Maimed hearts


With Mankhokwe Namusanya:

Here is no therapy at Bvumbwe. Like when things boil over, there is no place to run to, no person to rush to – or even call. Wait!

There are actually people you can run to. And rant. And cry. And whisper. And say, in conclusion: “do not tell this to anyone. It will eventually be sorted.”


The next day, in the market place, you just see them smirking. On the edges of their mouths hang that mockery. Sometimes, they even say it loud in parables you can understand – those market women!

People who do not want any of that drama and, therefore, hold their stories to themselves. They meet their friends who smell their despair and when the friend asks: “what is wrong?” They say, “nothing”. Or, maybe, say, ‘a flu, you know the weather’. Because even among friends you learn what not to tell and what to tell.

Something about your man failing to touch you in the dead of the night when emotions are rioting is not something you say to a friend. At least, not at Bvumbwe. It, also, is not something you tell to a stranger – maybe. Because I am a stranger and I am being told that: he stopped finding me attractive, he does not touch me. I do not rush to ask “since when?” because this is an awkward conversation. It is one that is being mediated with eyes that cannot look at each other. It is one in which one party finds safety in fidgeting with fingers while the other party wonders how best to ask a question.


The friend who set up this conversation moved on. Like you know how people do those deceptive blind dates? They call you and say: “hey, man, where are you at?” You are usually grumpy, bored, at home so you just say ‘home’.

And they tell you to meet them at some place, promise to buy you booze (if you drink) and when you march there you find that crush on some chair waiting for someone.

You call the friend to ask where he is at, he says: “I am here. Just ask the lady in a red dress for the instructions.” There, you are set up. In such an environment, a conversation gets to be hard to have. It is almost like that. Like a friend walked in and said: “there is someone you should to talk to…”

Before any questions were asked, I was sitting in front of that someone. No, she did not start by telling that her husband no longer touched her. She started by sharing a story of loss. And grief. And a life changed completely.

I was nodding and, in between, saying I could relate. Not that really I could relate because grief is such a private affair, such an individual experience. Even if two people lose the same person, they do not actually lose the same person – their experiences differ.

And that was a sort of entry point. “Yes, we did not lose the same person. I think I understand that now.” “You think he has not recovered?” “I think he has, but what he lost is not necessarily what I lost…” “You think he didn’t lose a son?” “No, he lost a son. But, he was not just a son to him. It was as if he lost the cord that connected us…”

I say that is, in a way, disturbing because, you would think, in grief people would gravitate towards those who share similar experiences with them. Those who have also lost a part.

“It is not always the case. When the loss happened, it was understandable – his need for some distance. Some space. I mean, even if it were behind the walls, nobody could really muster the courage to be gravitating towards the other. But then days started getting into weeks and weeks into months.” “But he still comes home?”

She says he does. Apparently, nothing seems dysfunctional about the marriage from the outside. Every Sunday, they get in their best clothes and still go to church together – like a couple. Sometimes, they meet people who comment on the death and, again, they respond like their lives moved on from the death – or, perhaps, like they learnt to live with that loss; like at night it sits in some corner while they go about their marriage rituals and, once done, then it emerges and takes place in each of their hearts.

“Have you raised it with him?” “I have, not so directly. But, you know, I have failed.” I shake my head because I understand what she is trying to say.

“You involved other family members, like counsellors?” She says they did. She, actually, did. Because, for him, it does not register that it bothers him. She was not successful on that front either. The gentleman simply said she should give him time.

That people process grief differently. “Since then,” she adds. “Nothing has changed. And this is not something you keep taking to another person.”

I agree and think: but maybe if it was a marriage counsellor or some therapist. I do not realise I have said it louder. She says that is foreign.

“Do you think he is cheating?” She shakes her head. Says she does not think so.

“How would you know if he were?” “I don’t know, but I would know.” I say people who are cheating do not show particular traits. It is not as if they have a particular look. She smiles – the first for the day – and says she is sure he is not cheating

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