The bone cracked in Gabriel’s mouth and he sucked on the bone with reckless abandon. He didn’t seem to notice the pearl of palm-oil that was slowly going down his hand. He wasn’t bothered by his apparent lack of grace. He was alone in the room, seated on a plastic chair that had been made available by one of Ijeoma’s nieces when he arrived.

“Aunty Ijeoma said he is a special guest,” the young girl had said to the woman that questioned her when she brought him into the crowded and busy house. “She said I should take him to the room.”

Special guest, a bitter taste filled his mouth even though the onugbu soup he had just consumed was one of the best he had tasted. How he had gone from boyfriend to friend and now a special guest at her wedding was still a mystery to him. Special guest that he was, he hadn’t even seen the face of the person whose invitation he honored. He gathered that Ijeoma was in the opposite room from the number of ladies that had been going in and out of the room, and coming to the room to look for either a scarf or a hairnet. Some of them, he was familiar with. Nnenna and Kamsi had stayed for a while to talk with him before they hurried back to the room when someone called them.

In the noisy atmosphere, the band playing Igbo wedding songs, people greeting each other, the MC announcing the names of respected guests, the sound of pots and spoons scraping against each other, he felt overpowering loneliness. The implication of what it all meant was one he had tried to ignore for almost five years. Ijeoma could no longer be his. She was officially another man’s wife.

He shook his hands in the bowl of water that was on the ground beside the stool that held the tray of now empty plates. A woman rushed into the room.

“The bride is coming out now. They have completed the bride price and other things.” She didn’t wait for him to respond, rushing to pack up the plates and then left the room.

He wiped his hands with his handkerchief and tucked it into his pocket. With a resigned sigh, he went out of the room. It was time to say goodbye to the woman that had occupied his heart for almost eight years.

Lilian danced with so much exuberant excitement that she feared she would collapse. But she couldn’t stop herself. She was riding on joy. She bumped her buttocks with one of the other bridesmaids and they smiled at each other proceeding to dance together. The pain in her feet from wearing heels for a long time was forgotten. Her skin glistened with sweat and a five hundred naira was stuck on her face.

She was happy. When Ijeoma had called her and requested her to be one of the second-level bridesmaids, she had accepted without even asking why she was having another wedding despite she being married. It was later that Ijeoma explained why they had to have another wedding. But it didn’t matter. She was already planning the style she would sew with her asoebi cloth.

The wedding invitation had come exactly when she needed it. After making Peter leave her house, she had carried out a complete renovation of her home, repainting it and replacing some worn-out furniture. Things had been going well when she returned to work, except for occasional relapses that had her crying herself to sleep on some lonely nights. That was until Peter reappeared again, looking no different from his former self. At first, she had been scared that she would break down and accept him back into her life, but surprisingly, seeing him summoned no feelings aside disgust and dislike. What bothered her was the constant threat he made when he came. It was dangerous and it scared her.

She was glad that the compound she lived in had strong security and after explaining everything to the kind man, he had taken to stopping Peter from coming into the compound. After making a ruckus and attracting the attention of the landlord, the man had threatened to take him to the police if he ever found him around the house. Lilian had watched in satisfaction as he skulked away. He had now taken to accosting her at the junction where she came down from the bus. So she had to drop at the wrong bus stop and then take a bike straight to the compound. In the rampage of Okada bikes that roamed the street at that time, it was very easy to miss her.

She knew she could not continue like that, the price of taking a bike was already eating deep into her salary in a way she didn’t appreciate. The wedding seemed a perfect way to escape him. She should be making more stable plans about Peter, but for now, she just wanted to enjoy herself.

“Lilian, Oge,” a voice came through the music as someone tapped her.

Lilian hissed with disatisfaction and turned to complain but the complaint caught in her throat. “Aunty Iyora?”

“Who will pack all this money?” She gestured at the ground now lined with naira notes. “You people are here dancing? What of the other girls?” Iyora’s voice was sharp.

Lilian had decided she didn’t like the overactive woman. She behaved as though it was her own wedding. She didn’t let her thoughts show on her face though. The woman was Ijeoma’s sister and had an acute sense of when someone opposed her. She had seen how the woman had told one of the bridesmaids not to join the wedding line because her clothes had been too revealing. It had caused a ruckus, and even though Lilian didn’t like the woman, she also blamed the busty girl for making a dress that only pushed her assets for the world to see.

“They are inside the house,” Oge, the girl she had been dancing with said defensively.

“Are you waiting for the married women to organize everything? Lilian, go and pack the money. Oge, go and call the other girls. We have work to do.” Iyora was already marching away.

What other work again? Lilian grumbled as she pulled out a leather bag from the pocket of her Ankara gown and proceeded to maneuver dancing legs and pick the naira notes that were scattered on the ground. She shook her head with wonder when she picked some dollar notes.

I want my wedding to be like this, she said to herself. She stopped to shake her waist when the music changed to a popular track. She looked at Ijeoma, looking so beautiful even with the blue gele towering over her head. Her smile was pure and filled with love as she gazed at the man in front of her. I want something like this too, she put her hands together, a look of wonder in her eyes.

Someone pushed her from the back bringing her attention back to the task at hand. She bent down to continue picking the notes. I won’t settle for less, she promised. And she knew she would keep to that promise.

The End…