Our fearless reporter Anne, recipient of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Totally Legit Award for Really Really Cutting Edge Journalism (TLARRCEJ), has recently turned her focus towards women’s issues. She has heard reports of a remote rural village whose women are plagued by a peculiar problem, and she’s on the case like… something that’s on a case. As she has successfully done in the past, Anne will use her sheer brilliance to enlighten these unfortunate victims and lift them from their plight, and bag the 2015 award while at it. We join her as she sits down to interview Skolastika, a wife, mother of 7, and inhabitant of the village. They sit facing each other a short distance away from Skolastika’s neatly plastered mud house. Under the branches of a broad tree in the middle of Skolastika’s compound, a pair of pants sits on a chair, reading a newspaper.
Anne: (adjusts microphone, nods to the cameraman) Good afternoon Skolastika. Thank you very much for allowing me to interview you.
Skolastika: It’s no problem. Although I’m still not sure what you wanted to talk to me about. Your friend wasn’t very clear when he reached out to me.
Anne: (smiles compassionately and nods) I know it’s a very sensitive issue and talking about it may be taboo, but I want you to know you’re safe with me. If you want, I can hide your face and modify your voice so no one knows it’s you talking when the piece airs.
Skolastika: (pauses, slightly confused) I don’t know whether that’s necessary, but do whatever you see fit.
Anne: Don’t worry, we’ll protect you. Let’s start with some simple questions then. Do you mind telling me your name?
Skolastika: You know my name already. It’s Skola.
Anne: It’s not for me, it’s for the audience.
Skolastika: Okay then, my name is Skola.
Anne: Going with a generic diminutive to obscure your identity. Smart. So what’s your profession Skola?
Skolastika: (the look of confusion increases) I don’t have a profession.
Anne: Yes, yes, but what do you do to provide for your family?
Skolastika: Everything I can.
Anne: Everything like what?
Skolastika: Sometimes I clean people’s houses. Sometimes I cut firewood and sell it to the neighbors. (smiles and sits up, dignity in her spine) I’ve even joined a women’s group and I’m planting vegetables now too. I hope to sell them at the market next week. My children are all in school, and the eldest will finish high school this year.
Anne: (turns her face to the camera) Wow. All that. (looks at Skola) You should be commended.
Skolastika: (confused look returns) For what?
Anne: For all that you do to provide for your family.
Anne: Because it’s commendable.
Skolastika: (leans forward and tilts her head, looking at Anne curiously) Why? Is it polite to do so? Do people in the city commend each other for every normal duty they perform?
Anne: Well, no… but… Never mind. What does your husband do to provide for the family?
Skolastika: He is.
Anne: He is what?
Skolastika: He is there to provide for the family.
Anne: But how does he provide?
Skolastika: By being.
Anne: (tries to keep impatience from creeping into her voice) Being what?
Skolastika: By being there to provide for the family.
Anne: I don’t understand.
Skolastika: What don’t you understand?
Anne: What is the role your husband plays in the provision of food, shelter, clothing and money for the continued survival of your family unit?
Skolastika: So many English words. (laughs) I’ve told you. The role my husband plays is the very important role of being there to provide food, shelter, clothing and money for the continued survival of our family unit. (smiles broadly) Have I said it right?
Anne: (smiles impatiently and dismisses the topic with a wave of her hand) We’ll get back to that. How did you meet your husband?
Skolastika: I don’t remember. In the village at some point, probably. I always knew him.
Anne: And what drew you to him? What made you view him as a suitable romantic partner?
Skolastika: I don’t understand.
Anne: What made you marry him?
Skolastika: He seemed fit to be a husband.
Anne: Tell me, have you ever seen your husband?
Skolastika: (laughs heartily) You ask strange questions, Ms. Anne. Of course I’ve seen him. He’s over there under the tree, or can’t you see him? (jerks her thumb in the direction of the tree behind her) Maybe you should see a doctor. (looks at Anne with genuine concern) I’m beginning to be a bit worried.
Anne: Skola, I’ll repeat what I said earlier. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but you don’t have to be afraid. You can talk openly with me. Let’s break it down a bit. Can you describe your husband to me?
Skolastika: (Looks at Anne like she’s insane) Fine. Okay. Let’s see, He’s a man, and he’s manly. Also, he’s quite masculine.
Anne: Skola, you’ve not described him. I know you’re scared. Just try and work with me here.
Skolastika: What? Seriously? You can see him over there! He’s the manlike man over there! The male!
Anne: (stands up and walks to Skola, then gets on her knees and locks eyes with her) Look at me Skola. (holds Skola’s shoulders using both her hands)
Skolastika: I am looking at you. (looks like she wants to cry)
Anne: Are you with me?
Skolastika: I am.
Anne: I want you to turn your head and look at your husband.
Skolastika: (She turns her head) I’m looking at him.
Anne: You see a newspaper.
Anne: You see a pair of pants.
Anne: You see nothing else.
Anne: Your husband is a pair of pants reading a newspaper.
Anne: (stares at Skola) And?
Anne: (violently shakes Skola’s shoulders) YOUR HUSBAND IS A FREAKING PAIR OF PANTS READING A FREAKING NEWSPAPER!!
Anne: (stands up, takes two steps backward, and collapses into her chair, deflated) You know that.
Skolastika: Yes. I’m confused. Why are you so agitated? Isn’t your husband a pair of pants reading a newspaper? Almost everyone’s is, around here.
Anne: (sounding drained) I’m not married. Wait. (strength returning to her voice) Are you happy with him? With the role he plays?
Skolastika: Quite happy. He’s a very good husband, as husbands go. He does husband things very well.
Anne: Husband things like what?
Skolastika: Like reading the newspaper. And being.
Anne: (starts to sound defeated again). I hate to ask. Being what?
Skolastika: Being there to play the role of husband.
Anne: Does he just…. sit there all day? Reading the newspaper?
Skolastika: Yes. Except when it’s raining. Then he’ll go inside and read the newspaper. (her face brightens) Ms. Anne, I think I understand what the problem is!
Anne: Enlighten me. Please. Do.
Skolastika: I hadn’t figured it out before. It’s because you’re from the city. You’re wondering how I’m still married to my husband, knowing that he’s a pair of pants reading a newspaper. Where you’re from women don’t have time for pairs of pants reading newspapers. I’m right, aren’t I?
Anne: Yes! (gets animated) That’s exactly it! (conspiratorially) You could leave, you know. You deserve better.
Skolastika: (smiles patiently at Anne) I could. And what would the difference be? I’d still wake up every single day to do the exact same thing I do now.
Anne: (leans back in her chair, placing the back of her head on the backrest, and stares at the sky for a while before muttering) Well, yes, that’s probably true. But… you could also… you know… if you…. (her voice trails off)
Skolastika: (laughs) You’re such a typical city woman.
Anne: (says nothing, keeps staring at the sky)
Skolastika: You mentioned you’re not married. There’s a nice young man I could introduce you to, if that’s okay with you.
Anne: I’m done here. (rips microphone off lapel, signals for the cameraman to stop rolling, gets up and begins to walk away.)
Skolastika: (calling after Anne) Is everything ok, Ms. Anne?