Beads of perspiration slide down the collar of my cotton shirt in measured movements. Stubborn furrows formed on my face as if they were exacting a debt. Every wry smile finished in a sullen grimace. Five times I have adjusted my bow tie in three minutes; every shrieking sound congealed my blood. You would think I was waiting for my sentencing but actually it was my wedding.
I have finally taken Mother’s advice. My son, she would say in the middle of grunting about my insistence on her using fork to eat rice, you have to turn your life around. Turn around this life of wine and women. I took her advice and turned my life around. Now it is women and wine.
Sleep fled my eyes on my wedding night. I had not completely figured out what most men thought about on their wedding nights. I believe most worry if the food would be enough, if the caterer would remember that pepper isn’t a seasoning, if the booze would go round, whether the best man wouldn’t get himself so drunk at the Bachelor’s party and forget the ring. I know of a wedding where they had to delay the service because they couldn’t find the best man. He called hours earlier that there had been an earthquake and he’d been buried in the rubble. The idiot was found in his own basement smelling like what the goat had urinated upon.
A simple piece of paper captured my thoughts. It was known by the unflattering name of guest list. No, it’s not that kind of worry you may think – the kind where you are at a dilemma whether to omit Uncle Thomas name because he has a bad history with alcohol or Aunty Janet who fought the Umuada over the intestines of a goat at your grand father’s burial. My own worry was which of the girls I had dated and dumped in the past might be remotely related to any of the invited guests. The world is still a small place, right?
I couldn’t shake off the silly dream I had last night. At the alter, my bride and I were going through the rites of exchanging rings when a squad of riot policemen stormed in with Rukayat, a girl I dated and dumped in University with a court injunction to stop the wedding. I woke up with a startle; I would have muttered prayers only God and I are not exactly on speaking terms.
My apprehension eased a little when the ceremony began. I called Amaka to ensure that she and her bridal train were ready before I called the Minister. I didn’t plan on any delay her make-up could cause fouling the Minister’s morning. Amaka’s make-up box had more colours than the local paint shop. Besides, as it is, my cup of woes has runneth over. Yes, God might have overlooked my previous indiscretions but to keep his anointed waiting while Amaka put on makeup would be pushing my luck. And then it was in His House – all my other follies were committed in my house, a brothel, or the undergrowth behind the Science lab on campus.
It was impossible to be calm in the Toyota Camry we were in; Jude, my best man and Emeka the little groom and me. While we waited to be ushered inside, I took my time checking the faces of the guests trooping in. Jude was sending instant messages on his Blackberry to the girl that had come to deliver the flower that morning. Emeka was eating his bow tie. His white gloves were already brown and a button was missing from his tuxedo yet the ceremony had not even begun. At this rate, either his shoes or the poor girl that had the misfortune of being the little bride would be missing before the end of the ceremony. All the boys in the world, they got me a tout for a little groom.
Soon Amaka and her bridesmaids were herded inside after we had waited ten minutes sitting on the front pew looking like convicts. Her father held on to her arm a little too tight as if he was already regretting the decision to give his daughter to me. The grimace on his face was not on account of the solemnity of the occasion, I’m sure he wondered what he was thinking when he agreed to give his daughter to a dweeb like me. I made a huge impression the first time they invited me over to their house. I offered the old man a cigarette minutes after he informed me over dinner that he had a bad heart. I don’t blame him; I’ll regret giving my daughter to me.
Then we were called up the alter as the ceremony went underway. The sermon had way too much energy; I suspected the Minister shared in my father’s in-law’s misery. The family had been one of his regular worshippers and their offerings moved mountains. I was taking one of the daughters away to be my wife, the most pious one, me, who can’t even find Leviticus in the bible even if my life depended on it.
While I perspired away like a goat that escaped lynching from an irate mob, the idiot that called himself my best man was ogling at one of the bridesmaids. Big head, round face and hollow eyes, she had boobs the size of watermelons. You would think Amaka would pick someone her size for the bridal train; no she had to pull all the stops. Big boobs, fat heads, round faces, it’s like they were carted off an assembly line. I pitied the men who would take them home to meet their mothers.
Amaka was going to be my wife. Tall, slim, oval face and crimson eyes, smiling like a portrait. That smile; it’s the reason I asked her to marry me. Okay, a fundamental part of the reason. Her father had a bad heart but a healthy bank account. We had been dating for four years but I proposed two days after I stumbled across her father’s bank statement in a garbage can.
At the time I had Bisi who slept over most weekends. Her voice was hoarse like that of a person who swallowed a crab. She was studying Mass Communication and hoped to be a broadcaster. Of course I know that no sane producer would allow her near a studio with that voice, even if deaf people are allowed to become radio programme producers. But I couldn’t tell her that; I am a gentleman.
There was also Rachel, the daughter of ‘Mama Calabar’ who operated the canteen my colleagues and I had lunch in every afternoon. It was the kind where you share your meal with a gang of ruthless flies that harass you at every turn. You direct your morsel of Eba with one hand and engage the other hand breaking apart the assembly of cantankerous flies that have invaded your meal. She had green eyes, curly hair and light-skinned. She was sent back to the village in Oron, when her mother’s accounts just wouldn’t balance. By then, I have had free lunch for almost two years.
Then there was Judith whom I meet in a friends place. The arrangement was simple. She wanted a husband; I wanted to know what a 30o hundred pounds bosom felt like. She was desperate to get married but marriage then was not on my “to do” list. We parted on a dramatic note. The police had to give her a restraining order.
There were many others too I cannot recall at the moment. Back then it seemed my only purpose in life was to serve as a warning to others. When I was a teenager my mother teasingly called me “Lady Killer” because I grew up handsome, with a boyish grin and a sweet tongue. Who knew it was a prophecy; two girls have had themselves stabbed over me thus far.
Naturally, I was fidgeting and staring back at the door every now and then, praying the Minster would skip to the part where we say “I do”. But the Minister was just getting warmed up. Amaka must have noticed me fidgeting, so she pulled me closer,
“Are you ok, Honey?”
“Of course,” I mumbled staring at my wristwatch and the rear door.
I sat at my own wedding like a condemned criminal awaiting sentencing. As precautions, I didn’t use my first name on the wedding invitation. I dug up Kayannene, a stupid name my grandfather gave me one night he came home drunk and discovered there was one more litter. I had also changed my job and my accommodation – even I had contemplated faking my own death!
The benediction dragged on. The Minister talked about the sacredness of the marital bed and the joy of raising God-fearing children. Cut the crap- already! I doubted even widows can vouch for their husbands’ whereabouts every night. And the reason most men still call their wives “darling” is probably because they can’t remember their names anymore – what century was this man born in for Christ sakes!
Finally, we took our vows, exchanged rings and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Minister asked the pointless question they all ask at wedding ceremonies, “If there’s anyone who has a reason why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever remain silent.”
Suddenly the door burst open and in comes a loud-mouthed, very pregnant teenage girl clutching a five-year old boy who kept screaming “Daddy!” the moment they stormed in. The girl was screaming ten minutes worth of curses amidst a threat to call her lawyers!
I stood there, mouth-agape, vacant eyes on a face as guilty as sin; like a scarecrow in the middle of a corn field.
I woke up the next morning at Reddington Hospital, with my mother and sister sitting by my bedside. There was a slight bulge on my forehead and it ached badly. My eyes were heavy and forlorn. I felt listless, almost as light as a strand of feather. I had been in coma for twenty-four hours and a furnace was lit in my head.
“What happened Mama?” I muttered opening my eyelids to the stern, neon lightening. The room smelt of disinfectant and had the aura of death about it.
She told me. Amaka had asked if it was true that I had a son and I said I wasn’t sure. She slapped me so furiously I fell and knocked my head against the lectern. She left the ceremony screaming a day’s worth of curses and ordering God to deal with me. The paramedics were moving my body when the girl took a good look at me and said she made a mistake.
She had been drinking.