Passing the Buck

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An Essay on relationship, responsibility, and buck-passing

(from my archive. First published in The Horizon magazine in 1996)


The jangle of the telephone brought me out of a deep, very deep reverie. A lazy hand reached out and grabbed the instrument. Hello. A weak voice said into the mouthpiece.

Who’s there? A lady’s voice shrieked into the ear-piece. Reflexively, I moved the thing a little away from my ear. A punctured ear-drum is the last thing I wanted.

Whom do you want? I demanded in a not very friendly tone. I still don’t know how to handle mysterious voices on the telephone.

O, Femi, so you don’t recognize my voice again? The high- pitched voice demanded.

No, I don’t. I snapped back.

She persisted: You men are all the same. Have a guess.

I have better things to do than play Guess-it on the telephone. You tell me whom or what you want, otherwise, I’ll put the receiver down right now. I warned and meant it.

Defeated, the high-pitched voice replied, It is me, Kate.

She waited for the aha of recognition, I simply said: O, hi Ama. Why didn’t say so before? They refer to themselves by European names, but I always prefer to call them by their African names.

I thought you’ll recognize my voice. You of all people. How wrong I was. Anyhow, good afternoon.

Fine afternoon. I kept my tone flat.

Have you heard from Kwaku? She wanted to know.

I haven’t heard from him: No, I haven’t heard from him. And you?

That’s why I am calling. I haven’t heard anything from him since he left. Are you sure he didn’t call or write to you?

I was getting irritated. Why would I lie to you?

I don’t know. You men are all the same. Always protecting one another.

I didn’t like the tone, the accusation, and the insult. I greatly resent your belligerent attitude and unwarranted accusations and insults. My tone was downright hostile. She was sorry: I am sorry, Femi. It’s not your fault. I have no right to take it out on you.

You sure have no right. What’s the IT you were talking about? It was my turn to be curious.

It’s rather a long and complicated story. Can I come over?

You may. I said cheerlessly.

The creaky jalopy that passed as Accra taxi made a noisy appearance, carbon monoxide trailing its wake like some comet. I was shocked by the sight of Ama. The spare, athletic figure has given way to a fat, plump lady with a protruding belly. Ama is pregnant. I did my best to mask my astonishment. She refused a drink. I fetched her a seat and relaxed with my INSU. The Ama sitting in front of me is quite different from the Ama that I used to know. The Ama of old was a gay, vivacious, spontaneous lady with easy smiles. The lady opposite me is a melancholic figure looking like a depressed Chimp.

I was at a loss on how to handle the situation. Would a congratulation be in order? Why are you looking so depressed?

She gave a weak smile. It was a ghost of Ama’s smiles. A false, forced, pale smile, bereft of life and amusement. I wondered why she made the attempt. Thank you. She forced herself to say and quickly added, This what your friend did to me.

Are you sure? I asked maliciously.

She gave me a sharp look – It was one of those looks only African women are capable of producing – large, widely- opened eyeballs rolling over my face in a condemnatory countenance. I always find them frightening as well as fascinating. Let me tell you this, Femi. Pregnancy, like death, is one of life’s few absolutes. Am I sure of whether or not I am pregnant or am I sure if it was Kwaku, your friend? What’s your question? She gave another tired, melancholic smile. I wonder why kept making the attempts.

I didn’t know when they were doing it, and suddenly he has become my friend. Neither. My question was whether anyone did anything to you that you didn’t want?

Her eyes blazed in anger. I said so already. You men are always the same. You are always protecting one another.

I parried her accusation. That was the third time you’re saying that today. I think that it’s neither fair nor justified. I didn’t know your state before, but I don’t believe your pregnancy gave you any right.

Fires and brimstones paraded her eyes as she regarded me. You saw my state, as you put it, what did you do except rose gallantly to your friend’s defense? Yes, you men are all the same. You all don’t care and you are not responsible.

I was not very conciliatory, either. Some of us do care and some of us are very responsible.

Ama seethed with rage. Most of you don’t and are not! Her face was a manifest of fury.

I decided to match her tactlessness with my own lack of diplomatic finesse. We can stay here all day and argue statistics, but I believe that you didn’t come here for that, did you? You women are so powerful, it’s difficult for me to feel sorry for you or anyone with such awesome power. I have no shoulder for you to cry on. This is the first time Ill be engaging Ama, or any lady for that matter, in this type of discussion. The truth is that I’m at a loss on how to handle the delicate situation.

Astonishment crept into her face; she didn’t understand my meaning. Are you trying to patronize me? Ama wanted to know. Her stares were cold.

I wasn’t. God knows I have no such intentions.

What powers do we wield when you men control everything, even our lives. She was still baffled.

That’s strictly not true. You control Creation and that to me is the ultimate power. Only a woman can decide whether or not a life shall be brought forth. Only a woman can say with certainty who the father of a child is. We, men, are powerless to do anything. Nature endows women with frightening power and that, to me, should go with the feeling of great responsibility.

She shrieked back her response: There you go again, passing the buck. So, only women should be responsible! What a load of infantile male chauvinistic nonsense! Instead of blaming your friend, you’re accusing me of not being responsible. It is always the woman’s fault!

Few things are as difficult to handle as a gloomy lady in rage. If only you’ll listen to me. I accused you of nothing. I was talking generally. You have to admit that, ultimately, only a woman can decide whether or not to be pregnant. My friend didn’t do anything to you that you didn’t want him to do to you. At least, you didn’t accuse him of raping you. In which case, we can go on another plane and talk about different things. You’re an intelligent woman and you’ll agree that just as it takes two to tango, so does it takes two to bring forth a child. Since the ultimate burden lies with the woman, it behooves her to ensure that no mistake should be made. After all, it is her, and her alone, who feels the pains. Men are cripples in that department. Pregnancy should never be a mistake and only a woman can guarantee that it never is. I don’t believe in sins, but I think that unwanted pregnancies should be criminalized. It is the nadir of irresponsibility to make bringing a child into life an accident. Science has all but ensure that no woman will ever get pregnant against her will. You’re old enough to get the Pill from any doctor, and condoms are so cheap that they could be had for a song. I don’t know why I should be blaming my friend.

Apparently not impressed with my ratiocination, she heaved a heavy sigh. As for me, I don’t care. I can handle it on my own. I don’t need him. It is only my family. They want to go and meet his family. They’re talking marriage and things like that. I don’t really care. Men are so useless. When they want the thing, they tell you sweet lies. But to accept the responsibility is too much for them. Did you know that he was married?

She called me and dragged herself here and she doesn’t care! Of course, I knew that he was married, didn’t you?

Of course, not! Do you think that I would have allowed him to sleep with me if I know that has a wife?

I don’t know what difference his marital status could have made. I don’t know, but did you asked him if he has a wife? Did he promise to marry you?

She forgot to ask him: No, I didn’t ask him. He promised to discuss marriage at a later date. That’s men. Everything is at a later date when it is too late for the woman to do anything. He didn’t even bother to call or write to me since he left. She wailed more.

You hardly can blame him. Any man will tell you that a man of Kwaku’s age who tells you that he is not married is either lying to you or, if he truly isn’t, doesn’t want to marry. You met a man and without asking whether or not has married, you allowed him to impregnate you. I blame you not, mind you. We are all seeking the same thing. We, humans, are always seeking happiness, our own happiness. We are the hedonist par excellence. To console ourselves, we mask our selfishness in altruism. Life is a gamble. Going into a relationship is like going into a casino – you may win some and you may lose some. Life will be sweet if we all can accept this simple truth. But, no, when we gamble and lost, we look for scapegoats to blame. Any intelligent woman who goes into a relationship and got pregnant deserves all the consequences. You women are sometimes unfathomable to me. You meet a guy, if he doesn’t show much interest, you hope that by sleeping with him, you’ll change him. If you slept with him and he still doesn’t change, you hope that by carrying his baby, you’ll change him. It takes some egoism and vanity to want to change another human being.

She erupted in a volcanic rage: Femi, you’re talking a lot of crap and, honestly, I think that you’re full of shit. All you are doing is trying to protect your friend. So, it is OK for men to go around and fuck and any lady that got impregnated by their irresponsible behaviors deserves the consequences. I don’t know why I even came to you!

I wish that you’ll calm down and consider what I am saying rationally. I didn’t say that it was OK for men to go out and fuck around. I also didn’t say that I approve of any irresponsible male behaviors. What I am saying is that because men do not behave responsibly does not mean that women should also so behaved. After all, it is your body. After all, it is women who carry all the burden. Motherhood is a feeling we men will never know. The pains and joys of pregnancy and child-bearing are emotions no man will ever experience. Don’t blame us, nature simply did not equip us adequately. That explains why sex means different thing to men and women. Very few women are capable of sex without love; most men view the two as mutually exclusive. Men can have sex without feeling love. Some are even capable of having sex with females they detest. Sex, for men, is an adventure. And just like any other adventure, the initial exhilarating feeling doesn’t last long. The opening exuberance will soon give way first to contentment and then to sheer boredom. That’s why many men cannot stand a long relationship and are always looking for flings, or hit and run, as they say in Nigeria. Haven’t you noticed that the longer a relationship last, the more passionate a woman becomes while the opposite is true for men? The longer a sex relationship lasts, the more the woman want to cling to it; the farther the man wants to move away from it for new conquests. That is why I believe that women should be more responsible. Moreover, although nature endowed them with grand powers, women are not well equipped to handle sexual promiscuity like men.

Now, that is a load of nonsense! Ama sneered.

No, it is not. I speak with the authority of science. Aside from confusing sex with love, there are other reasons why women cannot handle sexual promiscuity.

Tell me about them. I didn’t know that you’re the sex expert. She declaimed with biting sarcasm.

VD is among the reasons

You’re telling me that your science teaches that men cannot catch VD? Her tone was caustic.

She has trouble listening to me. Trouble is that you will not allow me to finish. I am not saying that men cannot catch VD. Their chances are, however, less. Your chances of catching a VD from me is greater than my catching it from you. Take the commonest of them all, gonorrhea, for instance. I will know within a week if I catch gonorrhea from you. A whitish, clear discharge start oozing from the male organ. If I give it to you, you’ll not know for weeks and sometimes months unless I decided to tell you, if I’m a nice bloke. The symptoms take longer to manifest in you. Syphilis is trickier. Again, Ill know sooner than you if I catch it. It can easily be cured if diagnosed early. Unless I tell you, you will not know for months when it is far more difficult to handle. The symptoms appear and go like a magicians trick. In the meantime, you’ll be thinking that you’re OK. Don’t think that even Fellatio can save you – you’re only moving the trouble-spot from your organ to your mouth. Above all, women are the only partners who can directly infect a fetus since their systems are tied directly into yours. After conception, nothing a man does can directly affect the child. So you are capable of not only infecting your bed-mates, but you can also infect an innocent child. Do you want to have that on your conscience? Above all, women can get pregnant and destroy their family, their career and their future; men have no such worries. Do you now know why women should be more circumspect than men?

She elected not to contest my elaborate analysis. But why me? What are my friends and my family going to say? Her voice was panicky.

That should be the least of your concern. Why should it be the least of my concern? You talked as if you’re not an African. Do you know what the family will say?

I guess that’s among our problems. We cared too much what friends, family think of us. We too often subordinate our feelings for society’s stamp of approval. The ultimate question is: To who does my body belong?

She found her situation hopeless. If anyone had told me that I’d have been had so cheap, I would have denied it with all my might. Here I am – pregnant without a husband. Everyone will call my baby a bastard. I become the mother of a bastard! Tears welled up her eyes and they flow freely. I let her be. Tears could be therapeutic and she looked so vulnerable. I thought I’ll get a husband, settle down and be happy.

I decided to rub it in. Ah! That’s another problem. Most men are not looking for wives and most women are not looking for husbands.

She threw me another of her damning looks. What has that got to do with me?

You were not looking for a husband. I declared cheerfully.

She threw me a dirty look. What was I looking for, then?

Let me first begin with men. They are always looking for anything but wives. Beauty, intelligence, good family background, apart from the usual gorgeous body with ample backyard. The gigolos among them are looking for rich widows. By the time they finished painting the picture of a wife, they are too old to find the object of their desire. But nature is kinder to men in that regard. A man can afford to wait longer. There is no menopause to worry about, at least not the common one. Also, the wear and tear show faster in women than men. Biologically, women aged faster than men, at least physically. By mid-thirties, very few women could still be productive while men retain their procreative power unto death. That explains why men are more relaxed about marriage and things. Coming to you, if it was a husband you were looking for, you’d have been married a long time ago. Like most women, you were looking for a prince charming on a white horse to come and sweep you off your feet like in the movies. There are many unmarried men in Ghana, but you were not looking for them simply because they didn’t meet your standards for a hubby. You were looking for more than a husband. You wanted more than a man. All you want, like most women, is standard, some standard. You wanted, or want rather, economic security while pretending that you were searching for a man. If finding a husband was your main problem, you could have your fill with the Trotro drivers, the masons or the unemployed, semi-employed young men who are desperately looking for wives to marry. You won’t go for them, will you? You want a man with a car, a house, and a good job. You, like most women, do not want Surulere (patience is rewarding), you all want Olorunsogo (Gods Glory). Since most women want from this dwindling pool, it goes without saying that many will fall by the wayside. Kwaku came and you saw some chance. He threw some dollars or pound sterling in your face, you removed your pant in a jiffy and cannot race fast enough to the bed. Ficky-ficky, bang-bang. Thank you, ma. Nice meeting you. Off, he went. You are saddled with an unwanted pregnancy and you’re blaming the world for your misfortune.

It was clear Ama no longer understood how to handle me. Are you capable of falling in love?

No, I am not capable of falling in anything. The trap is something you should fall into; love is something you should go into with your eyes wide open. Otherwise, you don’t what you are getting. I am capable of love and loving. You know that I have a girl-friend.

A girl-friend, at your age! Ama sneered again. Why don’t you marry her if, as you said, you’re capable of loving?

Will this ever end? There you go again, confusing love with something else. Love and marriage are two distinct things. You may marry someone because you love them, among the other reasons. But you don’t love people simply because you want to marry them. Marrying to increase love, as a bard puts it, is like gaming to become rich; alas, you only lose what little stock you had before.

Are you always so cynical? Are you ever going to marry?


I don’t understand you. You are in love and you don’t want to marry. What happens to the poor woman?

Love is pure, harmonious, unselfish and it makes no demands. Marriage is a gymnasium of insincerity, with each partners fine-tuning the acrobatic art of telling sweet lies. Marriage is demanding and competitive; each partner goes into it looking to get the better of the other. Few honest men will tell you that get into marriage because of love. Men go into a marriage to conquer, dominate and become an aristocrat or, as it sometimes happens, out of sheer sympathy. Occasionally, they marry because family and peer pressures are driving them nuts. Women mostly go into it to think of themselves as householders instead of glorified house-keepers or because family pressure has become unbearable. As in most other human institutions, marriage is heavier on women. In marriage, a man gets a housemaid, a bed-mate (or sex-pot), a cook, a mother, a nanny, a dishwasher and a therapist thrown in for good measure. In marriage, a woman gets more undesired, unrequited sex than in prostitution. She lost everything – her name, her privacy, her self-respect, self-esteem and all the attention and the approving nods of all men, just for the indifference and insouciance of one SOB, who sleeps with anything in skirt, and throws tantrums like a three-year-old kid, if his dinner is late or his socks is misplaced or his wife as much as look at another man. In marriage, a woman remains a parenthesis; she’s the wife of so and so, the mother of them and them.

Are you above making mistakes? Ama was looking for an escape chute.

Any mortal is capable of mistakes. That’s why they say to err is human. But as I already told you, I don’t agree that such things like making babies should ever be mistakes. They are far too important. That’s why it behooves every lady to be responsible – they are the only people nature endowed with the capacity to be mothers.

Supposing you’re a lady.

I don’t like suppositions. To me, my body is a temple; my only temple. Nothing gets into my body except what I approve off. I don’t think that my gender would have made any difference. I believe that every being with enough self- respect can ensure that his\her body is not abused by who\whatsoever. A lady who has enough respect for her body can ensure that no accident will ever happen as far as pregnancy is concerned.

You are cruel. Ama wailed.

No, I am not cruel. I am honest.


About the Author  

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

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