Warning: Adult content. Sorta.
This is a short story about a man who lost everything that a man can imagine losing and then gained something. It’s a short story because it’s ugly to dwell on this particular shortcoming of man. Rude, even, to turn it into a spectacle. To be fascinated by his misfortune like you would be by roadkill.
It starts in London.
No, actually, London came later.
It starts with me, at home, seated at the kitchen scrolling Twitter while thinking that I needed lemons. There was a burning conversation happening in the nook of Twitter where such conversations transpire. A guy with the handle @Ankal256 had responded to someone else’s tweet that had asked: What is the lowest level of being broke you have reached in your life?
@Ankal256 wrote: Due to Covid lockdowns. I lost my job in 2 months of seating at home…
I felt a sharp stab in my stomach, like someone had punched me with the sharp end of an ostrich’s feather. The cause of this was the usage of the word “seating” often interchanged with “sitting.” Mundane things like that sometimes gall me. But who am I to throw stones when I live in a glass house of words? So I continued reading…
…my savings got depleted. Couldn’t feed the family. Got an erectile dysfunction…
I sat up straight on my sit..er, seat.
…No matter what madam could do, I could not make the man to stand up. For four months. She started locking me out of the bedroom.
I’m sure you are invested too at this point, right? You know why? Because you are scandalous. And curious. And wounds fascinate you. I’m all of these. The chap continued on this thread about how he finally got a job and he is still with his wife. I started reading the comments because the story is always in the comments. A lady asked how the hell work is related to erection. Someone asked, you still married to her? A guy called Carlos was not amused, he wrote: he went back providing for an ungrateful woman after getting back on his feet? Textbook simp, someone shouted back. Another person suggested that the logical thing would have been to walk away from that wretched woman. You are providing for an enemy, they wrote. Imagine if it was the woman who couldn’t do it, would you still sleep in the same bed with her? Just asking, someone said. A chap with the handle called @The King, stood on a chair for those at the backroom of Twitter to hear and shouted: I’m not yet married but the moment I’ll do that and the wife shows me some negative energy I’ll leave that fuckin house for her and start over somewhere else. I’m a firm believer in resetting and starting over again. Plus madame hii dunia ni wengi. Just explore bro. And there was mass consensus to that. Yeah, to hell with this woman, man. Choose yourself, king.
On and on the menfolk came out bearing pitchforks and burning torches, demanding the woman’s head on a pike. Bring her out here! They demanded. Out with the ungrateful wench! And I kept scrolling down this great groundswell of indignation. This rich advice from men who have never been married and men who are married and macho men of Twitter who know exactly what to do in what circumstance.
I made tea. Then I DM’d the guy.
I said I was interested in that story. He replied, said it had been an emotional few days since he wrote that thread and he never appreciated the impact it had on him reading the comments, rethinking everything and most importantly reflecting on why he stayed or even why that is a good thing for him and his family. Yeah, I can tell you my story, he said.
He’s Ugandan, so we arranged a Zoom call for the following week because he’s some sort of auditor and gets busy.
First, his handle is a pseudo-handle. Nobody would be crazy to talk about Erectile Dysfunction using their own handle. It’s a sensitive topic. If you walked up to a man, held up an axe and said, “your arm or your libido” Most men will say, “here, just cut it right here, on top of the elbow. Long sleeve.”
Hell, I’d throw in the finger of my other arm as a tip.
The gentleman isn’t called @Ankal256. He is called Allan. [Not his real name, either] He studied statistics and economics but also has a postgraduate degree in epidemiology and Public Health. Before Covid came upon him, he had a great job working for a financial institution in a glass building on a hill in Kampala. He was everything his mom was proud of; ambitious, hardworking, the kind of boy who makes his bed when he wakes up. He had no problem providing for his young family. He could afford to sit in a bar and drink his Bell and watch football. He paid his black tax on time. He made enough to put away for rainy days. And rainy days were coming. Aren’t they always?
Then London came calling.
He got a job in the UK; a two-year contract. A great opportunity. So he sat down with his wife and they discussed this new opportunity and what it meant, because that’s what you do; you collaborate and you consult and you dialogue. They spoke at night, when the baby had gone to sleep and it was quiet. The wife nodded over her cup of tea cupped on her lap. “I think it’s a good idea.” So, then, it was decided. The bullet would be bitten. He would go to the UK and make that money and if there was a chance of renewing the contract he would. Then he would send for them and they would settle in Northampton or whatever –ampton people live in in the UK.
This was Feb, 2020.
He resigned in March.
He was excited. His parents were happy for him. The wife was hopeful that this could be the silver bullet that they needed to start a different life. His last day at work was 30th March. They threw him a small party. They toasted with paper cups and hugged him and wished him well. He put all his shit in a small box and for the last time he rode the lifts out of his old life.
The TV was already carrying this news about this virus, this flu from China. He thought it was something foreign, something that didn’t affect people like him. He paid it little heed. It would all go away. But then Covid came to Africa and there was panic and masks and borders hastily being closed and suddenly Uganda was locked down. Oh it will pass and I will travel, he thought hopefully. But then it didn’t pass. People started dying. The news got gloomier and gloomier. Weeks turned into months and he started eating into his savings to sustain the family. Before long his savings ran out and suddenly he was avoiding the landlord. The wife took over the responsibilities of keeping the family afloat.
“I was stressed out of my mind. I felt helpless. I was jobless and broke. I had a child and a wife who I couldn’t support. And at some point my wife took over the responsibilities of the home, paying the rent and buying food for the house. It gutted me. I was ashamed.”
The first time it happened he rolled off her and said “It’s never happened before.” Indeed it had never happened before. He couldn’t explain how suddenly he had grown soft, like a slowly deflating tube. She lay on her back, sheet pulled to her chin and he heard her say, “it’s okay. We will try again.” The next day he didn’t grow soft, he simply couldn’t get a rise. He tried, but it was like shooting pool with a rope. She lay on her back, sheet pulled up to her chin. She was quiet this time. The kind of stony silence that is so loud, it’s deafening.
“Is it me?” She asked. Grey light radiated through the curtain. He lay next to her feeling sorry for himself and for her for feeling like it was her fault. He says it wasn’t her, of course. “So what is it?” She demanded. He said he didn’t know. She asked how he could not know. He desperately wanted to explain to her that he wanted to, he really did, but his appendage seemed to think differently. It was lifeless, a liability, a stool with two-legs.
The next day he lingered in the living room for a bit, afraid to go to bed. Afraid that he would face his failures again. That his body would fail him. His heart raced. He took deep breaths to calm himself. To buy time, he double-checked the doors to make sure they were locked, checked the windows. When he entered the bedroom she was wearing something skimpy, something red and lacy and she was lying on her side with smoky eyes like a temptress. Her look was the look of sin. He felt panic and trepidation rise in him. He felt the pressure mount. “Let me brush my teeth and come own you,” he told her and she said, well don’t take too long. He did. He stood staring at himself in the mirror and willed himself. In bed nothing happened. She tried and tried but it was like resuscitating a mannequin. “I was crushed. My worst nightmare has unfolded; I was incapable of satisfying my wife.”
She took it hard. She no longer pretended to be disappointed. In fact, she was accusatory. Her questions sliced into him like shrapnel; you don’t find me attractive anymore? Is it another woman? He told her he was stressed. That he had a lot on his mind. She barely looked at him. She said not a word and he could feel a wall come up between them. He had read somewhere that some women prefer the intimacy of cuddling over sex, so he reached out to cuddle her but when he touched her it felt like touching the handle of a wheelbarrow. He could feel her coldness through her warm skin. “Are you mad at me?” He asked. She said she was fine. ‘Goodnight’, she said before rolling over, facing away. It was like a slap across his face. He was left to stew in this silence. He could hear her thoughts. He could hear her anger and frustration. They hummed from her. “Then she started crying. That was the hardest bit.” He said. He didn’t know what to do. He felt helpless and hopeless. The next morning she woke up early and she avoided looking at him. She never initiated sex again.
“A few days later, I stayed up late watching TV as I tended to during that time and when I finally decided to go to bed I found the bedroom door locked from the inside.” He didn’t knock. He spent the night on the sofa that night. The next day she told him that he was “no longer welcome in the bedroom.”
“By this time I was sinking into depression or had already sunk in it because, not only was I not able to provide for my family, I couldn’t also meet her conjugal rights. I felt ashamed and weak and hopeless.” He said. “I’d wake up in the morning and leave the house because we weren’t talking anymore, apart from stuff to do with our daughter. The house became small and unfriendly and a constant reminder that I was not man enough.” He felt like an outsider. Someone who was lodging there, a couch-surfer.
Every day he’d leave the house and roam the streets of Kampala – now deserted because of Covid – the whole day. He wondered how things escalated so quickly; one minute you are packed for the UK, next you are unpacked, jobless, your marriage on the rocks and a libido in the dumps. “Leaving the house made me not think, it sort of distanced me from my problems. I’d come back in the evening and she’d serve me food silently and then go to the bedroom. I’d stay up watching TV. The distance between us grew wider and wider with each passing day and I sank deeper and deeper in depression.”
Did you talk to someone?
“I couldn’t. What would I say? That I can’t satisfy my wife? That I sleep on the couch everyday? I carried great shame. Besides I know what people would tell me; Leave that marriage. Leave and go where? Back home? I would be the guy who left his family and moved back home.”
He had been sending hundreds of job applications and finally landed a job. It wasn’t the job, but a job. “I was very happy. Finally I would reclaim my manhood. Everything will go back to normal.”
So he became the man he was; paying rent and basically taking care of shit at home. The wife started coming around but his libido stood away cynically, arms crossed. By this time he had started reading about ED. “I read about men who had the same problem but who found alternative ways to satisfy their women. Toys.”
He joined Facebook groups under pseudonyms and learnt about the sex toys. There was a contact in one of the groups of a guy called Ranzioni who sold those toys in Kabalagala. He DMd him and explained to him what the problem was. He said, “don’t worry mukwano, I will sort you out. Your wife will love you again.” He bought one from him “but the challenge I had was how to introduce it to my wife.” By this time, the curfew had already been lifted, he had been allowed back in the bedroom.
He hid it away for a few days while devising a way to bring it up. (Sic). Which he did gently and in phases. “At first she was repulsed by the thing, she asked, what is that? She didn’t want anything to do with such things. She is conservative. She felt like a woman of good standing should not use such dirty toys. But slowly she came around. Toys saved my marriage.”
What they did for him was that it took the pressure off him, which allowed him to come around. “My libido came back but not as it was before Covid. I think the shame and insecurity and lack of confidence that I suffered is not something you come off immediately. I still worry before sex, will I fail to get an erection? Will I grow soft? I think it will take time but what is important for me is that our sex life is back on track and you won’t believe how that has changed everything in my home. Things are not as great as I would like them to be but at least my wife is happier and when she is happy the house just feels safe and warm again. I think the secret to a happy home with harmony is a sexually satisfied wife.”
I asked him why he stayed, after being locked out of the bedroom. He said, he doesn’t know. Then he said, “I couldn’t get out. First I have twin boys from a woman I refused to marry. That was a big blow to my family and me. Now I want this to work. At that point I felt like I would have been a failure so walking away didn’t feel like something to do. I think I did the right thing to stay.”