Short Stories, Tale Africa

The Epidemic (1)

By Katiso Thatho, Lesotho

I’ve seen it pretty much everywhere I go, and by that I mean literally everywhere. When I’m walking down the street, I see it. I see it depicted on the huge billboards scattered throughout the city and not to mention between the hordes of nauseating couples walking hand in hand in the streets like they own them – love, I swear it’s an epidemic. Whenever I watch a movie, they always find a way to squeeze it in somehow, and trust me, I always keep the romantic comedies as close as I’d want a leper. Yet somehow despite all my efforts, I still fail to evade the gooey love scenes and romantic subplots, not even in those that are hailed as “hard core” action movies – an epidemic I tell you. I play music on my phone and it’s all about love; love lost, love found, love craved and unrequited love, in other words, everything I have absolutely no interest in hearing about.

Don’t even get me started on Valentine’s day, when the big corporations try to shove it down our throats like they actually give a damn or even know the first thing about it. All it is to me is an attempt to paddle merchandise that is either completely useless or specifically designed to lead us all to an early grave. Yes, I’m talking about the teddy bears and chocolate and all other needless trinkets that I’ve never purchased for a single soul to this day…thank goodness. By now I can tell what you must be thinking, “Oh what a bitter soul this young man is.”

Well, you’re not wrong to think so because that’s exactly what I am. I mean, how can I be part of a race that has survived colonialism, slavery, apartheid and countless other instances of discrimination only to have to endure this new system of segregation that is love? Okay, maybe my comparison is a bit extreme but think about it. It’s always the handsome and dashing protagonist who gets the girl in every love story ever. And as for the billboards, all those couples on them look like they were products of some kind of secret government breeding program. I mean, it’s people like those who make me believe that things like human cloning actually happen. And then there’s always that look a girl gives you before you utter even a single word, like she’s weighing you on some kind of invisible scale, not really considering anything you’re saying or whether or not she may actually like you if she’d just give you five minutes of her time. It really makes you wonder if this love thing is indeed meant for everyone or just those who resemble the billboard models and dashing protagonists. If that right there is not discrimination then I don’t know what is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-love nor do I not believe in its existence or anything of the sort. The thing is, I honestly just don’t know what it feels like. I thought I did once but boy was I wrong and try as I may, I haven’t found it since, which I guess might explain my juxtaposition on the issue.

My brother has always been more of an optimist than I am, but of course that’s only because girls have swooned over him from as early I could remember, or perhaps it is because of  his optimism that they adore him so. I’ve never been too sure about the direction of causality in such things. I don’t remember a time when he didn’t have at least one girlfriend. Though he’s not aware of it, back in my freshman year, the guy had more sex in my residence than I ever did. Of course, this is one fact I’ll be sure to keep to myself for the foreseeable future. Or maybe I could mention it in the toast.

At this moment all I can say is that I hate him, I abhor him, I detest him, I loathe him and I feel anything else that means or closely resembles hatred for him. I know, I know, you’re probably gasping at what a terrible person I must be, and if you were consuming a beverage, I hope you haven’t spat it all out. Please understand that I am a mere victim here, the real fiend is him! His first act of malice was making me wear this ridiculous suit. I honestly can’t fathom how one could think there’s anything appealing about this brown loose fitting suit but obviously someone did since here I am wearing it, much to my dismay. I wonder if the same rule applies for the groomsmen as it does for bridesmaids. Do we also have to wear heinous attire that make us look like apes all in a bid to make the groom look good? Do you see what I mean about love? Even the ceremony that celebrates it, is built on oppression.

I hate him even more for making me the best man. I mean, I’ve kind of made a hobby out of dodging every wedding I’ve ever been invited to, which is a greater number than you might expect. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it really. I mean, who wouldn’t want a cheerful fellow such as myself at their wedding – I am positively delightful if I do say so myself. It’s crazy how many of your friends decide to buy into this marriage nonsense when they wander closer towards those dreadful mid-twenties. Call me a broken record but, I swear it’s an epidemic. Believe you me, I’ve tried all I possibly could to talk him out of it but the man just won’t budge.

“I love her man.” He keeps telling me.

I mean, I had a pair of boxers I loved as a child, they had pictures of Batman drawn on them and everything. You don’t see me vowing to spend the rest of my life wearing just them though, do you? It makes no sense to me, but alas he is my brother and I support him in everything he does, even if one of those things is diving head first into a dark chasm so deep that you can’t see the bottom.

Do you know what the worst thing is about being both the best man and the brother at a wedding, apart from the fact that you’re at a wedding that is? It’s not the ridiculous brown suit, so that should give you an idea of just how bad it is. It’s not even the fact that you have to stand in front of a church full of people like a piece of very ugly brown furniture and watch as two young people make the biggest mistake of their lives, oh no. The worst thing about being both the best man and the brother at a wedding is the one question that will be asked by every grandma from the entire village, “So when are you getting married my boy?”

It’s so much worse when you’re single like myself. They ask with a look of pity in their eyes and sorrow in their voices like you’re some wounded animal out in the cold and in desperate need of help. The huggers are the worst, they always make it a point to draw it out long enough for every single person in the room to notice and turn their attention towards you, then it just degenerates into one big pity party. Now do you see now why I so loathe my brother?

It’s like I said before, I don’t really know this love thing and for some time neither did my brother. It was one of the things we had in common. I mean, we had known it once, our mother was our first love but she was taken from us very early in our lives. I mean, as hard as you may try to remember certain things, time just has a way of eroding everything, even one’s most cherished memories. At least for him, he was a few years older than I was when it happened so his pool of memories of her is much larger than mine. Still, that probably made losing her that much harder for him than it was for me. I’ll never tell him this but to an extent (a very small extent) I envy him. From what I could gather given what I’ve seen on the billboards and movies and heard in the songs and from my now married high school friends, this love thing is pretty amazing when you have it. Of course, I wouldn’t know so at this point all I can do is take their word for it because the way I see things going, it’s just not in the cards for me. The alcohol is really my only friend at this wedding, at least it has somehow managed to make this suit look less revolting and my urge to jump out the nearest window has slowly started to fade so that’s good too, I guess. It is crazy how I have to hide the fact that I’m drunk from my uncles despite being an adult now, I guess it’s one of the perks of being African, but then again I’m not completely sure that it’s not the same for people in other parts of the world.

“Go easy on the drinks; it’s almost time for your speech.”

I hear someone whisper these words in my ear but for the life of me, I don’t know who it is. By the time I turn to look, I can’t make out who it could’ve been. But they were right though, whoever they were. As painful as it might be, I’ll have to stop the drinking and try to remember my speech. Dear God, is this what love feels like; this bond between myself and this glass of wine? It must be, why else would letting it go leave me so sad and broken?

Now for the moment I’ve been dreading, well this entire wedding is a moment I’ve been dreading but this part is by far my least favourite – the best man’s toast. I remember that I told myself this would be my last chance to talk my brother out of this madness and by God I will not waste it. I make my way to the front and every eye is fixed upon me. I wanted to get their attention by making clinking noises with a piece of silverware and a wine glass but these selfish people are bent on denying me even this small pleasure. At least I finally have my chance to stop this wedding and save my brother from making the biggest mistake of his life.

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