By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
In this city, there is a man who is driving around with a bomb. He might be your driver, neighbour, boss, husband, father or drinking buddy. But, most likely, your drinking buddy. Because, he drinks. And loves his drink.
And, he loves music. And dancing. His favourite song, for now, is not état-major. But, at some point, it was. He does not understand French, does not know what the song talks about; he just liked the shouting and clapping at the beginning of the song. It laid a good ground for showcasing dancing skills.
That time he was in love with that song, he still had the bomb with him.
In his favourite drinking place, having had asked for état-major, he would dance. Sway his hips. Place his right feet there, have the hands clasped together as in some prayer, while the left foot stood rooted in the ground to give balance to the waist that would be tossed up and down as if in some dingy on a chaotic Mediterranean sea. Spectators would abound. The new ones would buy him beer.
These days, his favourite song, is little of a dance. It is more meditative. And, you guessed right – or wrong, I will not mention it.
When we meet, he comes whistling that song: the meditative one. And, he looks cheerful – like he mostly does, it seems. His hand in my mine does not feel weak, or tired. It is callous but has a gentleness to it. His grip is firm—and fatherly.
We do not talk about the friend that has us meeting. We talk about music, first, before eventually talking about the bomb he travels with.
“Yes, it is there in my car,” he says, not in any way sounding fazed or scared.
“What purpose does it serve?”
“It gives me peace. You need that peace. We all need that peace. The peace to know that you, in a way, can be some small god that can cause a storm which can rattle the actual God,” he says this with a thin smile – another of a thin thing that should have been banned apart from those plastics. Because, thin smiles are actually not smiles. They are aggressive expressions of stuff that can be communicated with care, tenderness and an actual smile—even if they are bad news.
“Does your wife know about this?”
He says she has no idea; then adds a sexist remark: you know, women.
I say, I do not know women.
He makes that smile again (thin smiles, like most other thin things, are made). Says that women just look at the surface.
“The only way she would be concerned would be if I stopped providing for the children, if I slept out, if I came home announcing that I have quit my job or announcing that I am leaving her. As long as none of these things have yet to be done, she is not worried…”
“You let her use your car?”
“All the time. She even uses it more than I do.”
“And she doesn’t wonder why the glove compartment is always locked? I would think someday she might want to get something from there and find it locked, and that happens another two times, certainly she will be forced to raise eyebrows,” I charge.
He says she does not suspect him. She knows he cannot wander and, even if he does, he would return. He loves her.
“But you know what they are saying these days?” I ask.
“They are saying a lot, on what exactly are you talking about?”
I say: on men killing themselves. It is becoming a scourge. The statistics are scary. A lot of children are being left fatherless. Families are being scarred. They are saying you, or maybe we, should open up.
“Open to who?”
I say professionals – and quickly add – or those close to us.
He asks with a sneer: “You think men do not talk, you think we do not talk?”
I say that some talk, others – maybe even most – do not talk. I add that it is all cultural and systemic. Men, I emphasise, echoing those who are saying, are taught from a young age to man-up and be cheerful. And smile. And not cry.
he expression on his face changes. It hovers between that soft kind look and that angry rude stare. He goes into a sermon: “Man, we talk. We talk in beer places. We talk in our workplaces. We talk in our marriages. We talk on Facebook. But, who is listening? I will tell you: nobody. They only pretend to listen when one of us dies by suicide. Otherwise, all the talking, they are not listening to.”
“How is that talking done?” I ask.
“In a lot of ways. If you listen closely, you will see us men talking…”
“Maybe we should be talking more directly, more openly. Not through actions and cryptic communication…”
He is not convinced. He says even if we are to talk directly, they would not understand.
“Because,” he emphasises. “We will be talking to people who know nothing about the feeling of suicide. We will be talking to people who have been taught that committing suicide is a sin, it is shameful. They cannot just be converted in a day. Online, they will come screaming shock when they hear that we are dying to suicide. In real life, they will turn around to mock. They know nothing about this. They cannot understand us.”
“So, how is travelling around with a suicide note going to help this situation?”
“Someone will listen when they find it.”
But, he adds, that will only be after I am gone.