I paced around the room, my palms were sweaty, I was running late. I stared at my huge afro weavon, and slid a brush through it. I applied oil sheen, massaged, and pulled the tip up to give it a bouncy look. I wondered if this is the kind of hair I should wear. Wasn't it too obvious? Too flamboyant? I applied Mary Kay foundation, carefully pressing the puff on my skin, making sure it blends well; what was more embarrasing than having foundation run in a line on ones face - so callow. I hesitated for a minute; should I use the red or pink lipstick. I went with red, afterall I should look like a woman that is ready for marriage, pink seems too girly. I had wanted to wear my peach coloured christian loubiton pumps but I changed my mind, it was too expensive. I settled for my low heeled 'no designer label' ballet shoes. I wore my Gucci wristwatch, I didn't have to look like a guttersnipe, and of course I wouldn't want to be labeled a Gold digger.
I was going to attend Nneka's wedding. She was my course mate in the university, that was eight years ago.
The best place to meet your future husband is at a wedding. It happened for my friends; Uju, Rita, Blossom, it would happen for me too, I prayed. I didn't use my car, not because it had a bad tyre or an engine problem: It was a strategy, what if I meet someone I like and he offers to drop me? I couldn't tell him I was with my own car. It would sound too independent; Nigerian men want to date independent girls they don't want to marry them.
Before I stepped out of my house, I declared, like my pastor says ' there is power in the word of the mouth'. 'Today, I am going to meet my soul mate, my husband, the man that will complete me. The lord will put my enemies to shame. My husband is waiting for me at Nneka's wedding. My desperate search for a husband must end today.' By the time I ended my prayer, i was vibrating and sweating like a christmas goat.
I entered a rickety bus from the Island to the Mainland. The journey lasted three hours 'in the same Lagos o!' I thought. By the time I alighted the bus, my waist was on fire, the holes on the road were no longer potholes they were tanker holes; so deep and big. The traffic was nothing to write home about; as slow as a snail. I felt cranky and uncomfortable as I moved with difficulty to an Okada stand. Thank God I didn't wear my pumps. I had forgotten what that side of Lagos looked like, even though I spent the first few years of my life there.
Saturdays in Lagos were not as busy as weekdays but they were the noisiest. Unlike weekdays when people were too busy to discuss, loiter, and waste unnecessary time, on saturdays people had time to waste and do unnecessary things, like the two women who stood on the road discussing the hike in the price of kerosine; In the middle of the road!
Even though the Governor had banned commercial motorcycles from plying the roads of Lagos, they were littered everywhere like mosquitoes on debris. 'God's own church' I said to one, scanning him from his dirty cap to his torn shoes; I had to make sure he is not Hausa, those ones can drive recklessly. Satisfied, I climbed on the Okada, feeling terribly awkward, I couldn't remember the last time I climbed one.
If any of the couple wedding is not related to you and you are not part of the bridal train, you don't attend the church service, it is just none of your business. I was an hour late for the church service on purpose.
I walked in slowly, peeking from the corner of my eyes to see if I was drawing positive attention. I sighted a gathering and moved closer, it was Nneka and her gap toothed, dwarf husband posing for pictures. My eyes scanned the gathering and I almost gave a loud hiss. There was no way anything good could come out from this wedding. All the ladies looked faded like old fake clothes that already had tiny holes in them. The men looked tired, tired of life in their rumpled oversized suits. What happened? I asked myself. What kind of people did Nneka invite to her wedding? Nneka used to be a happening chick way back in school. She was one of the finest girls in school and she had all the boys licking her feet and eating her shit, now look at her, in the ugliest wedding gown I had laid my eyes on - who wears satin these days? - thread poking out of the material. The desperate want for a husband had defeated her. She smiled, a strained smile as the photographer pushed her head into position. Her dwarf husband held her waist, his short hands barely reaching the other side of her hip. Apart from the colourless bridal train nothing was more hilarious than that. Nneka caught my eyes and gave me a grin so wide I felt it would hurt. I didn't blame her, I was the one bright thing in this darkness she had fallen into. When I got a chance to talk to her, she held my hands and begged me to stay. I wanted to ask her what happened, how she got here. She read the question on my face.
'Babe, you should understand how this thing works. I am already getting old, the older I get the worse my suitors are. I have decided to manage this one' she said, using her jaw to point at her husband who was posing for a picture with his page boy.
I walked to the reception and already at one corner of the medium sized hall were Yoruba women, I could easily tell from the height of their gele that almost touched roof, the bland gold of their shoes, their heavy jewelry that sat on their necks and hands, shining in the way fake things do,and their very black or very fair skin complexion; Yoruba people have intense skin colour. On the other corner, written in a card placed on the long table was 'Ada Igbo Association' I guessed they were Nneka's mother's guests. In a shattering contrast to the other side of the table, they looked dull with their identical brown wrapper that had the face of a man imprinted in it. No earrings, No make up, just plain middle aged women.
I settled in a chair after using my handkerchief to wipe it thoroughly for fear of dust. A fat bean faced guy sat next to me. I could see from the corner of my eyes that he was checking me out. The wedding began and the chairman of the occasion gave a speech. I glanced at the Order of programme menu regularly, hoping, praying that the wedding comes to an end so that I could run back to the solitude of my apartment on the Island, a place that wasn't polluted with the putrid smell of poverty.
'Who are you here to for?' the bean faced guy asked me.
I knew that there was no need indulging him, even though I was desperate to drop the cloak of singleness and find a husband, I wasn't Nneka, I wouldn't settle for a fat man with bean shaped face, atleast for the sake of my children. I got up gently and went to a vacant seat at the back.
Nneka and her husband danced into the hall. Her carton of a wedding gown sweeping the dusty floor as she danced, not with her husband, but with herself. I knew that feeling. It was her wedding and even though she was married to a short man who she did not love, it was still her wedding and she was going to enjoy it.
When they got to their seats, we all sat down, and someone was now occupying the formerly vacant seat close to me. I turned to look at him and I suppressed a smile, at least a bright light at the end of the tunnel. He was fair complexioned, I wouldn't call him handsome, he was decent looking, clean was the word for it. I borrowed the line of the bean faced guy. 'So who are you here for?' I asked. 'Chidi' he said abruptly. I wished I had stopped at that because what came next was heartbreaking for me. 'Beautiful wedding' I said. 'Yes, very beautiful, Chidi is my very tight friend, we live for the same yard'. He replied in a tangled mixture of English and pidgin coated with a terrible igbo accent. I hid my face in my hands and gave up. He tried to continue the conversation and I ignored him, pretending as though I was listening to the jabbering of the Comedian M.C who obviously had no jokes to tell. They couldn't even hire a good M.C.
It was toast time and we toasted to the a blissful life for the couple with no wine. I chuckled at the irony of the toast. The Nneka I know would give her husband nothing but trouble after this marriage, she was a volcano waiting to erupt, going about like a good wife but after the wedding everyone would see her true colour. That was what being single at 30 turned us to; Pretentious, frustrated girls.
I was served rice and malt, no juice, no wine, no cake, no desert. I had tried.
I was about to leave when a dark stately man breezed into the reception hall. I was some distance a way from him but I could smell his perfume; he was wearing Bvlgari, the expensive one. Alas! My soul mate. I watched him as he smiled at his friends exposing the whitest and most arranged set of teeth I have ever seen. I assessed him. My eyes went to his shoes, then his watch, his phones, his shades and of course his car keys. He was rich, a capable husband. I quickly removed my beauty weapons, I powdered my face, re applied my lipstick, straightened my dress and was about to walk up and ask 'Who are you here for?' When I saw him hunched over, talking to one of the yoruba women, his voice booming, he was speaking Yoruba, not in the way people that came to Lagos and learnt Yoruba speak it, but like a true son of the soil; ending every word with an exclamation and leaving his mouth open for a few seconds before going to another sentence. My last hope was crushed, he was Yoruba. A Yoruba man can't be my soul mate, I was a typical Igbo girl. My mother would slap me to my senses if I brought a Yoruba man home for a husband. That she had been sending me text messages every morning, asking me if I was an Ogbanje or a lesbian and didn't want to ever get married didn't mean I should take a Yoruba man to her.
As I squeezed myself into another rickety bus I wished I had come with my car.
Home had never felt so sweet, I crashed on my bed, tired, exhausted but not defeated. Next Saturday was Ifeoma's wedding, maybe this time I would be lucky. My pastor had told me at the beginning of the year. 'YOU MUST MARRY THIS YEAR'. It was already september and I shall not deter because I MUST MUST GET MARRIED YEAR WHETHER THE DEVIL LIKES IT OR NOT.