When the Woman is the Breadwinner: A Shift in Power Dynamics

women in power

There is this beautiful woman I know. I will call her Mary.

Mary is a vivacious 30 year old lawyer who recently made partner at one of the most respected local law firms. Her salary is fatter than the waist size of her 10 year old overweight daughter and she drives one of those fancy vehicles with a name she can hardly pronounce. Mary is the ultimate working woman.

Unfortunately, Mary’s husband Joe has been jobless for over three years now, a fact that has caused a dramatic shift in the power dynamics in her marriage.

He still expects me to treat him like a man when he hasn’t been able to act like one for over two years now.” I have heard Mary say this many times.

Mary has even gone further to withdraw sex from her relationship because she feels her husband does not deserve it; a move that she’s paid for in more ways than the obvious. Ever since Joe lost his job, he has come to hate the word ‘man’ because his wife tends to use it quite a lot in most of their conversations…and it always carries with it a negative connotation.

These words: Man….Woman

I have always been of the belief that people are born either male or female… (or sometimes both) not by choice but because a group of chromosomes somewhere decided that it was best for this particular individual to be born that way. However, one does not become either a woman or man by default; this one is a conscious decision that one makes and to do so, they need to meet certain requirements. It is never just a matter of what lies below the belt and I think this is what Mary is always referring to.

Nevertheless, Mary’s attitude towards her husband left me thinking; why are the relationship dynamics so different when the woman is the breadwinner and the man isn’t? Isn’t Mary just being an ungrateful and disrespectful woman now that she has become such a hot shot lawyer? Human nature…eh? Always quick to judge. But as I listened to Mary’s reasoning, I couldn’t help feeling a little sympathetic towards her.

When women get married, they are meant to believe – directly or indirectly that the man will take care of them, provide for them financially whether he likes it or not, protect them, and love them eternally. Men too enter marriage with their own set of expectations from the woman; she will care for him, tend to his every need whether she likes it or not, take care of their kids, make a home for the family and love him eternally. These expectations are not necessarily written in print but they are there. And once these expectations are not met, problems will surely arise. Let’s for a moment put issues of gender equality and feminism in a little box we will open later. For now, let’s focus on what happens when there is a shift in expectations and the woman takes up the role of the man and becomes the breadwinner of the family.

I have heard people say that a man does not stop being a man just because he cannot provide for his family. What they should be staying instead is that a male does not stop being a male just because he is not in a position to be the kind of man that his woman expects him to be. A wise King will feel uncomfortable wearing the crown when he has found himself in a position where he cannot be the kind of King that his people want – when he cannot deliver. He might still wear the crown yes, but that won’t change the fact that he has failed somewhere. However, irrespective of all these issues, it is commonly accepted and rightly so that a man shall be the head of the house. Now I don’t know if that statement still applies when the man is incapable of providing for his family over a prolonged period of time or not. I am guessing issues of religion will have a lot to say about the answer to that.

But here’s what am thinking:

The vows – for better or worse, through thick and thin. What do these words actually mean?

Naturally, it is expected that when a man is down on his luck, the woman will be patient enough and trust that he will soon rise again and be the kind of man she expects him to be. But what if that never happens for say, two, three, four, and sometimes even five years or more? What happens to the power dynamics in the relationship? Because I am woman, I tend to see things clearly from the point of view of a woman…but I can try to imagine that of a man’s.

When two people get married, they become equals…well, not necessarily since the man we are told is the head of the house. But whatever either of them does, it should be for the interest of the family and should never be about “I, me, myself, you…” If the man is not in a position to provide for his family, what is wrong with a woman taking up that role? Why should it be a big deal when she is the one holding the financial realms of the family and not when it is the man? Why is it that women are so selfish with their money – the money they make is theirs but the money the man makes is for the family? I have heard most of my male friends ask that question quite often!

My answer to that question usually is that because we were socialized to believe that the man is the financial provider of the family. The woman is simply a helper. Just like a man expects that his wife will wash his dirty boxers, clean the house, carter to the children and to his every need, cook for him, iron…the list is endless, a woman has only one expectation – that the man will provide for the family financially. To use words that might lead to my crucification, I will say, the woman agrees to act like his maid with benefits and the man lives to pay his dues.

It is hard for women like Mary to continue playing both roles of the sexes and it is foolish of men to believe the power dynamics will remain unshaken if such a development occurs. While the woman works to earn an income for the family and then gets back home to play the role of the dotting wife and mother, what is the man doing to seal his role as head of the family? Just because it is written somewhere that by virtue of him being a man he is head of the house does not mean he should expect to be treated as such even when he has not done much to earn that title. And don’t get me wrong, it is not always a matter of financial responsibilities. There are other responsibilities that men have towards their families that make them head of the family. But right now I am mostly interested in the financial aspect.

Additionally, I feel I should mention that I am not assuming that jobless men are in that position by choice or that they are not doing enough to change that situation. I know of a number of men that strive every day to make ends meet because they know exactly who they ought to be for their families. However, the reason I found myself sympathizing with Mary is because her situation was quite peculiar.

During the first month of her husband’s joblessness, Mary understood his position and what he must have been going through. Here was a man who was once used to being on top of his game career wise and now he had no job. They both kept hoping for the best as days went by and the applications kept being written. However, after eight months or so, Joe became frustrated and depression slowly kicked in. Joe began to change. To Mary, he became nothing like the man she had married. The late nights, the rude responses, the phone calls from different women during the early hours of the morning…how his ever sombre face would suddenly light up when he received calls from those women. Why was he treating her like that? Was it her fault that things had turned out like that for him? Why was he taking it out on her?

Mary had done her best to become both man and woman of the house. Initially, Joe would try his best to help out his wife but as time went by; he completely gave up and stopped trying. Mary was human enough to understand his frustrations but just because she understood does not mean it made everything okay. Being human also meant she could get frustrated at times too. And the stress was killing her. She would come back home to find a dirty house, dirty kids, dirty plates, no cooked food, a drunk husband dead asleep on the living room floor…a complete mess. Here’s a woman who had just spend the whole day in a verbal war trying to convince a group of corporate giants to surrender their money and she comes home to this mess. Of course she was not pleased and she made that fact known in very precise terms.

What was worse for Mary is that on several occasions, she had to deal with confrontations from her in-laws who naturally assumed that she had lost respect for her husband now that he was jobless when all the while she had been ‘chewing’ his money with impunity. Mary had not changed except her husband’s family had gone into defensive mode thinking she was going to leave him. They were expecting her to leave him. At some point their frustrations towards her had become a matter of her not living up to their expectations of leaving.

Mary believes it was not her fault that her husband changed but it’s his guilt over his failure to get back to being the man he used to be that led to him turning out this way. And I agree with her. The trouble with such a development is that the one that has to deal with all of this is Mary and I find that very unfair. Love is based on feelings and feelings as we all know are fickle. If they are not nurtured, they tend to die. While Mary insists she is still in-love with her husband, it is very clear her perception of him has greatly changed over the past few years. He is no longer the man she married and whether that has something to do with him being jobless or not is still a matter of debate. What is clear however is that she cannot look at Joe the same way she used to.

Always, people will assume women are ‘unloyal’ especially towards a husband who is jobless. A man being jobless for a year or so isn’t a matter to cry over. Women understand that the world of employment is unfriendly. The problem most women have is if for over a prolonged period of time, a man is still jobless yet he does not help out around the house. He still expects his wife to do the home work and to work a job at the same time. What’s worse, he expects her to give it to him in bed with as much vigour as she used to when he used to have a job. Unlike men, women tend to associate sex with feelings. They don’t just respond just because something naked is standing in front of them. This means that if she is feeling tired, stressed, frustrated and very pissed, she won’t give it to you the way you want it. It is not that she doesn’t love you anymore; it is because you have done enough to consider her feelings.

Yes there are certain types of women who will lose interest in their men once they become jobless and those women are what we call gold diggers. But not every woman who gets frustrated over her husband’s joblessness is a gold digger. It is the circumstances that arise from such a development that might lead one to change completely. I wish we would not be quick to judge.

career women

Now to open the Feminism and Gender Equality box, I think it is only fair that if a husband or man is jobless and the woman is the breadwinner, let him at least take up certain responsibilities around the home to ease the wife’s work load. And I think it is because this is rarely done that women get frustrated. Do you think a working woman would complain about her husband’s joblessness if he did his best to meet her half-way despite his situation instead of leading himself into a depressive state and trying to rediscover his fading masculinity by sleeping around with any woman that can scream his name in ecstasy?

Not every woman who can take care of herself financially wants a rich or working man. They just want a man who can meet them half-way. Personally I think it’s unfair for such a man to expect his hard working woman to still carter to his every need and do all the chores around the house while he does nothing. He was the first to cause the power shift in the home whether by his own doing or by nature’s doing. And once that happens, other things around the home will change too.

This excuse of ‘I was out all day hustling and trying to find a job so am tired too,’ does not cut it. Just don’t let the woman do both your job and hers at the same time and still expect her to treat you the same way. Just because she understands your predicament does not mean she will not feel frustrated every now and then. If she is doing your role as provider of the family, why can’t you do her role as home maker instead? If she is man enough to step up to the challenge, what can’t you?

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Chronicles of my Mother: Chapter One – The Unexpected

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

blog profile picMy name is Stella. Yes, you can just call me Stella. I have changed all the names and places in all these stories I am about to share with you, including mine for reasons that will become obvious soon enough. You see, I lost my mother in a terrible accident two years ago. Her death was sudden and very unexpected. My mother was a very healthy and lively woman who was respected by everyone…well, almost everyone in society.

If not for her character, she was mostly known as a counsellor although her work was just shy off that of a professional marriage counsellor with a fancy certificate hanging on the wall. Before I forget, my mother’s name was Beatrice. That is what we will call her. She had been married to my father for over thirty years before he died from Malaria years ago. My parents where the happiest and most suited couple I have ever known which is why it was no surprise that everyone treated her with so much respect and came to her for marital advice before they got married and/or after they got married.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (I haven’t yet decided), in her will, my mother left me the house which we lived in and with this house came the huge room she had used all these years to conduct her ‘sessions.’ It was while I was going through her office to try and get a feel of her for the last time before clearing the room to be used for something else that I came across her diaries…diaries that have a record of every little detail of what transpired inside the walls of this office. The first time I found the diaries, my conscious told me not to open them but instead to go straight in the backyard and burn all of them to ashes. And I did exactly that!…well, maybe not exactly, but I did go all the way to the backyard and stood there contemplating whether to burn them or not until I eventually convinced myself that I would need more time to think about it.

And so I took the diaries back to that room and locked it behind me. For the weeks and months that followed, I kept thinking and thinking; to burn or not to burn? Before I realised it, a year had passed and I still had not decided what to do with them.  Fortunately, the decision came to me like a thief in broad daylight, unexpected. A married friend of mine was having problems in her marriage and she came to my place to “get some fresh air,” was what she first claimed. But the truth of the matter was that she needed someone to talk to and me being a very single woman, she did not think it was a good idea to share her marital problems with me. I had seen her on different occasions having deep conversations with my mother whenever she visited me but I never bothered to inquire the details of those conversations.

You see, despite having such a brilliant and wise mother, I knew that there was a huge part of my mother that was disappointed in me because at thirty-five, I was still not thinking about marriage. Who would want to get married after seeing all those millions of people coming in and going out of our home all with their own set of marital drama, seeking guidance from a stranger who had not even been there when they were throwing vows of everlasting love at each other? When I was a kid I used to wonder why my mother used to take longer than the rest of us in confession but as I grew older and saw all those people coming and going, I had an idea of what sort of demons she was fighting with. I wanted no part of that circus and I preferred living my life free from all the drama. But that was two years ago.

I had been on the phone for what felt like forever flirting with some idiot I was hoping would give me a deal on renting some spaces on the soon-to-be opened shopping mall when I heard a knock on my door. It was my friend Nomsa, the very married friend I mentioned earlier. For the next thirty minutes or so, I sat there and listened to her complain about how much life sucked and how she wished my mother was still alive so she could tell her what to do. Thinking back, we were like a twosome of fools, crying and hugging each other and both praying a miracle would happen. But my mother never showed up that day or any other day after.

That day as I watched Nomsa leave my house, I made up my mind to open every one of those diaries to look for the answer that my friend was in desperate need of. I hang on to the hope that there might be someone who might have had a similar problem who came to my mother and got the advice that she was looking for. What if from her grave, my mother could still help out all these people? That night I searched for the diary that was dated the oldest from among them all and from that day forward, my life has never been the same. I went in those archives looking for answers but I found way more than what I bargained for. I found love, hate, temptation, scandal, sorrow, happiness, humour, laughter, tears, complications, secrets, lies, betrayal…and everything else that you can think of that is made up of life!

Over the next months, I will steal a glimpse from a page in my mother’s mind and hopefully, like Nomsa and I, you can also learn one or two things. But, instead of keeping you waiting, here’s a snippet from the story of Brenda and Richard as seen from the eyes of my mother:

Excerpt from Chronicles of my Mother: Chapter Two: The Case of Brenda and Richard

I sat there studying the two of them. I knew that one of them was to blame for how things turned out but of course I could not tell them that. The last thing they needed was for one of them to be handed the weapon to attack the other. What these two needed was time…time to heal all the wounds and erase all the bad memories. Looking at them looking at me with eyes filled with expectation, I feared I was not the right person to give them the miracle that they were hoping for. I am after all only…a mere mortal.

Every part of my body wanted to jump up and tear at something but there I sat, smiling at them as if I had the password to opening heaven’s doors. “I want it to go away,” Brenda said. I found it amazing that she still had any form of liquid left in her system after all that crying she had faithfully committed herself to. I poured her another glass of water. Oooh, the poor soul.

“Nalema,” she buried her face in her palms. “Nalema amai…” she said, slowly raising her head to look up at me. “If she says she’s tired, what do you think I am feeling after going through all of this?” Richard asked. I could see him clearly fighting off the tears threating to pour. Now here was a true representation of his species.

“Brenda my dear,” I moved closer to her and took her hand in mine. “Can you tell me again why you did it? I know that somewhere at the back of your mind, you must have a reason. I need you to stop crying for a moment and just think….think back to that time when you felt it…think my dear…just think….”

As if waiting for forever to come, we waited and waited. When Brenda next spoke, it was to rudely waken me to the fact that even at my age, there were still people that could surprise me.  

Watch out for Chapter Two of the Chronicles…coming next!

Spousal Rape: The Blurred Lines

 

violence

My attention today was caught by this headline in today’s Post Newspaper, ‘Woman, 24 Denies Raping Husband.’

“The 28 year old husband reported to the police that he was asleep when his wife undressed him and started performing sexual acts with him….” The report read.

You see, with me, every time I read a report of this kind, I am forced to take a side or to assess the facts by putting myself in either the man’s position, the wife’s position, or the judge’s position. I will be the first to admit that I do not have enough knowledge and  experience in Criminal law or Civil law, but maybe it’s that little aspect of law that’s still in my head from my studies in Labour Law…because I am ever assessing things!

Or perhaps I am just human.

At first, I was just curious.

But then as I continued reading and found the above caption, my mind went all wild on me! “Seriously,” I said to myself, “if this is what they call spousal or marital rape then believe me all women in this world have been thoroughly raped before and are still gonna get raped in future!” However, the moment I finished telling myself that, another thought occurred to me; “Why am I being so biased, it can happen to men too judging by the standards above. ” unfortunately, because the report did not give much detail about the event, I could not come up with a convincing conclusion just for my own personal satisfaction. But the article still managed to raise a lot of questions in my head.

I have always been of the belief that marital or spousal rape occurs when one spouse demands or takes sexual pleasure from their spouse who has not given consent, who has been forced, or is not in a position to give consent.” I don’t know how valid or legal my assumptions are but based on that understanding….and this is where the lines become blurry…on the standards of, “not in a position to give consent,” then I guess the wife in the paper is absolutely guilty of rape! But tell me, would the charge still hold if it was the other way round; if the woman was the accuser and the man the offender? And where exactly does the law, customs and religion fit into the picture?

Like I said, I don’t know much about Law so I will stick to things I am most familiar with; Religion. I bet you know the verse I’m driving at…I’m thinking Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22, 1Peter 3:1… All these verses have one thing in common, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands!” Oh dear, someone must have really had it in for the poor woman neh. But then again we have this Bible Verse that seems to reverse all the above verses; “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church…” Ephesians 5:25.

From the time we were able to loudly say the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’, we knew how sexual mechanisms worked. And from that time forward, Biology has kept insisting that men think about sex way more than women do. Some psychologists have even gone further to argue that this is a likely reason why more women get raped than men! Unbloodylievable I tell you…

Now let’s talk tradition and culture. How many African women (I don’t know about women from the rest of the world) have been told before getting married that if your husband demands sex from you, whether you are tired, not in the mood, on your menses, and all those other disturbing possibilities you can think of, they’ll tell you, “Never should you say NO to him. He can have you whenever he wants and wherever he wants.” Dame they’ll even tell you not to sleep with your back to him because he needs to have access to you at any time in the night! Oh hell, didn’t anyone ever tell these people that a woman can provide access even from the back??? But that’s just me thinking out loud.

So, given this scenario, if an African man, without waking his wife from her sleep gets sexual pleasure from her…can we still say its rape? And what if it was the other way round? And to take this a little further, does the law make exceptions for cultural and traditional beliefs? I understand in Zambia we have customary, statutory as well as common law, and we even have specific courts trying specific cases. But is it possible that all these types of laws take into account the local customs and religious beliefs? And if so, I would love to understand how. Could it also be possible that they might be conflicting at some level? If so, what happens then?

And what’s up with all those reports of spouses suing each other when one withdraws sex from them? “My wife sleeps in leggings to keep me from touching her at night,” “My husband hasn’t made love to me in four years…” so on and so forth. In every weekend newspaper I read all these crazy reports and it’s starting to get confusing. Where do you draw the line? And today we have “My wife performed sexual acts on me without my consent….” Could it be possible she assumed he would be aroused and then respond to her? Could it be something that would have been resolved through communication? Just what exactly did she do to him to force him to report her to the police?  Oh hell, I don’t know. Anyway, what’s going to happen to being a little spontaneous, innovative, imaginative, and all those not-so-decent words we use to describe our sex lives?

I dare not say that this is a gender issue because belief me, I also want to be given the opportunity to make moves on my husband in the middle of the night without having to worry about being sued! Sex should never be a one way street for anyone. If anything, the world (and especially Africans) should be wary of sexually starved women. They can be quite lethal too!

A SILHOUETTE OF INNOCENCE

It wasn’t when I walked in on him beating her to a pulp while she tried desperately to block the blows, squeezing herself tightly in a corner in the kitchen that I lost my innocence. And it certainly wasn’t that moment when I looked to the table and saw the unfinished task she had obviously been at before the attack started…the uncut tomatoes lying there and the knife looking at me as if it was the most attractive thing in the room, tempting me to use it for a whole different purpose. But I was only a child.

What could I have possibly known?

There I was, seated in the headmaster’s office…my homeroom teacher on my left and another man to my right. As if in a trance, we all watched and listened (willy-nilly) to this man talking on and on, some whitish staff even forming at the corners of his mouth. How he loved the sound of his own voice. He was bragging about what a great idea it was that the school administration had recommended his daughter to take an exam intended for grades two levels above her. He was like a man riding high on some yet to be manufactured drug. This man could have said I was the Messiah and I would have believed him.

DNA insists he was my father.

But it wasn’t when I felt the gnawing guilty for silently celebrating the praises coming from this man that I lost my innocence. And it certainly wasn’t when I realised there was a woman back home who had cried herself to sleep the previous night worried sick about the pressure that was being put on her little girl. Wasn’t it only the night before when she had come into the room I shared with my sisters, sat on the bed and took my hands in hers, her face ever so solemn. She had said, “I don’t want you to think that I have no faith in you my baby…it is just that I see no reason why they feel they have to rush you. I just want you to grow up like a normal child but your father won’t listen to me.” And right she had been. I was by all accounts scared. Without a doubt I know who this woman was.

She was my mother.

It was not when I stood at the train station and watched the scene unveiling before my very eyes that I lost my innocence. The images always appear to me as if they were a scene in a melodrama and yet they are as factual as nature itself wouldn’t have intended them to be. It’s my big brother and sister saying their farewells to the man. He says he is travelling to another city for business. I watch my two siblings hang to every comforting word he is throwing at them, eating them up like they would a lollipop. My big sister, like the cry baby that she has always been is holding on to his leg for dear life, begging him not to go and at the same time telling him what to bring for her when he returns. If innocence had a colour, it would probably shine as bright as her personality.

Ooh, my beloved sister…how she loved unreservedly.

But there I was, watching the scene unfold just a few feet away. I could smell the disdain dripping from my armpits, unceremoniously awakening the resting flesh on my forehead. He looked over at me. I could see the hesitation screaming from every visible part of his being. He knew what I knew. I might have been the youngest member of the family at that train station but I had the foresight of a well-trained ninja.  That man was never coming back. But I was only a child…how I wish I had been wrong….

If only for their sake.

 

*                *                *

 

But It was not from a single incident that I lost it:

It was when I realised that with every little experience I went through from the time I was born to now…that with every breath I took, and with every birthday I celebrated I kept losing whatever innocence I might have had. Each experience, bad or good came with its life lessons. And as I keep learning, I keep losing a part of me. How much more innocence will I lose and how much more faith shall I keep struggling to hold on to as I grow older? With every breath I take…with each passing second…I see nothing but a silhouette of the innocence I once had, gliding by majestically to some place unknown.

 

*                *                *

 

It was when I noticed the old woman walking on the side of the road, tired and almost out of breath that I realised how much of my innocence had become corrupted. She stretched out her little wrinkly hand and waved for me to stop. My foot instinctively went easy on the gas as I kept getting closer to her. However, to my surprise, when I finally got to where she was, there seemed to be some form of miscommunication between my foot and my brain.  As I drove the rest of the way home that evening, I was but a wreck of guilt. Why had I not stopped for that woman? If she was my mother or grandmother, wouldn’t I want someone to stop for her if she ever found herself in such a position? A few years back I would have never hesitated…but what exactly had happened to me to change me this much? The few times I had given lifts to strangers in the past year had also been such exhausting experiences. I remember one of them asking me, “…you are shaking so much…are you a new driver?” No I was not a new driver. I was scared as hell by my own imaginations of what the man might do to me. I had not even thought much about it when I stopped for him but the moment he strapped the seat belt on, every little scene from all the horror movies I had ever seen, every weird report I had ever read in the papers or watched on tele… and even scenes cooked up by my own brain danced seductively on my mind.

Who is this person I have become?

It was when I kept looking suspiciously at a certain man playing with his little niece that I knew my innocence was lost. I kept watching how he was playing with her, where he did and did not touch…and what he was saying to her. At what point in life did it become a sin for a man to play with his nieces and use whatever genre of baby talk he wished without someone looking at him suspiciously?

 

It was when I asked my sister to take a picture of the guy she had gone on a date with to text me his number plate and to keep me updated of all the places they would be going to. I even asked her to take a picture of him and send it to me! Even then I knew something was wrong with me somewhere. Instead of celebrating the fact that my beautiful sister had found herself a good looking and worthy guy, I sat up that night imagining all sorts of things that were likely to happen to her if the guy turned out to be psycho. I was petrified, not because of the crazy thoughts in my head, but of myself! As it turned out my sister came back home safe and in the good company of a hangover longer than the skirt she had been wearing.

 

It was while I was waiting for the traffic lights to change and a street kid (somewhere between the ages of six and 10) came to my window and I unconsciously (or consciously) checked to ensure all my doors and windows were locked that I started to question the nature of my mind. I was just about to look away and ignore the little girl when something made me turn back to look at her. A very pretty child she was but the state she was in almost brought tears to my eyes. Every bone in me wanted to reach out for my handbag which was now lying on the floor of the car.

But I didn’t.  

The child was desperately trying to communicate something to me but I could not hear a thing because all my windows were up. A few years ago I would not have hesitated to lend a helping hand but somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything this time. Being a person who has been to hell and back when it comes to struggling in life, shouldn’t I have been in a better position to understand what she must have been going through? Just what exactly had experience taught me to turn me into this person I cannot recognize? How is it that doing something without thinking about it first has become such a challenge for me these days? An internal debate kept ringing through my mind and even though I had managed to convince myself that giving her money was not the right thing to do; the guilt would not leave me alone. That day when I stopped by the traffic lights again on my way back, my eyes kept searching for that child but she was nowhere in sight. What had happened to her? And most importantly…

What had happened to me?

 

IN A MAZE OF LOVE

maze

Excited.

Joyful.

Happy.

Loved….

I am all of these things most of the times.

Tears.

Sorrow.

Despair.

Fear….

I get to feel these every once in a while.

Friday evening, I was standing by the balcony. All alone.

I remember everything.

I raised my head up to let the cool breeze caress every inch of my face. A few minutes ago I could hear the most melancholic melody playing, tantalizing every buried memory in my head. I could hear the hooting and honking of cars as the drivers negotiated their way through the evening traffic rash.

In the distance, I could see kids shouting and jumping in excitement…seeming all unaware of their surroundings. I could even hear the cries of a baby, mercilessly announcing its displeasure over something. And then…and then came the sweetest sounds of a lullaby, seductively gracing my eardrums and slowly…slowly…slowly…the cries began fading away.

But so did everything else.

Suddenly…and I mean very so suddenly, I heard the first drop hit the floor… and then the second. I moved my feet back a little and looked down. I had seen seasons come and go. I saw leaves dry and weather, I had seen the greens and the fruits in their most beautiful form. I got rained on a few times, hell I felt so hot at times I had to walk around the house naked.

But it was still winter.

I quickly reasoned. This was no rain.

My hand instinctively went straight to my face.

Teardrops.

Was that me?

I jump.

I fall.

I run.

I walk….

These are the little things I do every now and then.

Feeling.

Feelings.

Feelings.

Feelings.

Why do I feel so much?

I took a walk a few days ago.

I kept walking and walking and walking.

I was lost.

My mind is a beautiful maze of things unknown and words spoken very so lightly.

Sometimes I even scream.

Oh no, he does not hear me.

But clearly, something was on my mind.

I stopped and sat on the bench by the side of the road.

Somehow, I got a deep feeling that for quite a while I had not been thinking of anything at all.

He smiles at me.

My heart skips a beat.

I blink.

I blush.

I look away.

He still doesn’t understand.

Love?

I heard him ask.

I laughed, ever so softly.

Love, you ask?

I replied.

Love to me is all these things and more.

I do not cry because I am sad.

I do not walk alone because am lonely.

Love??

I do not only see roses.

Or kisses.

Or hugs.

Or happiness.

And all those bright and colourful things that you are thinking about.

I have loved even before I knew the concept of love existed and I have fallen in love at least a couple of times growing up. Love to me also means sadness, worry, stress, anxiety, tears, pain and all those dark things that come to mind. Sometimes it even means loneliness. I cannot say I have loved if I have not experienced the good and the bad together. I am always hoping for the best but I also expect the bad to happen along the way. Just like the night gives way to the day and vice versa to make a complete day so does sadness and happiness combine to bring about love.

I get scared.

I get afraid.

I get jealous too.

And then there are those tiny moments when I feel a little insecure.

There have been times I have even gotten mad at God.

It was July. I remember.

In the wee hours of the morning.

I watched a woman who to me was the epitome of everything good die. I stood on the side, my hands tightly clenching hers, and she too holding on to me as if for dear life. I watched slowly as every drop of life got drained from her…bit by bit. I have seen a lot of pain before in my life but never before had I felt it to such a degree.

I could smell it.

I could feel it rip my insides to pieces.

That night I even touched pain.

I had been transported to the darkest and deepest parts of hell and came back smelling blue.

I was mad.

I was angry.

I could barely contain it.

I had a lot of questions back then and I still do.

Why her??

Faith.

Faith, you ask?

Do not ask me why I felt like that.

Instead, ask me how it feels to be human.

And if you do,

I will tell you that this too is Love to me.

Love can bruise you every now and then.

You will cry.

You will fall.

And you will get disappointed.

But Love will not let you suffer alone.

It will not leave you in despair.

Love will also give you the antidote.

This too is what love means to me.

Every now and then I worry about the safety of my loved ones.

Why is she late?

Why didn’t he answer his phone?

Is her seatbelt on?

Sometimes I even get a little foolish in-love.

I cry when I wake up in the middle of the night and watch you sleep peacefully beside me; how can anyone so beautiful inside and out be mine? Sometimes I still cry just thinking about all the blessings I have been granted over the years.

You have told me that I look more beautiful when I smile.

That you do not like the sight of my tears.

But do you know that at times,

The glitter in my tears is because I love you too much?

Do you know that sometimes…

I get upset only because I want you to hold me?

I can see he understands me now.

He hugs me from behind.

My heart skips.

I can smell his love.

Here’s me wishing that you never stop loving me.

Can we make it so that we never have to make wishes….

Instead of wishing, how about…we just do.

Can we not look back at the good old times….

How about we just make every memory past, present and future…

Can you love me for that long? And as you love me…

Can we strive to have more of the good than the bad?

Now here’s me wishing that you never stop loving me.

THE FEELING OF A WELL SCENTED SIN

There I was. My legs spread apart like a heavily pregnant woman trying to induce labour unsuccessfully. I could feel every bone in my body become lighter and lighter as the seconds trickled by. This was the day I had been looking forward to. I felt starved, I felt wronged for having gone without it for such a long time. I wanted it…I was craving it…then that moment came, finally…I could feel my blood become warmer, lighter and relief oozed from every inch of my body. Finally, I murmured, “release.” I was on top of the moon! The pleasure kept coming and coming…I was on a roll. But just as I was about to let out another sigh of relief, my phone rang. For a few seconds I looked at the phone and saw the caller ID. It was an old friend of mine I hadn’t seen in over ten years! However, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, we got to meet each other again on Facebook. It was exciting catching up on the good old times on Facebook Messenger. We exchanged contact details and promised to keep in touch frequently. It was only after I answered the call that I remembered the exact nature of our relationship back then. And it finally made sense why I kept feeling a little uncomfortable during the first chat on Facebook after all these years.

So it turned out she was the first one to call me…and she couldn’t have done it at such a convenient time! For a couple of months I was struck by what doctors like to call Chronic Constipation which was a result of all the self-meds I had been taking for my personally diagnosed illness. After a visit to the doctor’s office, it finally turned out that I actually had a serious case of ulcers and that some weird staff in my system was playing a number on my stomach walls. I was given the proper meds for it…hence, the relief. I rarely carry my mobile phone with me once I have scheduled an appointment with the little white seat. However, due to the nature of my situation for the past months, I could not predict how long it would take for me to negotiate with nature to take my call. Most of the times I would receive a page from nature, and then go into a certain private room to call back, only nature wouldn’t take my call. I would hit redial over and over again using every muscle in my system but still nothing would happen. By the time I realised it, I would have spent about 30 minutes trying to make reception. Nada. But thanks to some medical attention here and there, I finally found a way to deal with nature. I sat on that little white seat, got in perfect position and dialled number two. The rest is history.

Unbeknownst to the Airtel and MTN telecommunications service providers, they connived and allowed someone to get through to me at that particular moment. It didn’t help that my ringtone was set to SIA’s ‘Chandelier’ because that really took the ‘ish’ right out of me, literally. That song has such an effect on me. An internal debate occurred in my head; to take or not to take the call? If I took the call, then I might need to put my other call with nature on hold and I couldn’t risk having to hit redial. I had already been through that before and it never went in my favour. But then again if I don’t pick up her call, she might think that I was ignoring her. And then it occurred to me…why was I so concerned about her misinterpreting this? I could easily come up with an excuse as to why I could not attend to her call, it’s very normal to miss certain calls but still call them back…as in contrary to telling her the actual truth (I mean, it is after all the polite thing to do in this case – to lie.)

I weighed my options, did some risk management here and there and settled for letting the call go unattended. But oh no…it rang again, and again, and again. There was no way I was gonna be able to maintain a working network with nature with all the disruptions to the signal. So I took the other kind of call, the telecommunications one. I was so mad that to this day I suspect I was the reason behind my whole neighbourhood going on loading shedding mode that evening. But I didn’t want it to be so obvious and so I put on a smile as I cheerfully said hello to my old friend. She was so excited to be in touch. On any other day I probably would have been excited too but my circumstances would not allow me the pleasure. It was because of these very circumstances that I was forced to remember that I was never really close to this person who seemed so excited to be in touch with me.

I remembered that the last time we had spoken, some ten or so years ago, it was during a school function and I was asking her to move a bit so we could all fit comfortably on the bench. We were from the same class and even though we rarely spoke to each other, there were things we knew about each other just from the mere fact that we were found on and in the same spaces most of the time. It’s a feeling of familiarity, like the kind tourists from the same country feel towards each other in a foreign country; you know nothing about each other and would most probably hate each other’s guts if you did but you still share something that is strong enough to enable you get along…for the time being. We both never liked each other back then and it was so obvious because we never even tried to hide it. She was George Clooney and I was a marriage ring…until now.

It should be that as the years went back, we somehow managed to either get over all that childish drama and matured or we had just forgotten about it all. Unfortunately, like an epiphany, my predicament when I received that call from her gave rise to all those memories. As my brain was busy updating its memory feed, my friend kept the conversation going. She talked and asked questions excitedly and I responded in kind. My voice was smiling but my facial expression looked as exactly as it had a few minutes ago when I smelled the results of the previous call I had abandoned to take this one. I finally resigned to get over myself and got a little more involved in the conversation. We had been chatting for close to half an hour when she finally broached the subject of the call…the actual reason why she had called. “I put your name on the list of committee members for my kitchen party and contributions are K500 each. You don’t necessarily need to attend the meetings since you are obviously a busy person but as long as you make the contributions, its fine with me.”

I was shell shocked. First of all, I didn’t know whether I was being asked or forced into the committee. Secondly, …K500????? WTH??? There I was thinking I had given up on my call of nature in futility only to receive a whole number 2 from this one. Was she trying to start a Franchise business? She must be nutts. But of course that’s what my head was thinking but my mouth was saying, “wow, why K500?” I asked, trying to sound unperturbed. “My fiancé and I are running a little short on funds,” she replied. “We are hoping that the extra money from the kitchen party can be used to finance the wedding.” She sounded like Mother Theresa…granted, I have never heard the great woman speak, but I have always imagined she must have been the calmest of all souls. My friend was like that on the phone, talking as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with what she had just delivered into my ears.

But I had a huge problem with everything. Yes I might have entered the conversation on the wrong foot but at this stage, my reasoning was not at all biased because of that, if it was at all biased. I was very uncomfortable with the amount of money she was requesting, or rather, demanding from me and all of her other unfortunate friends. From experience, a maximum of K300 is expected as a contribution from all members that a ‘bride to be’ puts in her kitchen party committee. And most of the times, the amount is not put in stone until such a time that all the members come together and reach an agreement. The bride might have her own figure in mind but she still has to present it to the group for them to either accept or settle for something they can all manage. At least this is how it has been from my experience. Once this money has been given, it should work towards meeting the needs of the kitchen party…and only if something remains should the committee agree to let it go towards the wedding expenses.

If a bride feels she cannot afford to hold either the kitchen party or wedding, she will call up all her friends and ask if they might be willing to help. In response, each friend will say how much they might be willing to contribute…if at all they can. It has never been and it should never be that someone should impose on anyone that they have to help willy-nilly. If this was the case, then am afraid that the cost of friendship is becoming too expensive for me. Many times I have been put in committees, and I have also put people that I didn’t even know in committees for such events. On average, I have found myself in 5 committees at once to which I have to make contributions. At this rate, if everyone starts making requests of K500, I wonder what will be left from my little salary to take care of the needs of my family.

The one thing that people don’t seem to understand is that people have a choice to either be or not be in a committee and that it is not the job of the committee to raise money for you to hold your wedding functions. A committee is a group of your friends and well-wishers that come together to “assist” you plan your function and not to “sponsor” your functions. It is only proper and polite to let your friends know in advance if you can’t afford to hold both functions and they can advise you on certain alternatives. Remember they are not your family. Your family might to some extent be responsible towards you financially but your friends aren’t. Why would you want to have extravagant functions at the expense of your friends when you obviously cannot afford them yourself?

A kitchen party is not even a necessity; it’s a luxury that we as African women want to indulge in in order to show the world that we have certain traditional skills and most importantly, to receive gifts from people. For others, it’s simply an event that comes before a wedding…whether it is necessary or not is not a matter of concern. Looking back, I regret having had put my family and friends through all that drama because at the end of the day, it turned out to have been a liability both emotionally and financially instead of what it was intended to be. To this day I go into my kitchen and ask myself, “WTH??” I might have a 21st century looking kitchen but I will always remember the tears I shed and the family relations that got broken during that period. That day for me might have been a success (and indeed it was well delivered by my family and friends)…but the question still remains, “was it necessary to even have it in the first place?” …. “If I needed something traditional, did I have other options that might not have costed me so much emotionally and financially?” Because of that day I lost a number of friends and I still have relatives I feel like pouring hot oil on when or if I ever see them standing in front of my door. The whole experience to me brings about a feeling of a well scented sin.

I am still not sure if I should be in my friends committee and pay the amount of money she has requested from everyone or if I should express my concerns to her. However, there is still something in me that tells me that had she used a different approach in raising money for her events, I probably would have been a little more receptive instead of what I am feeling right now. If only she had said, “Anne, I have a little problem…my fiancé and I are running a little low on cash and we were wondering if you would be able to help us financially…anything you can manage…we would really appreciate it. It’s always been our dream to have a kitchen party and wedding but we cannot afford it. We are hoping to see how much money we can raise…” I think anything in those lines would have helped…emphasis on would.  Remember, my memory feed was fully loaded by the time our phone conversation ended.

Living Life to the Fullest

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