She was the kind of girl he was sure he would never get, and not only because he was years older than her. They were from different worlds. Her father had large farms and his mother had twelve children. It was doomed from the first day they saw each other. Of the twelve, he was fifth, and third among the boys, which made him among the middle children. He could get nothing. Could ask for nothing, and unless he was coughing out blood and shitting himself simultaneously, no attention was given to him.
There is this perception that middle children are disregarded. Nobody pays them any mind. They can drag themselves through the mud with their asses bare and nobody would care. He would leave whenever he wanted, be gone for hours on end and when he was back, no one had missed him. No one had even noticed he was away. Once, when the thirteen of them were in the shamba, he detoured with his older brother to relieve themselves in nearby bushes and his mother threw a fit! she scratched and wailed for her first born son claiming somebody had napped the fruit of her loins and she could have none of it. This was the only time he ever felt missed.
When he finished high school, like many of his peers, he did menial jobs. It was during this time that he met the one person who was ever excited to see him. She looked at him, not through him. He felt seen. She missed him. She sneaked him things she thought he needed. He tasted his first strip of bacon with her, sneaked out through the folds of her tunic. He liked the smell of her. She said she used Fa soap, and gave him a bar. He took baths every day for her, then applied Fa soap on his skin because he liked her on his skin [okay, I made that up]. She talked him up to her father and he was promoted to groundskeeper. His mother was proud. A son with a steady job at a rich man’s was a good son. A son to take notice of. He was taken to driving school and given another task. He would pick up the rich man’s daughter from school every day and bring her straight home. “The ride took twelve minutes to the school, a three-minute wait for her to say goodbye to her friends and another twelve minutes back.” That a person needs a whole three minutes to say goodbye to people you see 5 days a week baffles me. He cherished these minutes. Sometimes he drove there in 10 and drove back slower so he could hear about her day. She could talk about anything; how many math problems she was able to solve, which trees were shedding, who pissed her off in class. She could have talked about the weather and he would have loved the weather.
“Theirs was a different kind of love”, says the person telling me this story. “They had nothing in common. Different generations. Different worlds and yet, they managed to sneak past their parents and be together. There is a thin line between love and madness.”
When she got pregnant, she was fifteen. He was twenty-five. He got a note in his quarters at her father’s compound. She wanted to see him and she had news. She never had news. He had resolved to thinking she made up the things they talked about off the top of her head. She was spontaneous. The note scared him a little. “It was his ‘we-need-to-talk’ note,” she says [Dang it! I had wanted to say that] She told him that she had been feeling weird. Her body felt like it had aliens experimenting on it. He knew, before she said it, that she had missed her period and his first thought was to get away. To talk to someone. “So he told her not to worry. That everything would be fine and they would be fine. Then he went home and cried.”
“He told you this? That he cried?” I ask.
“Well, no. He’s my father, he would never tell me that he cried. Do you know nothing about men?”
His brother found him crying. The same one he went peeing with in the bushes. So her uncle was the one who told her about her father “cleaning his eyes”. Are we together now? Good. The brother prodded and poked and pushed until he stopped just long enough to tell him about the knocked up girl. That she wanted to leave school to be with him. She had said she would follow him wherever he went. She even gave the ‘can’t live without you’ speech. The brothers talked and fought and came to a conclusion. Tell their mother.
“My grandma is one tough cookie. She is the strictest woman I have ever met, and that is to me. I can only imagine what she was like with her own children.” My mind is racing. Strictest? Really? “Yeah, she was so strict.”
Did I say that out loud?
“I hear all these stories from my aunts and uncles…” “The Twelve,” I say, because that tag has been playing in my mind since she said her father had as many siblings. This must have been the kind of family that disagreements happen and it is split into two, sometimes even three, and a mother is asked to pick a group, and if she picks one, the other two will pack up and leave or if she picks the other, the rest get to throw a tantrum. Constructing this sentence alone is giving me a headache, I can’t imagine living it. She shows me a picture of The Twelve, with the oldest uncle on one end and the youngest aunt on the other. They look like a staircase. I hope I didn’t say that out loud. None is taller than the other nor fatter than the next. Also, their resemblance is uncanny. They look like the same person in different stages of height. “My father says the first time he tasted alcohol was the day he had to tell his mother that he had impregnated his boss’s 15 year-old. He claims he had never tasted alcohol before and that that is the only reason that justifies his drinking today. He says my mother turned his life upside down, and that even though he loved her, he was mocked by everyone he went past. They called him the destroyer of homes”
“I thought it was only women who were labelled that.” I learn new things every day.
“My father was. People said he had used traditional medicine on my mother because for such a girl to drop out of school for a man like him, juju had to be involved,” she laughs. It’s a sad laugh. A widow’s laugh. “They call him names, to date. My mother was disowned. Her father said she didn’t deserve her inheritance or his name. She was bent on my father, a man 10 years older than her who had no future other than what he would do the next day.” I ask what Grandma Strictest did. “My uncle talked to her on my father’s behalf. It was tough.” She chased him away that night. He went to the girl and married her, then brought her back home as his wife. They were chased away together. His brother sneaked them back into his simba. The newlyweds slept on a worn mat that night with her new brother-in-law snoring on the bed beside them. “She says she didn’t leave him because she loved him.”
“Why do you think she stayed?”
“Because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Because she was scared. Terrified even, of what her life had sunk to. She didn’t leave because she had nowhere to go. She would be homeless and pregnant with no one to turn to. You know her father hired a watchman?” she asks. I shake my head that I didn’t because I don’t even know her mother past a selfie she showed me, how would I know her grandfather had hired a watchman? “Yah! He hired some guy to sit by the gate and send her away any time she came back. He told her to go to her destroyer of homes and stay there. She had made her choice.” Some fathers can be mean.
There are love stories that begin with one look across a room. Others begin as tragedies. Some begin when some end and others even start in the middle of another. His love story began when his brother took him to one of those raunchy sheds that men go to blow off steam with cloudy frothing glasses. “My father loves the bottle now. The love he had for my mother changed into something else and stirred up another story that he finds every night at the bottom of the bottle. He drinks himself blind. And every evening, he comes home, soaked in his true love’s perfume and tells us the story, word for word, of how he discovered love in 27 minutes and how it changed him so much that he had to seek solace in alcohol. He says he looks for a feeling he had when he was twenty-five, but it’s been twenty years now. If he was to find something, he should have found it by now. He is broken, and in so many pieces that counting is impractical.” She says her mother cries every night the story is told. Whether she cries for him or herself no one can tell, but the girl’s heart breaks for both of them every day.
I ask her if her parents’ story makes her believe in love any less.
“Father says it exists. But that we should wait until we are sure. I mean, they fought for themselves and had my brother. They were strong enough to have three children. I’m sure they loved each other at some point. I just don’t think I have the strength to go through the pain they go through right now.”
As she leaves. She says something that stays with me for a while. She says that she doesn’t wait for her soulmate. That she will love, and love deeply, because she wants something to hold on to twenty years later when he is sad and she is crying and there is alcohol involved. She says that soulmates do not exist, she looks for compatibility, and that falling in love with someone you are compatible with is easy, the hard part is working through it and working for it.
Have a wonderful Valentine’s, my Lovelies.