A summer day in June with a cloudless sky, the sun blazing hot and a light breeze was the perfect day for a wedding. And in the large cathedral off St George’s street, sat wedding guests who had come to grace the nuptials of Philip Igbene and Ann-Marie Ayeni.
Perhaps it is to be expected that at a lavish society wedding like this one, the guests – who were of course, wealthy, influential people of high social standing – would turn out in the best of their finery. As a matter of fact, they did. Women decked in shimmering emeralds, shocking scarlets and burnt golds with their headgears a fanciful production that fanned their faces like the Halo of an Angel. The men too were not left out in the display of ostentation. It wasn’t every day that the daughter of one of the most prominent politicians in the city got married to the son of an equally influential business man. And on days like this, one had to appear in their best if they had any notions of identifying with the right class of people, climbing the social ladder and making a connection or two.
The parents of the bride sat at the front row of the left pew, beaming with pride. Chief Ayeni was particularly glad that his scatter-brained daughter had done something right for once in her life by agreeing to marry Philip. Ann-Marie, named after her Grandmother, had a willfulness that was appalling for a female and a recklessness that was twice as dreadful.
The first time he told her he’d found a young man of ‘high prospects’ for her to marry, after she obtained her dentistry degree, she’d objected vehemently, listing goals she wanted to achieve before she got “shackled to a man”. Goals, his foot. At twenty-two, the girl was a menace to herself and it was high time she got busy with domesticity and babies before her reputation got worse. When he’d threatened to cut off her trust fund if she didn’t oblige, she’d looked at him calmly and said “Fuck you, Dad”.
She didn’t duck nor wince as he slapped her, just ran her fingers over her cheek with a bored look and spat in his drink. Then grabbed her car keys and fled the house. He’d stood there in rage, wheezing and chest heaving, until her mother came to calm him down; muttering platitudes about how Marie was ‘her Father’s daughter’ – she took after him in her fieryness.
When a week after her dramatic departure, she still hadn’t returned, he remained stoic and refused to share in his wife’s worry. Ten days later, he made good on his threat and froze her trust account temporarily. Mainly to stop his wife’s mutterings and prevent Marie from doing something stupid. Sure enough, she’d showed up at the house a few days later, not in the least bit contrite but at least she stopped cursing him out. He’d arranged her and Philip’s ‘courtship’ and he liked to think that the two had gotten along so well that love had bloomed. Never mind that Marie had been openly hostile to Philip on first meeting and that he’d had to constantly remind her of his control on her trust fund to keep her in check.
All in all, everything had worked out just fine because here they were, ready to tie the nuptial knot.
This marriage, if given the right nudges, could prove to be a powerful alliance for him. It would guarantee his entrance into the topmost elite circle of the city; providing a leg-up in furthering his political ambitions. A stout, black man with shrewd, hawk-like eyes, he had dreams of becoming the President; thus, every card had to be dealt right.
The air was steamy and Mrs Igbene wished she could quench her taste with an ice-cold Martini. Or perhaps jump into a cool pool to remove the thin sheen of sweat gathering on her body. She was the mother of the groom, however, so gentility and decorum were expected of her – to say the least. A few feet away, stood Philip looking dapper and handsome in his wedding suit. Her Philip, the one person in the world who mattered the most to her. She had once been worried about his fondness for alcohol and his womanizing habit, but she brushed those worries aside now; a wealthy lad had a right to sow his wild oats, didn’t he? Since he was set to inherit his father’s business empire, it was important that he behaved and looked respectable.
She was glad he was finally settling down with a suitable young lady. If Marie seemed a little fickle to her, she chose not to dwell on it. The girl was from a good family; she’d settle down into matrimony just fine. She blew air on her face lightly and wished Ann-Marie would hurry up. A wedding was once in a lifetime, granted, but the girl was taking an inordinate amount of time.
An hour passed and the bride still hadn’t arrived. Guests began to shift restlessly on their seats. The clergy men on duty looked impatient. The heat was mounting and a loud murmur could be heard above the soft music that played beneath. A man in a black ensemble tapped Mrs Igbene and motioned for her to come with him. When she looked askance, he whispered “It’s urgent ma’am”.
“What’s the matter?”
“Your attention is needed in the catechist’s office.”
She pasted a pleasant smile on her face and walked through the rows of Guests to the rear of the cathedral.
“We can’t find Marie” the man said as soon as they entered.
Lord, in heaven, whatever was happening?
“You can’t find her? Nonsense! I saw her myself yesterday doing that insane body twisting you young folks call dancing at the engagement party. What do you mean you can’t find her?”
“I was supposed to drive her to the cathedral this morning once she was done. I waited and waited. Two hours after the scheduled time, Her Chief bride’s maid came to inform me that she was nowhere to be found.”
“Where’s the Bride’s maid in question?”
A young woman with heavy make-up piped up. With her breath coming in short, agitated pants, she told unsettling news.
Ann-Marie, the bride, had run away.
P.S. This is the first part in ‘ A Lily for Marie’ – The Runaway Bride Series. Second part’s coming soon!
They both stagger into the room; he, chanting the lyrics of afowómutí, and she, slurring incoherent words. I curl up in my corner, and shut my eyes so tight that they hurt, but it’s better than watching them act out their drunken lunacy.
I hear them fall heavily on bed with a thud, and although my eyes are closed, I can see her laying on the bed, legs spread wide apart, and him, laying atop her, slipping in and out of her, just like those hot afternoons when he started visiting, before he finally moved in. Those afternoons saw us, Deji and me, sitting behind the window, listening as groans and moans unite and then, burst into rattles of maybe, satisfaction.
It all started last year, five years after Baba’s death, when Mama started to consider her friends’ advice to get a man to warm her bed and assist her in training us. I hate it when those friends of hers come over here to fill her ears with gossips and stupid advices that overflowed with spittle from their large mouths. I hate their nightmarish, nature-cursed bleached skins that stink so much that I almost see ‘putrid’ written on every part of their bodies.
-For how long will you stay without a man?
-I wonder o, abi your body is firewood?
-You need a man to take care of these boys o, you know two heads are better than one.
-Beeni, these boys need a father figure in their lives, if not, they will become wayward and your husband’s people will blame you.
In this particular order, advices rained for five years until Mama got a man, because two heads are better than one. Yes, the man who ensures her bed never goes cold, and also, father figures us. The man who blessed her drinking habit with a terrible progress, and also, introduced her to gambling. Yes, the father figure we have to feed with the peanuts we make from hawking, and also prepare his bath water every morning, because he, as explained by Mama, is like our father.
As they both trumpet like elephants in the name of snoring after their noisy flesh merging, I wonder if their two heads are better than any at all.