Today was Stephen’s happiest day and he just couldn’t stop smiling on this Saturday morning. He was so excited and couldn’t wait to get married. He was eager to see how beautiful his bride would look in her dress. As he stood before the mirror, his best man, Jeremiah and his friend, Rufus, who were both his colleagues in the army were with him on this special day. They were both moving around him, trying to fix his tie, his shirt and doing other necessary things that needed to be done. They soon finished having him all dressed up and Stephen turned to the mirror and brushed his nicely-cut hair himself.
Stephen was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Nigerian military while Jeremiah was a 1st Lieutenant and they had been best friends for nine years. When Stephen finished brushing his hair, he turned to his friends and best man and asked: “How do I look?”
“Like a handsome groom who can’t wait to get married.” Jerry (shortened form of Jeremiah) answered and Stephen smiled then turned to check the long mirror one more time to make little adjustments on his suit and tie. He wanted to look perfect on the special day and the happiness that filled his heart at the prospect of finally wedding the woman of his dreams radiated in his eyes and even made him appear more handsome.
“The cars are ready. We don’t want to be late.” Rufus who had just returned from outside said now and soon, the men-in-suit who consisted of lower-ranking soldiers filed out of the room and out of the house and got into the three decorated-waiting cars. Stephen, Jerry and Rufus got into the Jeep which was more decorated and while Rufus acted as the driver, Jerry sat next to him at the front, while Stephen sat at the back. As they began their journey to the church with the two other cars containing the men-in-suit in front, leading the way, Stephen could hardly sit still. He was so anxious that he just couldn’t wait to see Susan, his beloved, and he was so eager that his friends began to tease him as they drove to the church.
When they finally pulled into the parking lot of the church within the church’s premises, he was a little bit disappointed when he found out the car of his bride was yet to arrive. He walked into the church with his best man and men-in-suit and instantly went to greet his parents who were already sitting at the right-front pew. His mother was looking as beautiful as ever while his father who barely ever smiled, smiled a bit and patted him gently on the back as Stephen squatted before him and bowed his head in respect. After receiving his father’s brief blessings, Stephen rose now and smiled at his siblings, two ladies and a guy. They were all in their early and late twenties, while he, being the eldest child, had just clocked thirty-one the previous month. After acknowledging a few other relatives and family friends, he moved over to the adjacent pew across the aisle and sat down with his best man and men-in-suit, and thus, the wait for the bride began as more guests trooped into the church to witness the wedding and fill up the empty gaps in the pews.
However, the minutes slowly began to tick by and there was still no sign of his bride. Each time someone walked into the church, Stephen would glance back, hoping to see Susan but he ended up disappointed every single time. As more minutes ticked away, he grew worried now and glanced around from where he sat. The congregation were already beginning to murmur and the officiating priest on the alter seemed to be growing impatient.
Stephen glanced down at his wristwatch and realised that his bride, Susan, was already forty-five minutes late. He glanced at the other pew and saw the worry on his mother’s face. His father had a sullen look on his face now. Stephen swallowed hard as his anxiety grew. He glanced around now, looking for specific familiar faces, and that was when he realised that none of the bride’s immediate family were even in the church. He became more nervous now and suddenly, his tie felt too tight and he couldn’t breathe properly. He dipped his index finger behind the tie and adjusted it so that he could have some breathing space in hopes that it will also help him relax a bit. His best man, Jerry, was no where to be found. Stephen presumed that Jerry had probably gone out of the church to make some important calls to his bride’s family on his behalf and he anticipated a positive response from Jerry when he returned.
Soon, the murmurings grew louder and the people no longer bothered about hiding their impatience and displeasure. Some were already fanning themselves with the wedding booklets as they shared their displeasure and assumptions among one another. Stephen saw his mother turn back on her seat to calm her personal guests whom she had personally invited and had bought and sewn a expensive hollandis materials from her to wear in order to stand out from the others. Then he saw his mother turn to look at him then gestured with her hands to ask what was taking his bride so long but Stephen only shook his head to show her that he also had no idea what was going on. His other friend, Rufus, who was summoned by the impatient priest, got up now and walked to the to the alter to explain things to him and also beg him to exercise a little patience.
Stephen thought of going out now to handle things by himself since he couldn’t figure out what was taking Jerry so long, but he couldn’t even stand up because he felt so embarrassed. He began to sweat now. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, he clenched his fist and blew air through it to calm his nerves. He glanced at his wristwatch again and much to his chagrin, he realised that only two minutes were left to make his bride an hour late. Stephen swallowed hard yet again and leaned his back against the seat. Soon, he looked to the side and saw a woman get up with a frown on her face as she made her way through the pew, pulling her seven year old behind her and it was obvious that she was going back home. Like her, most of the guests were also tired of waiting, and before Stephen could blink, three more people got up from different angles of the church and left.
Where was Susan and what was taking her so long? Was she okay? Did she oversleep or did her makeup artist disappoint her? Stephen pondered. Just then, Stephen suddenly sat up in dread now. What if she has been involved in an accident? What if she was sick? What if something bad had happened to her at home? But if something had gone wrong, a member of the family would have called to inform them. Anxious to know what was going on, Stephen finally summoned the courage to get up, and without meeting anyone’s eyes to avoid being called and questioned, he briskly strode through the aisle and he could feel three of his men-in-suit following him. When he finally reached outside, he glanced around, looking for his friend then he saw him standing outside the church’s premises, talking to someone.
Quickly, Stephen hurried outside the premises and slowed down in shock when he realised that the person whom Jerry was talking to was no other person but Anne, his bride’s supposed chief-bride’s maid. What made him so confused and surprised was the fact that Anne was not even dressed for the wedding. She was dressed in casual clothes that she only had on a loose flowery chiffon top and a pair of black jeans to go with a black fancy slippers. He also noticed that there was a man, sitting on his motorcycle close to them, waiting for her.
When Anne noticed Stephen slowly approaching them now, her gaze shifted from Jerry to him and she stopped talking. Stephen did not fail to notice the look of worry and fear in her eyes. When his best man, Jerry turned to look at him, Stephen noticed a strange look on his face too before he quickly looked away, but it was too late, he had seen it all.
“What’s going on?” Stephen calmly asked now, bracing himself for a bad news. When none of them replied him but only averted their gazes, Stephen directed his question to Anne. “Anne, please can somebody tell me what’s going on here? Why are you not dressed yet and where’s Susan?” He asked as he scanned her body for any sign of blood. Somehow, he already presumed that Susan had been involved in an accident, because that would be the only reasonable explanation why she was not yet in the church. “ANSWER ME!” He suddenly snapped in impatience making Anne gasp and flinch in fear. “WHERE IS SUSAN?!”
Anne swallowed hard and glanced at Jerry for help. She even had to secretly nudge him with an elbow to help her out. Getting the hint, Jerry involuntarily turned to look at his best friend then with difficulty, he finally said with a disappointed sigh: “She’s not coming, man.”
Stephen scoffed now in disbelief. He thought these two were only trying to prank him on his wedding day. He presumed that they must have planned this with Susan to see how he would react. Well, the joke was on them because he wasn’t going to fall for such crap. “What do you mean?” He asked with a weak smile as he glanced from one face to the other. “What do you mean by she’s not coming?”
Jerry shot a sideways glance at Anne now and said: “I think it’s best you heard from Anne herself.”
Anne shot Jerry an uncomfortable look. She didn’t like the fact that he had put her back in a tight corner instead of helping her out. What she had wanted to do all along was come to the church unnoticed, explain things to her boyfriend, Jerry, then leave without Stephen seeing her, but now, she was trapped. Swallowing hard, she tried not to look Stephen in the eye. The man’s height was so intimidating, not to mention how his ripped body filled his suit, thanks to his consistent gyming. “Um… Stephen…S…Susan is n…not c…coming.” She stuttered, staring at his chest instead of at his face.
“Why?” Stephen asked now, even more confused. Was his wife-to-be dead? “What happened to her? Is she okay? Where is she?” He glanced down at the busy road, hoping that he would see her car coming and all these would just be something to laugh about later.
“S…she…um…s…she…” Anne nervously wet her lips. She was physically trembling then mustering the courage she needed, she finally blurted. “She said she is no longer interested in marrying you.”
“What!” Stephen couldn’t believe his ears. “Why? She just changed her mind just like that? On our wedding day?” Stephen asked. He could feel his strength slowly leaving him. He suddenly felt weak and needed something to lean against for support, and as if noticing, Jerry quickly grabbed him and kept him upright.
“I’m sorry…but it’s not in my place to explain… I’m so sorry, Stephen…” Anne quickly said, eager to be far away as fast she could from the scene. She couldn’t bear the hurt in Stephen’s eyes, so she quickly hopped on the bike and the bikeman zoomed off without hesitating.
As if the life had been drained out of him, Stephen slowly lowered himself and sat on the ground near the gutter bordering the church’s fence despite Jerry’s effort to keep him standing on his feet. He was now surrounded by his men-in-suit. Somehow, the news about what was going on outside had reached the guests inside the church and in a minute, people began to curiously walk out of the church to see for themselves. His mother rushed over to him now when she saw him sitting on the ground and even when passers-by and drivers stared at them, Stephen didn’t mind. He was too shocked to respond to his mother who kept shaking him to get his attention as she asked several questions at the verge of tears.
From afar, he heard Jerry tell his mother the news and his mother stood up and began to wail. She removed her head gear and threw her arms in the air as she lamented about how Susan and her family had just embarrassed her and her family. Stephen just continued to stare morosely. He tuned out everything around him, every sound. From the his mother’s Lamentations, the murmurings of the guests that had swooped out of the church and to the honks and sounds from vehicles driving by. His men-in-suit put hands together and helped him to his feet then they led him back into the church to a private corner where they sat him down. Jerry removed his suit and began to speak to Stephen’s father who stared at his son and shook his head in pity before walking out of the church.
A lot of questions as to why Susan had decided to call off the wedding ran through Stephen’s mind now and he had no answers to all of them. His Susan, his darling-darling Susan… Why had she betrayed him so? Why had she put his family to shame? Why had she chosen to break his heart on the day that would have been the happiest day of his life? She could have chosen any other day but why today? Why had she refused to come for the wedding? Was it because of the fact that his parents never initially supported their union from the onset, or was she still pained that his mother had labelled her a call girl because of the way she was dressed on her first visit to his family house? Was it because she had found someone else? Was it because he had been unable to afford her dream wedding gown?
So many questions kept flitting through his mind but he couldn’t answer any. He was lost and he came up blank each time he tried to figure out her reason for ditching him on their wedding day. Susan was the best person to give him the answers he needed and he had to get to her. As he stood up to leave, his men in suit quickly pushed him back down because they thought he was yet to be in his right senses. Well, they were right, he wasn’t, because he didn’t know what he would do if he saw Susan, he could go into a fit and strangle her
It felt like hours passed but by the time Stephen recovered a little and looked around, it was already afternoon and ninety-nine of the guests had already left; even most of his men-in-suit had also left. He glanced at Jerry who was discussing with his younger sister and her friends, and he learnt that in order to avoid wastage of the food and drinks, they had distributed them to the guests and passers-by while the souvenirs had been kept. He also learnt that they had cancelled their rentage of the hall and had gotten seventy percent of the money back and they also intended to also return some of the wines and carton of juices that were not opened to the seller in order to recover some of the money spent. When Jerry was done discussing with his sister, he thanked her and his friends and after they left, he approached Stephen now. Rufus also came from outside and joined them too and only the three of them were left in the big quiet church.
“Where are my parents?” Stephen asked now.
“They have already gone home with your siblings. We promised them that we would take care of you.” Jerry replied, glancing at Rufus.
Stephen exhaled and reclined on the chair, staring at the ceiling of the church with his fingers locked on his stomach. After a slight pause, he finally murmured in disbelief. “So, I’m still a bachelor… I didn’t get married…” His voice was full of disappointment and despair.
Rufus and Jerry exchanged awkward glances but said nothing.
“But Susan, why?” Stephen continued to speak to himself as if he were alone. “Why? Why would you do this to me?”
Jerry sighed now and said: “Stephen, we…um…” Then he paused as he glanced at Rufus who gave him a go ahead gesture. “…we are sorry from keeping this from you, but we kinda knew that Susan wasn’t going to marry you… I mean, we didn’t even like her to begin with. We didn’t want you to marry her either… let’s just say that this is a blessing in disguise… God has a way of making things happen on their own…”
“What do you mean?” Stephen asked with a start as he slowly sat up now, glancing from one friend to the other.
Rufus swallowed hard now and said: “She has been cheating on you, Stephen.”
Stephen scoffed. “If your aim is to make things worse than it already is, please stop… I’m in no mood for this and there’s no use flogging a deas horse.” He said to his friends.
“We are not joking, Stephen.” Said Jerry. “Ever since you were transfered to Markurdi, Tanya has been going out with Major Ali.”
“Let’s just say it as it is and not sugar-coat anything…” Said Rufus, eager to let the bitter truth out. “Tanya has been sleeping with Major Ali.”
“What!” Stephen gasped in shock. The looks on his friends’ faces showed just how serious they were and he knew that they were not telling a lie. “How long has this been going on and why the hell did none of you tell me before now?!”
“Seven months now…” Jerry answered with a sad sigh. “We would have told you but didn’t want to ruin your happiness, man. Even though we knew that girl didn’t deserve you, we saw just how happy you were whenever you were with her and we just didn’t want to take that away from you.”
“Although, we tried to warn you at several occasions…” Rufus said now. “But you were rather too occupied or you were always with her. We couldn’t really put our jobs on the line because we know what would happen if she was to rat us out to the Major if we told you the truth in her presence, so we just decided to let things play out on its own and here it is.”
Stephen stood up now, placed a hand on his hip and another on his brow, then he began to pace as he began to ponder. Finally, he stopped and said: “I don’t believe Susan would do this to me just like that. I mean, we love each other so much. What if she’s under duress? What if the Major is forcing her to do this? What if she only did this out of fear? We all know what a philanderer the Major is and how he will go any length to get any woman he wants. What if that’s what’s happening to Susan right now and she needs my help?”
Jerry and Rufus exchanged comfounded looks now and both men shook their heads. “No man…” Said Jerry protested. “I don’t think that’s the case here. The Susan I saw with my own eyes seems to be enjoying the company of that old fox. I mean, she’s even living in one of his houses here in Kaduna, despite the fact that she knows that he’s married and his family are in Abuja.”
Stephen stopped pacing now, shrugged off his suit and threw it on the chair but it only slipped to the floor and he didn’t care, but Jerry picked it off the floor and draped it over his knee. “I still don’t believe that Susan will just decide to leave me standing on our wedding day. I need to see her. I need to speak to her. I need her to tell me to my face that she doesn’t love me anymore. I need her to look into my eyes and tell me that she no longer loves me! I need to hear the truth from her own mouth and only then will I believe what you guys are saying!” Stephen adamantly said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, sir.” Rufus stated. “You can’t just walk up to the Major’s gate and ask to see his woman.” He bent his index finger and middle finger joined together in the air to lay emphasis to the last word. “You and I know that would require a penalty from the cruel man. He’s that ruthless, and besides, today is still Saturday and this incident is still fresh. There’s no telling if you’ll go berserk and try to strangle the life out of Susan when you see her… You are still pretty much livid.”
Stephen sat down again. “What do I do then? What do I do?” He anxiously asked.
“I think you should just wait it out. We will corner her when she’s not at the Major’s house. I’ll simply speak to Anne to help tell us her whereabouts and it would be easy to meet with her in public, and then maybe you two can sit down and thrash out this issue like two adults.” Jerry suggested.
Stephen leaned his back against the chair, folded his arms on his chest and crossed his legs at the ankle as he contemplated what to do. This heartbreak was so strong and deep that he felt it in the depth of his soul. He even doubted if his parents would ever forgive him for causing them such embarrassment, but that was not his problem now; he knew that once he saw Susan face to face, they would iron out whatever the issue was and would simply fix another wedding date and get married. Fixing this was that simple that Stephen was certain that everyone would even forget that today ever happened. He just had to see Susan at all cost and make things right, but it was frustrating that he would have to wait till Monday which felt awfully long for him to wait, but he had no choice than to wait. This was a girl whom he had dated for six years and had grown so attached to and he was not willing to lose her just like that. No man would take her away from him, no man! If they wanted her so bad, they should be ready to kill him first to get to her because he was ready to lay his life down for Susan. She was worth every bit of it.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa