Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
“Say I love you with flowers on Valentine’s Day,” said the message on television. There was a picture of red roses and a red heart symbol with an arrow going through it. Shamiso, my niece, stood there, with little baby Prince suspended on her hip.
She was admiring the picture. Shamiso wore tight jeans and a colourful African print shirt with blue, yellow and red dragon figures on it.
Shamiso was visiting me, along with her husband Philemon.
We still refer to Philemon as Shamiso’s husband even though these two sometimes tell us that they are no longer together.
Their relationship has never been smooth going anyway.
It all started when Shamiso said she was never going to be a village wife while Philemon stays in town selling airtime, belts, phone chargers and other gadgets.
Last year at Easter, they were back in Philemon’s village, in Bocha, way past Buhera, where it does not rain much.
During a family gathering, Philemon’s uncle, from his mother’s side, said it was time Philemon chose a new wife who was prepared to live in the village.
Philemon tried to tell them how much he loved his wife and that with time, Shamiso will eventually settle in the village.
But Shamiso made it clear that she was never going to live without her husband. Those days are long gone, she said.
The elders then told Philemon that he should let Shamiso go. Philemon did just that and Shamiso and baby Prince moved in with my cousin Piri in Harare.
A few weeks later Philemon came to beg Shamiso, asking her to come back.
Last week, they arrived at my house for a barbecue together, wearing similar African print shirts and blue jeans. Now they seem to be together again.
It was a braai or roasting meat lunch at my place. My cousin Reuben from Australia was hosting everyone. He is still around and planning to stay here a bit longer.
He wants to begin a business in mining, real estate or farming. He does not stop telling us that Zimbabwe’s economy is going to change and this is the time for people living in the Diaspora to come home. Reuben has been singing this tune for the past year. Some of us think Reuben is right. Even though there is a drought this year, life will get better in Zimbabwe.
So Reuben, Philemon and a couple of ladies related to Reuben’s Australia-based wife, also came for the braai.
Reuben called it a Valentine’s Day get together, even though Valentine’s Day was a week away. Some men were standing around the braai stand, looking at the pork chops, T-bone steak and sausages that Philemon was carefully turning over.
Piri was busy cooking sadza rezviyo. Meanwhile, Reuben was monitoring his big three legged pot of cow trotters, mazondo. A few ladies stood a little away from the roasting meat, drinking various wines, sweet champagnes and other alcoholic stuff.
But today, on Valentine’s Day barbecue, Piri and I can see that Shamiso is merry and a bit more talkative than before. We know she has been sneaking into the kitchen to sip sweet wine from a hidden glass.
There was an unmistakable sparkle in Shamiso’s eyes. With baby Prince on her hip, Shamiso went over to Philemon and kissed him gently on the cheek.
Everyone looked at her with surprise. Since when do couples kiss in public like that? Reuben was the first to laugh, “Ah, what was that? An open demonstration of love and affection? So people lie when they say you two are no longer an item?”
“Who says we are not together? Who knows what goes on between two people except those two people themselves?” said Shamiso with a lack of care in her voice.
Reuben closed the pot of his mazondo and came over to Philemon and said, “So, mukuwasha, tell me the truth. As Shamiso’s uncle, or her father, I want to know, are you two still in love?” Philemon did not respond. He looked a little embarrassed because you do not expect such a question from a man who is like your father-in-law.
Shamiso quickly said, “We are together, on and off. It all depends. Like this week, if Philemon does what other men do for their wives and girlfriends on Valentine’s Day, then I can tell you that we are still husband and wife.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” asked Philemon, his eyes focused on a juicy T-bone steak sizzling on the fire.
“Ndidewo pachirungu Sha,” said Shamiso, kissing Philemon on the cheek again. By this, she meant, love me the English way.
“And what does that mean?” asked Philemon, looking puzzled.
“It means, you will buy me flowers and chocolates. Then you will call me darling, honey or sweetheart. You can also call me nice sweet names like Sugar Pie. You know, call me something that shows you really love me, the way white people do on Valentine’s day and even when it is not Valentine’s day.”
“And what makes you think I do not love you?” asked Philemon, resting his barbeque tongs on the edge of the braai stand.
“Because you never ever tell me you love me, nor do you call me with loving names. You call me Mai Prince. Mai Prince all the time, as if I do not have a name. When you met me, was I Mai Prince? I ought to have married a European man, a Nigerian or a foreigner who can love and speak to me in English only. English is full of love,” said Shamiso.
Our other guests moved closer to the braai stand, smiling and adding their views on love.
“Ah, Shamiso, unopenga here? Why do you want to be loved in English only?” asked Piri.
“Because love means something more in English. If Philemon tells me he loves me in Shona, I know he is lying or he is trying to hide something. But if he says so in English, that takes some courage. It means he has to think in English before he talks about love. In Shona, iish, these guys can lie I tell you.”
“You talk as if you women do not lie as well,” said Philemon.
“So if I tell you that I love you in English on Valentine’s Day, it means I am telling you the truth?”
“Yes,” said Shamiso and everyone laughed. “Just say to me, Shamiso, Shami, you are my one and only Valentine!” Then Shamiso danced a little.
Three years ago, this girl was the picture of a soft, pretty and naïve village girl. Not anymore. She was openly demanding to be loved. Maybe a little stolen wine was giving her more courage to speak.
Then Piri said she was tired of all the talk about love and romance on Valentine’s Day. “Every year in February, it’s Valentine’s day. On television, on the radio and even on shop windows, it’s the same. What is it all about anyway?”
A lady among the guests said Valentine’s Day was named after Saint Valentine, a third-century Roman priest executed for secretly marrying young couples at a time when there was a ban on marriage during war times. He was executed on February 14. As a result, that day is historically connected to romance and love. On this day lovers show their feelings to the person they love. But it’s also a day that is connected with buying various presents. You can buy chocolates, flowers, lingerie or something nice for your loved one.
“I want flowers and chocolates,” said Shamiso. Then she turned to me and said, “And you Tete, you lived in the Western world where Valentine’s Day was worshipped. Tell us what you like.”
I was put on the spot. Lately, Shamiso has this habit of forcing me to talk or to reveal a past or present life. She claims that she can learn a lot from my love life. But I doubt that. Everyone travels a different journey of love.
I paused to think.
Then I told them that on Valentine’s Day, I just want a poem, written or recited to me in Shona. I want to dream of the days when we used to live in the village and we saw young men sing the lyrics of love deeply rooted in nature, the moon, the stars, the sound of doves, and the song of frogs after the rains. I want to recall a time in February when it used to rain a lot, and we ate plenty of roasted maize cobs, nyevhe and mangoes. At that time, we did not know about Valentine’s Day.
We loved in the rain season, in the dry season, muchirimo and when the rain clouds gathered in November, promising good bountiful harvests. Our way of loving was simple and tied to real romance, marriages and the deep respect of family relationships and totems.
Then we moved to the city and learnt about Valentine’s Day. Our expressions of love and romance became so English, so Western, so commercial and so foreign.
On Valentine’s Day, we must recall with fond memories our first village love. But we must also appreciate the flowers and the chocolates, (if they come) because, on Valentine’s Day, there are many ways of expressing love.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.