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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Extract from Chris Wadman’s The Unlikely Genius of Dr Cuthbert Kambazuma

The Unlikely Genius of Dr Cuthbert KambazumaChris Wadman’s debut novel, The Unlikely Genius of Dr Cuthbert Kambazuma, is a brilliant satirical work that uses humour to addresses the tragedy in Zimbabwe’s political history and present. Read an extract from the book, enticingly titled “In Flagrante Delicto”:

* * * * * * * *

At a quarter to seven, the sound of a man clearing his throat with a stately ‘Ahem’ drifted across the yard outside, but Thomas remained oblivious – the brown arcs of Jimmy Moverley-Smith’s archaic hearing apparatus were resting sedately on the bedside table next to him. A frosty circle, the size of a modest milk tart, appeared on a window pane, with a pink dot in the middle where Reverend Harold Hardcastle pressed his pitted parson’s snoot unparsimoniously against the glass, squinting inquisitively to see inside. Ignorant of any notion of respect for personal privacy, the reverend remained ever true to his seminary nickname, ‘The bull in the Bible shop’.

As his eyes adjusted to the dim light within, the reverend rapped his knuckles impatiently against the window. Startled, Leviticus poked Thomas in the back. Thomas shot up with a start, just as the reverend’s vision adjusted. He – Thomas, that is – was raising his hand in greeting when Leviticus also sat up, unclothed from the waist up on account of the fever, and glistening with sweat, as if from some extraordinary exertion. The reverend’s expression instantly mimicked Thomas’s well-known look of surprise. He uttered a peculiar croon, as if he had just slipped off a bicycle seat and landed awkwardly on the crossbar – a sound which slowly transformed to that of a man choking on a kipper. Thomas jumped up in his threadbare Spiderman pyjamas and waved cheerfully at the reverend. He seldom, if ever, had visitors these days.

‘Reverend! Morning, come in for some tea. Please.’

The reverend curled his lip in contempt and sprang back from the window. His ankle caught the side of a flower bed and he toppled over in a near-somersault, which all but lost its symmetry in the final stages of execution. He landed on his hip with a thud, his tweed jacket covered in leaves and dried grass.

‘Are you all right, Reverend?’ Thomas cried out in alarm. ‘Please come in!’

The reverend struggled to his feet.

‘Not bloody likely!’ he called out as he turned briskly toward his red parish Anglia, followed by inaudible mutterings of disgust which included the phrases, ‘Filthy sodomists!’ and ‘If old Reginald had only known!’ liberally interspersed with an outraged ‘God help us, whatever next!’

Thomas ran through to the lounge, but only managed to catch a glimpse of flaring nostrils and piously puckered lips which extended into a full pout oscillating from side to side of the reverend’s puce face as the Anglia completed a full turn before disappearing out the driveway.

Perplexed at the reverend’s sudden appearance and dramatic departure, Thomas prepared porridge and tea for their breakfast, then quickly dressed so as not to be late for the Eucharist at St Luke’s at eight. Settling into his regular seat in the back left corner of the church, where he had always felt close enough to be included but not so close as to feel threatened, he lost himself in the ritual, chanting the responses that he knew so well. The subtleties of reverend Hardcastle’s stirring rhetoric on the shameful descent into immorality among today’s youth was lost on him as he yawned occasionally, his eyelids heavy from lack of sleep. By the end of the service, the peculiar incident with the reverend earlier that morning had become a vague memory.

The remains of St Luke’s ever-dwindling congregation collected in a line at the rear of the church to shake hands with the reverend. Thomas joined the end of the queue and was the last to greet him. The reverend’s face turned crimson. He blinked furiously, his brow deeply furrowed. With a vice-like grip on Thomas’s hand, which threated to crush his fingers, he pulled Thomas towards him, whispering forcefully. ‘Young man, whilst there may be those in our church – in America, even some in England, God forbid – who condone such heinous acts, here at St Luke’s we stand firm in our opposition!’

Thomas looked blank. He had no idea what the reverend was referring to. ‘What do you mean, Reverend?’

Reverend Hardcastle snarled, and showers of spittle rained over Thomas’s face. ‘Do you take me for an ass, young Threscothic?’

‘No, Reverend, I –’

‘I caught you, dammit – red-handed – in flagrante delicto, as they say. With that garden boy of your mother’s, by Jove! In your mother’s bedroom, of all places. I should’ve hauled you out and given you a jolly good hiding, there and then!’

‘But Reverend, you’re quite wrong. That man is very ill, he needed a bed, he –’ Thomas stopped himself in mid-sentence. The reverend’s misunderstanding suddenly hit him. Even if he were a homosexual, a concept that had always vaguely unsettled him, the church had no right to turn him away. Why should he have to explain himself? Had not wars been fought in this country, and across this continent, to end discrimination? What was the difference now?

‘You are wrong Reverend, in more ways than one,’ Thomas said calmly.

Trying to keep his cool, he wrenched his hand free and moved to the tea table. With a cup and saucer in his hand, he turned to greet some of his mother’s friends. The congregation had dispersed into several circles, engaged in lively discussion, all glancing in his direction, shaking their heads and smirking. He stood there defiantly, sipping his tea, staring back at each of them. When he had finished his tea, he poured himself another cup and again turned to face them. To pass the time, he pulled apart a Romany Cream biscuit and licked the icing off, slowly, with the tip of his tongue. Everyone was watching, but he would not be driven away. He would go when he felt like going – after his tea, after his biscuit. And he would never return. Not to this church, nor to any other that practised discrimination of any sort.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    May 10th, 2012 @19:52 #

    It's a lovely book, and this is a most apposite extract, given the current attack on the Constitution.


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