Last week a pretty woman, middle aged and subdued moved into the apartment that shares a balcony with us. She sits there and smokes and reads. I say my hellos and go about my ways.
Last night when we got back to Dar from Zanzibar we sat outside long into the night (another hot Dar night). Later I heard her come in and then come into the balcony. We smiled our usual greetings and instead of taking her usual spot she moved her chair close to my side. I smiled in acknowledgement and went on to continue with my writing. I felt her stare.
"What are you writing?" I knew it could only be me she's asking but we'd never gone past the hellos so I was taken aback a little. I looked up and yup she was looking at me.
"Nothing really; I'm an aspiring writer so sometimes I put my thoughts in my journals".
"Nice. What do you think about?" I roll my eyes in my mind but say politely to her "Lots of things, any and everything. I have a newspaper column back at home and last week I wrote about absent fathers and this week I'm writing on weight issues, like I say anything really!"
"Where's your husband?" I roll my eyes, in my head of course.
"What husband?" It's meant to be a sarcastic joke but it's lost on her "Yours".
"I don't have a husband" I tell her and she throws a look at my daughter who's playing a game on the laptop. I get it, how is there a child without a husband but I don't acknowledge her tease, and she shocks me with her next.
"Lucky you!" I sit up, she continues. "You're like me, except I'm married but I don't have a husband".
I make an expression to tell her I hear her but I wished I understood as well, and then she goes on to tell me her life story – a sad narration of a life gone wrong at the hands of societal pressure and notions. "A lot of women in my country are married to themselves or in husbandless marriages and staying for all the wrong reasons in the world." She smokes her cigarette ever so sexily like she was born doing it.
We talked for hours on end. How many married single women do we have, sitting out marriages they shouldn't even have been in, because "Mrs", because my husband, because I don't want to be a divorcee, because so many reasons but none good enough to deny a life that you should have free of constant worry and heartache and pain and baggage!
The reasons are different for these stays, and mostly the women say they stay for children. In the end we damage the very children we are staying for because they see 'marriage' as prison and as an unhappy place. Children are impressionable and the stuff they see first that is at their home is their first truth, and that child carries this with them in their life and thus we perpetuate unnecessary cycles that go on and on and on.
Some choose to stay because they like the 'comfort' accorded by this absent husband. My cousin was telling me about a colleague of her who told her some time ago, first job so they must have been about 23 or 25 that she has absolutely no reason to date and marry a poor man, and will do whatever it takes to be with the one she deserves. True to her word, she consequently married rich. "Is she happy?" I ask.
"Not by a long shot, she has ephemeral happy bouts, which usually follow an ugly fight or a discovered infidelity, of copious amounts of bouquets and snaps at expensive garages at pick up of the latest car models, and tickets to world famous cruises at the most exotic and expensive locations in the world, but I suppose that is her happy, she sought it and she will sit it out. Yours and I's happy, where you want to watch movies from a couch under one throw or spend all day in bed and cook for the other or hold intelligent conversation, don't matter to some.
And then there is "what do you mean you're not happy? I've been with your father for 43 years and I've been happy not even half of those years, have you heard me moan about it?" Before you meet the snare of the society for leaving an unhappy marriage you have your mother at the door making sure you stay. The worst society, right up from the parents! Yes, I've seen supportive parents, the ones who will come to help you pack if not to kill your partner first, but the ones who make you stay even as they see your misery have to be the worst. Women keep it together a lot of times, beyond it is bearable to, for society. And I say the day society let's up about the woman being the homemaker and excuse the man from that very role, needs to happen now.
Also they day society stops to judge and shame the woman (and man) who walks from the misery of troubled and irreparable unions, needs to happen yesterday. We also as a society and as individuals need to realise that in as much as you're a part of the society your circumstances will always be yours, including your decisions stemming from those, as it says – you alone are the one feeling the pinch of that shoe.
Otherwise we will continue on this unending verisimilitude to show the world "happily married" all in the while sitting on coal red fire. I have nothing against marriage, not in the least. I have issues with piteous woebegone unions. We should do better as humans, especially at claim of love of oneself before the attempt to love the other human being.