“I have my own night nurse,” the Magistrate replied, buttoning up his suit. Mai Chenai wore a sombre black outfit that matched her mood. Their last few weeks had been busy with visits to the midwife, meetings with the school and the social worker.
Autumn crept in regardless. The remaining vegetables in the garden were dying. The trees were crowned with orange leaves that they shed with each passing day. The wind blew the leaves along the street where they gathered in piles in the gutters and blocked drains.
“We have to face this together. That boy’s father is coming soon. We must look respectable.”
“What kind of man lets his son run around like a wild buck sticking his…” The Magistrate straightened himself. He could not finish his train of thought.
“They are both children and they’ve made a big, big mistake. We have to deal with the consequences now. There’s no changing the situation.”
But they had tried. Mai Chenai had taken Chenai to the GP, to see if there was still a chance. It was too late. The Magistrate had been relieved. He’d sent away a few women in his day for terminations. Even here, where it was permitted by law, he still had been unable to face the idea, preferring instead to let Mai Chenai deal with it. He was ashamed of his cowardice, like Pilate washing his hands.
He held Mai Chenai’s hand and kissed her cheek. She laid her head on his shoulder and wiped a tear with a handkerchief. The air was suffocating, a heavy silence settled on the house.
There was a knock on the door. The Magistrate opened it and Alfonso burst in. He grabbed the Magistrate’s arms and looked at him.
“Are you okay?” asked Alfonso.
“This is not a good time.”
Alfonso pushed his way through and sat on the free chair opposite them.
“Amai Chenai, I was so worried about this man.” His speech was a little slurred. They could smell the whisky on his breath from across the room. “He’s like a brother to me. I’ve been getting shifts, doing my best to make sure he gets the best jobs and all of a sudden he disappears. I tried phoning, more than a dozen times, I had to come to make sure that everything was okay.”
“You are working yourself up into a state. Would you like a cup of tea?” asked Mai Chenai.
“I have my strong stuff.” Alfonso waved a quart in the air.
“I’ll get you some tea anyway,” she said, and went to the kitchen.
Alfonso took a sip straight from the bottle. He offered some to the Magistrate, holding the bottle out, almost a gesture of supplication. The Magistrate refused. He looked at Alfonso gnawing at his moustache, trying to figure out how to get rid of him as soon as possible.
Before he could think of an excuse, the doorbell rang. The Magistrate felt a wave of panic. He wiped his palms on his trousers.
“Perhaps you should go upstairs and lie down for a bit,” he suggested.
Alfonso shook his head. The Magistrate went to the door and opened it. He was taken aback by the familiar face that appeared in front of him.
“Well, this is a surprise,” he said.
“You’re telling me.” It was Peter McKenzie.
The Magistrate led him in; he would have preferred to have this whole thing settled in camera. Peter shook hands with Alfonso. The three of them recounted the incident at the church, the crockery that had almost caught Peter on the head. Alfonso was all too keen on recounting his heroic rescue, getting them out of danger as the old church was violated.
“I must say, things would be a lot more exciting if that’s how we handled our politics here,” said Peter.
Mai Chenai came out and greeted him. She’d brought everyone a cup of tea. Alfonso alone insisted on having alcohol. They talked about the weather, the football, Zimbabwe, anything at all they could find to avoid the real subject at hand. There was an awkward silence, the calm before the talk. Alfonso crossed his legs and uncrossed them, fighting a full bladder.
“So, we have this situation,” Peter finally said.
Mai Chenai sighed. There were lines on her face the Magistrate had not seen before. Little crow’s feet around her eyes. He pulled her close, rubbing her back.
“Your son accepts his responsibility?” the Magistrate asked.
“Liam,” Peter emphasized his name as though to say, he is an individual, it’s not my fault, “loves Che very much. They are both young and have made a mistake, but now we have to find out how best we can deal with it.”
“What mistake?” Alfonso blurted out. He became animated, leaning forward from his armchair, looking from the Magistrate to Peter as if watching a tennis match.
“The most important thing,” the Magistrate continued, ignoring Alfonso, “is that the child must not be allowed to suffer in any way.”
“It will be loved, no doubt about that. I suppose the first step is to find out from both Liam and Che what their intentions are. If they intend to stay together, how the baby will impact on their education, their careers and so forth. This whole thing is a right old mess. I’m sorry, since the wife died I don’t feel I’ve been able to get through to Liam like she could. I’m telling you if she was still around, she’d have known what they were up to.”
“Women can’t always know these things.” Mai Chenai sounded defensive.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be old fashioned. I was just trying to say that maybe we could have done something in time.”
“It’s too late for that now.”
Alfonso cut in excitedly, “Chenai is pregnant and your son is responsible. Jehovah God, she is so young. A minor. Under age. Statutory. This is a catastrophe. It must be handled the traditional way. There can be no other solution. Your son is responsible. Statutory. He impregnated her. He has a lot to answer for. It’s a sin, it’s a sin before God and before man.”
Peter frowned. The Magistrate coughed loudly but Alfonso would not stop. He jumped up from his chair, knocking the cup of tea Mai Chenai had brought him to the carpet.
“That’s right, we have to solve this the traditional way. You come in here walking about like you own the place, talking about the weather. You have no right, no right at all. You are a mukwasha to my brother and you must show some respect. Your son didn’t show any respect. Look now. She’s under age. No sir, there is only one way to resolve this. You must pay damage.”
“Damage?” asked Peter, startled.
“Yes, you must pay damage,” Alfonso said, oblivious to the Magistrate whose hand was clenched, holding an imaginary gavel ready to call order, to have him locked up for contempt.
“What are you on about, man? She’s pregnant not damaged.”
“We knew you’d try to get away without paying. Didn’t I say it? They’ll try to rip us off. She’s an only child, zai regondo. You have to accept responsibility. You must pay damage and lobola. We will accept nothing less than five thousand pounds.”
“I’ve had enough of this. You would try to sell your own child?” Peter stood up. Alfonso rushed towards him and grabbed the leg of his trousers.
“No sir, you can’t leave without paying five thousand pounds!”
“Alfonso, Alfonso!” the Magistrate shouted, which unfortunately sounded to Peter like he was egging him on.
Peter shoved Alfonso away, but no sooner had he recovered did Alfonso jump back and tackle him, wrapping both arms around his right leg. He huffed and puffed, clinging on with all his might while Peter tried to kick him off.
“Get off me, man,” Peter cried out.
“You must pay for our daughter. There is nothing for it. You’ve used her and now you want to cheat us. Statutory. She is underage. Five thousand pounds you owe. It’s our culture. It’s the law.”
Peter struggled to get rid of the little man. The Magistrate got up and came towards him. Perceiving a threat, Peter shoved the Magistrate hard and he fell on his wife’s lap. He kicked Alfonso off and grabbed a half full cup of tea from the table, which he brandished as a weapon.
“You bloody scoundrels, trying to sell a little girl like this,” he said, waving the cup about while retreating to the door. Alfonso got up after him but tripped himself up on the corner of the coffee table and fell flat on his face. Peter opened the door and called back to them, “I am going to report this to the police, you blooming eejits.”Post published in: Arts