With Rohey Samba
Love in the African context is very contextual. I glimpse it in the eyes of my mother, old as I am, as she gazes at me in my sickbed, willing me to get up and be my talkative self once again. I see her fear masked by her cheer, nudging me to eat, take my medication and forget my woes. I will never ever be grown up enough for her love, her compassion and her support. I remember all the times she sacrificed her own convenience to make me comfortable. My biggest cheerleader, my enduring companion, my greatest love…my mother!
I see it in the quiet distance of my father, unwilling and unable to interfere in matters of my personal indulgence. Reluctant to hurt me, by his words and actions. Having the least gumption to allow anyone make me subservient or take advantage of me. I hear it in his voice, always calm and supportive, always persuasive and encouraging. My dad, my first love of a man. The only man who will never disappoint me; who will always have my back no matter what.
I see love in my children as their eyes light up to brighten my life in the midst of my despair. Their hopeful, trusting eyes guilting me into acceptance of my daunting self reliance in matters of their own lives. I am not permitted to fail by them, even if I choose to fail myself. They are the reason I was born. My children.
But before I had children, I perceived another form of love in the voices of young men and women, as they wedged the fangs of their clandestine affairs, willing themselves to go beyond the limits of acceptable boundaries with their rag doll attitudes towards a culture they have been taught. Careless whispers voiced over telecentres reached hidden landlines received with grace by an ‘ouse pikin’ with droopy eyelashes vacant from lack of sleep and longings, but composed into a calm bravery. This bravery fortified when an issue is borne from their concealed activities. The fruit of their forbidden love revealed to the world…
Have I ever perceived love in married couples in my growing up years? Not really.
Only once did this thing change. I felt it when a very old couple fell out because life happened. I was young then but age and life has taught me with the benefit of hindsight to discern love as I saw it that faithful day.
It happened that a very elderly man sat weeping in the corner of his well-kept hut at my mother’s village, in Farato. It was a grey day in the morning. Neigbours were roused by his cries, who hurried to ask what had transpired. Beyond the bird’s eye view, they found the wife wailing inside the narrow, low thatched hut. She was also crying inconsolably.
On the prodding of the neighbors, the old man began to narrate his story. To me the greatest love story I have ever heard.
The old man narrated that he had been married to his wife for numerous years he could not count. They had nine children altogether, all of them grown up and residing with their respective families in different parts of the country. He continued that the old lady had never once hurt him, not by her words or by her actions or her deeds. That the reason why he was crying was that for the first time in his life, he had hit on his wife for wetting their bed.
In fact, it was not the first time she lost control of her bowels, but he was getting jaded from taking care of her in addition to cooking for both of them. Yet upon seeing her cry after hitting her with the two pieces of broom sticks he was still holding onto, he could not contain his own emotions. The old man could not understand how the ‘devil’ made him beat his defenceless wife, after all the years she had been so good to him.
Apparently, the old lady had gone senile, and the old man was tasked beyond his capacity to take care of both himself and his wife, he being older than his wife. His regret was borne out of true love. No doubt. I was 12 or 14 years then and witnessing that event was a big awakening to me, even though at that instance, it was the most laughable moment for me.
In last week’s admissions of a man-hater, I described the two types of men I was afraid of encountering namely; The Gaslighter and The Springboard man. I went on to say that, we also have gaslighting and springboard women. Now let me walk you through the winding maze of my search for love, between the springboard type of man and the gaslighter himself, and how in my fear of these men’s pursuits, I ended up gaslighting trusting young men myself…
When you are young, life seems to be a long way away. On deciding to end my spinsterhood by finding a good man to settle down with once and for all, I started my search for love. I readied myself for adventure and new experiences, trying to explore life both as a damsel and a chaser of men.
Like many things, you either use love or you lose it all together. Never mind what singers rhyme about it, chasing’s got nothing to do with love. Or should I use Tina Turner’s exact words, “What’s love got to do with it?” “What’s Love, but a second hand emotion?” When we chase, we pursue the unknown, kumpa, and when love happens, it’s just by the way. An accident of fate.
Away from fate, I could not chase men, at least, not in the man’s way. My femininity could not be overridden by my feminism. I was a black African woman, above all else. Pride and innuendoes were mine, for indeed I was very wary of embarrassment. I did not trust men with my secrets, even as I flatteringly plucked out the fruit of distrust in me and allowed it to wither away the man-hater life had taught me to be over the long years.
Chasing men openly would expose my ploy and definitely make me the butt of their gossip in their own circles. Should I succeed in my pursuits or should I fail, this would mark me down in history as a free woman, which I definitely was not. Thus, with their known lack of sutura burning embers in my mind, I needed to thread the chasing game wisely.
Morale boost apart, what would a woman do to encourage a springboard or gaslighter man to pursue her, I asked myself?
In the ordinary way, I would frequent their loci in order to meet them and beat them at their own game. What better places could that be than the meeting places of their unsuspecting prey/victims. I’d engage in small talk in order to embolden them with a casually dressed face and glossy plastered smiles. I would walk like there were springs at the heels of my legs. Feigning interest in their boring lives and nodding approval of their clearly constructed lies. All the while, thinking to myself, what an awesome liar this dude is.
Alas, my home training would not allow me to venture into nightclubs or places of ill repute. But I could afford nice eateries and places such as La Parisienne. In a strange way, I felt special. I dressed casually, never flamboyantly as that would be too obvious. Ice cream at LP, as we used to called La Parisienne, cost D10 then. I remember visiting the place with strange excitement, which also felt a bit odd. I can’t assert that I was self-aware. Yet, I had the sentiment of not belonging.
In retrospect, I learnt to count my blessings. I was nineteen years old and I had paradise presenting itself at my feet. I was willing to exercise intelligence and intuition but that definitely was not the ideal. Human beings are the most difficult to know. Men especially. You see, man in the collective sense used to represent the human being, is a very wrong annotation. Man is a stand alone individual, far removed from woman. I learn that outright in my role as a man chaser.
For me, the highlight of the chasing game was allowing men to think that they were the ones doing the chasing themselves. I never approached a single man. Like a swamp of bees, my relaxed demeanor attracted them like perfume. I was a bitch on heat, and by the laws of nature, they fell in line with my game plan, hook, line and sinker. It was that easy.
Eligible men were given a chance to sweet talk me and slowly kill the resolve in me to categorize dudes into two different men types. Some fueled my curiosity, and some maimed my trust forevermore by their see-through lies, but most of all, I had nothing to lose. I was predator and they were prey, even though I made them believe otherwise.
I broke the hearts of the weak ones who wanted to take things further. They wanted more from the easygoing, uncomplicated woman I presented them with. I could not oblige them. And the sight was not pretty. I had not yet found Love. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by how easily men could be lied to by women. How easily they could be deceived. Probably because I spent too much time with men, I was worse than them. It was a learning experience that would take me far. And it was well worth it to find out at that moment in time…