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Stones for bread

Mankhokwe Namusanya

By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

If you were young – like my son or a nephew – I would posit this for the future. Because, this would have sounded well had it come like a warning. That voice shouting in the wilderness, proclaiming: there will be people who will hate you, or maybe dislike you, for no tangible reason.

They will create excuses, maybe say they do not like the way you walk. Or your height. Or the way you chew (this one, they might even convince you there is a problem with the way you chew: that, with the mouth open, the shreds of the food can be seen being further squeezed). Or, just something, even your home district.

Here, what they will be saying is just that they do not like you. You just make them hate you. That the space which you occupy, by virtue of just being alive, they would rather it was empty. Or, as Billy Kaunda would sing, it was occupied by a monkey – entertainment and tourism.

But, you are old. This might not necessarily come as a warning. It will come as a statement. For, you have seen it all except – maybe – you have failed to fully comprehend it. Or, have been left wondering. And bemused. Might have thought: it looks like this one hates me. You have dismissed such thoughts with that big question: but why would they?

Well, the news is, there is no reason.

And there was no reason for him too. Yet, somehow, he started noticing that the guy did not like him. They had not crossed paths, at least not in that violent way of crossing paths where disagreements lead to an exchange of heavy words then insults and maybe fights.

Two, or three, times they had met. Just bumped into each other. And, it was uneventful.

“The other time it was at a first years’ welcoming function” – schools have opened, of course, and with them are the welcoming functions. There, they just exchanged a few words. It was an event of a religious organisation. Someone might have said ‘tell your neighbour today is the day’ or something like that and he had turned to the neighbour and repeated what the person had said.

In those brief, useless and inconsequential encounters, he still got the sense that he did not like him.

“It was never said, never acted upon, but I still felt it. Online, he would come full force, even if indirect.”

He would post a status on his Facebook account claiming that mangoes are good fruits. Then he would post on his own account that it beats him that people would love mangoes, only monkeys must have that affinity to mangoes. Such horrible petty violence which comes with all graciousness and humility as if it were not harmful.

Then, he fell in love.

“He also seemed unhappy about it. I would post a photo of her, he would like the post then wander off to his own account to make some statement targeted at girls with no eyes for quality men…”

“You had him as a friend on Facebook?”

“Yes, it was those early days of Facebook when one thought every friend suggestion was an order from Facebook. I am not sure who sent who that request to be friends…”

It was on Facebook that he found the space to keep tabs on him. And, from there too, he managed to get in touch with his girlfriend.

“I do not know how he got to talk to her,” here, my protagonist should have a name: Amadu. His frenemy must also have a name, let us say he is Donald. The girl also should get a name: Peshe. Reason for having the names? The story starts – or maybe ends – here.

Amadu thinks there were promises that Donald made to Peshe. Maybe, a marriage. They had dated for long, five years-plus, yet the glitter of the ring was far off – or seemingly so.

“I believe in proper planning. Age might not have been on our side, but it is not as if resources were on our side either. Marriage, we had discussed almost everything about it except the exact time…”

Then, she started getting cold towards him. Visits became infrequent. Questions ended up coalescing into fights. She was not there, it was obvious. Those of us who have ever witnessed this metamorphosis know what it entails.

He was not shocked when she left. It was just the choice of replacement that unsettled him. It was Donald, that silent enemy.

If you have ever been in love, strong love where you freely gossip without fearing that it would be used against you someday, then you must know that partners tell others about people they do not like. People who do not like them. And people the other must never date even if the other were to die or, gods forbid, the relationship were to collapse. Donald was that – the never to date person. She went to him.

“He must have promised her a marriage, she needed a marriage badly – she had intimated that more than once. Donald seemed the type of guy that was ready for marriage. He had a decent job, a home, and that aura; you know it, the aura of men who want to marry?”

I say I do not know it, but I can think of two or three friends who might have the demeanour of a man ready to marry.

“He was like those. He must have promised her that for her to move, ignoring the notorious record of heartbreaks that was tied to his name…”

Did he marry her, anyway? He laughs, there is no prize for guessing. Anti-climaxes in stories do not need to come announced, with pomp and sirens. They march quietly, with predictability. More or less like men who will sell you a stone for a loaf of bread.

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