There is a scent that follows me anytime I have a cold. But I can’t explain why it is here now. I don’t have a cold. Maybe it is because I’m nervous. Yes, that has to be it. My colds make me nervous around people. This is because of how embarrassing my sneeze has always been. It’s a high pitched sneeze always followed by a loud, involuntary snort that has plagued me since childhood. I used to get laughed at when I was a child, yes. Even up till now, I still get smirks from people. It has to be the fact that I’m nervous.
But why am I nervous? Is this not what I wanted? I look around me. I’m in her house. That’s where the knocking ceremony always is. The girl’s father’s house. There are two canopies arranged to face each other. One for her family, one for mine. It isn’t a big ceremony. Just a small one for both families to get rid of their children. The canopies were a terrible idea I think, as I run my handkerchief repeatedly over my face. There was as much heat inside as out, and less room for wind. I’m sweating profusely. On a normal day I’d joke and say that it was because I was about to give up my bachelorhood for a woman. But then today I can’t joke. Jokes are meant to be either untrue or exaggerated. This was no exaggeration. This was the real deal.
She was sitting between her parents, looking less pretty than the day I first met her. Had I been tricked by false advertisement? It was too late to find out. I smiled at her. She smiled back. My smile was only dutiful. People were watching. I didn’t love her, but that was for only me to know. Yes, I didn’t love her. Of course not. She was older than me by four years, and more successful, and when we were children she used to laugh at me. I don’t forget easily. I cannot remember what she used to laugh at. Just that she used to laugh. Now I had to pretend to love her for the rest of our dying days.
This wasn’t supposed to happen—my marrying her. This was only a correctional measure. Two months ago, Cecilia had come to me pregnant, claiming that the baby was mine. Knowing Cecilia, that baby probably had about five different fathers. That girl, she’d open her legs for just about anybody who had a third leg and could smile. But then she threatened to go see my uncle, and I panicked. My uncle was no fool to believe any story, but these days he had been pressurizing me to get married and would probably have made Cecilia marry me. The choice was simple. Better marry a woman who used to laugh at me, than get laughed at by the whole community for marrying a woman who had seen more beds than a roaming mosquito.
So here I was, bearing gifts of kind and cash, about to marry a woman I didn’t love. But I’m sure other men have had worse reasons. I look at her again. She is looking at me. By me, my uncle rises, walks to the front of our side of the canopies, and in a bid to call for silence cries out his loudest, “Agooo!…” I smile at her.
The smile I have plastered on my face reminds me of the time when I was a child and it was my 18th birthday. That day had coincided with an event at the National Theatre that all my friends were going to, and where Thomas had promised to give me a birthday kiss if I came. I hinted to my father for weeks that that was where I wanted to be during my birthday. I’d never been kissed before. And Thomas was the guy I dreamed about. It would have been the best birthday gift.
We spent the birthday at the bedside of my grandma who had suffered a stroke. And later on that night, when my father had asked me whether I had enjoyed the day, I smiled and forced out a joyful “Yes!”
That’s how I felt like. My conscious effort to keep the smile on my face nearly had me forgetting to respond to the greeting the old man had just thrown at the two families.
“Amɛɛ…” I mutter.
I looked at my future husband again. Is this what you are marrying, Awo? Is this who you would spend your life with? His shirt was half covered in sweat, and he had a permanent wrinkle on his nose as if he couldn’t stand his own scent. He had a goatee. Lord knows I hate goatees. We are going to have to work on his image. Shave off the goatee, make him look presentable if he is going to be my husband. This man was a gold mine, no doubt. He may not be worth much now, but that his uncle he always tagged along with had a factory on the outskirts of town that would be his one day, by customary law on their side. That’s why I’m marrying him, I reminded myself. Not because I love him. If there had been other suitors, I wouldn’t have even thought about him. I had allowed for myself to get older, while entertaining thoughts that one day Thomas would come marry me. And as you get older, the suitors all drop off one by one. Till you cannot get to make a choice anymore. But I’m okay with this man. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be compensated. And I will still be happy, anyway. After all, Thomas will still get to see me. Unfortunate that we couldn’t get married. But he had to marry someone else because of his father, who was a chief. But he still swears that he loves me. And I believe him.
I smiled, aiming the smile at him. But it wasn’t him I was smiling at. Thomas was on my mind of course. The funny thing is, my goat of a future husband smiled back. If only he knew…
“…My dear brothers and sisters, we are all gathered here on this day, for a simple cause…to help in the writing of yet another love story…”