The boyish grin on his face was irresistible and his three-day-old stubble added to his charm; so even though Imade knew she shouldn’t let him in, she did.
He was dressed casually, in grey shorts and a black T-shirt saying I’m awesome and you know it.
“I was passing and decided to drop by with dinner,” he said, still grinning when she didn’t say a word to him.
“You know better than that, Lamide,” she replied. “You should call before coming. In fact, you shouldn’t be coming at all.”
“Ah ah baby mi, don’t talk like that,” he feigned a pout. “Give me a hug at least. I’ve missed you.”
Grudging, she leaned into his hug, enjoying briefly the familiarity of it before detaching.
“So, are you going to take this or shall I eat it?” he held out the takeout bag with a teasing smile.
“So, this one is a bribe or what?” she plucked the bag from his hand and peeked inside. “Grilled fish?”
“The one and only,” he winked.
“Get thee behind me, oh ye Satan.”
“Gladly,” he winked again, taking a step closer to her.
“Dirty mind. Don’t come near me oh. See eh, forget the bribe, you can’t stay. I’m prepping for church.”
“You haven’t seen me in…how long? Can’t you just skip service for today, let’s spend time together?” he had moved from the door to the living room, taking a seat on the couch like he paid rent in the place. It irked Imade, how he still acted like they were together.
“No, I can’t just skip service for today because you decided to pop by without warning,” she responded, opening the refrigerator and shoving the takeout bag in between soup bowls and bottles of water.
“I was out of town,” he said. “I got back yesterday, missed you and decided to check on you.”
“Lamide, in case you forgot, we broke up. You don’t have to check on me anymore. I’m a big girl, I can handle myself.”
“Just like how you quit your job without an alternative? You never struck me as the housewife type.”
“I don’t expect you to understand my decision. But I don’t also expect you to judge me for it.”
“What, you think just because we broke up, that switches off our feelings for each other? I’m supposed to pretend I didn’t fall for you? Pretend I wasn’t thinking of asking you to marry me?”
The statement stopped Imade cold.
“What…asking me to what?” she spluttered, sinking beside him on the couch, service momentarily forgotten.
Lamide sighed, turned to face her. “Look, I know I am not your perfect man, but what we had…what we have is special. You get me. You challenge me. You are a beautiful woman, smart too. We have chemistry, which is rare for people at our age. I like how you make me feel and even though we haven’t had sex yet, I am willing to wait till we are married if that’s what it takes. So, yes…I would love to marry you, Imade.”
“Wait, you want to marry me because…because you want to finally have access to my body?” Self-conscious, Imade clutched her bathrobe tighter.
“No! I mean… God knows, I love your body and I would be excited to explore that body with you. I can wait till we are married, if I have to. But I also love you for you. I think we make a great couple. Two smart, amazing people who deserve some happiness and at our age, that is key.”
He was holding her left hand now, tapping her fingers like keys on a piano and Imade wondered what it would be like to have a diamond ring gracing her ring finger. She pictured a delicate stone sitting atop her long, narrow finger, and her walking around with her left hand hanging in the air like a peacock’s, proud to display her symbol of acceptance. She would take pictures with her left hand on display on her knee, and at her waist. She would send photos of her engagement to her mother and send a text saying I’m getting married. She found herself chuckling at the images in her mind.
Lamide brought his cold lips to her hands and let it rest there for a few seconds, the tenderness in the gesture sent shivers through her body. Yes, dammit, she was so attracted to Lamide and her body often betrayed her whenever she was close to him. How many times had she come close to giving it all up with him? Those evenings when he tried to convince her to spend the night, or when they sat too close to each other in the dark cinema hall and her pulse raced incessantly? Of all the men she had dated, he was one of the hardest to abstain with, moreso because he didn’t share her beliefs. He was not the most handsome man she had dated, no, that award would probably go to Mitchell, her British boyfriend. Mitchell – clean-shaven, smooth-faced, caramel skinned, dark curls and a sharp British-accent. He was half-British, half-South African and a singer. She had met him at a concert she had been invited to by a friend and had been flattered when he noticed her in the dimly lit, congenial atmosphere.
They had dated for the remaining seven months she had left in the UK – it was a sublime romance, one where he bought her flowers, invited her out to his concerts, met his friends. Imade had felt like she was living a fairy tale at the time. When her time to return to Nigeria drew close, she dropped hints, talking about her family, wanting to meet his family, talking about houses they could buy, dreams they could dream. She waited with bated breath for a proposal, for something to make her remain. It never came.
On her way to the airport, in a final move to secure the bag, she asked him outright why he didn’t want to marry her.
“Marry you?” he asked, incredulous. His hands slipping from her shoulder where it previously rested. “We’ve only been dating six months, Ima.”
“Seven months,” she corrected. “And anyway, what does that have to do with anything? I thought we loved each other. I thought we had something serious.”
He shook his head; “I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea, sweetheart. I’m just not ready for marriage. My career is just kicking off. There’s a whole world out there. For you and for me. Why tie ourselves down now?”
“Mitch, I’m thirty-one. You’re thirty-three. How can there be a whole world out there for either of us?”
“Maybe not for you, Ima. But there is, for me.”
At the airport, she had said goodbye to him in the car, told him not to bother coming in, and then went into the airport toilet and bawled.
She smiled as the memory of that time in her life crept into her mind.
“What do you think, eh? Shall I get a ring and do a proper proposal?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye that floored her. “Shall we make this official? We can be married in a month, if you want.”
“Oh, Lami…” she shut her eyes, willing away the pounding of her heart.
She was thinking about the last time she got a marriage proposal, over ten years ago. How excited she had been to say yes to Obiora after dating for six months. She was twenty-eight at the time, ripe and ready to walk to the altar with the first man that asked, because her mother was already talking about the biological clock. Twenty-eight was two years to thirty and she needed to have all her children before thirty otherwise she would suffer during childbirth, was what her mother told her often.
And Obiora was the perfect candidate – they had met in church, he worked in the ushering department and she in the welfare department. One singles event organized by the church had opened their eyes to each other and it had only taken two prayer meetings to realise that they wanted to be together. Their six-month relationship was a delight – Obiora was the kind of man she wanted, he prayed with her, for her, took her out when he could and let her know she was his most prized possession.
And that was where the trouble began. Two days after she said yes to his proposal, he began to drop hints that she quit her job so she would have enough time to plan for the wedding.
“Let’s get a wedding planner”, she suggested. “I’m not very good with planning and I have so much on my plate at work to focus on planning the wedding”.
“So, you’re saying work is more important than our wedding?”
“Is this what the Proverbs 31 woman would do?”
“You know what? Forget it, I will plan the wedding myself.”
“Babe, come on! You’re being unreasonable about this.”
“Wait, what? Now, I’m unreasonable? You know what? I will talk to your mother about this and how disrespectful you are being.”
She had written a letter asking for leave from work to plan her wedding even though she felt unsettled about everything, but wasn’t marriage about compromise? Wasn’t she supposed to put her husband to be and marriage first before work?
When she showed Obiora the letter, he had not been satisfied.
“Baby, the wedding is six months away and you are only asking for a two-month leave?” He asked.
“Two months is enough to plan the wedding and put everything in place, babe.”
“So, what if something happens and everything isn’t ready by then? Why don’t you just turn in your resignation so you know you have all the time you need?”
“Babe, I can’t resign just to sit at home planning a wedding. Planning a wedding doesn’t take 24 hours a day. Besides, I’m planning to go for my Master’s and I need to have this work experience when applying.”
“I told you already. I want to do a Masters in the UK. It’s always been part of my plans.”
“I thought that was before we agreed to get married? You still want to get a Masters when married? What about me then?”
“I thought we talked about this and you were fine with it before. You know we can always plan around it, if necessary.”
“Imade, I think you need to think about it and decide if you want to be a wife, my wife, or you want to gallivant around the world free as a bird. Because I don’t know what marriage means to you but to me, it means total commitment to one’s spouse, and I am totally committed to you. I just don’t feel like you are committed to me.”
Imade had decided to leave the conversation as it was because she thought he would come around when they were married and they would work something out together, but when he kept calling her during working hours to ask random questions like what colours are our parents going to wear? How much is the asoebi we decided on? Have you gotten around to getting a venue for the reception? Imade felt like he was undermining her work, and trying to frustrate her enough to quit.
“Wedding planning shouldn’t be this stressful and demanding,” she told him one day. “I have friends who are married and they didn’t have to quit their jobs to plan their wedding.”
“So, your friends carry more weight than your future husband? What happened to all those sisterhood meetings you’ve been attending? Are you sure you’re learning the true Word of God there? Since when do you honour your friends above your husband?”
“But you aren’t even my husband yet! She bellowed. And you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be”.
She had taken off her engagement ring then and thrown it at him before walking out, shaking.
It wasn’t until she took a step back to observe their relationship from external lens that she realized he didn’t just treat her like she was special, he treated her like he owned her. Three weeks after their engagement was called off, she left the church because she couldn’t stand the sneers and snide remarks that were based off the wrong information that Obiora had given them. Instead of saying that they had parted ways on mutual terms, (which was what she kept telling her parents and other people), he told them that she had pressured him to let her test the authenticity of his ‘machine’ before they said ‘I do’, that she also wanted them to see how sexually compatible they were but that he had refused because of Biblical principles and she had gotten upset and called it off.
It had been a dark time for Imade and perhaps, that was when she had decided to take a break from dating and focus on her career.
As she looked at the man before her, a complete opposite of Obiora who manipulated her with scriptures every opportunity he got, Lamide was straight-forward in a way that warmed her heart. He was a healthy break from the self-righteous men she had come across in the church, men without means who wanted a woman with means, men whose ambitions were limited to saying who they were in Christ but never really acting it.
“Hey hey, you okay, Ima?” Lamide’s gentle voice prodded her to the present.
She brought her hand to her face, felt the wetness on it and realized she had been crying.
“I’m fine,” she sniffed, dabbing at her face.
“I never pegged you for the type to cry during a proposal,” he teased, wiping her eyes.
“Get out abeg,” she chuckled.
“So…is that a yes?”
She sighed, “it’s a give me time to think about it.”
“So, it’s not a no?”
“No, Lamide, it is not a no but it is also not a yes.”
“Well, thank God I didn’t do a public proposal with a ring and the whole nine yards. I for no wan hear give me time,” he laughed.
“No, you just went for an ambush proposal. Anyway, as payback for coming unannounced, you are following me to church this evening.” She glanced at her clock. “Ewoo, it’s almost 6pm. This man, you’ve made me late. Abeg leave me let me go and change.”
“I didn’t come dressed for church now, Imade,” he complained.
“I don’t care o. If you want to marry me, better get used to going to church.”
With that she jumped off the couch and ran into the bedroom to get dressed.