We pull into the driveway at the church. Al’s parents are staunch Catholics. We didn’t have so much of a choice over where to exchange our nuptials; his parents booked the church a year prior to the wedding.
I dreamt of this day from when I was a little girl. I always thought I’d wear a princess dress, big, round and a crown full of glitter, cute little pumps, a tiny handbag and a bouquet of red roses. I still detest that some brides walk down the aisle with fake, plastic flowers.
We settled on the pearl white dress. The shoulders down to my cleavage are laced. It flows beautifully to flaunt the curves at my hips to the knees, then drapes into a lace all the way down, capturing my athletic legs.
I have been nostalgic for the past weeks leading up to our wedding. Al thought I was getting cold feet and his over-caring nature had softly asked if I wanted the wedding postponed. Little things tear me up. The baker called in last week to apologize and said she wouldn’t deliver the cake, her dad had just passed away.
I cried too when Mama said my dress was too revealing, not very decent to grace the altar with. Over the years, I had thought of what this day would look like. Red roses, my sisters in red silk dresses, their tummies struggling to survive in tight corsets. We’d do a sister dance and a bachelorette party, get white-girl wasted. We didn’t do much of that, in fact, we slept off pretty too early. We were too tired from the rushed errands we had been running all day.
My four-year-old brother will walk me down the aisle. When Papa died eight years ago, my world shattered. I stopped doing a lot of things that we did together, in my grief, I thought I should never walk down the aisle because he wouldn’t hold my hand and unfortunately, I’d never have a father-daughter dance. The smile my father would display when I sneak up behind him in my wedding gown will forever remain, a figment of my imagination.
They bear a deafening resemblance. Born by a different man, it’s surprising how much of my father he turned out to be. His charisma, the sound of his laughter, and his ceremonial love for soccer, probably the only attempt to be boyish, because he’s very much into dolls and enjoys a little too much attention.
“Lani, it’s time, to step out” my aunt, beaming with a smile is holding the door for me.
“Where is he?”
“Who?” she asks, looking surprised.
“Psalm. He’s walking me down the aisle”.
“But Mama, that’s not feasible. Your mum should walk you down the aisle. Don’t deny her this privilege”.
I’ve tried all I can, to shelve the thoughts that have been living rent-free in my mind since yesterday. Al called to remind me to go grocery shopping. Before he joked, “One last time as a girlfriend”, I laughed it off. Then, he called to ask where I had placed his shoe brush. “Where you find it, every day babe. Hopefully, you won’t do this again after tomorrow” I added. “That’s the point babe, I always have to ask. It’s our routine”.
Routines. Our lives had synched such that we lived by a routine. Fridays are movie nights. We always wake up late on Mondays and he always brings me breakfast in bed on Saturdays. Nothing new ever happens. We have our routine, one that we very much adored at the start of our relationship, but not so much now, especially me. I could possibly tell you what the next three months would look like for us, and trust me, nothing would intrigue you. So I’ve been wondering, for someone who fancies fascination and surprises, did the desire for marriage make me settle into this routine? Has life gotten too usual, like the long afternoon naps we take on Sundays after staying on our phones for too long?
When Al proposed marriage, he did it with so much grace, pomp and colour and I had imagined our union would be exactly that, bright, vibrant days. But quite frankly, the twelve months leading up to today cannot be set apart. We celebrated our birthdays the same way we did the past two years before the engagement. We’ve become my most dreaded fear; a pattern. Even the little things that tickled us like doing bantu knots on his hair, feel so much like a chore lately. I dislike how predictable we’ve become. Mostly, because it seems, if his life ended abruptly, mine would come to a sudden halt, and then I’ll live the rest of my life, wishing he were here. But what bride tolerates such thoughts on her wedding day?
“Leilani baby, stop crying. You’ll ruin your make-up”. My mother was holding my hand, smiling with pride. I could feel tears rock up my eyes at the sight of her smile. Would she stomach the pain when I tell her I’m not sure I’m supposed to be at my wedding? Instead, I want to hold the camera and watch someone else get married just not me. Would she call me Lani, like she does when she’s happy or Leilani like she just did?
“Mum, I want to pee. My stomach is in knots”, I whispered.
“What? Are you sure you are an alright baby?” It’s how my mother is calling me baby that is actually making me sick. This is clearly out of the joy that she’s walking me down the aisle.
“Yes, I need to pee”
“You’ll have to wait a little longer, we are already here”.
I steady my head and try so hard to stop my tears from running, but the harder I try, the more they run. The guests rise up, phones in hand, beaming with smiles. It won’t be long until they notice the tears on my face. The choir is singing a beautiful Acapella version of P Square’s No one like you. But all this song does is drift me to a point of uncertainty. The last place I want to be today.
With every step I make, I remember how anxiety travelled all the way from my stomach to my throat. How I smashed my phone on the wall for the thirteen minutes Al didn’t pick up eight of my calls. It was when we had just moved in together, and he left to get me a pack of panty liners at around 8.30 pm or thereabout. More than two hours later and with eight unanswered calls, I was bracing up for the worst.
After making panic calls to two of his best friends and brother, I left the house in a hush, panicking about what I might walk myself into. At that moment, I hoped and wished that every male figure in a Marvin, shorts and a hoodie would be my fiancee. My heart was squashed every time we came close and it wasn’t Al. When he held me after stepping on him, I felt a relief rush through my body and collapse in his embrace.
“Why are you crying?” Al asked. I was still struggling to breathe and could barely utter a word.
“Bam, You didn’t even see me walking towards you. Did something happen? Are you okay?”
I must have cried to the point that my eyes couldn’t see properly. He wiped my tears, brought me home and held me when I cried myself to sleep. The memories of that night are etched on my mind, and every time, they come with a fresh note. Something about the night that I had forgotten over the years. They came knocking that night too.
“We stayed up late. Till 1 AM maybe, waiting for Dad to come back home. I’m certain it was one because that’s when Mum woke up too, came to the sitting room and asked if Papa wasn’t home yet. It was strange. He’d always call to remind us to keep the door open or open the gate at least four times before he finally arrived. But he hadn’t called to make those hopeful lies that night. We retired at around 3 a.m. after mum woke up again. The night was strangely cold. It was way too long before it finally dawned”.
“I still don’t understand how that is related to you crying because I was away for two hours?” Al asked, seemingly agitated.
“Al, we waited for the man we all loved so much to come back home to us. And when he didn’t, we brought him home, to us”.
“I’m really not following Lani”. Al was pretty confused.
“He came back to us and never left. He came back home to us in a casket”.
Al pulled me close and held me while I cried myself to sleep that night.
Mama has snapped me back to reality by pressing my hands so hard, she does this when she wants to communicate with her eyes.
“Leilani, you are ruining your make-up”. She whispers with so much anger that it almost makes me want to laugh a little. We are probably five steps away, and when I look at Al, I dread the day I’ll wake up and not hear him say, “Lani, you are making us pancakes today”. I’m afraid of the days he’ll leave for work, never to return with a bar of chocolate, because he needs me to remind him to carry his spectacles to work. I simply cannot imagine, having to walk into a morgue to identify his body. Just like I strongly feel, today, should not be my wedding day.
The priest looks at me and his eyes are very bold eloquent question marks. He leans in and asks. “What’s wrong my child?” I cannot tell you how grateful I am that he asked.
“Can I please talk to my fiancee in private? And if anything, I need to get my make-up re-done”.
“Sure you can. But make it quick.” Al gives me his hand and we hastily walk towards the direction of the priest, as the church goes into confusion. I can feel the confusion as we walk out, but I’m certain they’ll stay calm until we return.
“Lani, I’m so sorry. I should have told you.”
“Tell me what Al?” This is definitely not the reason why I asked to speak to Al in private, but now, I want to listen.
“Microsoft called. They offered me the job. My dream job. I already said Yes without consulting you because I thought you wouldn’t appreciate it. We’ve been planning the wedding for so long now, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Please forgive me. I promise you, we could make this work.”
“I’m actually stunned that you’d make such a decision that will affect our marriage in such haste without consulting, however, I’m very happy for you. Congratulations on landing your dream job”.
“Thank you Lani. I knew you would understand”.
“Well, I need you to understand me too, Al. I love you, but today, I feel like today is not our wedding day”.
“How do you mean?”
“Remember when I told you about how my dad came back home to us? Now you’re leaving the country only escalates my fears. Because you know my life and career are built here, I can’t leave it all to follow you around the world”. I’m still holding my breath, unsure of what this could mean for us. I know I love Al, but whether he loves me enough to give me more time to figure this out, I’m about to find out.
“I respect that Lani. So what do you suggest we do?” He asks, anticipation flooding his eyes.
“Start over. No routines, no patterns, no plans. Just as living life as it comes”.
“Lani, why would you change your decision to marry me at the altar? Is something wrong? Did anything change? Just be honest.”
“I swear to you, I just need some more time. I’ve been thinking about it since the day you asked if I want the wedding postponed. Sorry I’m telling you now”.
“Well, that too. That’s the day Microsoft called. Had you said yes, I would have told you then? This is quite the risk, but we can give it a shot”.
“We have lived our lives by a routine for the past four years. We have done everything we planned we would. This is a risk worth taking”. He looks at me smiling.
“What do we tell our family and friends?”
“Ask them to play bride and groom, have a party of our lives? At the end of the day, it’s our day, we decide how it pans out for us”.
“Besides, there’s so much to be grateful for. Do you know something, Lani? Only time will tell if this decision is the best, but now, we can have some fun”.
“One condition Al”, I chime.
“You tell the guests”.
“Or…we could ask the priest to help? No?”
We walk towards the priests, our faces beaming with joy from within, for the exceptional understanding we share. For the first time in a while, we are about to do something out of the ordinary, away from routines, age-old patterns and expectations of what things should be and damn! This feels so good. The satisfaction: I hope this is how I feel on our actual, real wedding day.
Our parents seem pretty upset about our decision, but I love that they have accepted it. Al’s father has actually told us, “Here’s to the most expensive rehearsals children! Next time, you’ll have to pay the waiting allowance though”. It’s been the greatest relief. Mama has so far attempted to pluck my ears out, but so far, she’s been dominating the dance floor, dancing her fears away.
Our guests are lining up, bursting moves and having the time of their lives as Al and I sneak up to the cake.
“We should keep our impromptu baker. This cake is probably the best part of today, right Lani?”
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