By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
There was a father. Hard. Forlorn. And willing.
Then there were the parents – actually, father – of the mother: Angry, bitter and, well, parents of a teenage girl.
The other day, on Facebook, a meme reminded us all about what that story of Romeo and Juliet is not: a love story. That it is two underage kids obsessed with each other that they end up committing suicide. Certainly, below the par of our expected love stories.
This, too, was below the par of our love stories. At least, in the modern world. If anything, this would even have been a crime – except nobody would be bold enough to charge an underage for sleeping with another underage.
They were 17 when the way to life – read to love – opened. He was hesitant; she was not. Or, perhaps, it is just him being kind on himself.
“That local knowledge that women grow faster, it is true. We were age mates but her thinking was beyond mine in so many ways,” he says.
We pause at that to interrogate that knowledge. Do women really grow faster? Is it not one of those things that were said back then to explain away incidents of defilement?
“Have you ever been with a woman your age? Have you observed her thought patterns?”
I affirm, remark that it is no different from mine. Maybe the curiosity.
“Okay, let us call it that. She was more curious than I was…”
Even then, you might put it to his Christian upbringing. His parents were strict to the word of the Bible.
Hers? Not that much. Her father, even if hard, did not get his inspiration from Moses or Job. He was just one of those who walked on this earth believing that a smile on a man’s face made it feminine.
And, there was nothing a man had to stay away from than femininity.
The time it came to light that she was pregnant (he still blames it on her curiosity), it was her father who met with members of his family. He was there too, with her.
For his parents, it was the disappointment on a path of Christ wilfully abandoned. For her father, it was the realisation of the fact that he was not feared as he thought. That this was normal among, and for, teenagers was never considered. That thing that parents and lovers do: take all things that their wards or lovers do to the heart – make them personal, get aggrieved, and madly hurt.
His family, poorer than hers, did not have qualms accepting responsibility once they were over their hurt. It was her father.
“The issue was that there was nothing we could do to take care of her. I think he even realised it when he met with my parents. It infuriated him,” he says.
The thing about parents, especially of girls: they imagine a Prince charming for their daughter. A man who can love her with the love of both parents, the patience of a mother and the fondness of a father: careful yet calculated. Oftentimes, girls hardly impress their parents, at least with the choice of their lovers – not partners. With partners, they sometimes do.
If I could digress: there are lovers, then there are partners. The distinguishing factors must be obvious.
He took her home, infuriated.
“The fact that I was still going to school while she was forced to drop out must have infuriated him more. I was stopped from visiting her.
“When the child was born, I was allowed to see them. See them. Not visit them. I saw them. I saw the names on the health passport. Nothing about me. I did not name that boy,” it was a boy. “He did not even use my name. It was her father’s name he used, it was her father who did the naming.”
In average human transactions, his parents would have addressed this situation. They did not.
“They were still seething from anger because they took this whole thing personal. I had let them down. I had broken their hearts. It was even in their best interest to not have anything to do with that child from sin.”
A grandchild from sin? I am tempted to think it was also the cost of responsibility that kept them away. They were already struggling in their lives.
“Our young love took a knock too. She most likely got convinced that I was a good for nothing boy. I can only imagine the constant harassment she got from her father for tying herself to my family…”
In growing up, however, he kept that thought of having a child. He reminded himself of his responsibility: being a different father to a young man. Showing him the way. Proving to him that honour and honesty are the most important values a man can carry around. Like a handkerchief and a wallet is.
He had been planning a huge fight, a court showdown, to claim back the child. Death interrupted all that.