My husband is coming to pay my bride price today, and afterwards we will leave together for London. I am going to speak like those women, those Britico, the ones who say in their British accent that makes their mouth form into the letter ‘o’, ‘Can I have a cup of tea, please?’ I have seen them on television with their nicely made hats and fascinators and those English gowns that make them look so beautiful and gorgeous. I am going to be very beautiful too, just like them. I have never met my husband. We’ve had a phone conversation only once. But we’ve never met. Not once. That is how distant our relationship is. Ours is an arranged marriage; wedlock of our parents. My husband’s family wants a good Nigerian girl for him while my mother wants me to marry a Nigerian man who stays abroad because she wants to have the omugwo of all her grandchildren in obodoyibo. A part of me is glad that I am going to be the wife of a Europe-based man. I am going to be a Britico and even my own mother will ask ‘Is this my Onyinye?’ That is what I wanted. The other part of me wonders what an arranged marriage is going to entail. I have seen my husband’s face only once in a picture. Yes, once. I stared at the picture for a long time, perhaps to gain a good image of what he looks like and I locked it away in my cupboard by my bedside. He is a very handsome man. He is dark in complexion; he has a long nose and his eyes are small. I liked his smile in the picture too. I had not opened that cupboard to look at the picture until today when I did in the morning before I had my bath. I opened it to see once more what my husband looks like so I can recognise him when he comes with his family today to pay my bride price.
I am already dressed in a beautiful maroon lace sewn into a gown and a gele tied by my younger sister. The lace is from London. My husband bought it. When Mama heard that my husband had bought the lace from London, she told me she was envious. She said she wished her own wedding lace was from obodoyibo. My husband and I are not having a big traditional wedding because we intend to have our white wedding in style in Lagos before we both travel to London. He is not an Ibo man. He is Yoruba from Lagos State. It seemed there were no good girls in London for my husband and that is why his mother chose me. My mother was introduced to his mother by another friend when she went to Lagos to buy some goods for her boutique. Although we live in Enugu, my mother prefers to buy her goods in Lagos rather than Aba. It was on one such journey that she met my husband’s mother. She told my mother that her son is based in the UK and he was coming home soon but he had no wife yet. My husband happens to have acquired his PhD in the University of London and has been retained as a lecturer in African Studies. My husband’s mother wants him to be married to a Nigerian girl so he will not be like those boys who have no goals, jumping from one woman’s bed to another, sleeping with one blanket and then another. She did not want him to marry a white woman who would wake up one day, pull the blanket down her body and say to him, ‘Bayo, I don’t love you anymore’ and would end it all by saying, ‘I want a divorce.’ On hearing that I was still unmarried, she asked that our marriage be planned. And so, here I am today, waiting to be married to her son. I finished studying Sociology and anthropology at Obafemi Awolowo University about two years ago and was done with my National Youth Service and was still unmarried. I am now twenty-two years old and my mother is screaming for grandchildren saying she does not plan to grow gray hair before she will hold her grandchildren. So, I am seated here, beautifully dressed in this maroon lace, waiting for my husband to arrive with his family and make me his wife, legally, according to custom.
We hear cars honk at our gate and my father who is seated outside drinking champagne and palm wine with his kinsmen beckon to our gateman to quickly open the gate for his in-laws have arrived. As he opens the gate, cars drive in. Five of them are driven in. I am nervous. I feel sweat trickle down my forehead to my jawline. My best friend wipes it away with a handkerchief and smiles at me,
‘Your husband has arrived’, she says.
I smile back at her. I cannot believe it. I am getting married. Three of the cars are parked under the flamboyant tree in the middle of the compound and the other one is parked towards the backyard. And the last one is under the almond tree with some other cars. Some cars are also parked outside the compound. Most of my father’s kinsmen are parked outside. I am sure almonds would fall on the cars because many are already ripe. My mother goes out to greet them. She is wearing a buba and iro and she looks so much like her Yoruba acquaintance, my husband’s mother. I am excited. There is a canopy arranged with chairs with some guests already seated. The hi-life musician at his booth with his band is jamming nice Ibo songs. There is also a small booth decorated for me and my husband. My husband is talking with his father by his car. He is very handsome, more handsome than he looks in the picture. His smile is even more charming. My sisters and my best friend follow me to the room. We are chatting away and talking about how my married life would be. My husband and his family are in the living room. His father, mother, uncles and his best friend are waiting to see me. My mother comes to the room and tells us that the bride’s presence is requested. My sisters dance with me as my best friend raises a song. I am led to the living room where my new family is seated. I smile shyly and kneel before my visitors to greet them. I stand up and I am led to a chair to sit down. My sisters smile as they lead me. The music from the hi-life band is sounding into the living room like a blast and the elders are nodding their heads to it as they sip from their glasses of palm wine. My father calls me,
‘Ada’ He calls me Ada, as I am his first daughter.
‘Yes, father.’ I answer.
‘Do you know this gentleman?’ He is pointing at my husband. I smile and shake my head. Everyone is laughing.
‘She says she does not know him’, says my father. ‘Well, he wants to marry you’
I raise my head and look at my husband. He is smiling, almost grinning.
‘Will you marry him?’
‘If my father permits me, I will marry him’
My mother gets up and holds me in a warm embrace. Everyone is clapping, including my husband. My husband’s mother is now hugging mother. My father asks me to come to him and he pours a glass of palm wine for me in a glass. I take it to my husband, kneel before him and sip from it. He drinks from it, stands up and embraces me. He is a very tall man. I can barely even reach his shoulders. We dance out of the house into the canopy for the reception. Today, I danced the most in my life. I am now a married woman and I am officially Mrs. Onyinye Bankole. I am not moving into my husband’s house until our white wedding is over as requested by my parents. The white wedding takes place in two weeks. I am as excited as I was during the traditional wedding. I am more excited because afterwards, I was going to London with my husband. I was going to become an obodoyibo woman.
My white wedding is over. It was a success. I was a princess for a day. My husband’s princess. We are now in his house in Lagos. I resigned from work as a social studies teacher at the secondary school about a week before my white wedding. My husband’s house is very big. Well, it is his father’s house. He is not based in Nigeria and so has no plans of building a house yet until he has enough reason to. That would be when we have our own children. We are leaving for London in a week. My papers have been processed. I have never been to London before. My father says it is a very beautiful place and so says my husband too. My father had gone there about four years back for some business. I, on the other hand, have never travelled outside Africa before now. I have only been to South Africa once with my father and to Ghana, once on an Anthropology students’ trip back in school. Going to London excites me a lot. I cannot believe that I am married to a Britico and was going to be one myself.
The day has come. I am nervous to my bones. My husband tells me to relax that I am going to love it in London. He tells me that I will enjoy my stay in our home and that we will both be happy. In the airplane, I tell him to call me Christy, my English name, and I will call him his. He tells me that everyone knows him as Bayo Bankole in London. I tell him I want to call him by his English name and I want to be addressed by mine also. It was more English, more British and classier. He laughs. He tells me his name is Leo. We finally touch down at the London International Airport. We board a taxi. We are in London. I am in London. I look at the beautiful sculptures and buildings through the window as the taxi drives past them. The taxi pulls over in front of a block of flats. My husband’s flat is on the thirteenth floor. We go in and take the elevator to the thirteenth floor. My husband takes out the keys and opens the door to the flat. It is a very angelic flat, with the proper décor. I am sure he must have paid some cleaners to keep the place in order, in his absence until his return. Of course, he would have. He is a big man.
‘Bayo….Leo, you have a very nice place,’ I tell him.
He smiles. ‘Thank you, Christy. It is your place now too. Let me take the bags inside.’
I take off my coat and place it on the sofa. I have jet lag and need to rest. I am sitting on the sofa now. So this is our home? I think to myself. My husband comes back to the sitting room.
‘You should come to bed. You must be tired.’
‘When do I start work?’ is what I ask.
‘Work? We will handle that later on. Do not worry. Just settle down and get comfortable.’ I go in to rest. The master bedroom is big. There are two other bedrooms. I imagine our children in one already and the other a visitors’ room. I tell him of my imagination and he laughs. I sleep for a little while and we both go to the living room. He has not paid his television bill and so we could not watch anything on it yet. We are seated, staring into each other’s eyes. And that evening, in the sitting room, we consummated our marriage. He is the second man I have ever been with.
It’s the next morning and I am making breakfast of tea, pancakes and orange juice. I wanted to prepare breakfast like a British wife. Lunch and Dinner could be African but breakfast deserved a British style. My husband says he will draft a breakfast timetable for us. He is eating now. He is done. I adjust his tie and he gives me a kiss. I clear the table and sit down on the sofa. He is yet to pay the TV bill and he promises to buy me a new phone on his way back from work. He has also promised me a tour of the city by weekend. I am bored. I go out of the flat and out of the building. I watch cars drive past and people walk by. I go back into the building and I am in an elevator with a white lady who is possibly in her late thirties. She smiles at me and introduces herself as Kendra after asking if I had just moved in.
‘Yes, I just moved in. I am Leo. I mean, Bayo’s wife. My name is Christy.’ I introduce myself.
‘Oh, Bayo. You live on the thirteenth floor then. It’s so lovely to finally meet you. He has told me a lot about his beautiful African wife. I live on the twelfth floor. You should come visiting sometime.’ Her tongue rolls as she speaks and I watch closely. I cannot wait to pick up the accent and speak as beautifully as she speaks now. She pronounces Bayo with the stress on the first syllable as though it were an English word. She stops at the twelfth floor and I go up to our flat. Bayo is back and he has bought my new phone and SIM card. I thank him and he kisses me on my forehead. I call my mother and talk to her. We talk and talk until I hang up. Then, I make a call to my best friend. She is elated to hear my voice. She is laughing and teasing me. She asks how the night went and how good my husband was in bed. I tell her. She is laughing hysterically. I am laughing too. I miss her already.
Bayo has drafted the breakfast timetable. This morning, we are having waffles and orange juice. The TV is working already. A wildlife channel is on. I tune in to a cooking channel. There are different kinds of meals. Bayo is going to work now. He kisses me and tells me not to worry that I would fit in soon and I would be very comfortable soon. I believe him. I go to the twelfth floor and knock on Kendra’s door. She opens to me and smiles.
‘Christy, you came!’ she sounds excited. I smile at her. ‘Come in’
‘Thank you.’ I say to her.
She offers me a cup of coffee and we chat away. She is a jolly good fellow. Isn’t that what the English say? After today, we will hang out some more. I am sure of it.
I do not see her for a week. It was not until yesterday, when she asked that we go to the spa that we saw. Today, we are going to the spa. I have never visited a spa before. This is my first time. At the spa, I meet Stan. He is a masseur. He is very handsome and his use of words makes me feel so good. Now, I go to the spa every day to see Stan. I do not know if it is love or lust but I am falling for him. And if Bayo finds out, it will kill him. My mother would be ashamed of me. His mother would regret arranging our marriage. My father would be disappointed. My best friend may judge me for the first time and even my sisters would be displeased. I cannot let anyone find out. My marriage has to stay.
I see Stan more often nowadays. He calls me and we go out together but I have never let him come to our home. We even sleep with each other now and he is so much better than my husband in bed. It is a fallacy that black men were better than white men in bed. I love Stan, or that is what I believe. I am now distant from Bayo. I do not know if he has noticed. He comes to me but I refuse him. I want to leave him. This marriage is a total sham. I tell Bayo. I tell him I want to leave him. I cannot do it anymore. I will tell him about Stan. Maybe he would not be angry. We don’t know each other so much yet and we have only been married for three months. He would succumb to it. I hope. I pray.
It is the day that I wish to tell Bayo about Stan and I go to Kendra’s apartment to seek some advice. Alack! My most cherished Nigerian husband has been seeing this white lady who had become friends with me. He even has plans of marrying her so he can get his green card on time rather than waiting for the usual naturalisation process. I am stunned. It should have been another woman. It was no wonder Kendra had been pushing that I continue my relationship with Stan. I am not hurt though. I feel fooled. I had walked into this marriage not because of love but for comfort and to be an obodoyibo woman. It is the exact words that Bayo’s mother believes a true Nigerian woman bred at home cannot use that I am going to use. I am going to say to Bayo, ‘Bayo, I never loved you. I want a divorce’. Ours is a wedlock of our parents, not of us.
Image: Carmen Lucas via Flickr (modified)