EVEN IF YOU LOVE HIM

Pule adored her man, but he had some old-fash­ioned ideas that made her doubt the strength of their re­la­tion­ship

DRUM - - Fiction -

BABY, stay. Skip the lecture.” “To be with you?” she teased. “Of course. Much bet­ter than lis­ten­ing to all that non­sense.” “It’s not non­sense, Andile,” Pule said, pulling away. “I love it. His­tory gives you a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the world and how it came to be what it is now.”

“And how does that help any­one? One must be prac­ti­cal. Look to the fu­ture. Like me.” “And study ac­coun­tancy?” “Ex­actly! At least when I’m done with my stud­ies I’ll be able to sup­port a fam­ily. All you’ll be able to do is poke around an­cient build­ings and musty li­braries.”

“His­tory pays too – maybe not great, but okay. When I’m a lec­turer I may even be able to sup­port a big oaf like you!” Pule joked, try­ing to ease the ten­sion.

“Sounds good,” he laughed. “Then I can spend all my time with the boys.”

“No, that’s not how it works. A stay-ath­ome man has to cook and clean.”

“That’ll be the day, my girl,” Andile snorted. “That’s a woman’s work.”

Pule laughed but her heart sank. Al­though Andile was jest­ing, she knew he meant ev­ery word.

But in­stead of giv­ing in to her anger, she leaned for­ward and kissed him. He re­sponded read­ily, draw­ing her close into his em­brace. As she felt the quick­en­ing of his heart­beat, she melted. She did so love her man.

LATER that evening af­ter Andile had dropped her at home and re­turned to his room at the uni­ver­sity hos­tel, she was un­able to fo­cus. She loved Andile and he, she be­lieved, loved her. But she needed more – she needed him to re­spect her as a per­son in her own right.

When they and their friends dis­cussed things like women’s rights, in spite of his uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion, Andile per­sis­tently clung to the old male views. She un­der­stood why – these tra­di­tional be­liefs en­sured men’s lives were un­bound and free of drudgery.

But Pule wor­ried whether it was go­ing to be pos­si­ble to have him and her ca­reer, and whether he’d ever se­ri­ously con­sider that a woman might want to do things with her life other than be­ing an un­paid home­maker and child-bearer.

“You seem pre­oc­cu­pied, lit­tle one,” her grand­mother noted at din­ner.

Pule shook her­self back into the present. “Sorry, Gogo, I didn’t hear you.”

Gogo laughed. “With that frown, I’m not sur­prised. It closes off your ears. What keeps you so busy?”

Be­fore she could an­swer, her mother clat­tered in from the kitchen.

“You two must fin­ish eat­ing. I want to wash the dishes. There’s still iron­ing to do.”

“Ma, I’ll help you. Sit down and re­lax. Eat your sup­per.” “I’m wait­ing for your fa­ther.” “But, Ma, he’ll be late.”

“You know how un­happy he gets when I eat with­out him.”

“Why do you lis­ten to such a fool­ish man?” her ir­ri­tated Gogo de­manded. “You’re on your feet all day serv­ing cus­tomers, then you come home and do all the chores. And what does he do? Vis­its his friends at the tav­ern af­ter work.”

“Don’t start – he’s your son. It is how it is. You know that.”

“It may be how it was and is, but it’s not how it should be,” Gogo re­sponded. “You’re too soft on him.”

“You want me to be cheeky? You know what hap­pens then. No, I’m stuck with this life.”

Pule lis­tened in­tently – it was ex­actly what she was strug­gling with.

“Mom, why did you marry dad?” she asked.

“I was only 17 when I met your fa­ther. He was won­der­ful, strong, con­sid­er­ate, earn­ing a good salary. We weren’t as for­tu­nate as the youth of to­day. No con­tra­cep­tive pills for un­mar­ried girls, so I got preg­nant. It was only af­ter­wards that I learnt who he re­ally was. With a baby in the house so soon af­ter the wed­ding day . . . Eish. It made things very tense. It was only later when your Gogo came to stay with us that life be­came eas­ier.”

“Lovely lit­tle girl, you were,” Gogo said, squeez­ing Pule’s cheeks.

“As Mom said, Gogo, he’s your son but you tell her to stand up to him.”

“I’m a woman first, my girl. We must help one an­other. Most women’s lives are hard. And why must I pro­tect him just be­cause he’s my son? When I see him do wrong, he must be told. He must do things right. But enough about all that. Tell me what’s wor­ry­ing you.”

Pule smiled and shook her head. “I’m not sure. I need to give it more thought.”

That night her sleep was filled with rest­less dreams.

IT WAS Satur­day morn­ing, and she stretched lazily un­der the cov­ers. Out­side her win­dow she could hear the traf­fic pick­ing up, so she grad­u­ally pulled her­self out of bed. Andile was pick­ing her up to go to the mall so she needed to get a move on. Af­ter throw­ing one out­fit af­ter an­other on, she even­tu­ally set­tled on the pale blue dress with the red belt that nipped her waist, show­ing off her fig­ure.

“Is Andile fetching you?” Gogo asked as Pule gulped down a cup of hot cof­fee.

She nod­ded as she drew in cool­ing air over her burn­ing tongue. At pre­cisely 10am his car stopped in front of their gar­den gate. He hooted.

“I hate it when he does that,” Pule protested. “Then tell him not to.” “I have, but he pays no at­ten­tion.” Her grand­mother said noth­ing but Pule no­ticed her dis­ap­prov­ing look.

“You’ve missed the en­trance,” she cried when they drove past the shop­ping mall.

“Glad you no­ticed. Shows you’re not asleep on this very im­por­tant day.” “Why is it im­por­tant?” “You’ll see.” With­out ex­pla­na­tion he drove into town and parked in front of a jew­ellery store.

“Come, my beau­ti­ful girl. I want us to pick a ring,” he smiled in­ti­mately at her.

At that mo­ment she loved him deeply, and her heart was pound­ing at the idea that he was propos­ing. But as she fol­lowed him, the first flush of ex­cite­ment made way for a vague dis­quiet – Andile had just as­sumed she’d agree to this, but had never asked her. Were her feel­ings of no con­se­quence?

IN­SIDE the taste­fully back­lit in­te­rior of the shop a woman pre­sented them with a se­lec­tion of en­gage­ment rings. They were beau­ti­ful – di­a­monds shat­tered the light into a thou­sand tiny pieces. She stretched out a hand, then hes­i­tated. Was this what she re­ally wanted? One sec­ond she was burst­ing with ex­cite­ment, the next a cold, sink­ing sen­sa­tion in her stom­ach cau­tioned her to hold off.

Andile poured over the rings, obliv­i­ous to her con­cerns. “Try this one, my love.”

“Andile, we can’t af­ford this. The ring doesn’t need to be this elab­o­rate.”

“Noth­ing’s too good for my girl. Oth­ers must see how much I love you and that you’re mine.”

Her stom­ach tensed. “Like a tag that says, ‘This be­longs to Andile?’” He chuck­led and nod­ded. “I write my fi­nals in two months, and I have a good job lined up. We can get mar­ried in De­cem­ber and start a fam­ily right away.” “But what about my stud­ies, Andile?” “You don’t need a mas­ter’s de­gree, my love. I’ll look af­ter you.”

“You mean I must give up all my dreams to keep house for you?”

He stared at her in gen­uine shock. “But why not, Pule? Don’t you love me?”

The shop as­sis­tant was hang­ing onto ev­ery word.

“Can we go out­side and talk pri­vately?” Pule asked gently.

“Say what you want to say!” “I’m strug­gling, Andile. I love you but you never con­sider my needs.”

“What do you mean?” Anger flick­ered be­hind his gaze.

“You didn’t ask me if I wanted to get en­gaged. And now you’re al­ready talk­ing about get­ting mar­ried in three months and start­ing a fam­ily. Don’t you think it might’ve been nice to ask me what I wanted? You need to start re­spect­ing me as a per­son.”

As he leaned to­wards her she felt the heat of his rage. “You’ve hu­mil­i­ated me. Slapped me in the face. Get your think­ing straight, Pule. I re­spect real women – women who sup­port their hus­bands and look af­ter their chil­dren. What more is there?”

She watched him turn on his heel, slam the se­cu­rity gate shut be­hind him and drive off with­out a back­wards glance.

Tears fell down her cheeks – she loved him but she now knew for sure that their mar­riage would’ve been a cage for her. And she’d seen vi­o­lence in his eyes, that was for sure.

She gazed down at her hand and pulled the metal band from her fin­ger.

“No, it’s not a good fit,” she said, plac­ing it firmly back on the tray.

‘No, that’s not how it works. A stay-ath­ome man has to cook and clean.’

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