‘’Kaodi love? Kaodi, are you in here? Ike? I-ke?’’
It was Nkem’s voice bouncing off the walls of the chapel as she called out our names urgently.
Ike stood up sharply adjusting his suit, just as Nkem walked down the aisle where we were seated all so very closely, having sighted us.
‘’What the h*** ; what is going on here?’’ ‘’Your bride is about to throw a fit out there, Ike’’, she sneered drawing the word ‘bride’ in her usual sarcastic manner.
I attempted to make an excuse for us but sensed that Nkem was having none of it. Ike took one last long look at me and walked on out of the chapel.
‘’We should stay in here for a bit before we go on out. There was a slight commotion outside from the bride and her bougie family. Your name cropped up a couple of times.’’
’’Why were you two even here? What did he say to you?’’, Nkem continued. ‘’You look terrible by the way,’’ she said trying to lighten the mood.
”Your lash extension is just about to fall off your lid”, she continued reaching for my face to adjust said lash.
She reached for her bag to retrieve a pack of face wipes and started wiping underneath my eyes. Why did I even bother with my make-up this morning? I would have come with my face looking as bland and tasteless as my heart truly felt.
I smiled limply at her. Drained, exhausted from this love that had given me wings to soar over the past few years.
‘’I shouldn’t have come’’, I mumbled. ‘’I thought I could handle this…I could bear to see him with her…I could carry the weight of loss and emptiness oh so gracefully like I always do…I could..’’ the tears came pouring again.
Nkem held me like my mum would have; clutching every bit of flesh her palms could reach like she was trying to shield me from self- destructing.
Then came numbing silence and muffled sobs.
Nkem pulled the car into my compound, got down and made her way quickly to get the door for me.
‘’I’ll quickly go bring some change of clothes and be right back. You shouldn’t be by yourself,’’ she said extremely concerned and still mumbling insults at Ike – she had done this all the way home first to my chagrin then to my amusement.
‘’No. Don’t do that. I need to be by myself. I’ll be fine.’’
She made to protest and we argued some more before she gave in, blew me a kiss and promised to call every hour to be sure I hadn’t ‘’killed myself for man’’ as she had jokingly put it.
She didn’t have to worry about that, it hadn’t even crossed my mind till she mentioned it.
‘We are getting a divorce in three months; please don’t let me loose you forever’’
If this sentence were a piece of paper, it would be so rumpled and weak from being turned around over and over again. I had mulled this over sideways, logically, up, down, nothing made sense still.
Why were they going to get a divorce? How was he so sure that this woman would agree to that? Was this a planned marriage? Why hadn’t I heard anything about it from his best friend Matthew?
‘’Matthew. Matthew. Call Matthew…’’, I hurriedly turned the contents of my clutch purse on the sofa for my phone and began scrolling frantically.
There was no answer after the first ring. Matthew always picked my call on the first ring even if he was too busy being a medical doctor at one of the specialist hospitals in Lagos.
I dialled a second time. No answer. Then it struck me. Matthew was not at Ike’s wedding. Knowing the dynamics of their relationship and watching them grow over the past two years had taught me that they were deeply committed to sharing and growing together. On the outside, they could easily pass off as brothers as theirs was a bond that went beyond the ties of friendship. Matthew would not have missed Ike’s wedding for anything in the world. Absolutely nothing.
Except there was something fishy going on.
‘’Kaodirichimma Miriam Okechi, what in the world are you doing?!’’ I was laughing and crying at the same time, wondering how my analytic and detective skills were suddenly all over the place over a man who had promised to love and stand by me his whole life but was no where to be found.
Why did we even bother with love? Searching for it, finding it, working tirelessly to preserve it, it was all one endless, tiring cycle of life that caused pain but somehow we couldn’t live without.
They say it’s best to love and hurt than not to love at all. Whoever those people were, they weren’t feeling the heart wrenching hurt, emptiness and emotional exhaustion I had been feeling ever since I got wind of Ike’s marriage to this girl.
When Ike and I had started dating, it took the entire first three months for him to convince me he loved me. He did all the right things. He opened car doors, held my seat, nursed me to health, pushed me to eat healthy when I let him, pushed me to better my career, my life, encouraged me when I was at rock bottom spots, held me when something hurt and I needed to cry and ‘cleanse my soul’, leave thoughtful gifts at my house or office, continued buying me flowers even when I told him it wasn’t Nigerian to give a girl a bunch of flowers.
‘’A girl is a girl, B. Anywhere in the world. C’mon! These cost a lot! And they are not returnable either!’’ I sensed his growing frustration and took the bunch of roses from him.
‘’So, now what? What do I do with them?’’
‘’Get a jar, pour some water and put them in the water.’’
‘’Will they die?’’ I loved the flowers. I had never seen anything as beautiful and as red, thicker than the richness of the colour of blood, the flowers had a life force of their own.
At first, it was nothing to worry over, when she started surfacing in the picture.
Ike had invited me to an end of year party at his office. He was also to receive an award and so, being the supportive girlfriend, I cancelled all pending activities that evening, and dressed in a killer red dress and with my face beat into many shades of awesome, I was off with Ike to have fun and support the love of my life.
I met Sarah at the party – skin gleaning like an untanned American’s, about four feet, pretty face and killer shape. She didn’t earn a second glance.
Like every other face at the party, hers was tucked into a long term memory file in the recess of my brain. I would recognise that I have met her before; where and when will be left to how predisposed we are to reconnect as acquaintances or otherwise.
Awards over, I was itching to leave. Ike on the other hand, had to meet with series of senior board members before he could leave.
‘’Anyone I fail to go shake hands with tonight will earn me a ‘pride-full’ tag faster than you can blink your beautiful brown eyes’’, he teased trying to ease my discomfort as much as he could.
‘’When can I meet your senior board members? They must all be suffering from some sort of character assessment deficiency; you are pride-full!’’
He burst out laughing drawing the attention of those at the adjourning table. Sarah was at the table too. Our eyes meet briefly and we both offered each other a weak, pretentious, smile and looked away.
Satisfied he had payed as much homage to his superiors as was allowed in one night, it was finally time to go. It turned out Sarah’s father was the one board member Ike respected utterly whom he rarely saw or spoke with. They exchanged pleasantries and made introductions and promised to work more closely and we all bade each other goodbyes like good people would.
There are a few things that drive me crazy in this life and one of them is feeling out of the loop in matters that I strongly believe I should know about. This was one of them. After the emotionally draining episode at the chapel, a fresh kind of rage and anger had filled my heart.
In the heat of the moment, I picked my phone again and incessantly dialled Matthew. He had to answer or call back if his phone was out of reach. I had to know what was going on.
A second in between my frantic calls, Nkem ‘s call came in.
‘’I’m fine’’, I said as soon as I answered.
‘’No, you’re not, Kaodi. There’s no need to beat around it. Matthew is here.’’
‘’I have called him a million times! Did he say anything? I need to speak to him, immediately. I’m coming over!’’
‘’No, no…He needs to see you. We’ll be at your apartment as soon as we can.’’
‘’What’s going on Nkem?’’, I asked fearfully. ‘’Why is Ike doing this to me? What is it that stands this Sarah girl out? Is something wrong with me, Nkem? What can she give him that I haven’t?’’
‘’Ehn ehhn ehn …that’s enough!’’, Nkem chided, ‘’Whatever decision Ike took, he took selfishly, with no thought about you, your feelings or your well being. I understand where you are coming from as there’s another woman in this picture. Focus. It’s not you, not even this girl! Ike is solely responsible for his actions. We’ll be there soon. Okay?’’
I nodded fighting off the tears again.
‘’Yes, yes. See you soon.”
The door bell rings and the door opens in quick succession. Nkem had access to my home. She only rang the door bell to alert me of her presence.
I’m still on the sofa. I haven’t changed out of my off-shoulder, knee length dress. My head is pounding from all the crying and I feel a bit disgusted with myself.
Matthew sees me and moves over to give me a hug while I remind myself I had shed enough tears for one man and for one day.
”What is going on?”, I asked.
Nkem was sitting beside me holding my hands like I was a bereaved newly wed ready to jump out and into the coffin of my beloved at the slightest chance.
”Ike is trying to secure ownership of a company owned by Sarah’s father. Sarah is the sole signatory to ownership after he passes – and he is terminally ill. As her husband, the ownership transfers to him as instructed by the dying man. Sarah’s never had the brains and patience for business.”
”So you are saying this was an arranged marriage?”
”Ike mentioned they were going to get a divorce in three months. Is that part of the deal?”
”No. Ike has made a huge mistake. Any plans to play a fast one on the Dikos’ will cost him his life.”
I slumped further into the sofa.
…….to be continued.
There are things words fail me to describe as aptly as they make an impression on my heart; the stealth view of a tiger as it charges for its prey in pangs of hunger; the look of a lion transversing between hunger and indifference as it watches you from the bars that hides its freedom at the state zoo; the workings of romantic love and how quickly it all fades away.
Love, The Quiet One