smile

We all have many gifts in many shapes and forms. Some are small and others are overwhelming. From the time I was about 18, I started to realise that everyone has a story. Complete strangers are hustling and bustling through life carrying a story that weighs a bit too heavily on them and they need someone to tell. Very often, quite inexplicably, that person is me.

The first extraordinary encounter that I remember was a woman who came into a shop where I was temping as an assistant. She didn’t want to buy anything. She just came in. After the customary hellos, I asked, “are you alright? You look worried.” And she calmly replied, “No. I’m not. My husband doesn’t have sex with me anymore and I don’t know what to do.” It is a very big deal for a 40-year-old woman to say something like that to an 18-year-old girl in a “conservative” country like Zimbabwe. I was too young to understand what sort of gift was manifesting in me at the time. Even now, I battle with it, but at least now I know it’s there.

That encounter pales in comparison to the encounters that came after and that I have had over the past decade. I can’t believe I am almost 30. Some of the stories I carry in my heart on behalf of complete strangers have started to weigh heavily on me in recent times so I will write them down here. Others inspired me and I will keep them here to relight my candle on dark days. Yet more, were neither here nor there. They were just a story to be shared.

A few years ago, I went to watch my now ex-boyfriend play basketball. I went there straight from work and I was dressed for a day at the office. Naturally I was feeling a little self-conscious so as soon as I arrived, I scanned the room to see what everyone else was wearing. My eyes settled on the only other girl in the court area. she was wearing track pants and had delightfully big hair; a hairstyle we call soft dread. She looked so happy and free as she shot hoops with the boys that I actually felt even more self-conscious. As I walked across to sit alone on the bleachers we made eye contact and I smiled. She smiled back.

When the game started, she came and sat next to me. I complimented her hair and told her I thought she was beautiful. She laughed and thanked me and pointed out her boyfriend. He seems like a nice guy, I said. “He is,” she said, “he has been with me through thick and thin. I can’t have children. I have known since I was 18 and I am 26 now.” This is the part where I would have been shocked but after a few years of this, I didn’t even skip a beat. “I am very sorry to hear that. Have you been to see a fertility specialist? Maybe there is something they can do?” She told me she hadn’t. She had made peace with the fact that she could not have children a long time ago and she had a man who loved her regardless.

I listened. I could sense something bigger was coming. I am trying to capture the manner in with which she told me this story but I can’t. It poured out of her like medium pressure lukewarm water from a tap. And it washed over me in the same way that lukewarm water would on a spring day… just on the wrong side of chilling.

She told me that because of her fertility issues, her period was very irregular. Sometimes, it didn’t come for months. She told me that a few months before she had been at work when she started getting the worst kind of cramps. It was almost like nasty period cramps but a little worse. She was sitting at her desk when she felt what she thought was her period start. She went to the bathroom and put on a sanitary towel then made her way back to her desk. By then, the cramps were crippling. Her desk was close to a much older gentleman who affectionately called her his niece. He could see straightaway that she was in distress and started fussing. The bleeding increased dramatically. It soaked through the pad in minutes. She said she didn’t know what was happening but she didn’t care anymore. It hurt too much to care. She was sitting on her chair with blood running down her legs and chair crying her heart out.

Malume (meaning uncle) quickly cleared all the staff members out of the office and put her on the floor. He called an ambulance. What happened after was a blur to her but the paramedics later told her what happened and she, in turn, told me what they told her. Unbeknownst to her, she had been 4 or so months pregnant. She had put on weight but pregnancy never crossed her mind. She was infertile after all. Isn’t that what they told her? She partied like the eighties every weekend and “on that day at the office I miscarried a baby I didn’t even know I was carrying.” I could see the pain behind those words. She was hurting badly.

By the time the paramedics arrived she was in shock. She was on the bloody floor in foetal position holding on to the tiny bloodier bundle that had come out of her. It took the paramedic 35 minutes and tranquilizer to pry it out of her hands…

We talked until the game we both came to watch but neither of us did ended. When we said our goodbyes, she hugged me so tightly it hurt. I never saw her again.

Fast forward a few years, I don’t remember her name. I don’t recall ever asking for it. But I remember her story. I will never forget it.

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