Across the table she looked at me from time to time, making me to feel so self conscious that I did not even know what the food tasted like. I tried my best not to look at her often, but each time I risked a glance at her, I found her beautiful honey brown eyes fixed on me. I finally resolved to focus on the fufu and egusi I had before me, but I couldn’t still enjoy the food the way I wanted to.
Maybe it was because I still did not know why she had treated me—of all people—to lunch. Did she think that I was unable to feed myself? Yes, I’ve been sent out of exam halls a couple of times since our first year in school because I didn’t pay the school fees on time, but that was not enough for her to assume that she was Jesus and I was the five thousand. I decided that that reason was too off the mark and tried to entertain another thought.
Did she need my help in her academics? I had to stem a bubble of laughter at that particular thought. If anyone needed my help with academics, it sure wasn’t her. Chikwado Machie was one of the most brilliant girls I’ve ever come across. It was a given that if I ever missed a step in my academic race, she would be the best graduating student, a title I fought for with everything I had.
Why then did she take me out? I knew for a fact that she would never give anything for free. Rich people never did that. For people who had more money than God, nothing would always go for nothing. What could she possibly want from me?
“Don’t you like your food?” she asked suddenly, “it’s getting cold.”
“Huh—I… uh… the food is wonderful. Thank you,” I managed to say. I couldn’t understand why I was so self conscious around her. Yes, we hardly talked in class, but I’ve always been able to talk to anyone regardless of his or her status. Anyone except her. She had the easy grace and confidence that only wealth could bring. It also didn’t help that I was madly in love with her.
That last part was a source of constant pain and confusion for me. One one hand, I disliked her pompous and high-handed attitude; she was always going around in class, poking into people’s businesses, asking for those who had financial problems and things like that. She was the perfect pretender—always acting as if she cared for her classmates, but I knew that she was secretly enjoying the pedestal life had placed her on.
Then on the other hand, I couldn’t stop thinking about her oval face, her deep eyes that held untold secrets; I stared at her lips as she ate: they were sensual with the upper one slightly bigger than the lower one. I never thought I’d fancy a dark girl, but she was different; she seemed to glow and exude barely acknowledged sexuality. I guess part of my dislike of her was that I was way below her league, there was no way she could see me that way.
“I want you to marry me,” from the heights of my reverie, I heard her say.
Thankfully I didn’t have anything in my mouth, or else I would certainly have choked on it. Nevertheless, I looked at her morosely and I knew that my mouth was wide open in astonishment.
“Excuse me?” I whispered in shock. “What did I hear you say?”
“Thank God you heard me then. I don’t like repeating myself.”
“Is this some kind of joke? Why would you ask me to marry you?”
“Because I need to get married in the next forty-eight hours,” she said, staring at her fork.
I let out a derisive chuckle. “I never thought you were the type to get married anytime soon.”
“Normally, I would not have. But things are not exactly normal. That is why I need your yes.”
“My yes? Excuse me, lady, I do not even know why you want to get married to me of all people and you want me to say yes?” I asked with a little steam. “What if I do not fancy you?” Liar! my mind screamed at me.
“Six months ago, my father passed away, and he stipulated that his will would not be read until six months after his death. Yesterday it was read and he proclaimed that if I wanted to inherit his company, I had to get married within two days after the will was read. Now, I seriously need to get my hands on that money,” she narrated without taking her eyes off mine.
“And you want me to marry you? How’s that my business?”
“Look, I know we are not exactly friends,” she began, “but I really need this. Call it a favour. And you can divorce me after five years, of course with a suitable settlement.”
“But… why me?” I croaked, overwhelmed by what I was hearing. Yes, I was in love with her, but marriage to a stranger in two days? Could I do it? She was incredibly rich (or would be if I agreed to her proposal), that would make me very rich too; I could finally wave goodbye to poverty.
“Would you say yes if I told you that I’m crazy about you?” she asked with a sly smile. “Honestly, there are few guys I’ve met who I can say are as principled as you are. That is primarily what I need. Of course you’re really hot. I do not want to get married, but if I’m going to be coerced into doing it, I might as well choose the person I want.”
I thought of any other objection, but they all sounded lame in the face of what I stood to gain from marrying her. What else could I ask for? The very girl I loved was asking me to marry her, how could I ever say no to her? We still had one more year before we would graduate, maybe it was time to settle down.
The restaurant was suddenly still, it was as if the whole universe was waiting for my reply. I sighed, looked directly into her eyes, held her hands and said with all truth in me:
“Yes, Chikwado. Yes, I will marry you.”
The old man finished his tale and his children who had been listening with rapt attention, sighed as if they had eaten a very satisfying meal.
“In the fifty years I’ve been married to your mother, we’ve had issues only three times. I can remember them because we rarely had any problems. She turned out to be the best thing to have happened to me. I was in love with her before we got married, but after our wedding, I grew to cherish and adore her with everything I have in me.”
His son, his first child said, “You and mother had such a wonderful love story. It’s very hard to imagine such a thing happening now.”
“How I wish I could have a love story like that,” his daughter added.
“No, my dear. Do not wish to have a love story like mine. Pray that your own love story be beautiful in its own way. Because every love story is both unique and special,” the old man said.
“It’s a pity that mother has passed on,” the boy said, trying to hold his tears.
“My children, your mother is in a better place. Her work here is done. And she gave me the best gifts before she passed on—she loved me and we both gave birth to the both of you.”
“We love you, father,” the two young people said in unison. The old man embraced them, closed his eyes and smiled at the image of his wife that came to his mind.