Love hurts

Having kissed the over hyped big 40 and being happily married with a loving wife and three lovely children—happy testimony to the fruit of my loins—I now watch with admiration, no envy, the way the dating rules have become user-friendly for the new generation. All very different from the horror stories we had to endure to take our squeezes on a date.

The first step was negotiating entry into your loved one’s township. The goons who appointed themselves the suburb’s gatekeepers were your first hurdle: you either bribed them—with cigarettes or a quart of ugologo (intoxicating spirits)—or you stealthily avoided them.
To do otherwise was to ask for all sorts of retribution—“babezokushaya to come nice” (they would give you a proper hiding and hound you out the township)—and you would be banned from setting foot there ever again.

The girl’s brothers were equally unwelcoming, and your luck was even worse if she had an unemployed uncle umayihlalela (a layabout). They would either set the dogs on you—some of us have the scars of those dog wars—or whip your ass.

Sometimes they would just lock the gates to the yard and dare your girl to jump over high walls topped with razorwire. All you could do was wave and blow kisses at your sweetheart imprisoned in the yard. You would then go to a public phone to profess your undying love and vow that her brotherly goons would not stop you coming back.

Should you and your dearest and sweetest navigate this initial minefield successfully, the second stage was even more tortuous. This entailed the girl having to convince the parents—not to forget the brotherly Hitlers—that she was indeed going to the movies or a friend’s party and that her intentions were noble.

If this worked, there were the non-negotiable deadlines to return home by, applied equally to teenagers, varsity seniors and young working adults. Any complaints were dismissed with: “As long as you live in my house you follow my rules!”

Negotiating deadlines entailed the girl getting alibis of every sort from friends or a favourite “just in case” aunt. This was insurance, “just in case” the deadline was not met and you had to get home the wrong side of midnight. For young adults this meant that aunty dearest thought it unsafe for you to go home in the wee hours of the morning and gave you a place to crash.

In some instances, where a girl had nice siblings, she could bribe them to open the window for sister to sneak back in. I had a friend who was ingenious.

To make sure no matter how hard the young brother slept he would wake up to let her in, she would tie a string to his big toe, leave it dangling discreetly by the window and tug on it every time she got home late. It worked like magic. Of course the brother was bribed handsomely.

Which is why I almost fell from my chair at the ease and nonchalance with which today’s young people are able to pop in and out of the home, sans stress and rigid dating rules.

I was visiting friends one of these fine, warm evenings for the usual round of sundowners, when their little diva in senior high school popped her head round the corner and, in a by-the-way fashion, told her mother she was going out. The conversation went something like this:

“Hi mom, forgot to tell you, I am going to a party at Farai’s tonight.”

“No, you are not! You can’t tell me that now and expect me to —”

“Sorry mom, didn’t think you’d mind. Oh, I borrowed your Zanzibari ethnic jewellery and that new fragrance of yours, so divine.”

“Hey, you can’t just up and go like that! What do I tell your father? I mean how are you going —”

“Don’t fret, mama, pops’ll be fine, my new boyfriend Dumi’s picking me up.”

“What time will you be back? Hey come back here! You have to be home by —”

The poor mother remonstrated to no one in particular it turned out.

Outside the yard a car stereo blasted and a shrill car hooter pierced the early evening calm. Next thing you heard the sound of banging bedroom doors and the little diva’s cheery voice: “Bye mum, have to run, love you!” This was followed by air kisses, a run down the driveway and before you could say ‘nkosi yam’ (my god) the car screeched away with whoops of laughter and the thud-thud of hip-hop music.

My friends gave defeated sighs and shrugs. My gulp of scotch felt stuck in my throat and when I finally cleared it I felt decidedly ancient.

I was full of awe and envy: how easy they are having it these days!

Jabulani Mlotshwa is an executive with a leading Zimbabwean retail chain

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