After Uncle Paul’s raucous laughter and Uju’s white dress coming brown at the hem from all that dancing. After Toju’s dark suit with its gold buttons and the blaze of orange and green wedding colours.
The bright lights dimmed, and then snuffed out. The mist seeped out. Strong winds gradually bent the tall blades of grass, parting a clear vista all the way down the savannah. The wedding ended, and the marriage began in the strictest sense of the word.
Toju and Uju both hailed from Delta state, Nigeria but had entirely different native tongues. Their marriage was one of two different ethnicities and likewise; personas.
Toju was quiet, calculating but could be given to sudden fits of anger; growing up for him had been difficult. Uju was demure, soft spoken and very much preferred to watch things happen; growing up had been much easier. To look at, Uju was five feet three inches – a head above her mother. She had great skin and good teeth.
Uju maintained flawless skin till she was about sixteen. A rash had taken over her back and left its mark. It left a neat array of spots under her right shoulder. The cause of the rash was her bunkmate – a junior secondary girl with a mousey look who had been very untidy. The girl had left her dirty clothing under Uju’s mattress for one week straight and “idle” germs strutted around till they found their way to Uju’s skin. A rash had broken out and pitched tent under Uju’s right shoulder after being harassed with antiseptics. Tried as Uju did, but seven spots from the rash refused to go away. As horrid as they were, those spots couldn’t falter Uju’s great looks. The remaining spots where forced together by beauty’s way into a perfect triangle; one on top, two right under and three forming the base. This would make six. The seventh rogue spot stood a little way from its brethren – about two inches off – but didn’t look out of place at all. When the rash hit, the early spots came out red spread over the whole of Uju’s back. When the antiseptics kicked in, most of the spots disappeared leaving the “lucky seven”. These seven spots stayed red for a while, turned pink and then went black. For years Uju tried to take her skin back by applying various beauty solutions. The spots drained some of their black and looked green being put on a back drop of Uju’s fair skin.
So it was that Uju had the nicest looking spots. Green and gracious; right under her right shoulder. Twenty seven years old and married, Uju turned heads with off shoulder dresses. Everyone always said ‘I love your beauty spots’. Someone once added that she looked like an angel with one wing.
In many ways Uju had lost her wings. With flawless skin, (almost flawless skin) picture perfect looks and immaculate manners one would have loved to put her up on a wall. Her face with its button nose, slits for eyes and full lips that came under perfectly chiseled cheekbones was cherub like. For added value when Uju smiled – really smiled – her eyes narrowed still and two perfect dimples jumped into place. She cut across as a nymph who would be expected to bleed milk when cut for all her tenderness and doll like features. Uju’s near perfection would be marred by men. Men who she was sure she loved but who she needed conviction that they loved her. Uju had loved only two men in her life. The one who had left her. And the one she had gone on to marry. Life with its penchant for problems had her old love threatening her new love and the institution of marriage.
To put a proper perspective on things, events from when Uju, Toju and Peter were all students of the University of Lagos should come to play. Peter had been in the picture from the very start. At the time when this story was beginning to form, Peter was studying engineering, Uju was majoring in English and Toju; estate surveying in the University of Lagos. Toju – the shadow of his rich cousin Peter; did not ask for handouts from Peter for pride. And Peter did not give them for greed. Toju’s father – as relations would allow – was the younger brother to Peter’s father. Peter’s father – Mr. Peterside had been the ex minister for works and housing under one of the short lived military dictatorships in Nigeria. That regime had lasted a year and half and in that time Mr. Peterside looted government funds and invested them to make an easy life for his generations to come. So while Peter grew around glitter and learned to have something you didn’t necessarily have to chase it, Toju grew up around rust where nothing got broken for fear of having to replace it.
Mr. Peterside – the ex minister wanted Peter Peterside close home for college so he got him into the University of Lagos quite easily. For Toju the University of Lagos hadn’t come so easy. His grace was an intelligent mind and the Peterside family name.
Peter came to the University of Lagos with the delectable Uju. She had lived round Peter’s way. Peter happened by as Uju tended to her mother’s garden outside the family home one morning. Uju’s house wasn’t as impressive as the Peterside’s but being in the same neighborhood made it okay. The Petersides bought over one of the bungalows in old prestigious Ikoyi, tore it down and put up something really impressive. Uju still lived in one of those bungalows; her father was given the house as part of his gratuity for serving as a top civil servant after thirty five years.
As Peter happened by that morning, he came round in a dark blue Mercedes Benz. The year was 1994 and there weren’t that many around; especially the European car maker’s 1993 model. Peter was eighteen at the time and looked like he had just driven out of the car’s magazine add in the gentleman’s quarterly magazine.
Driving by what Peter saw was enchanting. Water from the sprinkler hose splashed over Uju matting part of her long hair to the sides of her face. Uju was oblivious of the driver of the car but could not ignore the car itself. Compared to her father’s Peugeot 504 it looked like it was for outer space. Uju’s beauty called out to Peter, so he drove down the road made a u-turn and came up the street again. A bit slower this time. Now it was Uju’s to ogle. She had wondered why she hadn‘t noticed the boy before.
Peter had been in England studying for his Advanced Levels Certificate and was glad he came home for the holidays. He immediately fashioned out ways to meet Uju and get to know her. Eventually meeting they found out they would both be attending the University of Lagos that September.
At that same time somewhere else, Toju was growing up. In between bus rides and odd jobs, he was trying to get into the University of Lagos. It was going to take more than brains to compete with the children of rich technocrats so he had to work extra. When in, Toju saw Uju and at nineteen or at ninety he felt she was what he would always want to stand next to. He wanted more than her looks. He wanted her smile, her tears; her good and bad years.
Peter and Uju were the “it” couple during their start at the University of Lagos. They looked good as individuals but great together. To everyone marriage was imminent.
Prestige had put Peter a notch up in the equation. He had more money to burn and people at his beck and call. It wasn’t long before “people” started spitting poison in his ear. Why have one when you can have two……or three; he was told and Peter began to listen. This was a small matter really, up till when Peter started drinking. For all other vices could have been set straight by Mr. Peterside.
Youth and its sense of immortality had Peter hitting the bottle hard. Everything Peter saw was in a daze. He began to go through girls and this began to take its toll on the ‘it’ couple. Soon the ‘it’ couple became the ‘it’ guy.
Mr. Peterside’s wave of his wand turned Peter’s Benz to a BMW with a healthy six cylinders for his stay at the University of Lagos, fueling Peter’s flight of fancy. Peter Peterside came out blazing on all cylinders, not caring who he hurt. Pressure bursts pipes and Uju began to leak at the seams.
It was a hot night, Peter had been invited to a party an invite only party and this usually meant he could get about four people who were not on the list in with him. This one time he asked Toju along. Let him see how the upper class did it. Toju was well aware of Peter’s purpose of asking but knowing that Uju would be there had its pull.
Like all parties where good money is spent; there had been good music, too much food and more than enough alcohol. Uju’s intake of enough alcohol to douse her recent woes had her kissing one of Toju’s hangers on. She had never intended for it to get out. She was feeling frail and wanted so bad to hang on to someone. Toju saw and was distraught. All he ever wanted was standing over in a dark corner being unfaithful. Uju had seen Toju staring at them out of the corner of her eye. She had pushed herself away from her partner and walked straight to Toju; eyes never leaving him from across the room. She walked up to an inch from him and breathed “Don’t tell Peter”, turned away coyly and left the party.