His lips taste like rubber and he needs to shave. Kissing him is like brushing my face with a hairbrush. I wrap my arm around his neck to hold on, the movement brings my hand to the front of my face, and there, sitting on my finger, is the one thing that’s supposed to make this all worth it.
I bend my fingers to get a better view, watch as the rock catches the light and I think, my mother would be so proud. A sigh forces itself out of my mouth into his, and as he grunts in response his doughy fingers dig deeper into my back. Ouch.
Believe it or not there was a time my eyes closed when I kissed, when my stomach grew a million tiny wings and my heart spun my head around in dizzying bursts of bliss. Love, I called it, until the day a hungry danfo driver forgot to put his left foot on the brake pedal of his vehicle, as a young man crossed the street.
I see him still, sometimes, when I close my eyes; he smiles down at me, reaches out his arms, and I hear the strange sound of my own laughter as I run and run and run to hold him. I never get there.
They said I should move on, so I did; that love was a choice, so I let my mother choose for me. She sat me down and said to me, “Arike, love is like pounded yam, it can go with any kind of soup, you just have to get used to the new taste.”
That was not the first time my mother had spoken to me like that. Almost every week since our families had chosen a wedding date – Valentine’s Day at my insistence – my mother has tried to convince me that this is not as bad an idea as all my friends made it seem. I think it’s a great idea for reasons other than the ones my mother has in mind. I want to be married; I want to experience what it feels like to know that you are definitely going to spend the rest of your life with someone, partnering with them, raising kids, buying houses, eating together, be addressed as Mrs somebody.
When I first spoke about the idea to my friends, they said things like ‘what happens if you don’t like him or worse if you don’t fall in love with him?’ They stopped asking these questions when I reminded them that I had not been on a date since I lost Jide in the accident 6 years ago, not a single one. Not even one of those ‘let’s pretend like this is not a date’ things. Well not until I met Audu for the first time 3 weeks ago.
After Jide passed away, he made a habit of appearing in my dreams and with that I knew I was not going to be able to go out to actively look for love. I knew I didn’t have the strength to go out on dates and see his face in whoever I was on the date with. So when I turned 30, I ran to my mum to do it the way it was done for her. Naturally, she was excited. She thought she had lost the chance to continue tradition with me and pick out a good, rich, Muslim boy for her daughter to marry.
Yes, tradition. My mother and father neither met nor spoke to each other until a week to their wedding. That meeting, which was the only one they had before their wedding night was mediated by my maternal grandmother, so it was completely useless. The night after they got married, they moved to London, where they lived for 10 years.
Honestly, my mother did a good job. The similarities between my dad and Audu are striking. He’s a researcher and a lecturer, like my dad who has been one for almost 35 years. He’s one of those ‘really intelligent, but cool ray-ban wearing professors’, in the words of Maryam, my sister, who I had sent as a spy when my dad went to London to check Audu out. She reported that Audu was gentle in a very friendly way and it was hard not to like him. She said there was a chance I could fall in love with him, a very great chance. I first began to consider the plausibility of her statements at this at our wedding when he read pulled me aside and spoke to me calmly.
‘I don’t expect you to love me, at least not now, hell; I don’t even expect you to like me. What I know is we have both decided to take this adventure called a marriage together. I promise to respect you, meet your needs, be committed to you, meet your needs, respect your individuality and work on feeling this thing called love towards you and all I hope is that you return the favour.’
I cried a little when he said those words because I did not even have any intention of trying to love him. I had resigned myself to fate, duty and a loveless marriage haunted by memories of Jide. My mother had told me that Audu and I had to become friends before we ever thought about falling in love. I think that afternoon, after his little speech, we started becoming friends but I was still a bit uneasy around him.
He grunts again, and I remember I’m supposed to be kissing my husband. I end my little reverie and pull back a bit to sit on the king-sized bed in our honeymoon suite. This was so awkward. All I can think about is how hard this must have been for my mother. She was forced to do this, and she made it work. I chose to do this; I owed it to myself to at least try to make it work.
I raise my head, smile at him and place my hand in his massive palm as sits beside me on the bed, taking his time. Friends first. “Whats your favourite color” I ask as I allow myself wonder what kind of relationship we will have ten, twenty, perhaps thirty years from now…
***30 years later***
“Happy anniversary darling”, he says, as he hugs me from behind. ‘Wow’ I think to myself. It is really has been 30 years since I got married to Audu and 29 and years since I fell in love with him. This man, who I absolutely cannot do without, my soul mate and life partner, the man whose voice makes me feel like a child again and whom I love madly and deeply. I know he feels the same about me.
If someone had told me on our wedding night that I was going to be so hopelessly in love with this man, I would have smacked them upside heir head. But here we are, still in love, with three children of our own, two of which are happily married.
It took about a year of patience, openess and hard work, actively getting to know each other, finding things we had in common- practically dating. But somewhere along the line I realised I had fallen deeply for this man. I had fallen for his quiet walk, the way he folds his shirts down the middle instead of the sides, his caustic jokes, how he insists on eating with a fork, his loud, booming voice that can be heard three houses away, I had fallen for everything about him.
People usually ask me how we managed to become what were are and I always say ‘Luck and Hard work’. Through the years, we worked hard to build our home, with our love that we have cultivated and watered.
‘Mum the guests have started arriving’, my son Yusuf shouts from the living room. I turn around, cup Audu’s face in my hands and kiss him.
His lips are soft and yielding as always and his goatee brushes lightly against my face. Kissing him always tickles. As he pulls away, I can’t help but smile and sigh contentedly.
‘Arike baby, It’s time to party’
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