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Uncle A

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

The age is a guess. And I am erring on the side of caution. Making them less, most likely. But, I should say he was 32. Or 34.

There are some people with bad heads – actually, bad hair. At 20, they get a bald head. For him, the baldness was more of an age thing. He was advanced. Not really an old man, but an old man that left the community wondering why he was not married yet.

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Now, the world has changed. These days, one can stay a bachelor without their community raising eyebrows in that ‘we should arrange him a wife’ way. If anything, it is just friends on social media who trade you banter. Even them, these days, they are thinning. It is as if the world is waking up to the realisation that having an education – as in many degrees than what is necessary – is far much important than having kids within wedlock.

Back then, however, when a bachelor like him appeared in the community, parents started scheming. We were young, of course, but we were not ignorant of the ways of the world. We realised that there was the scheming going on.

For example, there was the mother of Grace. I should briefly say something about her: The bass in the voice is my biggest memory of her. That, and her complexion. It would be a hard thing to forget the texture of her body for we grew up lied to that to be light in complexion was to be better. The boys whom we grew up with would drool over ‘lighter babes’ and there would be fights over them. One had a lighter babe? One was the better male in the pack. Imagine such nonsense!

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That was the thing then about Grace. School? There was not much to write about in that area. All I can remember is that she sat for the Form 4 exam, sat for it again, and then that was it. She started staying home. Later on, of course, she started some course in something that was trendy those days. That, however, was not because anyone believed she would benefit from it. It was because her mother was coinciding her with Uncle A.

A few days, we saw Uncle A disembark on the bus stage with Grace. Him, knocking off from work while Grace from her pretend-education. Now, in hindsight, I think something might have happened between the two. Except, when it came to marriage – because in the end this story is about Uncle A marrying and settling down – Grace was nowhere in the picture. None of all those girls who elbowed out each other and fermented useless enmities over him were in the picture. It was some girl from Karonga. But, that later.

I remembered Uncle A because we remembered Uncle A. We are living in dangerous times. Apart from the hanging threat of sickness and the reality of death, it is the biting pain of tough economic conditions.

In Blantyre, in the week, when I bumped into a childhood friend, we did not agree on a lot except that life is complicated. Growing up is a trap.

“Our uncles duped us, they would give us some change when they came visiting and we thought growing up means having some cash,” he said. I found it easily agreeable because, unless your uncles were not closer to the bottle, K5s used to be splashed in those days.

“It was as if there was some tree where they got that money. Almost every weekend” – I should add to specify here: this was the case if one had more sisters, “some uncle would visit, leave you with some change. And, there we thought that was life…”

It was that conversation that led us to Uncle A: the uncle for the whole community. The only bachelor with sense whom we knew while we grew up. The other bachelors, they were not as many as you find them today, they were humans with little sense. They kept changing women, were either drunk or high on something usually and hardly attended Church. Those features, to us, were marked out as characters of a terrible human.

A good human, so we were told, had to live like Uncle A – except, they should have a wife as well.

In a way, we grew up emulating him. We grew up aspiring to be him.

“We are actually the him of today, a few variants here and there. Still, him in many ways than we are not,” said the friend whose plans to settle have been dealt a sad blow by the prevailing pandemic – or so, he said. Quite a doubtful remark when one considers how he has stayed clear of that path, with calculated caution.

“The uncles of yesterday lied to us, they gave an impression that life is somehow manageable. That when one grows up then one starts to understand the ways of the world. That song Gift Fumulani sang, that once when he was young he wanted to grow up to see far. We wanted to grow up because the grown up in our midst gave a rosier picture. We thought growing up is the only best thing that could happen…”

“But isn’t it a default thing to do?” I threw in a caveat.

“It is. But with the benefit of hindsight now, we also know it is not something one should not rush into.”

“Rushing into a normal human process?”

“There is growing up in age, then there is growing up in character. We grew up in character on the wishes of having to live as those before us.”

“You speak as if you need an apology?”

He laughed at this and with that light-heartedness said that he needed one from Uncle A.

“Do you even realise that you are also lying to kids yourself?”

“I do, and that scares me a lot.”

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