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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

A gentleman once used an imagery of a shoe. A high heeled shoe. A stiletto. Pointed. The height of one of those Chiradzulu mountains, when you are approaching them from the Mulanje side. Those that define the entire contour of a person – a woman actually.

“Those ones, when you see them, the owners, they really look beautiful. At least most of them. And attractive. But we cannot conclude that they make them happy.”

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You would think: If they do not make them happy, then they can just stop wearing them. Wear anything. Maybe converse shoes. Or flats. Or slippers. Or just walk bare footed. But that would mean you undermine society.

We hardly look beautiful, or handsome, for us. Chances are, if we were let alone in the world, most of us would hardly bath in this weather. There would hardly be any cosmetics. Clothes? An obvious thing: They would not be needed, just check with most bachelors on a Saturday of the middle of the month.

That imagery came because not long ago I sat with a friend, freshly divorced. He looked crisp, freshly shaven and sober – the last part I should hasten to add: In a long time. I even made mention of it: you look sober.

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A suppressed smile, his trademark, then a sly almost inaudible comment:

“Maybe because I have been away from the bottle for a long time…”

“That’s unlike you…”

He said nothing is unlike anyone.

“It is just a matter of perspective. And experience. Mostly the other…”

The other, meaning experience.

A little story here: Not long ago I was in the company of drunk friends. Dancing. You might say, and rightly so, that there is nothing unusual with drunkards dancing. But there was something unusual with this band of drunkards dancing during the day.

We were dancing off a friend all the way into marriage. He was dancing with us. She was dancing with her friends. Later, a friend would pick at that as a sign that the two were not to last long.

But, that day, all was fine. When we were leaving that wedding, the few unmarried ones in our midst were seen searching among the horde of women leaving the wedding dreaming of their own weddings.

In congregating at the drinking spot hours later, minus one who was now in the company of a spouse, we could not help but gush over the events. Yes, men do that too. Did you see his suit? Man, the man is really a stranger, he is yet to divulge his supplier. And his woman looked beautiful today…well, now it is his wife.

On, and on we went. On and off they went.

The first were rumours. He had not slept home, had slept at one of the mutual friend’s house. The wife was seeing someone at work. He was also most likely seeing someone.

We did not confront him. There just is not an easy way that one approaches a friend and ask if their marriage is on the rocks. You wait for them to start the subject. And him; he is not one given to sensibilities. He would rather suffer than ask for advice.

We waited. And watched. Then came the pregnancy.

The thing about pregnancies, and rumours from malicious people. They are the foot in the door for people who would not stop talking. They are, in a way, still treated as evidence of things going on well for marriages rumoured to be on the rocks.

We stepped back. Until the child came. And we went bearing gifts like wisemen from the east, unknown to us things underneath that structure were collapsing. That imagery of the shoe? We only saw the beauty, we did not think of the happiness – or the unhappiness of it.

The kid was only a month old when he left…

Pressures of parenting? He said not.

“If there was a thing I looked forward to, man, it was to be a parent. I dreamed and imagined myself a father, her the mother. But that did not happen…”

“The problem being?”

Expectations. His. And hers. They just did not meet.

“It became hell. Of course, it had been a long way like that but the child did not help with anything…”

Or, if it did, then it was just to tell him that he was suffocating. And dying. His soul eroding all its warmth slowly until there was nothing on it, in it, about it, such that it had just left a void.

“When I left, I carried nothing. Just the clothes on my back. And nothing has ever felt right man. Not even the decision to marry.”

We laugh at the hyperbole, or maybe the irony.

They talked, a week after he left. She asked him to return home, that they should raise the child together. He refused, said that they would parent the child better with distance between them.

Was that it?

No, this was a marriage. Proper. Ordained, if you believe, by God.

There were efforts. They materialised into nothing. It was just agreed that the two – or actually him since she claimed that she wanted their union back even if he so much doubts it – should be allowed to take their separate paths.

They did, take those separate paths, and it made all the difference:

He found someone. She found another too.

He is not happy, but he is content. He is redeeming himself, at least from the gentleman we knew not long ago. The old man we danced to, and with, is here. Only this time a bit responsible, mature, and thoughtful.

Back to the imagery of the shoe:

High heeled. An actual stiletto. Sometimes the people wearing it are not just doing it for aesthetics. It is because it makes them happy. Because they chose it.

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