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
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.’