Fat lessons on love that everybody should learn
The home-made sandwich lay abandoned on the dining table next to a huge mug. The latter was a give-away from the local supermarket that served more as a marketing tool than charity token, judging by the inscriptions of its name all over the mug.
That is how Ben, my young neighbour, likes his snacks.
The only departure was that until this particular Monday evening, you could not fairly accuse him of lacking appetite. In fact, I privately mused at how he could possess such a ravenous appetite and yet remain so slim.
On this day, Ben’s English tea was also suffering from the sudden flight of his appetite.
Perhaps ‘Kenyan’ tea would be a more faithful label in tribute to its origin. As Robert Mugabe, who describes himself as the young old man of Zimbabwe, wryly wondered, how can a country give its name to tea when not a single tea bush ever grew within its boundaries? But, I digress.
Clearly, all was not well with Ben. Besides the unfinished food, he had bloodshot eyes to rival those of an MP who spends an indulgent weekend funded by mileage allowance for phantom journeys to the constituency. The drink was not to blame for the crimson eyes as I had seen a sober Ben that morning.
When I asked him what was wrong, he pulled a Moses Kuria on me. And after thanking me profusely for my worries over him, he made a confession that left me torn between laughter and bewildered respect.
The trouble was his girlfriend. No, she had not dumped him. Rather, she would not be coming to see him on Thursday as initially planned because she had suddenly taken ill. It wasn’t a life-threatening indisposition, but just a bad flu.
On reflection, I should have understood his heartache. The previous weekend, I had found him engrossed in CBeebies, the BBC-run kids’ stories TV series. That struck me as odd but I quickly remembered Kijana Wamalwa and rumours that other intelligent people love cartoons. I made a mental note to try, once again, to like cartoons too.
As if reading my dilemma, Ben explained his watching TV was an economic activity. Because the girlfriend would be coming the following week, he didn’t want to go out and waste money. He needed to save every penny to take her out and to buy that surprise gift. I offered him my congratulations although I didn’t know why, precisely, I was congratulating him.
Being immune to such sentimentalism myself, I offered to buy him a drink at the local bar. Beneath my offer was an attempt to sober him up from his love stupor.
‘No thanks,’ was his curt response. He needed time, he explained, to ‘empathise’ with his sick girlfriend.
He spent the following weekend indoors for the same financial reasons. But on Monday there was a marked excitement around him. By Wednesday, he was singing frequently and loudly. On Thursday, he went to the barber to have his hair and his twenty-or-so beard hairs cut. A whiff of new cologne was also discernible.
By now, and from his restless mouth, his neighbours knew the girlfriend was coming. He has sung about her arrival so much that we all formed an informal welcoming committee.
Jennifer, typically matronly, extended an early invitation for dinner to the lovely couple. Agnes offered to remember them in her church group prayers. Martin promised a bottle of wine. In a me-too moment, I pledged a bottle of whisky for Ben. And then we waited for her grand arrival – on Friday!
I was in town when Martin texted me: ‘The big arrival is here!’ I would later appreciate that I had missed the obvious metaphor in his message when I finally met Jane later in the evening.
In anxiety to meet Ben’s princess, I had walked straight to his place with my whisky bottle gift.
When a lady opened the door, I allowed myself to imagine that Ben’s future in-laws were the doting and old-fashioned parents who sent out their daughter accompanied by a trusted auntie to ensure she was fine. The last thing I would I have countenanced was that standing in front of me was, indeed, his girlfriend.
Jane is what polite speak calls plus-size woman (as if the opposite of this is a minus-size)! She was standing slightly behind the open door, her huge frame completely blocking my view of the house.
She was wearing a sleeveless pink top that revealed layers of fleshy biceps. The top had given up attempting to cover her tummy. Her slim-fit trunks sketched a massive breadth of legs whose end was difficult to tell as there were no signs of a waistline.
There were traces of beauty in her chubby face, but her round head was made more pronounced by short-cropped hair. Less of her and a better sense of dressing would most likely yield a stunningly good-looking woman.
I was paralysed at the door, but thankfully Ben rescued me from my shock encounter.
I only learnt that he was standing behind his girlfriend when his voice introduced her. By then, I wasn’t sure anymore whether I should still give out the whisky. But after a more careful look at her, and remembering Ben’s tortured wait, wisdom dictated I should.
When he sneaked his hand under her armpit to receive the whisky, it was difficult not to escape a graphic comparison of their sizes. I estimated that it would take roughly three Bens to match his girlfriend’s weight and size.
Feeling a shared sense of disappointment, the informal welcoming committee reassembled. We all felt Ben had given us false expectations. But our meeting ended quickly because we reluctantly agreed we didn’t really have solid reasons to be upset. Had Ben promised us a model? No! Did anyone ever talk weight issues? No! So why, exactly, were we mad!
Jane stayed for five days and while she was around, a happier Ben was difficult to imagine. He was a puppy in such obvious love that I even saw him literally trying to carry her on his back with embarrassing results.
But Ben had sensed our disappointment with his choice because on the day she left, he invited us to his place for dinner. We turned up more out of desire to hear more about her than the food.
After the initial pleasantries, the young man gave a heart-felt talk on love and passion. Backed by his albums, he recalled his previous liaisons with beautiful, model-sized women.
From his narrative, they had brought him public admiration and private anguish. That was before he met Jane and learnt to value a good heart above anything else in relationships. His only regret was that he should have met her earlier.
As I swallowed my last sip of Kenyan tea and recalled the big debate about plus-size women in Kenya, I reflected on the wisdom of love coming from such a young man.
The only weight that should matter is love, he concluded. Apparently converted, we left, some to practice the lesson, and others to mourn failed tests.
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