WEDDING GUEST

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Today I saw Mfoniso, a girl I used to be interested in. She had blossomed in ways I never imagined she would. The curves in the right places, amplified by the sharp cut of her sleeveless dress, and a surprisingly perfect flat belly, it’s rare to see those these days.

I had gone to celebrate with my PHD coursemate, to show my support for him as he’d done for me at my wedding. He’d been one of my groom’s men, traveled into Oyo State, and stayed the weekend at a hotel. It was my wife who suggested I do the same; stay at least a night in Asaba, and attend both his traditional marriage ceremony which was yesterday, and church wedding, today. I had not seen Mfoniso at the traditional wedding, probably because of the crowd.

Her large round eyes were the first thing that drew me to her. It was in a restaurant, I and a friend were having dinner. She kept looking over her shoulder, towards the door. Those eyes, beautiful, but disturbed, scanned the room again and again. After half an hour, I told my friend I had to speak to her. When I slid into the seat beside her, she leaned back and hugged herself. Her eyes met mine and held my stare, we stayed in that lock, studying each other in silence. When I spoke, my voice was low, strangely so.

She never did tell me why. Why she was that way, who she had come to see, and why she had agreed to have me, a stranger, drive her home. On the journey to her house, I discovered she was here for her youth service, an Akwa Ibom girl, she corrected me when I said ‘Oh, you’re a Calabar girl’. Those round beautiful eyes had given me a sharp look, then as she explained that Calabar was in Cross River and Akwa Ibom was a different state, she had the disgusted look of someone tired of stating the obvious.’The most annoying people are the ones who call me Igbo,’ she had said, ‘Igbo states are in the East, I am from the South for God’s sake.’ Her voice had a melody to it, and it surprised me to learn that she wasn’t a singer. Those plump lips and perfect voice made a great combination for a star singer.

A month after our first meeting, when I asked her to be my girlfriend, she told me she was in a relationship. That he was outside of the country but they spoke even more than persons in the same vicinity. I had envied the young man. My friendship with her continued and on the night of her POP, her last day as a corp member, we kissed. A deliberate kiss. I didn’t know what to make of it, why she had come to visit me, why she hugged longer than usual, why she slanted her head, giving me the green light to do it. As if she’d known it was the foremost desire of my heart, from the first time I set my eyes on her.

Ten years later and she looked even more beautiful. I scrambled for a spot at the back, a deliberate attempt to avoid contact with her. I was scrolling through my phone, searching for my wife’s picture when I heard that familiar voice.’Tolu! Mehn! All this beard! Wait, do you gym? You look so….’ Her voice trailed off, and her eyes did the talking. Those wide eyes moved from my face to my chest and though I wore a two-piece, I felt naked. They moved to my hands and she took my right hand into hers, I giggled, an embarrassed sound, I didn’t know what to do.

When those eyes met mine again, I knew I had to do something. I raised my left hand to my chin, brushing off nothing in particular. Keeping it long enough for her to notice the ring. I don’t know if she did. She didn’t say anything about that. She took the empty seat beside me and kept staring at me. ‘So, you know the groom?’ I asked after an exchange of pleasantries. She nodded. Then shook her head abruptly and said ‘Not the groom, the bride.’ I laughed, and she did too, and her chest bounced rhythmically as she did. I looked away from her, at nothing in particular. My right hand caressed my wedding band and I forced myself to think of Itunu. Mother of my three boys, wife of my youth. I imagined where she was at the moment, probably teaching the boys and preparing for her board meeting on Monday, I always admired that about her.

Mfoniso’s hands shook my shoulder and I turned.

‘So will I see you?’ I blinked and she added ‘At the wedding party?

‘Oh no, I have to go back to Ibadan, I’ve missed my wife for one night, I can’t stand another without her warm flesh close to mine.’

She laughed but it was awkward because I didn’t laugh too. I also didn’t plan on leaving Asaba that afternoon. Itunu had said I could spend another night if it was late. I couldn’t. Not with this development. Two hours later, when I whispered to the groom that I’d be leaving, he had probed to know why the sudden change in plan. When I told him, he teased me, that I was not strong enough to resist. He’d stay and avoid her if he was in my shoes. After all, I’m a Pastor, are Pastors, not the strongest men? I patted his shoulder and left.

I didn’t tell Mfoniso where my hotel was, but I had a nagging feeling she’d find out. Just as she did with where I stayed. And I still don’t know how she had known. Maybe I was weak for leaving, maybe nothing would have happened. But I made a promise to Itunu, to God, that I’d forsake all other women, and I wasn’t ready to gamble with that decision, not today. Not ever.

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