” said Mma Ramotswe. “And this Mr Burns, why do they have a supper in his honour? What did he do, Mma Makutsi, apart from becoming late, that made him worthy of such a thing?”
“He wrote very fine poetry,” said Mma Makutsi. “I read some of it when I was doing my Cambridge. It is very good poetry. It is all about …” She thought for a moment.
“Well, Mma Makutsi,” prompted Mma Ramotswe. “It is about what?”
Mma Makutsi scratched her head. “It is about how it doesn’t matter who you are, you are still important. That is the case even if you are a mouse.”
Mma Ramotswe smiled. “That is very interesting. So he wrote about mice, this Mr Burns? And anything else? Did he write about other things?”
Mma Makutsi tried to remember those hot afternoons when her English teacher, Mr Solomon Mapetsi, used to read poetry to the class; Mr Solomon Mapetsi with his small round glasses and his smoker’s cough. Did he not say something about love? Did Mr Burns not write a poem about a woman who thought of her old husband and remembered all the good times they had spent together paddling in the water? Did he not write about that? She thought he did. So she told Mma Ramotswe about all this. And Mma Ramotswe was silent, looking up at the ceiling with its fly tracks and its white boards that would have to be replaced one of these days, but not just yet.
“I like poets like that,” she said, when Mma Makutsi had finished. And then she said, “Are you sure that this Robert Burns isn’t an African? Are you sure that he did not come from Botswana?”
“I am very sure,” said Mma Makutsi. “But why do you think that, Mma?”
“Because it sounds as if he had the same heart as us,” said Mma Ramotswe. “It sounds as if he understood.”
“Oh, I think he understood,” said Mma Makutsi.
They sat in silence. It was very hot and the sky above the hills was white and empty.
“God was very kind to Scotland when he gave her Mr Burns,” said Mma Ramotswe.
“That is true, Mma,” said Mma Makutsi.
“It sounds as if they understand over there that we are all brothers and sisters,” said Mma Ramotswe.
“I think they do,” said Mma Makutsi.