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.”
The first time she said that, I stared blankly at her, as she went on and on, and my mind wandered to the ‘soup’ I’d have to adjust my taste buds to. A small shiver ran down my spine, and I had to force my mind back to where I was, rejoining my mother on her seemingly endless tirade. “…happy, ehn?” She had paused, and I assumed she expected an answer from me, so I just hung my head and pretended to admire the carpet. “Arike, answer me now. Don’t you want to at least try to be happy?” I stayed silent, head bowed. “At least, if not for you, for me, your mother. Ehn? Am I not old enough to carry grandchildren? Or you want to bring them to my grave, Arike?” The only response I could manage was a weak shaking of my head, and mother, after placing on hand on my shoulder, forged on. She was on a mission, and she was determined to emerge victorious. “My daughter, I know it is difficult. All I’m asking is that you try.”
Easy, it definitely wasn’t. And try I did. We went out alone, just the two of us, and I remember the date being less than mildly enjoyable. Or maybe it was just me. We had more dates, and attended several functions together as a couple. I’d smiled beside him, my arm linked with his. “What a beautiful couple!” people would exclaim, and I’d broaden my smile and even giggle sometimes. It made him happy. Basically, I let him take me through the paces, my mother’s words playing on perpetual repeat at the back of my head. “Happiness is a state of mind. You will learn.” she’d said. It took me a while, but I’d eventually learnt how to be happy. Just like she’d said I would.
What reason did I have not to be happy? Audu was charming, and sweet. He had a secure, well-paying job as a researcher in and visiting lecturer at Stanford where he had studied. He was book and street smart and very gentle. And he ‘loved’ and took care of me. “Arike, you’re so lucky.” My friends and colleagues would say in hushed, excited tones whenever we were gushing over a new gift he’d gotten me. I’d laughed and giggled and hid my face in my palms the day they had converged around the finger that bore the admittedly beautiful engagement ring .Mostly out of shame, because I secretly thought they were the lucky ones, watching them with their boyfriends and fiancés sometimes. The spark they had was evident, blinding even, and watching them and longing for what once was became a temptation I was weak to resist. It’s possible he noticed too. Even more possible is that the longing in my eyes might have been what drove him to propose.
I’d squealed with feigned excitement the day he’d asked me to move in with him. I really wasn’t looking too forward to leaving the apartment that I’d grown accustomed to. But my best friend, and maid of honour, had advised that being in close proximity of each constantly would facilitate our bonding so, I packed up and moved. As promised, it wasn’t long before he started to grow on me. We lay in bed and had intellectual conversations, which I really enjoyed, or spent time in the kitchen together. I really enjoyed his wit and insight. Also, I was glad he never stressed me and respected my need for alone time. I learnt a lot about him in the time we lived together, like the fact that he wanted seven children. “Seven ke?” I’d exclaimed as I lay at his feet on the sitting room floor, gazing up at him. He’d smiled, baring his less than perfect dentition, and asked if I was scared. Silence, they say, is often the best answer, so I’d smiled back and changed the topic.
After the funeral, I hadn’t seen or heard from Jide (my ex)’s family. It was horrible enough that I still had to take the same route of the accident to work daily. Some unspoken agreement seemed to have been reached that day. They all blamed me, and I was in no position to inquire as to why this was so. I’d kept my distance, and they’d kept theirs. Which would be one of the possible reasons why I’d almost dropped the jar of mayonnaise I was holding when I’d heard the familiar voice of his older sister calling my name from down the aisle at the supermarket. As she made her way towards me, I couldn’t help but think he looked the same as the last time I saw her. Angry. I braced myself in preparation for whatever she was going to say. Her face gave little away as we exchanged pleasantries, but she couldn’t mask the venom in her voice after I introduced her to my fiance. “You’re getting married?” The question stung like a slap on my cheek. In bed that night, he’d asked me about it and I’d burst into tears. I fell asleep cradled in his arms but I dreamt of Jide.
He’d always been so understanding. More than my mum. Whose one priority was to see me walk down the aisle and bear millions of grandchildren for her. “You can’t do what, Arike?” She’d half-shouted, pausing her pounding to look at me as I sat on a stool across from her. “You must be joking.” Nothing I said seemed to make any sense to her. She stared at me with her mouth open, probably shooting darts at me with her mind. When I was done baring out my soul to her, she put her pestle down and stared straight into my eyes. “Arike, my daughter. You fail to realise how lucky you are.” She then proceeded to narrate to me how she and my father, God rest his soul, had an arranged marriage and she never laid eyes on him until a week before the wedding day. Lucky me.
But Audu would understand. I knew it would hurt him to hear me say the words, but it needs to be done. I can’t imagine living the rest of my life learning, struggling to be happy, and being constantly told how lucky I was when lucky was the least thing I felt like. I know it will only make it seem worse seeing as how we are slow dancing and kissing at his best friend’s wedding. But I don’t think I can hesitate any longer. Something within me snapped I think I actually heard a snapping sound inside my head, while watching Jubril and Folake exchange their own vows and share their first dance at their Valentine’s Day wedding. And now, as we waltz around the room and sharing a kiss at their reception, it didn’t matter to me that he was wearing the musk cologne that made my tummy turn, or that his fingers were digging into my spine as his lips attacked mine viciously. I will wear a look on my face, he will ask and I will tell him. I feel I owe him that much. So I hope he is enjoying this kiss because when the music stops, so will we.
Served by – @CeceNoStockings