Excerpt from The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician

On the horizon, the sun was an icy orb hidden behind a thin veil of wispy white clouds. The Magistrate looked straight at it for a few seconds, its power lost in the stratosphere. With a bit of glue and feathers, he could touch it. He’d never have dared look the Bindura sun straight in the face like that. It came to him that each place had its own little sun, different from anywhere else. In Edinburgh the sun was this cold disc, distant, vague, powerless. For much of the year it was hidden

Tendai Huchu
Tendai Huchu

The air shimmered there, tar melted and buckled. People walked with beads of sweat rolling down their backs. Yet, even in this small town, there were two suns. In the low density suburbs the sun was wondrous, a joyful gift of warmth and light, but one had only to cross Chipindura Road from the east or Chipadze Road from the north into the high density suburbs to find the sun fierce and angry. There it assailed the residents, wilted the few patches of grass, stripped everything bare, revealing brown, cracked earth. If the sun infused life’s essence into the low density suburbs, in the townships it drained this very same essence away.

When he thought about home, the Magistrate often looked to Arthur’s Seat. He left the loch, tracking back up the road. The gorse gripping the sides of the hill was the bright yellow of the Bindura sun. The plants were strong, aggressive, making a niche on the bare sides of the hill. There was a hill in Bindura too, right in the middle of the town. It was made of granite that had formed deep in the bowels of the earth, patiently waiting until wind and rain had, slowly, over many millennia, stripped the soil off and left the hill high above everything else. Arthur’s Seat was a volcanic creation. Magma had pushed violently up from the belly of the earth, sculpting itself by sheer will.

Funny, the Magistrate thought, how old geography lessons hidden in the grey lesions of the mind crawled back to the surface after so long. He thought of the hours spent cramming useless information about the limestone regions of England. Stalagmites and stalactites. Igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. The rock cycle. Weathering. Different types of rain formation – the latter, he supposed, was always useful in Scotland. Crammed notes forced in by the master’s cane came flooding back. What was Chenai learning? Computers? Media Studies? Things were much more straightforward back then.

The traffic grew heavier. He could hear the drone of engines creeping along the road. He descended the slope to the other face of the hill. A man on a bicycle was holding up the traffic and a long tailback formed behind him. The white dome of Dynamic Earth appeared behind the foliage. No wonder I’ve been thinking about geography, he thought. He put his hands in his pockets to keep warm.

The Magistrate’s daily circumambulation of Arthur’s Seat meant that he would not see Mai Chenai. Morning encounters when she was tired from the night shift were best avoided. High above, on Radical Road, early walkers scaled the summit. For all his love of the park, the Magistrate disliked its roads. He was happy with the footpaths, worn over the centuries. But the tarred road, the brute imposition of man’s will on nature, was not something he found pleasing. A thing of beauty like this should not have been tamed thus.

The parliament appeared to his left and opposite it stood Holyroodhouse, another of Her Majesty’s palaces. The restored parliament with nationalistic leanings right next to the English monarch’s residence. And along from it, blocks of low rent council flats. A tumultuous history and the contradictions of modern Scotland side by side. Yet, somehow, it all worked.

His eyes were drawn to the green spaces, the lawns ahead. A woman was being dragged along by a black mastiff on a long lead.

“Princess, stop,” she said. “Stop right now, Princess.”

What a name for a dog! What a choice of pet for a woman who, in all likelihood, lived in one of the flats nearby. He checked his watch. It was only a little after eight. In the early afternoon he liked to watch the Dog Whisperer. There were a few daytime programmes that he watched religiously, Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Countdown, Judge Judy, and Poirot formed the rest of his selection, which was only occasionally broken by cookery programmes. Of all the shows he’d watched, none gave him the same insight into the insanity of western society as the Dog Whisperer.

The woman pulled on the leash, but the dog was too powerful, forcing her to take giant strides to keep up. Coming in the opposite direction, a man and his whippet walked side by side in perfect harmony. “Calm, submissive state,” was what Cesar Millan would have called it. The ideal relationship between man and dog. Before he could begin to appreciate the show, the Magistrate had had to get his head round the fact that ‘these people’ lived indoors with their dogs. When Cesar went round saying that he rehabilitated dogs, and trained people, it made perfect sense. Anyone who lived indoors with a filthy animal clearly needed help.

The show’s format was always the same. A distraught dog owner, usually a woman – occasionally with a partner whose dislike of the dog could never quite be expressed in front of the camera, except, that is, by cold stares, or the resigned shaking of the head – would speak on camera about Fifi, or Bubu, or Coco whom she loved as much as life itself, but who was driving her to distraction.

Cesar Millan, the Third Worlder, the Mexican, would be called in. He was a small man, with perfect white teeth and a ridiculously well groomed beard. He would arrive smiling, always smiling, and sit down with the family. While they explained their problem, Cesar listened patiently, observing the dog and sometimes pushing it off his couch if it tried to sit with him uninvited. His diagnoses were usually simple. The dog was a pack animal that shouldn’t be treated as a child, but treated as… well, a dog.

Cesar would then work with the dog, master him, and correct the problem. He would teach the owner correct body postures and subtle ways of understanding their dog’s mind. His method was psychological, an attempt to restore balance. The dog, unused to discipline, would revolt. Cesar would poke it in the ribs, or click his fingers, point and say, “tsh.” The animal would resist, sulk, go mental, but Cesar would not relent. Some of the battles were of mythic proportions, like Jacob and the angel. No matter how long it took, Cesar pressed on, until finally, as if by magic, the dog succumbed. The tail would go down, the animal would relax into the “calm, submissive state”, and only then would Cesar, the stern master, show it affection.

Almost always his prescription involved the need for more exercise. The episode would conclude with smiling, grateful dog owners whose lives had been turned around, and who now kept their animals in a “calm, submissive state”. A shot of Cesar walking in the wilderness, holding a shepherd’s staff, surrounded by his own happy, peaceful pack of dogs faded with the credits. The same format, week in, week out, and the Magistrate could not get enough of it. The silver birches, bared of their leaves, stood like skeletons on parade by the pond on the Meadowbank side of the city. The giant struts of the stadium and sports centre loomed over the locale. The Magistrate saw a red kite, which he mistook for an eagle, soaring in the sky. He breathed faster from the exertion of the walk and felt better for it. His calves throbbed a little as he walked up the incline. The ruins of St Anthony’s stood below him and, when he looked down onto Holyrood, he could just make out the ruined abbey adjacent to the palace.

The Magistrate’s vision skimmed over the roofs of the city. Cranes in the west looked like brontosauri feeding off the rooftops. The houses were tiny, like dolls’ houses huddling together from the cold. The Restalrig high-rises brutally punctured the cityscape, and he swept over Leith to Granton, where flats fractured the skyline. In between the extremes, a hundred church spires stood out. From this point he could take in most of the city and, beyond, the Forth, calm and grey. On a day like this he could even see across to Fife. The Magistrate felt like a colossus striding over the narrow world. Everywhere he turned the view was breathtaking. On days like this the saudade hit him pretty bad and, for a moment, he could see Bindura, the low prospect, the giant mine chimneys in the distance, but the memory was like a flicker from an old videotape that had been dubbed over. He could only hold the image in his mind for a brief second before it vanished into the mist hovering over the Forth.

Post published in: Arts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *