Deep in the African Congo lives one of the most vicious parasites known to man – the Tsetse Fly. With a single deadly bite, it sends scores of demonic minions into your system. Then come the headaches, confusion and insomnia and the weakening of your central nervous system.
But don’t get too comfortable in your high fortress thinking it cannot reach you since you’re nowhere near the Congo Basin. It can and it probably has.
Picture this, you’re at a (insert social engagement here). You’re standing beside your husband making polite conversation. Your hair is behaving for once, your dress gets a few compliments, you’re looking and feeling great. Everything’s perfect, except the tsetse has set its eyes on its unsuspecting victim – You.
It flies over to you as soon as you make eye contact. Its compound eyes are lined with kohl and mascara. It has a string of fragrant jasmine flowers in its hair to throw you off its scent. Its antennae are smoothed down into a neat chignon. A round maroon bindi adorns its forehead. Its thorax and abdomen are bedecked in gold jewellery and a silk brocade saree.
You hardly suspect anything because it is pretending to be someone you know! The Tsetse fly is a master of disguise.
“You’ve been married for five years and still no baby? I know a great doctor who fixes..erm..you know..problems. You’re not getting any younger, dear. The clock is ticking and fast, tick tock, tick tock”. It taps its watch to emphasize.
The tsetse sticks its proboscis in your personal life. The venom is now coursing through your veins. You could try explaining that having a baby is not on your mind yet. You’re not sure if it ever will be. That the prospect of becoming a parent scares you. But the narcissistic fly loves the sound of its own buzzing over any other voice.
Your blood boils, you want to say something scathing, but the venom is making your brain foggier than the Golden Gate Bridge on a summer day. Your tongue is in knots. A weak smile is all you can manage. The tsetse, having done its job, flies away in search of its next victim.
I see it again after a few years. This time it is wearing a stiff grey business suit. It is sitting in a conference room on the other side of the table, looking at my résumé with furrowed brows. Its expression suggests that it has eaten something really unsavory for lunch.
“I cannot ignore the 3-year gap in your résumé. What have you been upto?”
“I was a stay-at-home Mom”. I am quick to add that I’ve tried to keep myself current despite having been out of the workforce.
“Oh, so you were on an extended vacation, hahaha! I’m joking, of course”.
My face is hot. I want to scream that it was my conscious choice to be a SAHM and I’m not going to apologize for it. I want to scream that motherhood is a far cry from a vacation. I want it to hear my forlorn cries during those dark months of postpartum depression.
But I smile. Later, I kick myself for not saying anything, for not walking out of there. But the deed is done. I also don’t get the job. Double sting.
What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and swat its mouth shut with a clever quip or an incisive reply! I have a million witty responses in my imaginary conversations with it, but I can never come up with something when I most need it. I am doomed to be tongue-tied in the face of sarcasm.
But in my calmer moments I realize that a smile is perhaps the most elegant retort. The tsetse may sting, but it can never look beyond my cool exterior. My skin may smart and my blood may boil, but it will never know that it got to me. And that, is my biggest victory.