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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

This starts, or maybe ends, with a card. A wedding invitation card. A confused ensemble of colours in the edges, a picture obviously refusing to take in its attendant text surroundings, the work of an amateur designer can be seen from a far.

But, it is the photo that catches attention.

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He sits on the couch, the face taut, looking in the far distance. If you can get carried away, you might even see him staring into you. Like a starting out prophet about to tell you of the night you were conceived.

She, on the other hand, sits on the armrest. Leans into him. The elbow folded on his shoulder. There is a smile, thin and just unclasping, yet its lack of radiance betrays its honesty.

When it comes, in its digital form, I think it is a mistake. That wrong parking thing in WhatsApp messages. I know nobody there. I have no recollections of them either.

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Or, maybe, it is business. A close friend advertising for a mutual friend their designing business. I type emojis into the response box before a message interrupts.

“I am heartbroken,” straight to the point. A business of random friendships of men.

“The lady, I know her.”

I struggle between kindness and meanness. Because one never knows when their friends are really hurt, especially those whom we have accepted are the strongest in the pack.

“Know her as just know her or the Biblical knowledge?”

He prefers the latter, although, he is quick to add and in that cheeky fashion: “with an explanation.”

She is not an ex, or rather he cannot call her that. Because, in this life, not everyone you smile at ends up as an ex something. Others just remain untagged like the random incomplete files on a computer’s desktop.

They had a thing. Unofficial. Informal. If, in the middle of the day, he would feel hungry, he would call her. She would open her doors, and heart, wide for him. Then, he would scamper off to his corner of safety. Fire random texts here and there until the next moment hunger bites, he would fire off a text.

Once, she had told me about her boyfriend. Told him with such a disassociation that he did not feel threatened.

“I have met someone,” she must have said.

“Does this mean an end to us?”

Laughter, then those empty assurances all those who have ever had their hearts broken know better: “it can never be, there never will be an end to us. Not in this life. Not in the other life.”

And, there seemed to have been little impact of the boyfriend on their arrangement. She made sure he stayed in the shadows. At midnight, lonely and drunk, he would fire a text: “I miss you.” It would be responded in minutes. And, if there was no office the next day, he would find himself at her door in awkward hours.

There was no boundary. Not on text messages or times of contacting. For all practical purposes, it appeared that the boyfriend had been a figment of imagination – a decoy used so that he should take that step towards the altar, or uncles, with her.

Until this morning I get the card.

I ask about the last time they met: when was it, did she say anything about taking a serious step with him?

“It was not a long time ago, I don’t remember the exact time but it might be two weeks ago…”

“And she acted like everything is alright?”

She did. The meeting had been at her instigation. She had shot a text in his direction just at midday and when he had said he would stop by on his way from work, she had made an offer he could not let pass. He announced feeling sick at work, and in these precarious times of a pandemic, he had been let off before finishing describing his symptoms.

He could have stayed for the night if not for the fact that home had not been left in such a way that needed his attention: his siblings had not been left with much to take them through the night.

That was the last time they had met. She had said nothing, if something means announcing her plans of being in that wedding dress in a month’s time, and had texted him sweet nothings even after they had parted.

“And from that she has just surprised you with a card?”

“Yes, and I am hurt.”

“Why are you hurt, that she did not tell you that she will be getting married or that she is getting married?”

Typing. Because we are talking on WhatsApp. Typing. Then, recording audio.

He does not know what hurts him. Both reasons, apparently, appear to hurt him. That she is getting married is hurtful because, of course, he will most likely lose his rights on her. That she also did not care to tell him feels heavy, it leaves a trail of unanswered questions.

“Is there anything you could have done if she had told you?”

Not much. But, it would prepare him. And, he is quick to add, he would not have been jealous about it. He could have helped them pick a sensible card designer, I think silently after remembering that Armageddon chaos on the card.

What is clear, he adds, is that he would not have married her. The thought had never crossed him yet the fact that she was going hurt him.

“What if you are just realising that you love her?”

Uneasy laughter, that type you feel that it had to be made for the recording of the audio such that when it came out crooked, the person laughed again – at nothing really.

“It is not love. What I feel is not love. I know love. It is just hurt. There was no decency, man. No proper farewell.”

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