They stared at me, the looks on their faces were eager, expectant, hopeful. I stared back at them too. On my face, however, you could see shock, anger—and above all else—betrayal. I felt like they (alongside karma) have conspired to betray me. It took all I had in me not to jump on him and tear him into shreds.
“Dad, are you not going to say anything?”
“I … I … well…” I stuttered. My brain must have found the whole episode utterly strange that we both couldn’t find words to describe how I felt.
Then he spoke up. And I had to pin my hands to my sides to stop myself from lunging at his neck and snapping it into two. He wore a jubilant smile, like someone who had won a ticket to heaven. I knew that his smile might have been genuine and without any form of mockery; but as I looked at him, I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me of clowns. You know those men with painted faces who wore plastic smiles that were very creepy? Exactly. I felt like he was mocking me all the time his perfect dentition flashed at me.
My daughter, on the other hand, was all over him. She would look at me, and then stare at him with eyes full of wonder and adoring love. It made me sick. She had tucked her right hand inside his left hand; it felt like a beautiful rose that was put inside a brown, dirty box.
“I really love your daughter, Sammy,” he said, “with your permission, I would like to marry her.”
And he just had to call me that name. This man had no shame. If he did, then he would know that for him to address me as ‘Sammy’ meant thy he shouldn’t have been here, holding the hand of my only child, and spewing out rubbish like a refuse pit that has rejected its contents. I don’t know if he thought that by calling me that name, it would endear him to me, but it only intensified the gross feeling of betrayal I felt.
Chidiebere, my daughter looked at me again. Perhaps she has started to understand why I found it hard to say anything. It was all too shocking, all too annoying. But I had to say something. So…
“I’m sorry, Ebere, but I can’t give you my consent. I can’t watch you marry someone who is twenty-eight years older than you,” I finally stated.
Immediately, I saw the light in her eyes dim. Tiny crystals of tears formed in her pearly eyes, and I knew how much I was hurting her. But I also knew that I had to deliver that particular hurt. It was like a bone-setting procedure: it would hurt during the whole process, but later, you would be grateful for the pain that made your bones to be well again.
Without as much as a word of goodbye, she stood up and left, with the man in tow. Two days later, I saw on her Facebook timeline that she had gotten a court marriage. It made me wonder if she already knew that I would not give my consent to their union; and so she probably had made arrangements for a court marriage.
She was really like her mother—God bless her soul. Her doggedness and resilience were just the same as that of the woman who had been my everything. It took me down the dark, lonely and oftentimes heartbreaking road called memory.
Back in school, Nnedi had been my best friend. She was one of those girls that were full of life, full of love, that it made them popular and larger than life. She knew almost everybody and almost everybody knew her. She was the daughter of a state commissioner then, but she never dwelt on that. If you see the way she would sit down with us in our lodge then and drag the bowl of garri we were drinking, you would wonder if she didn’t get the taste of the wealth her father had. But that was how she was. Simple, kind, full of warmth and mischief. And utterly beautiful.
One of the problems with having a girl as your best friend is that, supposing you develop feelings for her, it would be almost impossible to let her know. You would be forced to choose between two difficult choices: tell her or not tell her. Each one was fraught with its own pain. If you told her, automatically things would change between the both of you. In most cases, she would not feel the same way, and then you find out that your relationship would be strained. With time the both of you would fall apart. It’s also possible that she might feel the same way about you. But then, making the transition from ‘just friends’ to ‘lovers’ can be quite difficult. Sometimes things that weren’t a problem before you started dating would suddenly become thorns in the flesh of the both of you.
Then there’s the situation where you don’t tell her. You would be forced to watch her date other men, many of whom you would be suspicious of. You would have to give her relationship advices, and console her when her heart gets broken.
Well, in my case, I decided not to tell Nnedi. I knew that the probability of her returning my affections was low, and I couldn’t find the courage to gamble our friendship because of my feelings.
In her third year in school, during the time I was in my final year, she fell in love with Emeka. They were the perfect couple, and anytime I saw them together, a dagger would be driven into my heart and then it would be continously twisted till I saw them no more.
Luckily for me (and perhaps unluckily for them), his parents were against their relationship, and being the kind of person she was, Nnedi decided that they were better off separated than to be in a relationship that might be detrimental to them in the future. In her words: “Family is everything. I don’t want a situation where he would be forced to choose between them and me. And I don’t want to know his choice.”
Immediately after my youth service program, I proposed to her. I had come to realize that I could not bear to lose her to another man. She had shouted: “What took you so long!” before saying yes to me. I was twenty-five when we got married and she was twenty-three. I had recently gotten a job in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture and my salary was enough take care of us. Within a year, our daughter, Chidiebere arrived. And with her came a wave of paternal emotions I never knew I possessed. After her we tried so many other times to have another child, but we were destined to have only one.
Then suddenly, I was picked up and locked inside a deep tunnel, where I never came out from. It happened on the day my daughter turned fifteen. My wife, Nnedi was hurrying home to prepare for the surprise party we were planning for our daughter. But she never made it home. At least not alive. She was in a traffic gridlock when a fuel tanker fell and she died in the resulting inferno.
Her death was threw me into a world of grief that was encompassing. I didn’t fight the grief. Instead I welcome it and made it my friend. I took grief for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I showered with grief, and went on long walks with grief. If I stepped into my car, grief would shut the door and sit beside me, most times it would decide to play her favourite songs on the car’s stereo.
I woke up with a start, and realized that I had been sleeping. I picked up my phone on my chest and stared at the picture of my daughter in the arms of Emeka. The next picture was that of them kissing passionately. I felt the all-too-familiar anger rising within me again. And with it was sorrow. Before I knew it, I was laughing. As I continued laughing, I saw the sick sense in all of it. Emeka had loved Nnedi very much, but then his family had been an obstacle in their union. Now, twenty-five years later, he was married to Nnedi’s daughter. Maybe he was destined to have a part of Nnedi in his life. And if that’s the case, who am I to object to their union?
As that thought started growing in my mind, I found out that perhaps that was what Nnedi would have wanted; maybe she was the one who had in some strange, supernatural way orchestrated the whole love affair. And as I mulled over this, the bulbs in the room flickered and a cold gust of wind blew into the room. There was only one explanation—Nnedi was there, watching me, loving me even in death.
Then I dialed my daughter’s line. She picked up on the fourth ring. “Hello, Dad?”
“Hello dear. I just saw your wedding pictures,” I said into the receiver.
“Uhm … well … Dad, it’s not—” she was saying but I cut her off.
“Give the phone to Emeka.” She obeyed instantly. I had deliberately made my voice cold.
“He-el-lo,” Emeka stammered.
“When are you coming with your people?” I asked, smiling.