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Living next door

Mankhokwe Namusanya

By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

I have been lucky. In my life, I have lived on the cusp of times, been a witness to significant shifts in the horizon of civilisation. While one invention shook hands with another, I have been there. Sometimes, with glee; other times, especially now, with some sort of trepidation.

When I speak of the past, sometimes it is as if I am talking of the stone age. Take, for example, events in the entertainment sector.

I belong, or rather belonged, to the analogue age. Back then, when we liked a song, then there were two ways of having to enjoy it. Both, inconvenient.

One either had to be on the wait, and search, for some radio personality to play the song. So, on some lonely Sunday, it would be that you would hear the song, like it and make it a favourite. However, unlike now, there was no way you would go on Google and type in the two lines you remember and in seconds have thousands of results. One had to have patience. Wait for some random day for another radio personality to play it again. Other times, one would be unlucky, and they would only have heard that song once.

If it was not that, then there was the expensive way: Have the song on tape. Sometimes, it would be an actual tape bought from OG Issa in Limbe. Other times, it would be from dubbing the song from the radio onto the tape. As I did with that Smoky song: 24 years living next door to Alice.

Now, a thing about that age I belonged to; now ringing like a distant memory of a primary school crush. There were phases that the youth of those days went through when it came to music.

At first, we grew up with our music. The Lucius Bandas. Billy Kaundas. Mlaka Maliros. In brief, the Balaka brigade. As a boy, this was the music that nourished me and most from that period.

Then, when advanced in age, there were two paths. Reggae. Or others.

For those who chose reggae, they often outgrew it too. It was into country and western we went to. On Sunday nights, there was that lady that would toss Don Williams into a dish filled with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers too. Sometimes, there would be other selections, like Smokie.

He, I will call him Levie in memory of the friend who introduced me to Country and Western music, had almost a trajectory like mine so he knows Smokie. And their anthem.

“Would you describe your situation as that (in the song), albeit with a significant shift or shifts?”

He thinks hard, hesitant to be in the affirmative, even if the stories resemble. Well, the thing about most humans: we like to think that our stories are unique, that where we are nobody ever was.

But, I should narrate the story:

They were neighbours. Not for 24 years but a significant number of years. Let us say 10. Because 10 is an even number, the nearest that any guesser picks.

They saw each other, exchanged paltry greetings and made little talk but nothing much. At that exam which has now become a weapon in the hands of the more open tribalists among us, Standard 8, she got into a national secondary school.

“But, our status as neighbours still stood. You know, holidays and everything she would come…”

No, they did not get to talk even if they had to be sharing notes. He was seeing someone with the jealousy the size of a politician’s sense of self importance and, also, this is his words: “she had nothing attractive about her”.

It was in college that they sort of had a conversation. She was at another, he was at another. A social weekend. She had metamorphosed, not in terms of physical attributes; rather, in terms of behaviour. He had too. A previous fan of Country and Western music, he now had some stage-name for what you call Dancehall music—whatever is that thing I struggle to really comprehend.

“I tried to get us to know but, man, it was impossible. We were worlds away. It just could not work.”

A few kisses, nearly making out and then frustrated sighs, they abandoned whatever they were trying to do. And, while previously they used to exchange little talks, this time around it blew into a full fledged ignorance of the other.

“I would rather not talk of what transpired that night but after that, we were enemies. Sworn. Cat and mouse… or APM and Chilima on the campaign trail.”

I laugh at that little relevant quip, then ask for how they ended up with each other because, well, the story is that they ended up with each other. Husband and wife.

“Well, life man. We found ourselves in another city. I was seeing someone and it was rocky. She was seeing someone and he was not sure.

“I met her someday and thought the cat and mouse thing was for kids. We were grown ups. I wanted peace. I needed a friend. We got talking. One thing led to the other. We were dating. She got pregnant,” he says as if the pregnancy was something she picked on his verandah one night. “And, that was it.”

And, married life? They are fine. Better than most couples. He says if the concept of soul mate is true, they are that.

“I couldn’t trade her for anything. She understands my silences, I listen to the shrill in her fears…”

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