By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
Your friends have a favourite thing they like to pick about you. In those banter moments, they talk about this and that and go around yet in the end they still talk about it. As if it were a joke. It might be your height. Or, if you are from the recesses of our society, it might be about your Chichewa.
A few years ago, if you are a woman, it might have been about your weight. These days, of course, it sounds off to talk about someone’s – a woman’s actually – weight. So, they might not pick on it. They might pick on others. But he liked to pick on her about her weight.
Banter on Valentine’s Day or during pillow talk would come to that: Her weight.
He spoke of it with good humour, even kindness, that she was almost convinced he never meant it.
“I am taking good care of you,” he would say, “look at your body. The size. Your cheeks are ballooning, and almost exploding. The neck is buried. Jesus!” he liked to be blasphemous, “give me another woman, I am too much for one…”
That would be iced by laughter, and giggling – sometimes serenaded with a few sinful ways for unmarried people.
It sounded harmless. Good banter. A trade off people make just so they can feel belonging and they can claim ownership of – or partnership with – the other. She also had a few of her own that she would fire back. Except, hers were not as constant. Not as always certain. And she never meant them. But he did. He said he did. That was what unfurled the trapped truth in the banter.
It was random. But a serious conversation. About the future. A conversation driven by questions on a website from some clickbait article on ‘questions to ask each other before committing’.
What do you love about me? He almost wrote an essay: Her attitude to life, her kindness, her patience, her fear of God, her love for family, her beauty and – as I have said – it was a whole essay: Introduction, body and conclusion; logical arguments well referenced.
Is there anything you can change about me? There was silence. A long pause. Almost convinced she was perfect, she poked that lion again: What would you change about me?
It was two words, dropped with confidence in a whisper that could even be ignored:
Her initial reaction was a laughter, brief and suppressed. He laughed too, this time with a ring to it: Of violence done with tenderness, of a resentment trapped for ages and years – maybe five years – unleashed all at once.
“Is my weight that bad?”
He responded from a safe place, started with some sort of a disclaimer that all should be taken positively, it was all for purposes of building a strong relationship, not to destroy it. Her weight was not that bad but also she could shed off a little of her flesh; maybe consider dieting, or banting, and exercises, they could even be doing them together.
Her esteem took a knock but, man, this was something she had ever wanted, he was someone he had always wanted in her life. You know what they say about love and compromise? She would compromise on that.
She joined a gym, monitored her diet, and did that intermittent fasting.
Progress? There was some, only it was little. This time, of course, they had started being honest about her weight (yes, just her weight and not every other thing in the relationship – or, more directly, his issues). He did not hide that much that he was not impressed with the progress.
Even when he left, his friends broke the news that it was the weight that broke the camel’s back. He did not say it as that, he used that ‘I need time off’ thing and said he needed to figure out what he really needed in life. His friends, on the internet, are the ones who leaked the gossip that he had realised that, of all things he needed in life, a woman with that weight was the last thing he needed.
There were a lot of stories, after he had left, with those blessed with the skills of adding flesh onto a skeleton indicating that it was his fear of the future that had made him leave her.
“It’s not that he did not love her, but, man, he thought the sort of wife she would be with that…”
The rest was something almost everyone knew about her.
She was devastated, two-fold. First, it was with his departure; then, those rumours. She did not confront him, even when they kept gathering momentum and were always repeated with newer details. It was just that, life.
She started that journey of moving on. Gym. Exercises. Diet. And all. Which, when you think of it, was not really moving on for it was more about trying to prove a point to him – and the haters. However, she still calls it moving on.
In a way, it was starting to show some progress until that devil of a friend sent her those photos on WhatsApp. Her eyes were first on the woman, heavier than she was. She thought: “Good friend, trying to tell me that out there someone would die to have a woman my size…”
Then, she saw the man. It was him. The ex. A smile so huge that it was the only one lighting up an otherwise dull photo shot when the bride was being annoyed by the way her makeup was failing to just do its job and was busy needing constant attention like an insecure lover.
“That man, that…” her voice breaks, “why did he leave me again, what was the excuse; do you men ever know what you want or need, do you ever get honest with yourselves or those around you?”