(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Fourteen, bedecked with jewellery borrowed from sisters, aunts and cousins; made up with dark kohl and pink lipstick; grim-faced from lack of sleep; my heart everywhere but here.
But I kneel as I have been asked to, kneel in front of my brand newly-minted husband, offering him a drink from the calabash of palm wine. But my eyes are turned away from him, hidden from anyone underneath my veils, and desperately searching the crowd for the love of my life.
But he is not here. How can he be?
The tears come to me then, rising from a deep dark hole in my soul, spilling down my cheeks quietly. They are bitter, salty, corrosive but do nothing to ease the ache in my heart.
The future is doomed, I say to myself, because I cannot imagine a future without Audu, the very best friend I have ever had, the one I daydream waking up besides, the one who knows me best.
But I had known that he wouldn’t be here. We are all wrong for each other, had been from day one, and my mother had always given him the evil eye when she saw us together. But she had been too much of an ally to have revealed our friendship to my father, who would have turned berserk that I, his precious daughter, soon to be married off into wealth, was talking to a boy without his permission, one who was from a chronically poor family as at that.
I was fourteen, more than ripe for marriage by the standards of my people. Audu was fifteen, too young by the same standards to be married. My father was the village chief, very influential, had been on Hajj, drove a Volkswagen Golf. Audu’s father was the village cobbler, the husband of three wives, the father of twenty plus children with no means to care for them. I had been briefly educated in the western way until my father said that the modernization was getting to my head and pulled me out of school. Audu was illiterate; his father couldn’t even afford to send him to the Koran school where boys learned to read Arabic and do minor sums.
But Audu was the love of my life, and he hadn’t seen it fit to come bid me goodbye as I became the wife of another.
My new husband is forty years old, husband to three already, father to twelve children, the only other person in our little village apart from my father who owned a car. So, it had been a good match, by my father’s standards. I had pleaded, I had wept, sorrowed, threatened suicide, asked for just one more year before getting married.
“To do what?” He’d asked. “Your mother says you’ve been a woman now for more than two years. You are going past your prime.”
At that moment, I’d wished I’d never seen a period, wished I had been born mentally handicapped like my immediate elder sister was. At least no one was pestering her to get married.
So, get married I am, to a man I have not even exchanged two full sentences with.
I swallow back my tears, hearing my heart crack and break into a thousand shards.
This is my new reality, I tell myself. This is life, and now the tragedy begins.