“Beloved, we are gathered…”
Sekou was shaking. He was grateful his suit was several sizes larger his size, so it wasn’t so visible. His palms were slick with sweat; he couldn’t wipe them on his trousers anymore, or they’d start looking moist, like he’d wet himself. He did, incidentally, feel like wetting himself. Be brave, Sekou.
“The two families have been waiting for this glorious day..”
The man’s voice sounded miles away; he couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in his ears.
Sekou, be brave. It was his mother’s childhood mantra. He would come running home in bruises, after the older neighbourhood boys had beaten him up or after someone in class had confronted him and he’d fled. His mother only ever had that to say. Fight back, be brave. He never did. He had hated himself for it all his life, but he could not bring himself to stand up to anyone, always taking the conciliatory way out. If anyone so much as raised their voice at him, he cowed, and spent the next few hours burning with mute resentment.
And here he was now, unable to run, unable to do anything but stand waiting. He’d been instinctively throwing panicked glances at the front pew where he knew his parents sat, but he wasn’t wearing his glasses; it was all a blur.
He was not prepared for this. He was not ready to be married, and especially not to this woman.
Why was he still here?
The belch of the organ swelled in volume all of a sudden, and the procession entered, his wife-to-be demurely walking behind two flower girls, hand in hand with her father. She looked beautiful, Agyeiwaa. She’d collected ridiculous sums of money for the dresses and cakes and whatever else she’d gotten (“12,000? For a dress?” She’d coldly replied with,”You don’t know anything about weddings, do you?”) and left him in quite a bit of debt. The dress wasn’t worth 12,000 cedis, but it was certainly flattering, with the way it lightly emphasized her curves. He thought he heard a few whistles from the back where his cousins sat. He would’ve been amused another day, but today his face was taut with fear. He wasn’t hiding it. Grooms looked emotional when they saw their brides approaching sometimes, he knew, so perhaps they’d ignore it, applaud him, even.
Agyeiwaa would know, though. She was halfway across the hall now, and her face was veiled, but he knew what he’d find when he took off the veil; a disappointed sneer. Was he really marrying this woman?
Agyeiwaa walked leisurely down the aisle, head modestly downcast, watching the grey petals thrown on the carpet ahead of her. She was aglow. This was her day! Her wedding day! She looked around; it was perfect. She hadn’t gotten round to selecting the organ piece and it sounded gaudy, but she could forget that because everyone’s eyes were on her dress, and the cathedral was the one she’d fantasized about since she was 8, and her father looked so happy it was silly.
Everything was perfect.
Her eyes finally rested on her fiancé. Sekou looked like he was waiting for his death. That was fine. It could ruin your mood to be walking down the aisle to a man who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, but Agyeiwaa had always been nothing if not pragmatic. One took what one got in life. He wasn’t the most courageous man, but he was smart, and he would succeed. He’d even been romantic back when he was trying to get her to sleep with him. She wasn’t bothered so much; they had the rest of their lives. He would learn.
It had saddened her a bit that fate had saddled her with a weak man, but she was not greedy. She knew how lucky she was that everything else had fallen into place. Now, look at her, 2 months pregnant, marrying a successful man in the making, well on her way to a stable home. She wasn’t completely sure the baby was his, but what did it matter? One did not take a woman to bed unprepared for all possible consequences. So he’d accepted her proposal (after begging, shouting, threatening, everything, really, to get out of it) and now they were almost married.
She stared at his terrified face through her veil, and smiled a little pitying smile. More and more, recently, she’d wondered how it would be, always so afraid of life. She sympathized with him, loved him, even. He was a spineless fool, but he had a way about him. She thought of how her uncertain past was clearing up into a clear future, and her smile widened into a grin. She wanted to break into dance.
Sekou had been truly brave in his life just once, the night before. What he’d done made him physically sick just thinking about it, but earlier that day Agyeiwaa had attacked him again for money, shutting down his protests with taunts about his manhood. He’d seen a picture of what the rest of his life would be; day after day of aggressive demands, pushing, draining him of his money for herself and soon for a child he was sure wasn’t his, for the entire length of his life, till he broke down and died of misery.
So he’d manned up and did the brave thing.
But here she was, still, gliding to him like a scepter amidst the chatter in the church. She was still here. He was so frustrated he almost felt like crying.
She stopped and turned to face him, head slightly bowed. He bent and lifted her veil. For a second her beauty rocked him, contempt and all.
“Who gives away the bride..”
“Does anyone have any reason..”
The priest spoke and he went through the motions, woodenly.
Agyeiwaa’s stomach rumbled, and she pressed her hand to her abdomen. Was it the food she’d eaten this morning? She would sue the hotel if she had an upset stomach, today of all days. She hadn’t even bloody ordered for the food.
“We shall proceed to the vows. Kindly take out the ring, my son. Please repeat after me.” The priest turned to Agyeiwaa.
“I, insert your name…”
“I, Agyeiwaa Aduhene,” her voice shook a bit, like she was scared. Agyeiwaa never sounded scared. Sekou look more closely and saw her face was coated in sweat. Her eyes were getting bloodshot.
“..take this man, insert his name..”
“Take this man, Sekou Adidi..” She felt dizzy, and her throat was clenched. She opened her mouth to speak, and all that came out was a whisper. What was happening to her? “I..l..” She was swaying now, unable to stand. Sekou reached out and held her by the waist, curious. The people were shouting now. Her family was on their feet, and her mother made to come forward, but he held out his hand. He was a doctor, he would take care of this. She sagged into his arms, little moans of pain escaping her. Whatever was happening to her was taking effect quickly. He checked under her eyelids and alarm clouded his features.
He shouted, “Someone get a car out!” but he knew it was futile, as the priest hoisted up his robes and run outside. The sides of her mouth were beginning to froth. His heartbeat skyrocketed. Her skin was turning clammy in his hands, and he looked around for something to help, knowing there was none. He raised himself up into a crouch, holding her. Tears flowed down his face, tears of self-disgust and relief.
Agyeiwaa’s throat felt like a demon was sitting on it, choking her to death. She kept gasping for air, her eyes wildly looking for help. Her husband was holding her, uselessly crying as usual, doing nothing. She was trying desperately looking for some way to communicate that he should do something, anything, when she realised his mouth was not twisted in grief. He was grinning.
The shock took out what little air was left in her. She tried to squirm out his grasp, but he held her firmly, looking to the rest of the world like he was protecting her.
She’d assumed one of her bridesmaids had ordered the food for her yesterday, so she’d taken just a little so she wouldn’t be bloated in her dress.
It wasn’t possible; Sekou did not have the balls.
But she looked into his eyes and saw the truth. She used the last of her strength to try and shout at him, but her throat would not oblige her. Darkness overcame her.
Sekou held her till the shudders and squirms stopped, and watched her lips struggle to mouth, “Coward!” before the lights went out of her terrified eyes. Her entire face was inflated. She looked horrifying, and the contrast to how beautiful she’d looked earlier almost amused him.
Yes, he was a coward, but this was the bravest he’d ever been, so he didn’t mind. Everyone was on their feet, most of them just looking confused at how quickly things had progressed. He slowly shook his head. “She’s gone. I think..I think she was poisoned. What did she eat? Oh my God,” his face crumpled. The hall erupted in noise; everyone scrambled to get out or get to the body, shouting, wailing. He processed all of this apathetically, the weight of the body straining on him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her mother faint back unto the pews. He gently lowered her to the floor, shutting her eyelids. He remained there in a squat, his mind ringing with a cyclone of thoughts. It all slowly quieted to one.
He wanted to break into dance.