People are always telling me to man up. Man up this, man up that. It gets tiring.
When I die, instead of playing my carefully chosen soundtrack, they will play audio clips of people shouting at me to man up.
And it is always about the strangest things.
Yesterday it was about soursop. Nkem was trying to get me to eat soursop. I have never eaten soursop, can I take a minute to think about it? “No!” She yelled, “Man up, eat some soursop.”
One time, I was waiting for the train with my housemate, Jimmy. Biting cold wind howled through the station.
I dug my hand into my backpack and brought out a stick of lip balm, dab dab dab on my lips then I smacked them together.
I pulled out a travel sized bottle of hand lotion and squirted some on my palm.
Jim looked over at me, lubricating my hands. He scoffed and pulled his hands out of his pockets, they were dry and ashy. He flexed his fingers and dead skin flaked off them.
He said, “Punk ass lotion. Man up, nigga. Real men don’t moisturise.”
I went to visit my cousin. I stood beside her in the kitchen, holding my plate with one hand, then two as she continued to dish food into it.
“Just say when,” she said, but she refused to stop when I said when.
She wrapped her fingers around my biceps, and said, “How much do you weigh? 15 kg, 20? My baby weighs more than you, that is why you can’t carry him. Man up, put some meat on your bones.”
Then she heaped some more food on the plate. I nearly broke my back carrying it to the table. It took me two hours to finish that meal.
I am home on the couch, controller on my lap and my game is paused. Jimmy is on his way to the gym. He goes to the gym every day.
“Yo son, when are you going to man up and hit the gym with me?”
“Never. Can I get back to my game?”
But his words get to me and when he leaves, I tilt my head so the tears don’t fall on my controller.
That weekend, I sign up for a kickboxing class at the gym. Kick, kick, punch, punch, knee, knee. It’s all cardio.
The next time he goes to the gym, I’m already there. He passes the glass front of the class, staring in as he walks by. The look on his face is disbelief.
He is waiting for me in the lobby when the class is over.
I limp to him. “That was a good workout,” I say as I touch my stomach gingerly, “I think I pulled an abdominal muscle.”
He leans in and says “Look, I don’t know what the hell you were doing in that room with the old women, but you gotta quit that shit and man up to some weight lifting.”
Jimmy used to eat a lot of meat. At any outing, he would order their largest meat dish, sit back, settle into his chair and say, “32 ounces, baby. I’m not going to mention names, but I bet this steak weighs more than some people here.”
Until one day, after a medical checkup, his doctor told him to cut back. Now at restaurants, he gets the caesar salad with little strips of chicken sprinkled into it.
He would push the thin leaves around his plate with his fork, and expecting his tune to be different, I would look up from my meal but no. He would say, “I tell you, you gotta man up to the salad.”