I intended this to be a standalone short story when I wrote it, however based on some preliminary feedback I have decided to continue it so watch this space for part 2. Do let me know what you think! Enjoy.
Simisola Coker has become a wife. This morning, she wore a dazzling ivory Monique L’huillier meringue and smiled harder than a Miss World contestant on ADHD pills. From her perfectly coifed mid-back length tresses to her French manicured toenails she epitomized perfection- she’d become the face of every single woman’s dream. Simi was a regal flawless bride.
The raucous she had navigated prior – meetings, bookings, fittings, test-runs, frenzied rants at her mother and fiancé rolled away on a cathartic red carpet when she stepped out of the silver Rolls Royce in front of the church. They had carted in fabric from Dubai and hors d’oeuvres from Lyon, opera singers from Venice and floral centre pieces from New York. Despite currently living in Hampstead, London, getting married in Lagos Nigeria was a no brainer – the couple had always considered it home. Simi had known that she would walk down an aisle full of dignitaries and celebrities, royalty and magnates. Her traditional wedding had overthrown headlines of magazines and blogs –the white wedding was even more magnificent. All she had to do this morning was smile and repeat the vows that would tie her life to that of her lovely boyfriend of five years.
The flurry into wedding mania began the day Tolu proposed to Simi about 10 months ago. He’d surprised her with a trip to Martinique for her birthday. Fortunately, they had both been able to take the time off work to fly over. The French Caribbean Island was more gorgeous than she imagined. After an eventful day scuba diving for the first time, then wandering around the Musée de la Pagerie, He suggested they go and have dinner at a seaside restaurant in Anse Mitan. At some point during the meal Tolu asked Simi to excuse him. Before she could respond he’d run off to one of the waiters and was prattling on in French. Simi waited, bemused. A moment later ‘At Last’ by Etta James filled the restaurant- her favourite song. How he had arranged for a live band to come there are play it was a mystery to her.
‘Simisola Alexandra Coker, Please do me the honour of becoming my wife’ Tolu had said with earnest eyes glittering behind a red Cartier box,
At that moment, Simisola’s world was perfect.
This morning Simi walked down the aisle hoping that the secret that devoured her insides wouldn’t char her lips to crumbles when it was time to say ‘I do’. She prayed that wafts of black smoke would not wade out of her mouth when she opened it to recite her vows.
She recalls their guests’ congratulatory messages even now- with persistence they appear and replicate in her mind tele-prompter style.
“I’ve never seen two people more in love’,
‘May God bless your union”,
‘A doctor and an investment banker-what a perfect couple’,
‘You’ve made us so proud!’
‘You looked so beautiful, walking down the aisle!’
‘You’ve married the perfect man.’
Simi and Tolu met in Lagos the summer after Simi’s first and Tolu’s final year of university- one sweltering June afternoon at the beach. Simi was born in Lagos and carted off to boarding school in England just under a decade later. She still looked forward to summers in Ikoyi she came to spend with her grandmother in her early teens and with her two best friends- Hadiza and Uju, years after Granny passed away.
Simisola’s grandmother had been the unyielding matriarch- tough and intelligent and with a heart warmer than freshly baked cookies. She’d studied classics at Newnham College in Cambridge University. She’d tell Simi stories about her and Simi’s then late grandfather, the nostalgia of their romance still burning in her eyes. He had been a carpenter- he’d barely finished secondary school so definitely had not attended university. They were from different worlds- hers steeped in scholarship and academia. She’d been drawn to the assiduous unassuming boy she’d met aged 14. He was the son of her lesson teacher- the one who first realized she had promise and pushed her. The attraction built despite the disparity between their chosen fields. He was her staunchest supporter and she was his. That was all that mattered to them. Her parents had disapproved, however. Spurred to rebel by her devotion to grandpa, they had eloped the year she returned from Cambridge and remained happily married for 56 years.
‘Ife mi (my love)’ Granny would say to Simi, ‘love humbles. It’s about accepting and serving someone whilst retaining mutual respect.’
Granny’s prayers were that Simi would find the same kind of love when she grew older. However, from a young age Simi had thought it a myth that a couple could really love and remain loyal to each other until death parted them. Ever since she saw her childhood piano teacher half naked in her parents’ bedroom ‘helping’ her dad with his backache, her idea of lasting romance was somewhat skewed. Despite that, as Simi grew older, she knew that granny and grandpa’s was the sort of relationship she aspired to. It could be the benchmark for her.
Like every relationship, Simi and Tolu’s had its challenges. One of them was communication. Tolu could not communicate with her. This puzzled Simi because her new husband’s oratorical prowess was unmatched, he captained debate teams and had published articles in academic journals. Tolu’s expressions were nothing less than erudite- his tool was words and he’d made of them, a pliant lover. He was fantastic with his friends too, vibrant and chatty always. Conversation was ceaseless in his company.
Except with Simi.
The longer their relationship lasted, the less he shared with her. Simi only mistakenly found out, three years into their relationship that when Tolu was 18, his girlfriend –Rita, got pregnant and had a stillbirth. Three years with him and it was his mother that told her – having assumed she had already known about it. Simi understood that sharing especially painful experiences would be difficult for Tolu but sometimes she wondered whether it was normal to marry a man she’d never seen vulnerable, whose deepest fears and challenges, had never been shared with her. Her best friend, Hadiza thought their relationship set up was ridiculous and never hesitated to tell Simi to break up with Tolu. It wasn’t that simple. Simi couldn’t get her to understand that so had stopped discussing details of their relationship with her friend.
They had the usual arguments couples had. Simi got suspicious sometimes and would snoop- check Tolu’s phone, facebook etc if he left them open. She knew it was terrible but Simi had come to realize that bagging the lothario had its pitfalls, whilst she got the tall, handsome, charming man of her dreams, she had to accept that women would flock to him relentlessly whether or not he encouraged them. He was never the type to cheat but with how little he spoke to her, she just didn’t know what to expect. He tended to retreat for days at a time without contacting her. He was also sometimes possessive; asking her to change revealing outfits and accusing her of flirting with his best friend Robert.
When they had such rows, he always insisted that the issues be dropped instantly and was able instantly smile again. Simi found it discomfiting and a little eerie the way Tolu would stop her mid sentence, tell her that the conversation was now closed and smile serenely. How can someone smile in the middle of a heated exchange, just like that? It made Simi crazy.
Simi imagined all their unresolved issues marching into a cold dusty room to sit on shelves, in piles that reached the ceiling. The room would have to be reroofed until it grazed the sky.
One night, a few months ago- shortly after their engagement, they had the worst fight ever. They’d gone to Cote D’Azur for his best mate Robert’s birthday. Tolu and Simi planned to stay in a beautiful chateau near Cannes with a group of friends. It was the perfect time for a break as they were both stressed out. Simi’s residency was taking its toll- insane shifts and challenging patients. Tolu though normally the over achiever was stressing out about work. They saw that mini break as the perfect opportunity to get refreshed. Surely, a few days relaxing in the French Riviera had to be the antidote.
The party was excellent; they reunited with university friends and danced in a yatch till 4am. Somehow, Tolu and Simi were the last ones of their group to leave the Chateau. As Simi was seeing some friends off, Chinedu –one of Tolu’s oldest friends pulled her aside to congratulate her on the engagement.
‘I can’t believe my boy is all grown up and ready to tie the knot! He couldn’t have picked a better bride Simi, I’m so happy for you two’
‘Aww thanks Chinedu, really appreciate the support. Ill keep you posted about the arrangements for the groomsmen.’
‘No worries. By the way thanks for supporting Tolu through all this’
‘All this..?’ Simi asked confused
‘Yeah, when Tolu rang me two weeks ago about getting laid off I was worried about how you’d react when he told you. Especially with the wedding planning, most women are not so understanding when their man loses his job. you know. You guys are the exception though. I hope to have what you have one day when I …’.
Simi had stopped listening at that point. She was fuming inside but managed to rein it in and conclude the goodbyes before rushing off to Tolu for an explanation.
‘When were you going to tell me that you got laid off?’ Simi implored barely containing her anger.‘Babe I’m about to be your wife. How can I hear about this from someone else? Is this how it will be when we’re married – strangers knowing things you haven’t yet told me?
She paced the room, getting even more frustrated. ‘How can I be in a relationship like this? What else are you hiding, Ehn? Mistress, Child, Drug problem?’
‘I’m not hiding anything’ Tolu muttered
‘Liar! I don’t believe you’ she screamed
‘Simi stop this childishness. I am not your father’
He tried to walk away but Simi wasn’t having it. ‘How dare you?!’ She retorted as she followed him.
‘Maybe we should end this engagement then. I can’t marry someone so devoid of emotion, someone who never tells me anything. I don’t know who you are or anything about you! It’s like being in a relationship with a piece of cardboard’
‘You want to hear how I feel? You want to share my secrets? Here’s a secret for you.’ Tolu said
‘Last year, remember my trip back to Nigeria for dad’s 60th’, he paused let out a dark giggle, then continued.
‘I didn’t realize Rita’s mum would be there. Yeah the ex with the baby we lost’ he nodded sardonic yet solemn. Mum apparently ran into her and mentioned the party to her in passing- didn’t think she’d actually show. Well she came and had a word with me. Maybe the nostalgia hit her when she saw me, maybe after one too many champagnes, Dutch courage enabled her to bare her true feelings. She said someone mentioned to her that I was now in a relationship with a beautiful girl. Lucky me, she said. If I had accepted her daughter early enough- not been such a coward and stepped up to my responsibility, maybe her grandchild wouldn’t be dead. Tolu stared at the kitchen floor as he spat out her hurtful words.
‘Perhaps she wouldn’t be hearing her daughter cry herself to sleep every night if I was a real man. She said she was happy I’d found a brand new girl to love after ruining her daughter’s life. Her daughter loved me and I dumped her a day after she lost my baby. Then she slapped me and screamed that she will never forgive me till the day she dies.’
Tolu’s pain was evident. Simi made to hug him but he stepped back like there was something more he needed to say.
‘I needed to get as far away from the house as possible. Tolu continued. ‘I’d had a few drinks, nothing I didn’t feel I could handle though. So I got into Tosin’s jeep and drove off. I just had to clear my head. I left Lekki and sped through Victoria Island. I knew there would be no traffic on Third Mainland Bridge since it was a Saturday night. I figured I’d stay at my cousin Wale’s house in Ikeja, if I didn’t feel like going back to the Island. I just needed to get away from home- be alone.I’d been thinking about what Rita’s mum said, thinking about how the ordeal must have affected Rita, thinking about calling my cousin to tell him I was on the way . And then I heard a thud. I hit the brake instantly but it was too late. It was just too late’.
‘Too late for what, babe?’ Simi asked, nervous
He shook his head as if to rid himself of an image. ‘She was already dead’
‘She? She what?’ What?! How?
This had to be a lie. Simi heard the tortured wail she hadn’t noticed came out of her. The man of her dreams could not have killed another human being. What sort of nightmare was this?
‘I couldn’t stay’, Tolu said. ‘I had to get back home, get some help with this. The road was empty as far as I could tell- devoid of vehicles. No one seemed to have noticed. It was when I reversed that I saw her- she was young, maybe 30. A line of thick garnet had oozed out of her ear through her mouth and neck. Her eyes were still open. I was terrified. I remember the dull green and brown Ankara buba that clothed her lifeless body- like camouflage, like vegetation. I wanted to help but my body was still trembling. I punched in my dad’s number and mumbled what happened. I remember the calmness in dad’s former army general voice. He told me to come straight home that it would be taken care of.’
Tolu was silent for a few minutes. Maybe he was trying to read Simi’s reaction. She just stared at him, like she was watching the catharsis of a horror film play out.
‘Anyway, they made it go away’ He said his disposition transforming to nonchalance. ‘We have nothing to worry about as far as that is concerned’
‘What does that mean?’ Simi asked, wrapping her arms around her bare shoulders, cold. She could feel a wave nausea surfacing.
‘Simi, its Nigeria. That’s how it is there, You know the right people, they make things disappear when you need them to’
Now heat fixed into her skull like its matching Lego piece. ‘It’s Nigeria? Your desire not to assume responsibility for what you did should be blamed on this country? Tolu you took the life of another human being. Simi whispered the last sentence afraid someone might hear it- afraid she might accept it.
I feel bad about what happened but it’s not my fault that the inadequacies of this country benefit me. Would you rather have people know? That my family name got desecrated? That I was rotting in kiri kiri prison?
He must have seen the candid affirmation in her eyes because he grabbed her. His grip was so tight; she thought he’d dislocate her shoulder. ‘Simi darling, I’m not a killer. It was a mistake. Imagine what I went though? Come on baby, I’m still the man you love.
Her emotionless eyes dissuaded him from bothering to appeal.
Simi didn’t take his calls for two weeks after and when she did, he begged, she retreated, and he begged some more and she eventually conceded. He was the man she loved, afterall.
All through the time Simi smiled and posed for engagement photographs behind her flawless Giorgio Armani foundation and Philip Lim wrap dress she knew that she was marrying a murderer- An unrepentant murderer. She twirled beside him, wrapped her arms around his neck and planted kisses on his lips, grinning all along like the cat that got the cream. After that, Simi went home and heaved her stomach’s contents into the toilet bowl, wailing on her lilac tiled bathroom floor.
Simi tried to talk to her mother about it.
‘Mum do you think it’s wise to go ahead with a wedding, if someone did something terrible in the past- something unforgivable.?’
This had been her single meager attempt to request decent advice when she started having cold feet.
‘Is whatever the person did still going on?’
‘No. it’s not mum but it was really bad.’
‘Sweetheart, why do you want to destroy something so beautiful over a trivial indiscretion?’ She looked at Simi like she’d asked for permission to lynch someone.
It startled Simi; it shouldn’t have though, considering that her mother had stayed with her father through every ‘piano teacher’ and the revelation of his three secret offspring.
It’s their wedding night now. Simi’s limbs feel like estranged relatives, they stay apart long after he’s rolled off her and into stage two sleep. She stares at the red lace negligee, on the floor. She now realizes the exact moment she fell out of love with her husband. It was when she said those vows. She affirmed her cowardice to God, and herself. They’re off to Monaco tomorrow for their honeymoon. A family friend’s private plane will take them to Montenegro and wherever else they desire for the next three weeks. Simi has truly become the face of every single woman’s dream.
Simi sneaks into the bathroom to make a phone call- she locks the door, turns on the tap like she always did.
‘Robert, are you awake?’ Simi asks, staring nervously at the bathroom door
‘Hey beautiful, I’ve missed you.’ he replies. ‘He’s asleep, isn’t he?’
She tells him to make reservations at their usual hotel. She’ll be back in London on Tuesday. They’d discussed whether to continue the affair after she got married. After sneaking around for two years behind Tolu’s back it would be a hard habit to break. She and Robert had actually stopped after the engagement. Simi had planned to confess but as some of you may know, guilt is a dynamic mental state. It’ll disarm and devastate you one moment, then fill your mind with justification and a sick brand of confidence, the next. She’d hoped her mother would encourage her to confess- lecture her on the importance of honesty in marriage from the viewpoint of the deceived spouse. Her mother didn’t. Simi still has her secret. She’d just tell Tolu she had to be at the hospital, that she was on call. Many medical emergencies had been used to mask their clandestine trysts.
Who says you’ll find all the qualities you desire in just one person. Simi’s father never did and she never will.