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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The last bachelor standing

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It doesn’t matter much if he’s a man, let him just look like one. The content of his character is put on the backburner. However, these choices take a dramatic change when they advance in years.   

Clocking 26 years of age next month, Tanatala sat in her room, pensive over her missed opportunities. When she was 20, she has had a man, Foday, who loved her over his soul. Yet, she severed the relationship after a year because the businessman was too jealous for her taste.

Two years later, she fell for another guy, who was good and caring. After six months, she requested a break knowing full well that she won’t look back. Philips was a non-Gambian, a foreigner. Tanatala’s search for Mr Right has since taken her to strange places, meeting unlikely people, flirting with conmen and charlatans and having flings with players and dreamers. Sitting on her sofa, thinking of her upcoming birthday, she suddenly has a rather rude reawakening that she has wasted so much time busy planning nothing for her matrimony. She’s strong and radiates satisfaction. She’s financially secure, lives in her own compound, bagged her degrees and established her own law firm. She is still fresh and pleasingly plump, like a pool yet to be disturbed. In romance or marriage, however, even ‘money love’ is much more worth insuring than ‘honey love’. Money, when managed well, could last, but it’s a biological reality that the skin will get haggard and rough, someday. Tanatala knew her beauty will go away, someday, and when it’s all done, who will get her back. She remembered what her grandmother told her. No matter how strong a woman is by herself, she still needs a man to be strong for her; to pamper and discover her and make her night dreams a reality. 

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Fear seized her. When her friend, Nyeema, entered the house, she was terrified by the worry look on Tanatala’s face. 

“Were you fighting with a lion before I came in?” she enquired. 

Tanatala took a deep breath and confided in her what her fears are. 

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“You’ve been quite picky, girl,” she accusingly told her. “I have been telling you this all the while but you never listen.”

“I envy you,” Tanatala told Nyeema. “You have your job and a man who understands you. You have a happy family.”

Nyeema switched off the TV. It was time she addressed her friend and the environment should be fit. 

“It’s not late for you,” she told her. “Anyways, desperation should not make you go for wrong choices. But I think you need to think fast and make good decision.”

“How would that be like?” Tanatala asked rather childishly. 

“Girl,” Nyeema tossed in, “You don’t need someone with flashy car or a swimming pool in his house. You need a good man; someone religious and respects and cares for you as a woman.”

Tanatala then informed Nyeema about her rendezvous with Jiki, later that day.  

“He’s a good man,” Nyeema said. “It is hard to guarantee that these days, but for him, I have no reservations.”

“And he’s the last bachelor standing, right?” Tanatala added, and the two laughed that of. 

Jiki has been standing at the gate to her office complex for the past ten minutes. She had phoned to inform her that she would be a bit late. He wasn’t surprised. In today’s world of makeups and pedicures and manicures and ‘uglycures’, women hardly turn up on time for appointment. He had no idea which way she would take or which type of car she would drive in. He stood at the centre so that he could quickly turn face, to avoid surprises. A Benz emerged from the left end and then a Golf cab from the other end. He turned to concentrate on the cab, settling for the probability that she would be in there. The Benz pulled right behind him. She opened the door. When she finally alighted, he gave him a hug. Her perfume wasn’t loud, yet it scented sweet.  

Jiki and Tanatala met at a forum where they shared a panel, and have since agreed to stay in touch. When both of them decided that they should meet, Tanatala offered to pay him visit at his house. Jiki took excuse that he stays with his aunt, who frowns upon his guests, especially of opposite sex. Weary of the weird excuse from a man as old and independent as Jiki, she also refused to allow him to come to her house. Jiki then suggested his office, which she reluctantly accepted. His office is a transition point and hardly any woman passes his exam. However, in Tanatala’s eyes, he could see that she was longing to belong with him and definitely, she seemed too good to be ignored. He stood in awed silence, wondering how to manage the romance disaster standing before him, knowing his risk reduction strategies have faltered. 

When Sirah, Jiki’s personal secretary, saw Tanatala, she became curious. Women like that do not stay long in her boss’ office. But she had found Jiki tidying up his desk. He’d even arranged the books and applied incense to keep the place cool and aromatic. When she enquired what occasioned the decoration, he told her to mind what her business is and stop nosing around his. Determined to satisfy her curiosity, she waited for Jiki to settle with his guest. She then took some files to his office. Jiki told her that he doesn’t want to be disturbed. She left, glancing above her shoulders and giggling. Backbiting one’s boss is a regular topic in work places and Jiki’s few words to his secretary was enough for the staff to talk and laugh about for the rest of the day.  

Inside his office, Jiki left his executive chair to occupy one of the two visitor’s seats. He took a closer look at Tanatala. She plait in the latest corn-row style. She wore a ‘dagit’, which revealed all her curves. There was an opening on the miniskirt, somewhere nearer the left thigh, allowing him to peep only into the horizon. On the shirt too, there was an opening, a breast-out-of-bra style. He wondered whether this trap was the making of the tailor or herself. Could she be a good woman? But aren’t good men are those who make women proud? He thought. Over a bottle of cool Wonjuice and biscuits, the silence in the house was broken. They talked about their families, their previous relationships, their work and careers and their hobbies. The topic changed to books. Until then, the chat was lively. It turned boring for Jiki was now blabbing like a talking machine, switching flawlessly from reviewing one book to another.

“But he wasn’t even married; he never had a kid. That’s quite a pathetic life,” Tanatala said of one of the authors he mentioned, hoping that he would change the topic. 

“Depends on who is speaking,” Jiki replied. “But I can tell you that from what I read about him, he lived a comfortable life. He had been at ease with himself.” 

Tanatala put up a faint smile, which Jiki obviously misinterpreted. He became more excited and went on to name many other authors who died single, yet, in his opinion, accomplished in their own right. 

Two hours later, Tanatala decided to leave. While in her car, an SMS popped up on her phone. It was from Jiki, wishing her safe drive home. “You’re a star, I am proud of you,” he signed off. 

“You’re yet to know that because you’re not man enough to find out,” she muttered, locked her phone and threw it on the passenger’s seat. Jiki had informed her of his trip to his native village the next day. His father wanted a word with him. She was terrified. She has a faint knowledge of village ways but has heard many stories that meetings like that are often about being introduced to one’s wife.  


At the village

The sun has dutifully served the people of Kaira Suu. In the previous week, the new moon has been peeping from tree tops. The villagers forecast that the moon would appear in full today. As the night warmed up to take shift, the air was still filled with the poom poom poom sound of women pounding coos coos for tomorrow’s porridge as early morning breakfast. About three hundred metres away, barefooted teenagers in tattered clothes were emerging from the thick shrubbery, herding goats and sheep into their thatch-roofed huts at an isolated end of the compound. The space between the floor of the huts and the ground could measure at least half a yard. This is to protect the animals from contacting the moist during rains. 

Like a newly introduced Peace Corps volunteer, Jiki stared as the animals, one after the other, stepped on the platform created at the entrance, to get into their house. What stunned him most was that one of the lambs was disabled in the feet. Yet, without waiting for any help, the crippled animal stepped on the raised platform, like any other of her kind, except that she applied slightly more efforts. Jiki marvelled at this ingenuity. Three days prior to his trip down his village, he had attended a national conference on disability. In the ten hours that he spent at the hotel for the forum, they had breakfasted with chicken and had a three-course meal for lunch. Imported tomatoes, cucumber, salad, bread, butter, were served for starter while the main course spoilt them for choice with fish, mash potato, meat, shrimps, and rice. Pepper was available to spice it up. Fruits and cakes were supplied in variety as dessert. Back in the hall, they complained about lack of adequate resources to provide facilities as relatively cheap as Braille and ramps and wheelchairs for persons with physical disability. 

Here at the village, monetary poverty is a glaring reality; nonetheless they were considerate enough to provide facilities for crippled animals, when such provisions are a daily struggle for humans in similar conditions in opulent cities. A feeling of guilt struck him, carrying him away to the point of forgetting that his father had earlier requested to see him. 

“Jiki, your father has since returned from the mosque and he’s waiting for you in his hut. Go and see him before he gets inside.” Jiki turned to look at his elder sister, who delivered the message with apathy. 

He was eager to test the feelings of his people before meeting his father, but his elder sister was not reliable. Everyone knew what was to be discussed, but no one wanted to offer opinion. He made his way into the hut without making much noise. His was father reclined on a mat, eyes shut. He murmured to himself that he should let the old man sleep. He took a step to sneak out when the old man cleared his throat. In African setting, this means attention and is more effective than a judge’s sledgehammer. Jiki paused. The old man gestured him to take a seat.

At 42, Jiki was without a wife. He left Kaira su after his primary education to pursue further studies in Kombo. He passed his grades with distinction and won a scholarship to study abroad. He has since returned to give back to the community that has given him that much. In their village, he has become a reference point for parents who want their children to be committed to their education. But not every finger that points to him graded him favourably. He’s a subject of much gossip in the village. While some speculated that his attitude towards marriage is common with educated men like him, others went overboard to question his manly quality. And Jiki has woefully failed to prove either of them wrong, turning away from many hard-to-reject women, from sweet sixteens, who had never been kissed before to gorgeous ‘jegs’, who were ready and willing to welcome a man like him into their heavenly world. 


Jiki returns

Nafa, Jiki’s friend, paid him a visit upon his return from the village. He told him about his encounter with his father. 

“I know he’s mad with me, but he loves me so much to hate me for refusing to accept Kumba as my wife. For goodness sake, she’s going to school and besides, she’s my uncle’s daughter,” he said. 

“My friend, you have to get married now,” advised Nafa, visibly agitated. 

“There you go again, siding with my father and everyone against me.”

“Maybe everyone is right and you’re wrong. In fact, Tanatala has texted me to check if you’re in town. You promised to telephone her when you return.”

“I know, okay, I know that and I will. But I am not just in the mood.” 

“If not the girl, I mean your uncle’s school-going daughter, you can settle for her. She’s a good woman.”

“I am not marrying just yet.”

“But why? Were you not the one who advised me to marry Tabara? And, you even gave me your ten commandments of marriage, which is full of things I should not do to my wife?”

“I know, but I have seen a lot of people; a lot of marriages… and Tanatala is someone’s sister, she is like to sister to me too”

“That’s your problem, Jiki. You fear to take the risk. You fear that you’ll hurt women. I think your women’s right activism does skew your sense of reasoning. You’re not fair to them. You, for instance, drew Tanatala to you. Now that she’s involved, you want to dump her, like you did with many before her.”

The atmosphere in the house became tense. Nafa left unceremoniously, leaving behind the fresh cow milk he had brought for him from the village. Jiki knew he’s is good friend; someone he could always rely on for the truth. He reached for his telephone and phoned Tanatala. 

She had expected his call whole day yesterday. She was disappointed when she woke up in the morning and saw no missed call or SMS from him. When she received the call, she sounded indifferent while exchanging pleasantries with him. She wanted to ask him how his trip was, but hesitated, fearing that he would drop the bomb that she’d been anticipating. He didn’t pop up the issue either, but instead suggested an outing.

Three days later, they met at Domor Deema. She was ready for war, and chose the most private corner where she would cry or misbehave without much notice. They’d placed their orders and before the waitress appeared, he placed his hands on the table and asked her to place her’s on top of his. She had a fine skin texture. He ran his finger across her hand and felt the warmth of her palms. She could not resist it, opening both her mouth and eyes at the same time in a dangerously seductive style. Her lips, smoothened by lip balm, touched his. He pressed further and his teeth clashed with hers. They both were breathing fast. He lifted his hand to draw her closer when the waiter politely announced his presence. 

They let up, showing no sign of shame or remorse. It’s entirely adult affair. 

Jiki was glowing when he reported to work the following week. “You are looking smart. And your haircut is nice. You’re looking younger,” Sirah, the secretary observed. 

“Like always,” he replied and entered his office. He opened a number of files and tried to get to work, but he could not get Tanatala off his mind. He phoned Nafa and explained how he was feeling. 

“You’re not an angel, my friend,” he told him.

“I know I have not been fair to my body, my feeling. I have been in denial,” he admitted. 

“All the people in The Standard’s list of celebrated bachelors last year have got married. It’s coming to a year now and there’ll be an updated list. You better buckle up,” he told him  

When he dropped the call, he dialled Tanatala’s number. 

“I…I miss you.” He said, surprised that his voice broke. 

“I miss you more,” she said. 

“Can I ask a favour?”

“Yes, please.”

“Please, kindly send your uncle to my uncle and ask for my hand in marriage.”

Tanatala broke into laughter. “It should be the other way round. Man up a bit, my love,” she told him. 


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