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Maybe the number 5

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

The first time she should have left was when the evidence found her – unprovoked.

She was – or maybe is not – like you. He leaves his phone there, unlocked, and she does not bother snooping in it. A call comes, he quickly presses the red button and then complain about ‘these flashers’, she does not ask who it was and demand actual evidence. She murmurs with him about the flashers and maybe tell her own story just to save him.

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This time, however, the evidence found her. It was a receipt in a breast pocket.

She was not rummaging through it for evidence, she was folding the clothes for the maid. It fell out. Against her better judgement, she decided to check it out. There were those incriminating purchases, of course, but she paid little mind to them. It was the amount of money he spent on what one would call needless luxuries that shocked her.

But she let it slide.

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If anything, she just imagined the sort of woman who when called by a man – even if it is not her husband – that he was knocking off and would she want anything, at 7 pm, would say:

“Ice cream, bread, biscuits too: Custard cookies,” then maybe think and even say to the man at the end if she had forgotten anything before finishing with, “another ice cream. Like, 2 buckets of 5 litre ice cream…”

The second time, it was his guard falling. He dropped a name, by a genuine mistake.

They were watching something funny on television. She laughed hard. They got into a debate. Was that a joke or the comedian had crossed a line? He insisted he had crossed the line, then, in speaking, he called her another woman’s name.

There was silence afterwards. An awkward moment which, if anything, just impressed her that it was not just a slip. It was an actual Freudian slip. There was fear in his eyes. She moved to allay that fear. She changed the subject. What would he want for supper?

He said he was not sure and he had a plan actually for the night: they should eat out.

“It’s been long since I last spoiled you, we need to go out.”

They went out that night. The third time happened there.

It was the couple in the dimly lit corner. She is the one who sat directly facing them. She watched them lean into each other and steal kisses. When he distracted her so he could bend on his knees, shed was the one who first saw it. Even when the photographers stormed in – literally storming as they do these days – she is the one who saw them before the young woman would realise that ‘this was the day’.

She is the one who told him about them – and her express of shock, of course. It was loud, and genuine, that express of shock. It attracted attention.

Him, the husband, glanced at them before focusing back on his phone. He only followed when the staff in the restaurant marched towards that corner singing wedding songs. They were a part of the plan.

Then, his attention was in that corner. His eyes squinted under the thick glasses. The look, the wife saw it, was of one who was looking at death in the eye. He nearly choked. His hands remained suspended in time: the left on the knife with its edges dug into the steak, the right on the fork hanging in mid-air like a sentence from a bad writer on a ghost-written script.

She eyed him intently. Then, called him back to life.

“They have your attention.”

“Oh, just overtaken by the folly of young people. Imagine he did that whole charade, involving the staff here and photographers, for what?”

She caught the bitterness slithering through that traditional conservative remark. It was raw. Unfiltered. Huge – like a giant! She meant to rattle it.

“He is happy, he has found himself a woman. She looks beautiful, I must say, and decent. It is hard to find a decent young woman these days…”

“Decent, you say?” then he went off preaching how young women are no longer decent. She was hearing him yet not listening. Instead, she was busy capturing all the hidden resentment he had. When he did not touch his meal again afterwards and ordered that she finishes quickly so they leave, she had already made her own conclusions.

The fourth time was not deliberate. But she sympathised with him.

When they got home and he rushed to the toilet with his phone, she stayed quiet. She heard him speak in whispers. He sounded charged, like a bulldog. And that was the way he came out of the toilet having flashed down the drain nothing. Who flashes down words whispered into a phone, anyway?

He joined her in bed in that charged mode, ready to make love when the fifth time happened. This, she instigated.

“How do you know,” she mentioned the name that he called her in the afternoon, “who was proposed to, today?”

His face was that of men who meet the dead-man-turn-beast in the village. He only took seconds before asking her what she meant but the loudness of those seconds can pass for an hour. The tension was palpable.

“You know what I mean, how do you know her?”

“I do not know her. I do not know anyone by that name. Where is this coming from?”

Then, he turned it on her – and her entire gender: enemies of peace in the home, always scavenging for a fight. All that jazz and more. The question? Never answered. Never addressed.

She rolled over to her side and slept. For that night. For the whole period of marriage.

“But you are not divorced?”

“Well, technically we are. On paper, not. But each one lives their own life.”

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