The Puppets

***Mohamed Kimathi***

Most of the youth of today have smart phones, and are to be seen constantly engaged with them. At the slightest opportunity, most young people (or even elderly ones, for that matter) will pull out their phones in one swift motion, then smile as they type away, their faces glowing from the light of the screens. It is very difficult to find a young person seated idly, just “chilled with his thoughts.” Even when you stumble across such a person, he will be uneasy, with his eyes darting left to right, as of a mouse nibbling some bread. He shows classic withdrawal symptoms: shifting positions by the second, and clasping and unclasping his hands, as if he does not know what to do with them. His only hope of being at ease is getting back to his phone, even as more alcohol is excellent cure for a hangover.

I recently heard a story of a man and his wife. They were arguing about some matter I cannot move myself to remember. Tempers were flying high and words that I cannot type here were exchanged. They were hurling themselves at each other’s throats, when the wife received a text. For the moment, they called a truce, for she backed up and pulled out her phone. No sooner had she started reading the text than she began smiling, ever so sweetly, her girlish charm all over the place. Suddenly, her phone shut down from low power, and she went off too. Breaking the peace treaty, she threw the dead phone at her innocent husband’s head. They are in court now, him having filed battery charges, if you get my drift.

A friend of mine related her texting experiences to me. Some were wild and out of this world, and it took everything to pick my jaw from the floor. Others were plain and lackluster.She blamed the plainness fully on her text-mates, almost all of whom were male, dismissing them as dull, ignorant bloke-heads. She confessed to me that she keeps charting new waters, finding new mates to text when the ones that she has have told her all there is to be told. Sometimes, she said, she has to “put herself out there” and hunt for her mates, for the men of today are cowardly. Being a man, I shifted awkwardly in my seat, but she took no notice, for she went on and on, dismissing us as all bark and no bite.

I was curious to find out what she talks about with her “mates,” and why she likes it so much. I boldly put forth the question, disregarding boundaries and limits, and eager to show that I bite as furiously as I bark. She told me that each man is unique, and is comfortable around his own topics. The secret, she confided, is to know which buttons to press. Yet there is one thing that nearly all men like to talk about. Here, I held my breath; for I like to talk about food, and being somewhat ashamed of it, I wanted to hear that all men, after all, are foodies like me. Alas, she disappointed me. Sex, she blurted out, after a dramatic pause. Sex, and the things around it: drugs and parties and such like things. The men do not know it, but they are puppets on a string; for as soon as the topic is introduced, oh how they dance!They yearn to talk about it, but cowards that they are, they skirt the issue, hovering around it, like eagles flying above a lonely chick, endlessly debating whether to swoop down for the killing or wait a little more.

I could not sit calmly while members of my sex were thus treated. I clenched my fists and,shaking them in the air, I claimed that surely some men sincerely enjoy talking about how their day was, about religion and life after death. Yet even as I spoke, my voice quivered, as of a school-boy giving an excuse for unfinished homework. Indeed, tears formed in my eyes, for all the while, my lady friend kept smiling, the way a mother would smile at the innocence of her child. When I was done speaking, she contented herself with laughter, then told me that men of my kind are few; that all who talk about their day and other trivia, do it merely to fill the silence, while they wait for the lady to risk the first move. The few bold ones, she said, talk about trifles while using them to test the waters, find out how deep they run, checking whether it is safe to risk crossing them.

Whether her words were true or not, I cannot tell. As for my part, as I have said above, I can go on and on about food, and the straightest way to my heart is through my stomach.Feed me, or suffer yourself to talk about food, and you will have all of me. Apparently, the way to other men’s hearts is through their -well, through other channels that I dare not mention here, because, maybe, I am a coward after all.

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