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The truth in that

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

There are a few things we are sure of: tax, death and the coronavirus. There might be many but for now those are the things.

For the last one, because it is imminent, people might posture and act all tough but a cough jolts us. Suddenly, you start to remember the signs. And, that is the thing about coronavirus: when you start to think you are experiencing any of its signs, you start to experience more of its signs. It is science, actually. It might be anxiety, or a panic attack.

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But, that does not mean that the virus is not out there. It is here and disrupting the ways we relate, and engage, and make friends.

Of friends. Sometimes, I feel that at a certain age one stops making friends. You just sustain old ones, watch some play out their time, and certainly realise that there is so little that one can do about it.

Until, of course, a random message pops up in Facebook Messenger.

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If people are texting because of this space, they often start with that adoration – and a fall over. As if they want an autographed copy of the book that is yet to come. Then, others – or maybe most – come to the nitty-gritties: they have a story, they agree with the content, or they would have loved the story to go that way.

This one, however, is in the second category.

“You know? Being a man is really hard,” as a rejoinder to last week’s entry.

Sometimes, I am quite engaging. And, I am this time. I explore that more, talk of how we are all expected to act without knowing really what is expected of us.

“Sometimes,” this is me, “I like to think that the initiation ceremonies were really necessary. Of course, I don’t know much of what they taught there…”

He says he went through one – the Church one – but nothing prepared him for this: being a grown-up man with responsibilities and people looking up to you thinking that you know things when you are just as blank as they are.

“That stuff,” he says of the initiation ceremonies – the Church ones really, “teach you next to nothing. The men there do not really tell you what is it that you should expect in the world…”

Or, maybe, the world is too chaotic and quite messy. There just is no manual and what has to pass for a manual is a half-torn book passed in the dark written in negligible Mandarin long before societies started engaging or getting colonised.

He says that for him, it is not the men he feared that are haunting him. It is responsibilities. He does not know how to man up to them.

He is married. Proper happy marriage where they post each other on WhatsApp statuses on birthdays and on some other ‘I celebrate you’ occasions. And they have a family: three kids with the eyes of their mother, his forehead and lips that are a combination of both of them. The brain? He is not sure. Might be his, or hers – because they are all that brainy. In all subjects. Not just Mathematics, like the wife is good in; or all the other things, like he is good in.

She has a job too, even in these times of a mad recession – a good one.

In brief, it is that family we idealised before scuttling off to books in the cold of July those yesteryears when we could dream and believe that our society has the space and the machinations through which we could realise the dreams.

“But, I am all alone when it comes to responsibility.”

He pays the bills, of everything – or almost everything. Major investments, and all those major expenses, are also his part. She does little if not just to make that dreaded press conference of husbands with stay-home wives announcing what has run out and what needs to be restocked.

“Her job involves travelling, she hardly comes back with anything tangible from such travels unless I ask of her to get us something.”

He is shy, and traditional, so he has not raised that with her. For him, being a husband means he has to be the provider. Only that, now, he feels that his duties are being abused.

“My salary runs out long before the month end, then I have to get an advance payment or borrow some money just to make ends meet. But, trust me, she has money. What does she do with that money?”

I appease, just to rattle, and say that she might be keeping it for a rainy day.

“What rainy day? We have been through rainy days, even stormy days, through hurricanes, she has never come through for me. Or us, as a family.”

I tell him about that other thing we are certain of: death!

“What death, man, who says men will always be the first ones to die in families?”

I check him on that. Tell him that it is actually the case that most men die earlier than their wives. That science actually has had that on its radar and has made its own conclusions. Chances are, I say with a cautious finality, you might die earlier than her and leave her with three children.

“Three children and a future that is well secured courtesy of me. With almost everything. It does not make sense, man.”

I ask him if he saw that viral story of a woman who was staying with her husband in a house she owned without the knowledge of her husband and had him pay rent into her private account.

“That story? I saw it. And that joke that if you have MK500 and your wife has MK2000 then the household has K500…”

“Yes, that one too!”

“It’s the truth, man, and it’s suffocating.”

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