An exclusive excerpt from Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician.
Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician tells a layered story of three Zimbabwean exiles as they chart the course of their new lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Each distinct in background, personalities and thus, in their narrations, they share a paradox of belonging and identity, and a conflict of cultures — respectively affixed to immigration.
The Magistrate, as implied by his name, was formerly a custodian of justice in Zimbabwe. In Edinburgh, however, the ladder rungs are reversed, and he is forced to take on menial jobs for survival. This excerpt, stirring yet hilarious, provides a glimpse into his jarring reality and the disservice political unrest is capable of instituting.
he Magistrate waited, listening to her strident advice, while she did not even look in his direction. He felt small, a gnat, intruding on her space. The office had two desks placed together in an L shape. The other desk was empty. Both were untidy with paperwork chaotically stacked, a scattering of empty mugs with dried lipstick stains around the edges. The Magistrate remembered a time when he walked into places and people rushed to serve him. Mwana wamambo muranda kumwe. The wastepaper basket between the two desks was overflowing. The windows were grimy.
The bench was a lifetime ago. It pained him to think of his past, to recall memories of what once had been. If only he had no memory, no sense of his old successful self, then it would be easier to accept his new circumstances.
“Men like that need to be taught a lesson. If my boyfriend did that I would chop his thing off… Yeah, he knows it.” The woman on the phone was explaining her philosophy for a stable relationship. The Magistrate involuntarily crossed his legs. Attempted murder? Grievous bodily harm? A crime of passion? The most popular one with aggrieved women back home was to pour boiling cooking oil over the philanderer’s face, though none of those had ever reached his court. He’d dealt with a lot of domestic violence. But then again crime feels common if it’s all you deal with day in day out. In his line of work it was natural to assume society was sick. The law was rather mute on couples that actually loved one another, except, that is, for marriage, a ceremony he disliked presiding over.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” The woman returned to her caller.
“Some people are just so rude, ha, they can’t wait just a few minutes.”
“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes!”
The woman continued her conversation as though he was not even there. He could feel rage swelling up within him. He stood up abruptly and his chair fell over. “Calm submissive state, my arse,” he thought. The woman gazed admiringly at her nails.
“Have a nice day,” he said, making for the door. As he opened it, Alfonso fell in, struggling with several plastic bags.
“Aikaka, Magistrate, you’re here?” Alfonso blew air from his mouth.
“I was just about to leave.”
“And go where? I’ve just arrived,” Alfonso said, ushering him back in. “I’d just gone to Lidl for my shopping. It’s called multitasking. I have a theory–”
“Your receptionist is very unhelpful.”
“I’m an administrator,” the woman called out.
“No, no, there must be some misunderstanding. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you. Here at Busy Bodies Recruitment and Employment Solutions we aim to provide First World service to Scottish businesses, governmental departments, the charitable sector, and other not-for-profit organisations. We are the one stop shop for all your recruitment solutions.” Alfonso was really trying to say he was sorry but couldn’t do anything about it since she was his small house. “Please, please, sit down. Let me just put these to one side and then we can talk.”
The Magistrate was reluctant but Alfonso’s imploring face with its comic meerkat-like appearance stayed him. Alfonso rushed round to the other side of the desk and sat down. He straightened his tie. He was a small man and behind the desk he cut a ridiculous figure.
“So, what brings you to our offices?” Alfonso smirked with apparent relish.
“I need a job,” the Magistrate replied in a low voice.
“Sorry, I didn’t get that.” Alfonso cupped his left ear and leant forward.
“I need a job.”
“Aha.” Alfonso leapt up. “I told you he would come, Spiwe. Didn’t I tell you he would come?” He looked intoxicated, gleeful; casting his hands wide open as if embracing the whole world. “I knew it. I just knew it. How long has it been? A year?”
“Not that long.”
“Near enough.” Alfonso nipped round his desk, grabbed Spiwe’s phone and cut her off.
“What do you think you’re DOING?”
“I told you he’d come.” Alfonso spoke in a frenzy. “This man is like a brother to me. He’s smarter than me; he has a degree, a Master’s, and many, many certificates. But let me tell you one thing, he doesn’t know the UK like I do. I tried to tell Mai Chenai. I said to her, ‘Look, tell him to stop applying for those posh jobs in the newspapers. They are not for the likes of us.’ This country now uses a system I call voluntary slavery. They used to bring you people in big boats, shackled together – you didn’t even need a passport, and then you started refusing, saying you wanted equality. Now you flood their borders looking for work. What do you expect them to do? I’ve seen it all before, many times: Nigerians, Jamaicans, Polishans, Congoans, Russians, Indians, you name it. There was an electrician from Bulawayo, you know Mdala Phiri… of course you do. Phiri came here with his wife, a nurse, he thought he was going to get an electrician’s job. I told him, ‘Phiri, this is the Civilised World, forget it,’ but he didn’t listen, no one listens to Alfonso. So, he went for an interview and do you know what the man said to him? He said, ‘Look here, why are you bothering us? Can’t you see the electricity we use is different from the electricity in your country?’ You don’t believe me? I swear it. Phiri himself told us. Spiwe here is my witness.”
“Leave me out of your stories, Mr Pfukuto,” said Spiwe.
Alfonso strutted around the room with a limp, as though one leg was slightly longer than the other.
“It’s even worse with the law, Magistrate. I tried to say it but no one listens to Alfonso. They think we come from the jungle. They think we have kangaroo courts. They will say, ‘How can you practice law here when you couldn’t even preserve the rule of law in your own country?’ I knew your applications would come to nothing. They didn’t even reply you, did they?” Alfonso ignored the Magistrate’s obvious discomfort. “Only nursing is the same, because no matter where you go in the world, wiping bums is still wiping bums. But don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. I am going to make sure you get a good job with good rates of pay too. You’re not like these tsotsis weaving and ducking without papers. No, you will get a good job, a very good job.”
Alfonso threw an application form in front of the Magistrate and gave him a pen. He picked up the phone, flicked through a diary and dialled out.
“Spiwe, help him to fill it out.” Spiwe gritted her teeth, but she stood up and went to the Magistrate anyway. She hovered over him as he filled the document in. He was slow, thorough, reading each question carefully before writing. He was used to going through legal documents where he could not risk misinterpreting the contents.
“Hallo, hallo, is this Olu?” Alfonso asked, in a faux Nigerian accent, to someone on the phone. “Oh, my sister-wo, how are you in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour… Yes, I am fine… Listen, Olu, there has been a problem with your shift tonight. They have cancelled it… I know it’s terrible. I said to them, ‘Why did you book it if you knew you were going to cancel it?’ Don’t worry I will call you as soon as I get something. You are my number one… God bless you, my sister-wo.”
He got off the line and smiled at the Magistrate. “I’ve got you a shift. You start tonight. First we must give you a pair of safety shoes, a tunic and some industrial gloves… Don’t worry we’ll deduct the cost from your first pay cheque… It’s okay, don’t thank me. That’s what friends are for.”
Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser Of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, The Africa Report, Kwani? and numerous other publications. In 2013, he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing.