“I will return the moment I have that MSc acronym after my name”.
She blinked away a tear and added, “I promise.”
We exchanged long emails – this was before WhatsApp, before Facebook Messenger, before Twitter – whose sweetness made 5 pages seem very short. I felt like Tom Hanks, and she like Meg Ryan, waiting for the end of the business day when my computer would say those pleasurable three little words:
“You’ve got mail.”
The love I lost
On many sleepless nights, I cast my mind back to the evenings at News Café, Gaby’s and The Meikles, when she, the strong-willed emancipated woman, routinely wrestled me for the restaurant bill when the waiter, as they always did, placed it before me.
“The man pays the bills!” I would say.
She would shake her ginger highlighted dreadlocks at me.
“Find me any legal statute that says men pay the bills.”
After minutes of haggling over who would pay, we would agree to the customary compromise – going fifty-fifty on the invoice. But when she got up to go to powder her nose – an expression she loathed, for its inappropriateness in reference to her flawless brown skin which needed no artifice – I would sneak an amount of money equal to her contribution into her coat pocket.
The quarrels didn’t stop at the restaurant. Later in the night, she and I would be on the phone until those Net One spoilsports would cut us off, which was always on 59 minutes and some seconds. We squabbled on who should call whom and, thereafter, when we reconnected the call, we would fight over who should hang up first.
“You hang up first.”
“No, you go first”
“I’m the man, I should take the lead.”
“Says who, Fred Flintstone, you hang up!”
To the eavesdroppers, we must have sounded silly, if not wasteful, because when the two phone bills arrived, the combined cost was sufficient to buy two broods of courier pigeons or two horses, so that we could have sent love letters by horseback messenger. Each month end we would vow to speak less on the phone and each night we broke that pointless pledge.
Our conversation topics ranged from literature – she read the deepest, highbrow literature, Kafka, Rushdie, Garcia Marquez, Fitzgerald, Orwell – to global and local politics – Uncle Bob’s ruinous involvement in the DRC war, the 2000 farm invasions – to the steadily burgeoning African natural hair phenomenon, a movement to which she belonged and I learned to love. Perhaps the only two subjects that we avoided were my second love – football, which she said was “a bunch of men in silly shorts, all chasing the hide of a dead animal” – and her routine forage for scarce female sanitary products. This was the era of basic commodity shortages, when women, both rich and poor, were driven to the brink of improvisation with all manner of home solutions – rags, cotton wool, wads of toilet paper. The subject of menstruation had as much appeal for me as football to her. I made a yucky face each time she mentioned her regular foray to the empty stores in search of the elusive blood stoppers. Mercifully, she soon found a reliable cross border trader who routinely travelled to South Africa and brought bags of the stuff and the only time the word “cycle” invaded our romance was when her bosom was tender and certain other parts of her body became no-go zones for my wandering palms.
My sister liked her. When they collided at my flat, or in town somewhere, they exchanged pleasantries, rather than the usual tete-muroora hostility that comes when two women compete for the affections of one man.
My stolen Valentine
But these thoughts are pointless, when geography does not permit a reunion. After she completed her MSc, the troubles back home worsened; increased company closures, job losses, atrocious service delivery. My susceptibility to the frost bite (and the UK immigration department’s pitilessness) precludes me from joining her. And her need for self-sufficiency prohibits her from packing up her suitcase and flying home.
We did the long distance thing. Long emails, weekly phone calls and daily SMS, but eventually we grew apart. I hate to imagine the men who knock on the door of my beloved, all full of “Me lady, your chariot awaits” and other stupid Britishisms. I wonder if she knows the airhead parade that has taken place inside my various inboxes. It is hard to find women of my own generation who are single and of similar mind. My beloved was a looker, but it was never about her looks. What drew me to her was her depth of mind, her intriguing conversation and Ginsu-sharp wit.
I hate the month of Valentine
Valentine’s month is the most tortuous 28 days on the calendar. The inane commercials, the red and black clad professional women, the bouquets of roses carried proudly from offices, more for exhibitionism than the need to take them home at 4pm on the 14th. God’s greatest mercy was to make February the shortest month in the year. February’s brevity is the one small mercy in the midst of my Valentine pain.
On the 14th, this month, loneliness drove me towards a woman I swore off, after a calamitous first (and last) date.
My irreplaceable love
Attempting to replicate the witty banter I shared with my beloved, I sent her a short message on WhatsApp.
“So, is your work station abuzz with nectar-seeking bees?”
“Hie” she begins – incapable of spelling a two-letter word. “Wat doz tht mean?”
SMS shorthand infuriates me, but recent seclusion is a great motivator.
“It is the day for red roses, is it not? An eligible bachelorette such as you would have several bouquets today.”
I winced but ignored the meaningless reply and pressed on.
“So what have you been up to?”
“Nothing Kikiki” comes her response.
“Ah, you know. No money. No one to buy me lunch, or Brazilian hair.”
I remembered my beloved – the captain of Team Natural, who loathed the sight of glued-on hair.
“Do you suppose there are Brazilian women lining up to buy African hair?” I ask.
“Ah, who would want our African mufushwa hair?”
“My battery is flat. I will talk to you another time.” I click my tongue in disgust and exit WhatsApp.
It is my politest valediction, even though inside several unflattering names whirl around in my mind.
The Brazilian hair girl is not my only failed attempt at finding romance. There was also the girl who I promptly stopped speaking to when she listed “sleeping” as her favourite pastime. Then there was the greatest anti-climax of all, the woman whose online profile touted her as “a lover of literature” only for me to learn that literature to her is the mind-numbing Mills & Boon and Pacesetters series (insert eye roll).
Until the Great Migration began, there were like-minded people with whom to spend the weekend, discussing business, politics, music. They all upped and left, as did my beloved. So much has been written about the savings lost to inflation, the potholed roads and the collapse of the government hospitals, where patients sleep on the floors. Someday, the perpetrators of this great national wreck will answer for their many transgressions. But one transgression of inestimable cost is how Robert Mugabe stole my future wife. For that, I will never forgive him.
My pen is capped.Post published in: Featured