By Tafi Mhaka
Losing Tracy scared the life out of me. Although I had lost countless close relatives to accidents and illness and natural causes by the time I was 20 years old – whenever I mused over why death had struck the core of my self-assured existence so mercilessly and uncaringly once again – I would conclude that a powerful authority from high above had an unfathomable but meticulous lifelong plan for us all. I would remind myself that I was still a very young man and thus a long and enjoyable life lay ahead of me. I would convince myself that I had scant reason to fear death because only old people appeared to die in the normal course of life.
But when my cousin Tracy succumbed to a brain haemorrhage at the age of 18, I struggled to come to terms with her demise – for it seemed noticeably unkind and rather unreal for an innocent and vivacious soul to die in such a cold-blooded manner – and worst still: no one could confirm what exactly had transpired before her two-week hospitalisation and consequent death.
Tracy had sustained serious head injuries in an accident – her boyfriend claimed – or she could have suffered a maliciously ruthless assault from her boyfriend – so said her friends. Now the latter accusation was the explanation our family found reasonably plausible – because Tracy had been badly hurt in unclear circumstances and left for dead by her boyfriend after the so-called car accident.
I felt sorry for Tracy and incredibly hollow and uncharacteristically vulnerable to harm for once in my life. I wondered how Tracy had reached her ultimate destination in life so hurriedly. I remembered that she had made a multitude of questionable male and female friends in dubious places in town.
I understood that she loved to party all the time. I gathered that she had left behind a small child. I knew that her parents had divorced when she was fairly little. I knew that her mother was a cheery and generous woman. And I knew that her dad had had numerous runs in with the law and done a short stint in jail for petty theft.
So I formed the distinct impression that Tracy had needed hope and reassurance for the future at critical moments in her life – but found none at all – and I quickly realised how very impressionable and unsettled ladies sought and found love from a nefarious mob of cold-hearted and morally bankrupt ruffians who loved to prey on juvenile neediness on the rough and unforgiving streets in town. As the abuse of women deeply afflicts society – it might be uncool and dumb to ask this: but how many parents demand to see a man before he can spend one minute alone with their daughter? With the way, things are nowadays – a lot of well-meaning parents often only ever catch sight of a future son-in-law or boyfriend if a baby has been born or lobola negotiations have been requested.
So while Tracy had a four-year child of her own to look after – she undoubtedly needed parental love and care herself. It could have been helpful if Tracy’s parents had met her boyfriend beforehand and built an honest and solid relationship with him too. The days when relative anonymity for men in relationships was fancied until certain traditional norms had been fulfilled – are undeniably archaic.
We could choose to believe that decent-looking and cultured monsters clad in sophisticated clothing do not exist. We could relax and dream on about a mythical time in history when this sweet life of ours on earth resembled a Hannah Montana movie. But that will not stop the abuse of women. See it does not matter how liberal or conservative you are. It is not about how youthful or old you are. It has nothing to do with how well you have raised your child. It is not about how rich or poor you are.
It is not about how fancy or common the neighbourhood you live in is. It is not about race or culture. You should build a healthy and positive relationship with that boyfriend of hers before she has a child with him or commits for a lifetime – or something terrible happens to her.
Do breakfast with him on a Saturday morning. Watch a game of football. Play a round of golf. Do something with whoever takes a genuine interest in your daughter. And do not be reluctant to interrogate him about his life. Ask him about his likes and dislikes. Discover what makes him tick in life. Shake his hand. Look him in the eye. Have a look at his soul if you can.
Do more than that, however: have a cup of coffee at a trendy nightclub or cafe once in a while – or often. We could all live in la-la land and imagine sleazy establishments do not sell themselves as classy and cool entertainment spots in Zimbabwe. Go out and see if certain places that are popular with the youth are not dodgy. Look out for signs of drug dealing activity, prostitution and rowdiness.
Do not ever trust that disinterested and unqualified security staff in clubs and restaurants will offer your dear child the protection she needs all the time. When your daughter would like to have a night out in town: drive her there – or ask someone reliable and honest to do so for you – as this will dissuade dishonest characters from approaching her.
For I wonder if Tracy really knew what kind of man she deserved to have in her life. Did her mother and father have a serious chat with her about love? Or did Tracy learn about love from her friends? If she had dreams of her own to cherish and chase would she have laboured to death to satisfy someone else’s sickly insecurities and fascination.