identity

Huchu's 3Ms: The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician

 

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.



T

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's The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician was published by Kachifo Limited under their Farafina Books imprint in 2015.

Read reviews by This Is Africa and Wawa Book Review here and here.



About Tendai

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.

 

TBBNQ Reads: Blackass By A. Igoni Barrett

Image: The Book Banque

Image: The Book Banque

Blackass is a satirical novel set in contemporary Lagos, with a plot that, to some extent, mirrors that of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In Metamorphosis, the main character, Gregor Samsa, transforms into a beetle overnight and his life seems to change for the worse – his relationship with his family becomes strained and he dies rather tragically. In the case of Blackass, the protagonist, Furo Wariboko (who later becomes Frank Whyte) transforms overnight from a black Nigerian man to a white man with red hair and green eyes.

Depending on the lens through which one may examine Furo’s newly possessed identity, it can be labelled an unfortunate or fortunate occasion for Furo. His transformation may be considered unfortunate in that he becomes an object that is gawked at and suspiciously adored by Lagosians who imagine him to be drowning in wealth due to his white skin. If you have ever been to Nigeria, you would know that perceived wealth is an unsent invitation for exploitation - be it white or black. Given this, it is not hard to imagine why his new identity could be viewed as unfortunate.

To Furo’s advantage, however, his new identity strings along fortune; in that his quality of life improves mainly through fruitful opportunities stemming from his newfound white privilege. Bizarrely, despite Furo’s sudden and peculiar transformation into a white man, his buttocks remain black as ever! It may be difficult to find an explanation for this – I have tried and failed – but it is certainly interesting and amusing that, alongside Furo’s strong Nigerian accent, Barrett chooses to make Furo’s black buttocks a lingering indication of his previous identity.

Like any normal person would, Furo panics when he wakes up in a totally different skin. However, being the same jobless man that he was the day before, he remains dedicated to his job hunt which he returns to hurriedly, mainly to prevent his family from witnessing his sudden identity change. As he begins to walk through the busy streets of Lagos, Furo instantly encounters treatment different to that which he received as a black, unemployed Nigerian man. Not only does his white skin bring him long stares, it also brings him jobs he never applied for and was simply unqualified for. In his newfound pale skin and highly profitable role as a marketing executive in a sales company, you can imagine how Furo’s confidence heightens!

His manipulative tendencies begin to unfold throughout his interactions with other characters such as Syreeta, Igoni, and Tosin. Through the depiction of Furo and Syreeta’s relationship, in particular, Barrett seems to reveal the ways in which human relationships can be exploitative and rife with uncertainty. This is seen as both Syreeta and Furo use each other as a means to their own selfish ends; ultimately leading to the unfortunate, but not particularly surprising, end of their relationship.

Throughout my reading of Blackass, I loved the way in which Barrett used strings of words to construct a world into which I entered with eagerness. Blackass can be considered a highly descriptive text but this, perhaps, can be argued as what makes the different characters of this novel come to life on the pages. Reading some passages, I felt as though I was in the same room as the characters, living through their experiences with them. To be able to animate fictional characters in a manner that resonates with the reader is utterly commendable.

Like most critical reviews of various works of art, the reviews of Blackass are mixed. Some critics have raised concerns over the structure of the novel, claiming that it is rather erratic and disjointed, as the chapters have only a slight relation to the previous or following chapters. While it is unclear as to why Barrett adopts this structure, one could, perhaps, take Barrett’s structuring of the novel to be indicative of identity change — a fundamental theme in this novel. Maybe the structure is erratic because it mirrors the dynamics of identity change — a non-straightforward and, sometimes, disorderly process.

Other critiques have often suggested that Barrett could have done more with the Kafkaesque plot and provided a much more suitable ending. To be fair, I personally struggled to come to terms with the way in which Blackass ends. I initially felt deflated and filled with so many questions. Instantly, I thought “is that it? I want more!” But on second thought, I wondered what exactly it was I wanted and I could not quite answer the question. I thus reminded myself that an uncomfortable and seemingly insufficient ending can sometimes be indicative of the writer triggering his/her readers to explore, in greater depths, their feelings and thoughts about the story being told. It could be that a longing for a more complete ending is to be channelled into greater inquisition and consciousness of the novel’s themes.

Although Barrett draws upon Kafkaesque elements in constructing his novel, Blackass remains very much his own work of art. Not only does he divert from Kafka’s plot of Metamorphosis in that Furo’s identity transformation is of a distinct nature to Gregor Samsa’s; he also unravels his Kafkaesque story in a unique setting – a West African city where there are still manifestations of racial struggles, such as black Africans treating white visitors/immigrants as more superior beings – a problematic act which stems from colonial histories.

Barrett, through his characterisation of Furo, may want his readers to acknowledge race relations and the implications of white privilege. As importantly, he may also want us to acknowledge gender identity and its complex dynamics through his characterisation of Igoni – a Nigerian transsexual writer who happens to be a fictional representation of Barrett. Blackass holds great significance as it not only illustrates the various hardships which Lagosians experience, but also demonstrates the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identities using purely Nigerian characters like Igoni. This is remarkable as Nigerians do not always discuss issues pertaining to sexuality in a free and open manner. Thus, a novel like Barrett’s is required to help nurture further debates about the fluidity of sexuality and gender identities, especially amongst Nigerians.

Despite the humorous sections of Blackass, it remains a novel that ought to be taken seriously due to its exploration of identities and their complexities. Barrett’s Blackass is essentially a work of extraordinary beauty and pertinent relevance, as it is centred on race, love, human relationships, and most importantly, identity. As humans in a world characterised by rapid change and uncertainty, it seems fair to say that we will continue to come into contact with some of the issues which Blackass explores. Identity change is very much a human phenomenon, and as Barrett writes, “somewhere, in some way, it [is] always happening to someone.” Barrett thus offers to the world a work of art which can be turned to in attempts to refine our understanding(s) of ourselves and others, as well as ways of being in the world.

Purchase a copy of Blackass here or email us at info@thebookbanque.com to borrow a copy!

TBBNQ Reads: Things Fall Apart - Review

Wherever possible, Okonkwo never failed to seize the opportunity to express his masculinity. Through the village fights, meetings with the elders and interactions with his family members, the preservation of his tough, manly, undefeated and fearless figure was of paramount importance. So much so that he coldly murdered Ikemefuna - who looked up to him as a father - just to protect this ‘masculine’ image. The irony in Okonkwo’s story is the fact that the display of masculinity and the desire to be feared and respected was an exhibition of a different form of fear in itself. That is, the fear of being anything close to the legacy of his late father - lazy, weak, and in turn, feminine. The need to dissociate himself from his father, Unoka, was the bane of Okonkwo’s existence and simultaneously, the shovel for which Okonkwo dug his grave. The desire to be alienated from the negative legacy of his father is however not synonymous to Okonkwo. It is an innate feature that unconsciously drives majority of people, especially young people. The fear of failing or mirroring the thing(s) loathed in familial relationships, unbeknownst to us, shapes our decisions, and who we strive to be.