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Walls cave in

With Mankhokwe Namusanya:

European football might be the reason. Or even love, festering like a wound, from the neighbour – even from your house, with that housemaid.

If it is school, or a new job opportunity, then it is understandable; actually, forgivable. However, there are less who come to pursue such. There are many who hide behind those.

Whatever the reason someday they come; mostly unannounced. Or, if announced, the announcement has half-truths.

At first, it is fun; and beautiful.

It feels like the day you get your first salary. The day you get to see the sun again after days of devastating rains in March.

In those early days, the conversation is mutual. The stories are many. The company is cherished. The space is shared.

Then, time drags. Reality starts settling in. The questions come.

“But our culture has trained us not to ask such questions,” he says.

Not to the visitor, not even in the confines of our bedroom – to our spouse.

They are questions that slowly mutate into resentment. Later that resentment comes ripe for harvest.

“You cannot build anything lasting with someone you resent,” somebody told me. Her story, and advice, sounded so foreign that I just discarded them. But that line sounded so beautiful, and accurate, that I had to use it.

But the advice here is about them: visitors – or more aptly – relatives.

Those married, not all but some, will tell you that they had ideas and thoughts on family. Marriage, like ‘singlehood’, is not something you have to land into by accident. It is something you should plan, think over and – if you believe – pray over.

In all the moments you are doing all those things, you start to create a world in your imagination. It might just be fantasy but still it has you look forward to the other day – or the big day.

“If really you do not have time daydreaming about a future with your partner, in your own space, sharing life then you must get out of it,” another thing she said. And I want to add in that callous fashion: applicable to only those in the dark side of the 20s and above, the rest of you can keep having fun.

It is that world of daydreaming that reality comes to shatter, mostly.

“It is easy when it is shattered from within, from your own situations,” he says.

It must be hard when it is shattered by others, like your relatives who just come unannounced or with half-true announcements.

“You know, it is something that has to be discussed long before you marry.”

“But what if you disagree, can it be a deal breaker?”

Long pause. He says he does not believe in deal breakers; he believes in compromise. You discuss to compromise. But, if there cannot be a compromise, then anything must be allowed to transform into a deal breaker – even the way they laugh.

He says one needs to know the attitude of their partner towards visitors and relatives.

“That tells you a lot. You know, in Africa, you do not just marry for yourself. You marry for the community…”

I disagree. I say that it is so ancient to think like that. I snide that this is 2019, not 1919. Now, it is every man for himself. When I marry, the wife is mine. If she happens to be a cross, it is mine to bear. If she happens to be a pillow, it is for my head to rest. Not for my whole clan.

He laughs, the long drawn-out laughter. He has not noticed that I was just disagreeing to keep the conversation. I already understood him. He shoots:

“Do you pay black tax?”

I say I think I do.

“That tax doesn’t just end the day you get married. It gets doubled. If your sisters and nieces could not come to stay over because you are single, now they feel blessed: there is a woman in the house…”

“But that should be the time they should leave us to enjoy our freedom.”

“Freedom? Who said marriage is freedom?”

Then he goes into a sermon: you need to discuss about your responsibilities towards your family, your friends, even her enemies. Discuss how all that will be effected – and affected – when the two of you decide to stay together. Also, the cut-off points for those responsibilities.

“And the possibility of getting visitors with untrue announcements, who say they are just coming for a week yet end up staying for months, nurturing the relationship with the neighbour or even your own maid such that they lose count of days – you know how love influences people…”

“But that is something you just learn on the spot. In Africa,” I also make that racist remark. “You do not plan for visitors as you would in some other places.”

He agrees and disagrees. He says I am right, but also wrong. African visitors are always budgeted for, especially after marriage.

“Your relatives, her relatives, are like walls. When trouble will hit any or the two of you, you will have to lean on them. If you are not careful with them, sadly, they will cave in. And that marriage will collapse. You and your partner don’t build that marriage. The relatives do.”

I nod and think:

Can you live with in-laws that do not like you?

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