All my best friendships I can recall have always been marked by tears. And that is not a bad thing.
My earliest memory of a meaningful friendship was with Pure (that’s short for Precious, thank you very much).
Pure’s maternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents were neighbours. When I started grade one in the village, we went to school together. Once, during the early days of grade one, Pure and I walked home together as usual. I proceeded to my home promising to return after I had removed my school uniform.
I must have taken longer than usual because, on my return, I found Pure crying in a heartbreaking manner. I was worried. Had something happened to Pure since I left her? So of course I asked her what happened, who had done something to her?
It took my saying “heh?” a few times before it became clear.
After eating her lunch, Pure sat waiting for me. She started singing a song that many children in Zimbabwe knew from preschool. “Dai ndiri shiri ndaenda kuna mai vangu.” If I were a bird I’d fly to my mother. Generations Xers and Ys in South Africa would of course know this as the song whose words were sampled by the brilliant Bongo Maffin in their very danceable tune Kura uone.
But to Pure and I then, it was a song from preschool. I immediately sat down next to her and remembered that as her mother was working in Masvingo, my mother was also at that time in far away Harare. At that age I was not particularly close to my mother. I loved my grandmother more because my mother was discipline and my grandmother was indulgence as so often happens.
But perhaps it was guilt of not loving my mother enough that made me sit down next to Pure, put my thumb in my mouth and joined her in singing, “Dai ndiri shiri …” Soon I too was crying as heartbreakingly as Pure was doing.
After what may have seemed like hours, but what was probably 45 minutes, Pure’s older sister Mercy — who was a year older than us —arrived and wondered why we were both crying. We told her. I was hopeful that she would sit down next to us and join us singing and crying. Instead, she did not.
She laughed at us and ridiculed us for the foolish children she claimed we were. I never got close to Mercy and I suspect it was because she could not be empathetic enough to cry with us, but Pure and I remained good friends.
The last time I saw her was about seven years ago, when we bumped into each other in Harare central business district. The years fell and before I knew it, we were having lunch and catching up.
Pure remains one of my oldest friends and whether we see each other or not, we both know we always have each other. She can send me a text on Whatsapp despite years of our not seeing each other and if she needs anything, I will move what mountains can be moved to ensure she has it sorted. And she knows the same thing about me.
She knows that at 41, I am the friend who will still cry with her as I did at the age of six.
And in a lot of ways that friendship has marked a lot of my other friendships as I grew up. The acquaintances who I have never been able to open up to, or who have never been able to open up to me so that we share tears of joy or laughter, have always remained just that. Acquaintances.
While the ability to cry together literally or figuratively has always cemented my friendships. Because the ability to sympathise and empathise with those we claim to be friends with has always been a big mark of friendship to me.
And I suspect that I am not the only one who feels this way.
Not long back I saw two five-year-old boys who are friends crying together. On enquiring from the one I was more familiar with why he was crying he told me he did not know. “Huh?” I asked. To which he then turned to his friend and asked: “Georgie, kwanini unalia?” He had not known the reason, but on seeing his friend Georgie crying he too had joined him. I concluded that should these two young boys not be damaged by a world that tells boys and men not to cry, I was probably seeing the seeds of a future great friendship.
Unlike Mercy, I did not laugh in this Pure-Zuki moment, but rather smiled as I passed them some Kleenex. I never did find out why Georgie was crying, which led his friend to cry, but I remember, when I left them after tickling both of them, they were laughing so hard together even Georgie probably forgot why he was crying.
Here is to knowing people, old or new, that we can be vulnerable enough around so we can cry to and with as we laugh.