“In love with a man who is not my husband”

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“Look at me and tell me I am insane. I love another man. Did you hear that? Another man. But I am married. Married to the man I love, to the man I still madly love”.

Suddenly she looked like the words left her mouth involuntary. Like her mouth just opened and spat them out without consent. What do I do?

This still count among the most difficult conversations I ever had or I ever ATTEMPTED. I doubt I made sense. But she was a kind woman. She thanked me for talking. I think what she really meant was that I allowed her to talk without inhibitions. She had no clue, but my mind was racing against time, thinking of the most intelligent thing to say at the end of her confession.

I must confess I don’t find relationship conflicts easy to deal with. In the rare instances where grieving partners confide in me, I hardly know what to say or do. For the most part I panic because I fear I might cause further damage to a bleeding heart. These people would have shared so much of their lives they probably would not remember life before that. Their hearts so intertwined you would struggle to know whose is which. They perhaps have fears of what would remain after the severing, even scared for their lifespan were they to remain joined. Myriads uncertainties!

It was a tough conversation for both us.  For starters we hardly knew each other. We had met a few years back through a mutual friend and hardly ever met after that. As such this came as a shock in the middle of a busy mall. I think I stopped checking my time and worrying about onlookers after about two hours; so please don’t ask how long we sat on that bench. Just know my plans went flying through the window.

I thought of two possibilities. Either she had struggled with this for a long time to almost a breakdown; you know those kinds of things you want to talk about so much you ache all over. The types that have to happen or you go insane. I also thought maybe she believed it would be embarrassing to confide in people she met often, the people who knew her. In her mind secrets were safer with near strangers. I know what you are thinking. Traitor! No. I have her consent.

Thank you for allowing a near-stranger to tell your story. You are one of the bravest women I know. Thank you for trusting me to listen to you. I am not a counselor as you realized. Given a choice I would have hidden from you. I often feel too inadequate, too wanting to offer any advice on love matters. I still do not remember much of what I said. I was panicky; my hands were sweaty.  I was afraid I could not help; even too scared you would hurt yourself. You said I helped. Thank you. You really looked confused and afraid. You were panicky and weepy. I am sorry you went through that phase. But I salute you for saving your heart and your marriage. I respect you for calling your heart back home. I admire you for going against your head and sticking with your spirit. Staying with what you knew was right. It did not feel like it then, or as you put it, the love for your husband was crowded out by the feelings for a strange man. I was amazed by your maturity and objectivity in the middle of such confusion of feelings

“I do not want to talk about this man and my husband at the same. It would be an insult. My husband is a good man”

You shared your confusion, how your head space was, to your surprise, crowded out by a man, who a few years earlier, was just a good friend. You never could have imagined this with him. You talked about the disturbing dreams about him.  You were nervous you would say his name in your dreams.  Now here I thought you were stretching it.

Your contradictory feelings distressed you. You were sad because you were not sure the feelings were mutual, at the same wishing the feelings could just evaporate. You were also embarrassed that he had probably observed this change. That he had seen your sheepish look whenever you met.

When we talked you were still trying to figure out the origins of these feelings, thinking that the cause could help solve the puzzle. I was not sure. Did I say it or was it in my head? “Run away, run too far away, block his numbers, emails, Facebook and anything that could be blocked”. Block! block! block!  I mean you said you prayed and fasted to have this stranger leave your feelings, but when we met, it was still raw. Your eyes twinkled when you mentioned his name. You were not sure it was wise to tell your husband or it was your singular battle. I wasn’t sure either. I haven’t met your husband – and I hardly knew you.

The story I was reluctant to tell: I was afraid of boys.

bicycle-bike-daylight-100582For most of my growing up years I was afraid of boys. I don’t know why. It could have been from stories about pregnancy. It is possible that I overheard, a conversation between my older sisters and cousins saying boys could impregnate girls. And either I missed it or they omitted the ‘how’. So I probably got the impression that walking around with a boy could make one pregnant. Or maybe my fear was informed by village gossip. Perhaps one of the popular girls in the village, got pregnant – and I heard the under-the-breath talks at the clinic when I had gone to collect malutu.

It is not possible that I had an inherent fear for boys. It was either I heard or seen something. I can’t rule out parental influence but I don’t remember my parents warning us about of boys. I recall though that child-bearing was for big people. And we were to keep away from anything out-of-bounds.

The only boy I remember often walking around with was Nako, my brother and cousin in one. In fact it was my sister, Atlasaone, Nako and I. On most days we walked to and from school together. Up to standard 3, I think. And we were often the first to arrive at Pilikwe Primary School. The gate would be closed, not locked, just closed to keep out the goats and donkeys. I would refuse for us to open the gate, scared it was not allowed. Some days I prevailed and we would wait for MmaKefhilwe, a standard 2 teacher. She lived nearby –and was often the second to come after us. But on most days my mates had none of it. I didn’t know where they got the guts. I mean, the gate could have been closed by the principal – and it only made sense to have it opened by some kind of authority.

The fear of boys was a tough. These people were everywhere. It was easy when we were in a group, but alone, it was distressful. I used to change routes. That meant getting off the road and giving the boy the freedom to have the entire road to himself. Ridiculous! You think.

I think it is also possible that I had on more than one occasion, seen a boy twisting a girl’s hand and was told it was because the girl was ‘refusing’ him. I am probably mixing up stories now. Have I actually seen this or is something I heard later in life. But if boys indeed twisted girls’ hands, then my fear was justified. I have always had low tolerance for pain. Yes I had my share of beatings in the hands of primary school teachers especially from standard five. My parents had graduated us to big boys and girls around that age. We had to bathe ourselves in the morning and find our way around with minimal help. Late coming visited often.

I don’t really have bad memories of beatings at school, except one. The day my standard 6 teacher beat me so hard, I grieved for days. I was crying in class. I don’t know for what. I used to just cry. On this day, Mr. Molodi* just snapped. He had had enough, I guess. I wonder whether it was a result of the beating or I just out grew it. But I don’t remember crying as often after that. Even my relationship with Molodi changed. He became overly protective; often convincing other teachers to forgive me. I hope he felt guilty.

Oesi o tshaba thupa mo e leng gore gaa kake a lofa hela go sena lebaka….” He would say.

That would be my passport out of a packed classroom of wrong doers. You won’t believe the sins we were often punished for; missing choir practise, not showing up at the fields for clean-up – mundane things like, and of course late coming and may be on rare occasions just crying.

He was a good man. I have nothing but fond memories of him. But for years I could not talk about this particular beating. It was cruel. It was the first and last time I had experienced such horror. And it is the first time I talk about it.

I don’t intend to make conclusions about my fear of boys. It would probably be a lie.

In our family, girls outnumbered boys. Chores were seldom divided along gender lines, so we just grew up as a bunch of children with little care about our gender differences. We did similar chores, often together –and I think because of this, the boys at home were kinder and friendlier than regular guys. So maybe they did not prepare me enough for the world outside home, where boys were boys and girls were girls.

Some boys in the village had Humber bicycles, and they would be whistling behind you, because they had something important to say tell you. Important? Imagine. It didn’t matter whether you tripled or quadrupled the pace, you could not out run the Humber. I experienced Humber moments. Frightening and embarrassing…