26 Jan The Marriage Class 1 – Of Lovers & Proposals (Preview Chapter)
It is 5:10pm and I know I need to be, at least, on Third Mainland Bridge by now if I want to have any hope of making my appointment on time. But instead, here I am, unable to take my eyes off my damned screen, off this damned LinkedIn page, off the damned face of my ex-fiancé announcing his new role with one of the biggest banks in the country.
Lucas Oseghale Ibazebo – Vice President, Investor Relations
I glare at his smiling profile, at his toothy grin, and curl my upper lip. His teeth aren’t this white, please. And his skin isn’t this baby smooth either, what with the small scars he got as souvenirs from adolescent acne and the bumps that have taken permanent residence around his jawline after he made the decision to go clean shaven. His photographer has clearly worked overtime to filter and retouch the image to perfection. Well, not too perfect, as I can still make out the small horizontal scar atop his right eyebrow. My eyes rove the picture, taking in other familiar details like the almost imperceptible asymmetry of his eyebrows, with the right one not quite as thick as the left one, and the perfect ombré blend of brown and pink of his lips. And a lump forms in my throat.
God, I miss this man!
My eyes drop to his finger, and the shiny platinum wedding ring it brandishes, and I curse under my breath.
God, I hate this man!
I am scrolling down the page to read more about this new job of his, when there is a tap on my window. I look up to see my colleague, Ebiseme, standing on the other side of the glass partition, tapping her wrist with an arched brow.
Yes, I know I’m late.
“Abi, why are you still here? I thought you said your marriage class starts today.”
I twirl the large diamond ring on my finger and curse when my eyes drop to the clock at the top corner of my screen. 5:29pm.
Grabbing my laptop, I shove it into my messenger bag and gather my personal effects – phones, power bank, air pod case, and half-drunk bottle of water – from my table, throwing them into my Valentino handbag without the usual, almost pedantic, care to ensure everything is in the right place; phones in the small pocket just below the inner zip covering an even smaller pocket where the air pod case typically resides, and with the bottle of water securely fastened and standing in an upright position, to avoid any stories that touch the heart.
“It’s on the mainland, isn’t it?” Ebiseme seems hell bent on making me feel worse than I already do. “Are you sure you can make it? It’s already past 5.”
“I’ll make it,” I throw at her as I rush out of my office.
I sprint to the elevator, almost tripping over myself in my impractical five inch-heeled Roger Vivier pumps, barely entering the lift before the doors close, and rushing out as soon as it opens on the ground floor. I shove past people in my haste to the car park and, once there, grab my phone and set the location on Google Maps. Fifty-five minutes to the location.
Shit! Shit!! Shit!!!
The class starts at 6pm and I’m going to be late…for the very first one.
I’m running late, my thumb flies across the keyboard of my phone. But I’ll be there soon.
Now, you see, the word soon is relative. Very relative.
Inhaling deeply, I cue on the car’s sound system and my lips broaden into a smile when Wande Cole’s Iskaba starts to play, my anxiety calmed and my jitters dispelled. So what, if this is the song that has been on repeat in my car for the past month? So what, if this is the one song guaranteed to make me happy? So what, if this is the song Lucas and I always listened to in his car back then? So what, if this song still reminds me of him?
None of that matters, right?
With the song on repeat, I navigate my way through Victoria Island traffic and, as it always happens every time I listen to it, my mind drifts to Lucas and, once again, I curse him for what he did to me. What he did to us.
The honking of more than a few cars jolts me out of my reverie. Looking up, I see that the traffic light has long gone green. A commercial bus overtakes me and the irate driver looks like he wants to stretch his hand into my car to give me a slap.
“All you women wey no fit drive! Go find driver jor!”
“Abeg, gerraway!” I yell back, rolling my eyes for emphasis. With a dismissive wave, I kick the car back into action and join the cars getting on the bridge.
There is bumper-to-bumper traffic and by the time I drive into the church’s parking lot in Yaba, it is already dark. Choosing a spot under an overhead light, as I park my car, I let out a loud sigh.
Am I really doing this?
A tap on my window makes me jump. I look up to see Raymond smiling at me. Lean, tall, and with the kind of suave good looks you would see in those late 1990s and early 2000s African American movies – what with his sleepy eyes, dimpled smile, skin the colour of butterscotch, and a curly and soft beard neatly cropped and even more of a testament to how seriously he takes grooming – Raymond is my fiancé. Smiling back at him, I turn the car off and disembark. In typical Raymond manner, he pulls me into a warm embrace, despite the fact I’m almost an hour late.
“Thank God. I was worried you wouldn’t get here on time.”
“There was a lot of traffic.” It sounds weak even to me, but I don’t offer more as I close my eyes and allow myself to bask in the spicy notes of his perfume. If there is one thing I love about this man, this man I am about to marry, it is the way he smells. God, he smells so good.
“You look tired,” he says, tipping up my chin. “Stunning, but tired.”
I roll my eyes as he chuckles, pulling myself away from his embrace. “It’s 7pm and I just finished fighting through rush hour traffic. So, duh, my looking tired is a given, don’t you think?”
He smiles and takes my hand. “All the more reason why you should have let me pick you up.”
Still holding my hand, he leads me to a two-story building adjacent to the large building that houses the main church, and I try my best to keep in step with his brisk pace. But while he seems eager to get to the class, my feet are lead-heavy with each step.
“Has the class started?” I ask as we walk up the dimly lit stairs.
“Only about five minutes ago. The Instructor wanted to wait for more couples to get here. There were only three of us in the class at 6pm when it was supposed to start.”
“Why am I not surprised?” I scoff. “This place is in the middle of nowhere.”
He laughs, not taking any offence at all. Typical Raymond.
“Yaba is very central, Miss I-Never-Leave-The-Island,” he grins. “And, like I told you before, this is the only place I could find with a short enough program to allow us complete the course before our wedding date. Every other place, both our churches inclusive, have classes that run as long as six months.”
The reminder of how close our nuptials are makes me stiffen.
We walk into a room on the second floor and are met by a smiling couple standing in front of the class. Attractive and middle-aged, possibly in their late forties or early fifties, they are the conveners of the class, from the look of things.
“Oh, great! Your fiancée has arrived,” the woman says to Raymond while smiling at me. “Welcome.”
I manage a stiff smile in response. As Raymond leads me to chairs in the middle row, my eyes scan the room, fascinated by the varied mix of people in the class.
The female convener waits for us to be seated before she resumes talking.
“For the benefit of those just joining us, we’ll introduce ourselves again. My name is Ifeyinwa, and this is my husband, Maxwell. We’ve been married twenty-six years and have coordinated St. Claire’s marriage class for at least half that time.”
Her voice drifts off as I continue to look around, more interested in the other couples than what the Ifeyinwa woman is saying.
Hmmm, so we’re all here to do this thing sha.
As my eyes scan the room, I notice three women sitting unpaired; a young woman in her twenties, a pleasant-faced woman who looks about my age, thirty-three, and a woman who looks to be in her late thirties or early forties, but with a perfectly made-up face and buxom curves barely contained by the tight, low-cut dress she wears.
The door opens and a young man, who looks to be in his twenties, walks in. My eyes widen as he walks past the woman who looks closer his age, past the woman who looks my age, and heads, instead, to the older woman. My mouth drops in surprise as they exchange a brief kiss, eliminating any doubt that they are, indeed, a couple.
Omo, nothing we no go see for this Lagos!
The door opens again, and an attractive middle-aged man walks in. He sits next to the woman who looks my age, shrugging her off as she tries to put her arm around him in welcome, and I am unable to help the snigger that escapes from my mouth.
Raymond turns to me, the furrow of his brows showing his displeasure that I’m not listening to what the class conveners are saying. I frown at him and reluctantly return my attention to the front of the class. Ifeyinwa’s husband is talking now.
“It looks like most of us are here,” he is saying. “For the newcomers, my name is Maxwell, and Ifeyinwa, my wife, will repeat our introduction after the class. But for the sake of everyone else, we’ll move forward to the part I love the most.” A smile spreads across his face. “The getting- to-know-you-part.”
Ifeyinwa is also smiling. “Basically, one member of each couple will make introductions on their behalf. You know, names, what you do for a living, how long you’ve been together, that kind of thing. And, to make it more interesting, the other person will tell us your proposal story.”
I sigh deeply and shut my eyes. This is going to be a looooong evening.
A dark skinned woman raises her hand. Attractive, flashy, and flamboyant in a bright red jumpsuit with bold white vertical stripes and large diamante – or at least I hope they are diamante and not actual diamonds – chandelier earrings, she looks overdressed even to me.
“We’ll go first,” she giggles. “My name is Ewatomi, or Ewa to my eight hundred and seventy-six thousand followers on Instagram.” She giggles again. “I’m twenty-eight years old and a fashion and beauty influencer.”
I roll my eyes. Why am I not surprised she’s that type?
“And this is my gorgeous fiancé, Sanya. He’s a former model turned business mogul.”
I scoff under my breath, my eyes moving to the guy who doesn’t look a day older than thirty-five. Business mogul indeed.
Ewa looks at him, still giggling. “We’ve been together two years, but, as you can see, he still gives me butterflies.”
I roll my eyes again, feeling like I’m going to throw up.
Maxwell nods at them. “It’s nice to meet you both. So, Sanya, will you do the honors and tell us your proposal story?
Sanya nods, grinning. “I proposed to her at the Madison Hotel. I rented one of their halls, had it decorated with large helium balloons, inflated hearts, rose petals on the floor, the works.” Turning to Ewa, his smile broadens. “I knew I had to make it special. I mean, look at her. She’s a goddess and deserves only the very best. So, I put together the most beautiful, the most romantic set up ever, and popped the question.”
Ifeyinwa is grinning so wide, her eyes are crinkled shut. “Oh lovely! Was it a surprise?”
Madison Hotel – July 2021
Still standing in the hall and holding the ring box in one hand, Sanya glanced at his watch with the other, looking anything but pleased.
While he was waiting downstairs, Ewa was getting her make up done in one of the hotel rooms, looking at the pictures her friend, Yewande, was showing her on her phone, pictures of the hall where Sanya was waiting. Grabbing the phone from Yewande, Ewa frowned as she scrolled through herself, not happy at all with what she was seeing.
“I told him not to get red balloons. They’re too cliché! I told him to pick black and pink. This looks too Valentine’s Day! Is it too late to change them? Can we call the decorator to make a switch?”
Yewande frowned. “Ewa, it looks fine. Everyone has been waiting in the hall for over an hour. Let’s get this over and done with before they start to leave and we don’t have enough people in the shot.”
Ewa squinted at the screen.
“What colour is that God-awful shirt he is wearing anyway? Is it cream, champagne, or what? Won’t it clash with my…”
Yewande groaned in her frustration. “Ewa, it’s not clashing with anything. He looks good, and so do you. We need go downstairs NOW.”
Almost an hour later, Ewa finally walked into the decorated hall, her freshly manicured, scarlet-nailed hands covering her face in her feigned confusion, squealing in bogus surprise as Sanya dropped to his knee, holding a large engagement ring.
“Ewa, my love, my sunshine,” he smiled up at her. “Will you marry me?”
Dissolving into well-rehearsed tears, she stole a glance across the room to make sure her friend and Sanya’s assistant were capturing the moment, before rushing into his arms.
“Yes, yes, a million times yes!”
Ewa giggles. “Yes, it was. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
As she flashes the massive rock on her hand, I realize I have seen her…and that ring…before. Ah, I remember now. Their hashtag, #CheersToTheWellingtons, has been trending online for a while. I wonder why I thought the guy was related to the other famous Wellington. He’s cute though, even if he is prematurely balding.
Ifeyinwa nods at Ewa and Sanya, the smile still on her face. “Beautiful. Congratulations!” Her eyes move to the next couple and she smiles in anticipation.
A guy with an afro returns her smile. “Hi, I’m Boma. I’m thirty-four years old and I run my own Sports Supply Company.” He turns to his equally smiling companion. “And this is the love of my life, April.”
Ifeyinwa beams at them. “Such a nice name, April. Is that when you were born?”
April shakes her head, her forehead pinched in a slight frown.
“No, I was born in October.”
I look at her, alongside everyone else in the class, waiting for the punch line, waiting for her to tell us the story behind her name, but she says nothing, the expression on her face as vacant as an empty bottle. My cheeks inflate and I purse my lips to keep the deep belly laughter from escaping, but I’m not quite successful as it escapes as a considerably audible grunt, prompting yet another glare from Raymond.
Boma’s smile has now waned and he coughs nervously. “April is twenty-nine years old and she’s a Personal Shopper.”
Ifeyinwa nods and smiles. “And your proposal story?”
Boma and April exchange a glance, and she flushes as he chuckles.
Boma’s Bedroom – March 2022
Enveloped in a cloud of endorphins as he descended from the mountain-peak high of yet another explosive orgasm, Boma turned to April, his hand propping his head, staring in worshipful adoration at the woman lying next to him.
“Where have you been all my life?”
April giggled and drew him in for another kiss. Pulling back, she smiled. “Waiting for you.”
“Marry me,” Boma said to her, his gaze not wavering.
Her eyes widened in her surprise, just as a large grin covered her face. Jubilant, she threw her hands round him and pulled him into another kiss as they dissolved back into the sheets.
I frown as April and Boma exchange another glance. Jeez, how hard can it be to tell a proposal story?
“Ummm,” is all April can manage, and I don’t even try to stop my eye roll. These two should sit down and let the next couple talk, abeg!
Coming to her rescue, Boma puts his arm around his fiancée. “We had a moment when we both just knew.”
Ifeyinwa smiles at them, obviously endeared. “That’s so lovely. How long had you two been together at the time?”
April giggles. “Two months.”
My mouth drops open as murmurs sound across the room. Two months? Honestly, these two belong in a circus.
“It’s actually five months now,” Boma cuts in, his smile now with a tautness that was not there before. “We’ve been engaged three months and our wedding isn’t till August, so we’ll have known each other eight months by the time we get married. When you know, you know.”
Ifeyinwa’s smile remains on her face. “No need to get defensive, Boma. I agree with you completely. When you know, you do know.”
She turns to the next couple, and the sexy forty-something-year-old woman raises a brow at her companion, who nods at her in assent. Turning to Ifeyiwa, the woman smiles.
“Hi. My given name is Kristina, but everyone calls me Kris. I’m an art curator.” Her smile deepens as she turns to her fiancé. “And this here is Bola. He’s an artist, and we’ve been together just about a year.”
Ifeyiwa places a hand over her chest, and smiles. “An art curator and an artist. How romantic! Did he propose in an art gallery, exhibition, or museum? Make my day and tell me it happened somewhere like that.”
Bola chuckles. “Nothing quite so dramatic. I proposed to her over dinner.”
Alcapone Italian Restaurant – February 2022
Kris and Bola walked hand-in-hand into the restaurant. Seeing some people she knew, Kris walked ahead to speak to them. As she walked away, Bola watched her with a smile on his face, drinking in the sight of her curvaceous body with all its contours gripped by the jersey fabric of her sleeveless black dress, her waist-long braids brushing her round bottom. She turned to him and smiled when their eyes held. In response, he blew her a kiss and she looked away, still laughing. He was still watching her as he took his seat, and as she walked back to their table minutes later.
Sitting down, she shook her head and chuckled. “I was trying to talk business. Why were you making me blush like a schoolgirl?”
He leaned forward. “I was just in awe of the fact that I’m the one who’s lucky enough to be here with you tonight.”
She rubbed her foot against his and winked at him. “In more ways than one.”
“Seriously, babes. Every day, I wake up so grateful that, of everyone you could have picked, you picked me.”
Her smile waned as her eyes still held his, like she was searching for something. After looking at him for almost a clear minute, she shook her head.
“I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for when you’ll show me you’re just like every other man, and that all this,” she gestured at the space between them, “is just an act.”
He raised a brow. “After almost a year? Really, Kris?”
She shrugged as she picked up the menu. “Let’s order.”
A waiter walked to their table, and they placed their orders; a vegetarian lasagna for her and chicken piccata for him. Their food was served, and as the meal progressed, they were soon back to flirting and laughing. As they enjoyed their dessert of sticky toffee pudding, a waiter walked up to them with a covered plate, and set it before Kris.
“I didn’t order more dessert,” she remarked, looking from the waiter to Bola. “Or did you?”
Bola just smiled back at her, his eyes dancing.
Returning her attention to the covered plate, she lifted the metal cover and gasped at the sight of a white gold ring with a cushion-shaped diamond in an open black velvet box. Looking up at Bola, she gasped again when she saw him already on one knee.
“You’re the one, Kris,” he answered. “You’re the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
She gaped at him for a while before bursting into laughter. “You’re a comedian, you know that? Sit down and stop messing about.”
As a frown creased his face, her laughter faded and she was awash with a mix of emotions, equal parts blown away…and concerned.
“Wait, you’re serious?”
A small smile played on his lips. “As a heart attack.”
She wanted to smack him upside his head, but she also found herself starting to hope.
“Are you sure? Bola, are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything else in my life.”
“Babes, this is marriage we’re talking about,” Kris prodded, her anxiety and excitement rising in equal measure. “This is a whole lot bigger than you and I just fooling around.”
“You bet it is. And the last thing I’ve been doing with you is fooling around.” He reached for her hand. “All I need right now is for you to say yes, Kris. Just say yes.”
She regarded for him a while, before a slow smile curved her lips as she nodded. “Yes.”
Bola’s smile was as wide as his eyes. “Yes?”
Kris nodded again, tears in her eyes now. “Yes, you mad man. You’re a lunatic, but yes!”
“A proposal over dinner. Classic and simple,” Ifeyinwa remarks. “Congratulations.”
As she turns to the next couple, my eyes remain on Kris and Bola, and to say I am fascinated would be an understatement. I can’t get over how he is looking at her like she’s a slice of hot bread with melted butter slathered all over, how they are looking at each other like they want to rip off their clothes and go at it right here and now.
This thing called love!
Following a prompting smile from Ifeyinwa, the next couple immediately takes their cue, and the guy, a dark skinned, devastatingly handsome man, smiles.
“My name is Ayokunle, but everyone calls me A.K. I’m an oil trader.”
My brows raise, my interest piqued. In a sparkling white shirt that I can immediately recognize as Tom Ford, with a cropped, well-manicured beard, small feminine-looking pink lips, a broad chest, and toned biceps, he is the perfect hybrid of smooth with a little bit rough. Not bad. Not bad at all.
My eyes travel to his fiancée and I do a double take when I behold the plain looking, borderline unattractive, woman. My eyes shoot back to A.K., who is looking at her with utter adoration, and it takes everything for me not to scratch my head in my bewilderment. That’s who he’s engaged to? Her? With bulging eyes, thick lips, and a very pronounced overbite, she is nothing like what I would have expected a gorgeous man like that to consider appealing. From the way the other couples are either gaping at them or exchanging glances, I can see I’m not the only astonished person in the room.
A.K., oblivious, is still smiling at the woman beside him. “This is Chioma, the woman I’ll be lucky to soon call my wife. She works in aviation sales.”
I roll my eyes. Aviation sales indeed! Fancy name for a Travel Agent.
Ifeyinwa turns to the Chioma, smiling in expectation, and Chioma smiles back, looking more than a little nervous.
“He proposed to me where it all began.”
“Where you met?” Ifeyinwa asks.
“Where we fell in love,” A.K. answers.
Epe Beach – January 2022
As A.K. and Chioma walked down the beach, as he talked animatedly, her eyes searched the eyes of everyone walking past them and, just like she always did, all she could do was wonder what they were thinking, certain they were puzzled that a man like him was with someone like her. Seeing a group of women chatting in a group, she was so distracted by them that she wasn’t focused when A.K. leaned in for a kiss.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his brows furrowed. “You’ve been very quiet tonight.”
She shrugged and managed a strained smile. “I’m just tired. It was a really busy week.”
“That’s why I brought you here. To relax!” he said, pulling her in for a hug.
She tensed in his arms when she saw that the group of women was now looking in their direction. One of them waved.
“A.K! Ayokunle!” the woman yelled.
Turning in the direction of her voice, A.K. waved back, and Chioma pursed her lips, detaching herself from his hold. The strange woman left her group and ran over, her bouncy breasts bobbing up and down beneath a flimsy tank top, and her fleshy thighs flexing with each movement of her legs. The closer she got, the more perfect Chioma thought she looked, with spotless, glassy skin the colour of smooth caramel, and an hour glass figure showcased in denim shorts cut so high, they could pass for briefs. Very skimpy briefs.
“Wow! A.K! Fancy seeing you here! It’s been ages.”
A.K. smiled and nodded. “It sure has. What are you doing here?”
The woman cocked her head to the side, still smiling. “Bachelorette Party.” She touched his upper arm. “You look good.”
He smiled and nodded. “So do you.”
They, all three of them, stood in awkward silence and the woman cast a look at Chioma, her brows raised, before smiling back at A.K.
“Don’t be a stranger, okay?” she said to him. “Let’s meet up for lunch sometime.”
He smiled and the woman winked at him before sauntering away. When she was gone, Chioma hissed, turned around, and started to walk in the direction they were coming from.
“Chioma! Chioma, where are you going?” A.K. called out, bewildered.
She didn’t answer but instead quickened her pace. He ran to catch up with her.
She turned to face him, tears now streaming down her face. “I don’t know which is more painful; you brazenly flirting with another woman in my face, or you not even caring to introduce me.”
“What on earth are you talking about? Flirting with whom? I was just being polite.”
“Polite to her but disrespectful to the person who is supposed to be your girlfriend? If you really didn’t mean to disrespect me, you could have told her, point blank, that you can’t have lunch with her because you’re with someone else now!”
A.K. sighed, exasperated. “Of course I have no intention of meeting her for lunch or anything else. Heck, I don’t even remember who she is.”
“Well, she definitely remembers you.”
Sighing deeply, he shook his head and palmed his face. “Chioma, that was why I didn’t introduce you. I have no clue who she is, let alone remember her name. We’ve gone through this before, babes. You know I have a past…”
“You don’t say!” Chioma retorted.
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, my beloved,” he chuckled, reaching for her hands.
But she wasn’t at all amused.
“What are you even doing with me, A.K.?” she sighed, shaking her head as she also pondered over the same question. “Everywhere we go, people stare at us like the very oddity we are, I’m sure wondering whether you are under some sort of spell impairing your judgment.”
“I don’t care what people wonder or think, Chioma. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
She rolled her eyes and turned around, continuing to walk in the direction of the hotel.
“Did I say something wrong?” A.K. called.
“A.K., abeg, I can’t deal,” she shouted back, not even looking at him. “I’m not strong enough to handle the heartbreak that is warming up for me ahead, the heartbreak that will come when you go from sweet-talking me to no longer even taking my calls. It’s better for me to save myself while I still can. I know how these things go, and, to be honest, I’m surprised I’ve allowed myself get carried away for this long.”
“Chioma!” he yelled her name again, but she waved her hand in dismissal. “Chioma!” he called out louder.
The urgency in his voice made her turn around to look at him, and she gasped upon seeing him on one knee, holding a ring.
“I was going to do this further down the beach. I’ve already set up a cabana with candles, flowers, and wine.”
Her lips parted as she gaped at him. “A.K., what are you doing?”
“I love you more than anything, Chioma. You’re the one my heart has been waiting for. Marry me…please.”
Her tears returned, but they were happy tears now. “A.K., don’t joke with something like this.”
He smiled at her. “Does it look like I’m joking? I love you, Chioma Nkadi, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Overcome with emotion, she ran to him, dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around him, their lips connecting in a passionate kiss.
“It was an impromptu proposal along the beach,” Chioma smiles, her eyes dilated in her state of reminisce. “We eventually made it to the cabana he’d set up, and it was just as beautiful as he’d told me it was, if not even more so.”
Ifeyinwa, grins. “I hope you made him repeat it there.”
Chioma turns to a beaming A.K. “He didn’t have to. I would have said yes even if he’d proposed to me in the middle of Balogun Market.”
I palm my face and shake my head. Somebody save me now!
Ifeyinwa turns to the next couple, and a well-dressed woman in a bright purple blouse, who looks to be in her late thirties, smiles at her. Her partner, a man in his early forties, is wearing sunglasses…even though we are indoors…and it is now nighttime.
“Hi, there. I just have to say, I love your blouse. Is it satin?” Ifeyinwa gushes.
The woman smiles, obviously pleased someone has noticed her expensive attire.
“Thank you. It’s silk.” She throws an awkward glance at her partner, who smiles back at her. Shrugging, she returns her gaze to Ifeyinwa. “I’m Ogechi and I’m a Senior Vice President with Avalon Investment Bank. My fiancé’s name is Chizulukeme, or Zulu as everyone calls him. He’s a businessman.”
Ifeyinwa nods with interest. “And how long have you been together?”
Ogechi smiles and her face flushes, tinged with more than a touch of embarrassment. “Only a little longer than that couple over there.” She looks in the direction of Boma and April, and Ifeyinwa nods in understanding.
“And what was your proposal like?” Ifeyinwa directs this question at Zulu.
Zulu clears his throat and answers in a heavily Igbo-accented voice. “Will it be okay if she answers for us?”
Ogechi purses her lips, irritation flashing quickly across her face, before she forces a smile. “There wasn’t any proposal, per say. We’re both people of a certain age, and we just knew, I guess.” She nods in Boma’s direction again. “Just like he said, when you know, you know.”
Victoria Island – March 2022
Ogechi walked out of her office building and frowned at the ostentatious black Escalade parked right in front of it. The window slid down and Zulu grinned at her.
“Achal’ugo Nwanyi! You look beautiful as always. Biko, enter the car before the sun toasts this your lovely skin.”
The driver walked around the car to lead Ogechi to the back passenger seat, and she frowned before reluctantly following him. Getting into the back seat next to Zulu, she turned to glare at him.
“I didn’t know you were coming with a driver. When you asked me not to drive to work today, I thought you were going to come alone.”
Zulu chuckled. “Baby, is that why you have spoilt your face with that frown? Why will I want to drive myself in this traffic, when I’m not mad? Why would I want to get where we’re going frustrated? Nne, this life na only one.”
Ogechi pursed her lips and looked ahead. The date hadn’t even started but she’d just about had enough. Zulu touched her hand, startling her, and prompting a chuckle from him.
“This one you’re so jumpy today. It’s like you haven’t eaten. What you need is to swallow some hot pounded yam and drink a sweating glass of cold malt drink. That will make your body calm down.”
She turned to him, her eyes wide in her horror. “I hope you’re not taking me back to that awful place. Absolutely not, if that’s your plan. Let’s go to Ricardo’s, please. At least, I know what to expect from their menu.”
“Ogechi, I’m begging you in the name of God. I still haven’t recovered from that restaurant you made us go to on Sunday. In fact, I’m still purging.”
She was unable to mask her disgust, and instead turned her head, no longer able to look at him.
Zulu continued to talk, oblivious. “That food was not only terrible for my stomach but also my pocket. Imagine paying over thirty thousand naira to eat rice…ordinary rice.” He chuckled in his driver’s direction. “Did you hear that, Osita? Ordinary rice and stew, thirty-six thousand naira! By the time they added her food and all their taxes, nna, the thing was over seventy grand for two people. Is that not your one-month’s salary? On top food!”
The driver chuckled in response, further annoying Ogechi.
“It wasn’t just ‘rice and stew’. It was a steak and rice pilaf dish!”
“Rice pi-gini? No be only pi-laugh, na pi-frown!” Zulu laughed heartily at his joke, joined by his chauffer. “Biko, let’s go and eat real food this time.”
Ogechi’s phone vibrated and she retrieved it from her bag, a huge frown still on her face as she wondered what she was doing with such an uncouth man.
Babes, don’t forget what we discussed. Keep an open mind.
She frowned as she read and re-read the text from her older sister, Amaka. She turned to look at Zulu, who was now also scrolling through his phone. With a deep sigh, she threw her phone back into her handbag, just as they pulled up in front of an Efik restaurant. The driver helped her out of the car as Zulu disembarked from his side.
Ogechi’s irritation returned as they walked into the packed restaurant, as people brushed past her, and as Zulu loudly greeted almost everyone they walked by. Once seated at a table, she perched precariously on the edge of her chair, not even making any attempt to get comfortable.
Zulu smiled at her. “Achal’ugo, what will you eat? You had Egusi last time, abi? You should try their Afang soup. It’s so delicious, you’ll want to eat your plate with the food.”
Ogechi shook her head in her disinterest, reaching for her phone. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll eat when I get home.”
“Baby, mba nau. How can you expect me to eat if you don’t? They have rice here as well. Do you want Jollof rice? Fried rice?”
She started to type a reply to her sister’s text. I can’t open my mind any more than I already have. This thing is not working…
Zulu sighed, just as a waiter walked up to their table. “My brother, thank you. But we’ll be leaving now.”
Ogechi looked up from her phone, surprised, and Zulu smiled at her.
“Let’s go where you want to eat. I will make sure I drink something to calm my stomach afterwards.”
“Oh no, we don’t have to leave,” she said, suddenly overcome with guilt, before turning to the waiter. “ I’ll have some rice and vegetable sauce, please.”
The waiter arched his brow, confused. “Rice and Edikang Ikong?”
Zulu chuckled, just as his phone started to ring. “Yes, my guy. Rice and Edikang Ikong. As for me, I’ll have my usual.”
As he answered his phone, Ogechi studied him intently, frowning as she looked at him from head to toe, from his box haircut, to his gold chain and bracelets, to his paisley patterned shirt, to his maroon trousers and black patent boots, none of which she found appealing. Their eyes met as she looked at him and he grinned at her. She responded with a stiff smile. Thankfully, he was distracted by another phone call, and she exhaled as she looked away, unsure how much longer she could pretend to want to be there.
Right about then, a heavily pregnant woman walked up to their table, a wide smile on her face.
The sound of the title made even Zulu look up from his call.
“Oh, hello,“ Ogechi answered, looking up at the woman. “Nwanne, right?”
The Nwanne squealed and bent to embrace her, not minding her large bump.
“Sis, you look so good!” Nwanne raved. “You look even younger than the last time I saw you.” She giggled. “You’re practically aging backwards. Who would see us walking together and know you’re almost ten years older than me?”
Ogechi’s smile waned as she detached herself from the embrace. “Congratulations. It’s good to see you. Is this your first?”
“My first is eight years old oh, sis. This one is my third and final. My last bus-stop, as I’ve told my husband.” Nwanne glanced at Zulu, who was still talking on his phone, and winked at Ogechi before bending to embrace her again. “I have to run, sis. Please, extend my greetings to Uju.” Then, in a whisper, added. “And please, make sure you invite me for the wedding. God has finally heard our prayers!”
As Nwanne rushed off, Ogechi stared at her wistfully, remembering her visiting their Enugu home, her eyes always wide with awe and admiration, her desire to be like them – Uju’s older sisters – evident in everything she did and said. How ironic that now, Nwanne was the one whom she would give anything to be like. Sighing, shepicked up her phone and deleted the text she’d been typing as a reply to Amaka’s.
“My dear, no vex,” Zulu said, his call now over. “These my boys sometimes behave like they have akamu in their brains!” Turning his phone face down, he grinned at her. “I promise, no more phone calls.”
Ogechi smiled and nodded in understanding, seeing him a new light. Maybe she could learn to tolerate him after all.
He looked in the direction of the door. “Was that your friend?”
She shrugged. “My younger sister’s friend.”
“Which of them? Amaka?”
Ogechi smiled, impressed he remembered her sister’s name, albeit the wrong one.
“Amaka is my older sister. Uju is the youngest, the one in London. Nkechi, the one after me, is the one you spoke to over the weekend.”
“The one who just turned thirty-five, right?” When she nodded, he smiled. “I look forward to meeting them.”
Ogechi nodded but his smile waned as his eyes held hers.
“I’m serious, Achal’ugo. I want to meet them. I want to meet your entire family.” He paused for a few seconds. “Your dad especially.”
She nodded again, the realization of his words dawning on her. As their meals were served, she had flashbacks, flashbacks of the giggling, pregnant Nwanne from minutes before, flashbacks of posing for pictures as a bridesmaid at all her sisters’ and several friends’ weddings, and she knew she would be a fool to pass up this opportunity that had finally presented itself after several years of waiting.
Smiling at Zulu, she nodded. “I’d like that.”
Maxwell smiles and nods. “A discussion is just as good a proposal as any. Congratulations.”
He turns to the twenty-something-year-old woman sitting alone, who offers a shy smile back.
“Your fiancé couldn’t make it today?” Maxwell asks.
“He’s in Canada and taking his classes there, while I do mine here.”
Maxwell nods in understanding. “I see. We’ve had a few couples like that before.” Smiling at her, he shrugs. “Well, I guess you’ll have to do the intro and tell your proposal story.”
The young woman smiles and clears her throat, looking around nervously. “Well, I’m Bianca. I just finished my Youth Service.” She laughs. “And I’m job-hunting, in case anyone here is hiring.”
When nobody laughs along with her, she clears her throat again.
“My fiancé’s name is Prince, and he’s a Project Management Specialist based in Toronto. We’ve been together about two years.”
“And how did he propose?” Maxwell asks.
Bianca shrugs and smiles, even though her smile isn’t quite as bright as before. “There was no real proposal, per say. Like the last couple, we just, you know, agreed. From the very beginning, we knew that was where our relationship was headed.”
“Have you even met the guy?” Ewa asks from where she sits in the front row.
Sanya glares at his fiancée for her intrusion, but everyone else in the class has their eyes on Bianca, waiting for an answer. I, for one, am all-ears. A mail order bride? In 2022?
“No. Not yet. He was supposed to. He couldn’t get away from work. We tried several times, but it couldn’t happen.”
Surulere – May 2021
Bianca rushed into her bedroom from the bathroom to answer her ringing phone, soapsuds still on her body, slipping on the smooth linoleum covered floor and almost falling in the process. Grabbing the ringing device, she tapped the receive button of her video chat and Prince’s face appeared on the screen.
“Babe, where have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been calling you.”
“I’m so sorry. I was in the bathroom. Don’t you see I’m still covered in soap?”
He grinned. “Your beautiful body that I can’t wait to see…and hold.”
Bianca smiled as she sat on the bed, reaching for another towel to wipe away the wayward bubbles.
“Any luck from the Department of Home Affairs? Will you still be able to make it home in June?”
He sighed and shook his head. “I was advised it would be best to submit a brand new application for my P.R. So, I’ll have to start the process all over again.”
Bianca sighed and looked at the several pictures of her long-distance boyfriend taped to her mirror. “I was really looking forward to finally meeting you this time. It would have been so nice to see you face-to-face, instead of all these video calls.” She laughed, but was so pained, it sounded more like a whimper. “I was looking forward to knowing what you smell like.”
“It’s just a delay, my love. But it’s going to happen. I promise you. I’m not going to rest until this issue with my residency is resolved.”
“But what if they reject your application again? What if they deport you?”
He chuckled. “Then we’ll get to meet each other quicker.”
“That’s not even a little bit funny,” she hissed. “Hang on while I get dressed.”
She placed the phone on the bed, and rose to her feet.
“You know you could let me watch, right?”
She laughed as she got into her nightwear. “Pervert! There’s no way I’m going to show you my goods by video chat. What incentive will you have to come home?”
“Trust me, plenty!”
Fully dressed, she picked up the phone again.
“I spoke with your mom today,” she said. “She sounded much better than last time.”
He winced. “Damn, I forgot to call her. I just got off work now and only have a few minutes before I have to head to the factory.”
“When are you going to have the time to complete your certification exam if you’re still juggling all these jobs?”
“If I get the marketing job I told you about, I’ll definitely dump the others. It pays more than both of them combined.”
“What about tutoring those Nigerian kids? Will you quit that too?”
“I can do that in my sleep,” he scoffed. “I don’t have to quit. That, for me, is easy income. Babe, I want to be so sorted that by the time you get here, you’ll live a life of luxury. You won’t even have to lift a finger.”
“I hear you.”
They were quiet for a few seconds.
“I better let you go,” she finally said. “You’ll be late if you don’t head out now.”
“I’ll call you just before I clock in. Try not to fall asleep.”
She managed to laugh. “I’ll try.”
He hesitated for a bit. “I’m sending you a link right now. Have a look at it and let me know what you think.”
“A link for what?”
But the line disconnected.
Sitting back in her bed, her phone vibrated almost immediately. It was a message from Prince…with a link. Clicking it open, it led to a page with several engagement rings in different shapes and sizes displayed. She gasped, squealing as she hopped off the bed, wrapping both arms around her body as she shimmied in her glee. Her phone soon started to ring, and she rushed to answer it.
A smiling Prince showed on her screen. “Have you seen it?”
“Why are you asking me to look at engagement rings, Obiora Prince Mgbonu?”
The grin on his face grew wider. “Why else? It’s about time, isn’t it?”
She could only smile back at the phone, completely lost for words.
“We’ll get you a better ring when you get here, I promise.”
“You don’t even have to. These ones are beautiful.”
“Babe, you haven’t even looked at them,” he chuckled.
“I’ll look…and I’ll pick one.”
“I’ll send the ring you choose through a friend of mine coming to Lagos at the end of the month. Make sure you always wear it, okay? I want those Lagos boys to know you’re taken.”
She laughed, the wide smile on her face threatening to split her cheeks in half. “I’ll never take it off.”
He smiled and blew her a kiss. “You are the love of my life, Bianca. Thank you for making me the luckiest man alive.”
“He is the love of my life, and I’m his. We might not have met each other physically, but he’s my soulmate.” Bianca shrugs, still smiling. “With these things, the heart always knows.”
The last part of her statement hits me like a bullet. The heart always knows. I shut my eyes, assaulted by flashbacks I would much rather permanently forget.
Ikeja, – June 2019
Lucas cupped my face as we sat on a sofa in the living room of the flat he shared with his friend, his gaze deep and penetrating.
“You’re the love of my life, Abi. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you. You’re my soulmate.”
I smiled at him, the man I loved with an intensity that scared me. “You always say that, but how do you know? How do you know that, of the billions of women in the world, I’m your soulmate?”
His gaze was unwavering. “The heart always knows.”
And then he took my mouth in a deep, passionate kiss.
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Maryland – April 2020
I stood next to my sister, Joyce, during Sunday Mass, singing a hymn from the weekly bulletin. As we sang, my eyes travelled across the page towards the marriage bans, and I gasped when I sighted it.
For the SECOND CALL, banns of marriage between Beverly Omoyeme Osime from Uromi, Edo State and Lucas Oseghale Ibazebo from Irua, Edo State.
My hands shook as the bulletin dropped from my hand. Joyce looked at me, concerned, before reaching for the bulletin now on the floor. As she gasped upon seeing the notice, I sat down, still in a daze.
My world shattered.
I am jolted out of my reverie by Ifeyinwa’s call, and I stare at her, blank for a few seconds before realization sets in.
“Oh, it’s our turn? Okay, umm, my name is Abi, and I’m a banker.” I turn to Raymond. “And this is my fiancé, Lucas…Umm…”
I grimace as I realize my mistake.
Raymond smiles at Ifeyinwa. “Otherwise known as Raymond. I’m a Graphic Designer.”
Ifeyinwa looks from me to Raymond, and back to me, confused.
“His name is Raymond, I’m sorry,” I say, casting a plaintive look at him and he smiles back in reassurance. “And he was just being modest about being a Graphic Designer,” I continue, desperate to make up for my goof. “He’s one of the most brilliant animators in the country. As a matter of fact, in 2016, his short film was nominated for an Annie Award.”
Ifeyinwa nods, her brows creased. “That’s good to know. And how long have you been together?”
I turn to Raymond, suddenly blank. “Ummm….”
“Fifteen months,” Raymond answers for me, smiling. “Not quite a whirlwind romance, but not a long one either. And we got engaged on my birthday.” He puts his arm around my shoulder. “She planned a surprise birthday dinner for me, when I was the one with the surprise for her.”
Les Frites Restaurant – March 2022
Raymond and I walked into the restaurant and about twenty of our friends, already seated at a table decorated with black and gold helium balloons, all yelled in unison, “SURPRISE!”
Raymond laughed and shook his head, pulling me into an embrace, overwhelmed by the gesture. As we kissed, our guests cheered. But as we took our seats, my mind flashed back to my birthday a few years before.
Alfredo’s Restaurant – May 2019
I squealed in surprise as a group of my friends yelled “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” I turned to the man by my side, Lucas, overwhelmed with emotion, and he tipped up my chin and kissed me.
“Happy thirtieth birthday, my love.”
Les Frites Restaurant – March 2022
Raymond was smiling before a well-lit birthday cake, still chuckling from his surprise.
“Gosh, I’m not one to ever get surprised, but you got me. You guys got me.” He turned to me, shook his head and smiled. “You got me real good. How did you plan this without me having a clue? And it’s not even a landmark birthday or anything.”
“You deserve it, Raymond!” a guest chimed
“You’re always thinking of everyone else. You deserve to be the one on the receiving end for a change!” another guest said.
Raymond smiled at the guests, before turning again to me. His smile faded as his gaze held mine.
“Don’t forget to make a wish,” yet another guest called out.
Raymond’s smile returned as he looked briefly at his cake, before returning his attention to me. “It was around this time a year ago that my life changed forever. I met the love of my life and I finally was able to understand just how deep and intense love can be. Not a day goes by without my thanking God for bringing you my way, Abi, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you by my side.”
Then, without warning, he got down on one knee, prompting a gasp from the entire room. He reached into his pocket.
“I was going to do this tonight anyway. I was going to do this even when I thought it was just going to be you and I here for dinner.”
My eyes were wide as I gaped at him, speechless.
The Mandarin Hotel – July 2019
In a dimly lit deluxe room at the popular five-star hotel, surrounded by dozens of tea light candles and rose petals, Lucas got down on one knee, holding up a ring.
“Abieyuwa, my love, my life. You are the very air I breathe. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
In tears, I nodded, my joy indescribable, prompting a chuckle from him.
“You’re going to have to answer me with words, darling.”
“YES! In every language on God’s green earth, yes! Yes, Lucas! Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Les Frites Restaurant – March 2022
I was staring at Raymond, frozen to the spot.
“Awww, she’s at a complete loss for words!” a guest laughed.
Raymond’s eyes were questioning as they held mine. “What do you say, babes? Will you ride this journey of life with me?”
I finally smiled and nodded. “Yes, Raymond, I’ll be happy to.”
We embraced as our guests broke into rapturous applause. He slipped the ring on my finger as more applause rang out.
Raymond squeezes my shoulder, still smiling up at Ifeyinwa. “That was the best day of my life, and I’m so excited about getting to do life with her.”
Ifeanyi is smiling at us, the concern on her face no longer there. “That’s beautiful. Congratulations.”
As she turns to the next couple, Raymond smiles at me but I keep my eyes averted, not looking at him at all, ashamed of my slip…and hating that my excitement for our wedding is diminishing a little more every day.
Ifeyinwa turns to the middle-aged man who walked into the class shortly after I did. Good looking in a brooding kind of way, he arches a brow.
“Come on, now. And there I was thinking this whole intro was for the young ones,” he chuckles.
Ifeyinwa laughs and exchanges a glance with her husband before turning again to the man. “In this class, we don’t see age. Only love.” She smiles at his companion. “And for you to be here, then you definitely have a story for us.”
The man shrugs. “Well, my name is Eric and I’m a businessman in the Fintech space.” He nods in the direction of his fiancée. “And this is Ivie, the person who has dragged me here with a noose around my neck.”
Ifeyinwa’s eyes dart to Ivie’s, but Ivie simply laughs in response to Eric’s attempt at a joke.
Maxwell clears his throat and cuts in, seeing that his wife is flummoxed. “And how did you two get here? What’s your proposal story?”
Eric chuckles. “Does an ultimatum count as a ‘proposal story’?”
There is a grunt from the next pew, and Eric turns around to see a man in his late thirties, chuckling. Eric laughs again.
“You see? He gets it!”
“Do I ever!” the man on the next pew chortles.
The chortling man’s fiancée turns to glare at him, but he continues to laugh along with Eric. Eric turns to look at the last couple, a bespectacled man and his pregnant fiancée, and his laughter continues.
“I’ll bet that’s another guy who understands the meaning of the word ‘ultimatum’.”
The bespectacled man’s eyes widen behind his glasses, and he quickly looks away, just as his fiancée draws out a long hiss.
Landmark Events Center – February 2022
Eric and Ivie were seated at the wedding reception of his friend. With over five hundred people in attendance, it was so well organized, it created the illusion of an intimate ceremony. With her arm interlinked with Eric’s, Ivie leaned closer to whisper in his ear.
“You’re the only one who hasn’t complimented me today.”
He glanced at her, bemused. “For?”
She giggled. “For how lovely I look, silly.”
He looked at her, as if seeing her for the first time. “It’s a pretty outfit. I’d know, since I bought it.”
“You can’t compare the way a dress looks on a hangar to how it looks on a woman.” She nudged his shoulder with hers. “Your woman.”
He smiled and shook his head. “You look beautiful, Ivie. You don’t need me to tell you that.”
Her smile waned. “I don’t need it. I just want it.”
He reached for his glass of champagne and took a sip, just as Timi Dakolo’s Iyawo Mi started playing, and the new couple took to center stage for their first dance. Eric chuckled and shook his head.
“Olumide is a fool to be doing this again.”
Ivie turned to look at him. “Why is he a fool for wanting to spend forever with the woman he loves?”
Eric rolled his eyes. “A second time? He should have learned his lesson the first time around.” He shook his head. “I wish someone had given me good advice when I was taking the plunge my second time. You’ve done one rodeo, you’ve done them all.”
He took another sip of his drink just as Ivie pulled away from him, her countenance no longer bright and cheerful, but now desolate. He remained oblivious to her mood as he bantered with people who walked by their table, and as he continued to answer calls on his phone.
“So, what are you saying?” she asked, several minutes later. “That you’re done with the ‘rodeo’, as you call it?”
Eric didn’t even turn to look at her.
“If you mean me being done with marriage, then hell yeah! I don’t have to fail at something three times. Twice is more than enough.”
She recoiled, turning to watch the dancing couple, struggling not to give in to her tears. “So, what are we doing then? If marriage isn’t a consideration, what are you doing with me?”
He groaned and turned to look at her. “Are you serious? You want to have this discussion here?”
She glared at him. “Why not here? You’re always avoiding the topic. Why not here?”
“You couldn’t have picked a worse place to be a brat, Ivie,” he retorted, by now also irritated.
Her eyes widened before they narrowed in her rising rage. Reaching for her handbag, she rose to her feet.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Eric demanded.
She didn’t answer and instead brushed past him and walked away. He remained sitting for a few minutes, visibly vexed by her departure. Grunting, he finally rose and made his way out of the hall. Outside, he saw her standing on the road, glancing from her phone to oncoming traffic, as if waiting for something…or someone.
“Of all the childish and juvenile things to do, this takes the cake,” he muttered.
“Oh, I’m childish and juvenile now?”
“Yes! Do you know how silly you look, standing on the road in a dress like that, trying to flag a cab?”
“I’m not trying to ‘flag’ a cab. I’ve already ordered one on my app. It’ll be here any minute.”
Eric groaned and covered his eyes with his hand. “Oh God! Why are you acting like a kid, Ivie? You’re thirty-five years old and too old for this.”
She turned to face him, her face a mask of rage. “Exactly! I’m way too old for you to waste any more of my life. We’ve been together three years…”
Eric threw his hands up in exasperation. “And long enough for you to know that marriage is not for me. I’ve done it twice already. My kids are grown. Why on earth would I want to do it again? You know this. I’ve never hidden the fact that commitment is the last thing I want, and I thought you were open-minded enough to accept that.”
They stood there on the road as wedding guests walked and drove past them, not saying anything to each other for several minutes.
As her eyes pooled with tears, she shrugged. “Well, I guess I’m not open-minded enough after all.”
“What does that even mean?”
She clenched her jaw and looked away, before turning back to him.
“It means I’m not doing this anymore, Eric. It means I’m done. I’ve tolerated your emotional cluelessness and expressive deficiencies, but I will not tolerate being a glorified bed warmer for the rest of my life.”
An Uber pulled up in front of them and the driver wound down his window. “Ivie?”
She nodded at him before turning to glare at Eric again. “I’ll come for my things during the week.”
Eric looked on as she got into the car and as it drove off into the distance. Shaking his head, he put his hands in his pockets and exhaled deeply.
Eric shrugs. “I didn’t want to lose her, so I had to do what I had to do.”
Maxwell turns to Ivie, and she smiles back at him, interlinking her arm with Eric’s.
“He just needed a little nudge,” she grins.
“Well then, congratulations,” Maxwell smiles at her. “And welcome to our class.”
I chuckle as I watch them. These ones don enter one chance!
Maxwell clears his throat and turns to the mouthy man seated behind Eric, his smile more sardonic than pleasant. “You seemed to have quite a bit to say earlier.”
The mouthy man’s fiancée leans forward. “I’ll make our introductions. My name is…”
Maxwell raises his hand, his eyes still on the guy and the sardonic smile still on his face. “Please indulge me. I’d really like to hear from…”
There is a visible clench of the mouthy man’s jaw. “Itse. My name is Itse. Spelt I-T-S-E and pronounced ee-sh-eh.”
Maxwell nods, still smiling. “I’d really like to hear from Itse, pronounced ee-sh-eh, if that’s okay with you both.”
Itse and his fiancée exchange a glance. From the way she glares at him, she is still furious about his slip earlier.
“Like I just said, my name is Itse. My fiancée’s name is Omasan, and we’re both medical doctors.”
Maxwell lets out a whistle. “Both medical doctors? How about that! Was that how you met?”
Itse finally smiles as he nods. “Yeah, we met in our first year of med school.”
Maxwell crosses his arms, his brows raised in interest. “First year of med school? Sounds like a long time.”
“Nineteen years,” Omasan says.
There is an unmissable edge in her voice.
Itse chuckles. “So, I guess you can say that us ending up sitting here,” he gestures around the room, “was inevitable.”
MM2 Domestic Airport – January 2022
Omasan walked out, dragging a trolley-box behind her, ignoring calls from touts and taxi drivers. Looking around the car park, her large sunglasses did little to mask her irritation, her knotted brows and flared nostrils the dead giveaway to that fact. The honk of a car made her turn around, and Itse, in the driver’s seat of a Toyota Highlander, wove her over. Dragging her box to the other side of the road, she got into the car.
“Talk about the nick of time!” Itse chuckled, smiling at her as she buckled her seatbelt. “There was so much traffic, I was worried I wouldn’t get here early. These countless road constructions are a problem, I swear.”
“Well, thank God you got here early then,” she muttered.
She shrugged. “Just tired. Can we go?”
A wry smile formed on his face and he leaned into her. “Too tired for a kiss, after being separated the whole weekend?”
She hesitated briefly before turning to him. He smiled as he lifted her sunglasses before covering her lips with his, savouring their taste like he hadn’t been doing exactly that for almost two decades.
“Babes, let’s go,” she said, pulling back. “After the weekend I had, I need to rest.”
He nodded and navigated the car out unto the road.
“How did it go with the Christening? I hope Misan wasn’t too stressed,” he said, as they coursed along the Oshodi-Apapa expressway.
Omasan shrugged. “The Christening went well. Everything went well.”
She closed her eyes and he returned his attention to the road. A little over thirty minutes later, they were walking into their Yaba apartment, with him pulling her trolley-box behind him. He glanced at his watch.
“Do you want me to order anything for dinner? There’s still time for us to eat together before I leave for the hospital.”
She turned to look at him, a brow raised. “I thought you were on call this weekend.”
“Rotimi asked me to cover for him tonight. I mentioned it to you when we spoke this morning.”
She shook her head. “No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. But why is that a big deal? Rotimi and I cover for each other all the time.”
Omasan wove a dismissive hand as she walked away. “Do what you want. I’m too tired to argue.”
Itse stared, confused, before walking after her.
“What on earth is the problem, Omasan?” he demanded, entering their bedroom behind her. “If I cover for Rotimi tonight, it means I get to be free on Friday night for a change. Not all of us have the kind of flexible schedule you do.”
“So, is that the issue now?” she scoffed, her back to him as she dropped her handbag on the bed. “The fact that I get to pick and choose my work hours and you don’t?”
He stared at her back, flabbergasted, before raising his hands in surrender. “You’re clearly spoiling for a fight, but babes, I’m not here for it. Whatever it is I’ve said or done to annoy you, I’m sorry, abeg. Let me order what it is you’re eating for dinner and leave you to sleep off this crabbiness you’ve returned from Benin with.”
“Everyone, every single person, that came for the Christening – from my aunties, to my uncles, to my cousins, to my childhood friends, to even my neighbours and their dog – everyone wanted to know why we’re not married yet,” she threw at him as he turned around to leave.
He turned back to her, completely knocked for six. “Huh?”
She glared at him. “You heard me.”
“I don die!” he chuckled, his hands on his waist. “Wasn’t it your sister’s baby’s Christening? Why was your own marital status of interest to anyone?”
“Because Misan is my younger sister! Because you and I have been together almost as long as she’s been alive!”
Sighing, Itse sat on the bed, shaking his head. “Baby, you shouldn’t have let them get into your head. We’ve already discussed this. We’ve both decided this isn’t the right time.”
“No, YOU decided!” Omasan yelled, pointing at him. “YOU were the one who brainwashed me into thinking we have to continue aspiring to God-knows-what, until we can finally do the right thing and settle down properly.”
His eyes hardened as he returned her gaze. “We both agreed that we need to be more settled, you at the practice, and me with a better job than a government hospital that pays peanuts.” He waved both hands in exasperation. “For crying out loud, didn’t we agree to start the process of relocating to America?
She crossed her arms and shook her head. “I didn’t agree to anything, Itse. You’re the one who’s been trying to shove that relocation agenda down my throat.”
He nodded and stood. “But of course, why would the hot shot Pediatrician earning seven figures monthly want to relocate to America? Of course, that’s a banana just for us low earning monkeys.”
She hissed. “Trust you to trivialize everything. The point isn’t about who wants to go to America or not, but the fact we’ve been together almost twenty years, living together for twelve, but with zero, absolutely zero, plans of making any firm commitment to each other.”
He sighed. “Baby, I understand. The pressure from your folks has set you on edge, and I get it. But, we’re not ready…”
She stared back at him, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “I’m thirty-seven years old, Itse. When am I going to be ready?”
They sat in a face off for a while, before she turned around, wiping tears from her face.
“Don’t worry about ordering me anything. I’m not hungry.”
“Omasan, don’t be like this.”
She sat on the bed and slipped off her shoes. “No, seriously. I’m good. You should get going. Doesn’t the evening shift start at 7? You barely have enough time to make it there.”
He hesitated. “Are you sure?”
She waved him off again, not looking at him. “I’m good, Itse. I’ll just have a shower and sleep.”
“Call me if you need anything, okay?”
She looked up, a brow raised. “Why you dey talk like say na side chick you bring house for the first time?”
He raised his hands again, laughing. “Ah, abeg o! Before my crime becomes one I know nothing about.”
He paused by the door, his laughter abated. “Get some sleep, babes. You’ll feel much better after a good night’s rest.”
She smiled and raised her hand in a salute. “Yes, Sir.”
Looking at her, his smile waned just as his heart expanded. “I love you.”
She nodded and looked away. He waited a few seconds, in expectation, before finally leaving the room. When he was gone, with her hands resting on either side of the bed, she shut her eyes, crestfallen.
The next morning, he walked into the house after his shift at the hospital. He kicked off his shoes, set his laptop bag on the dining table, and walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge and scanning it for something to eat. Not finding anything, he grabbed a box of apple juice, took a swig from it, and walked out of the kitchen.
Opening their bedroom door, he stopped in his tracks when he found the room empty and the bed perfectly made. Frowning, he looked at the clock. It was only 8:30am. Reaching for his phone, he dialed Omasan’s number.
The number you have dialed is switched off.
His frown deepened and he dialed another number. This time it connected.
“Hi, Mabel. How are you this morning? Please, is Omasan already at the hospital? She got back from her trip just last night, and I didn’t think she was working today.” His frown deepened further. “She’s not coming in today? Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He exhaled and rubbed his forehead. “If she does come in by any chance, please ask her to call me. I can’t seem to reach her number. Thank you.”
The call disconnected, he plopped on the bed, frowning as he wondered what was going on. That was when he saw the note on the bedside table.
We want different things. Don’t look for me.
He glared at the note, reading and re-reading it, before letting out a guttural yell as he flung it across the room.
Itse smiles at Omasan, who has by now softened enough to return his smile.
“The race isn’t always to the swift,” he says, still smiling at his fiancée. “It’s not how fast, but how well. We always knew we would end up together.”
Maxwell’s smile is more congenial now, his concerns clearly abated. “Good to know. Congratulations.”
Ifeyinwa turns to the last couple, her smile nowhere as enthusiastic as it was at the beginning of the class.
Girl, you and me both!
“Last, and by no means the least, is this couple over here,” she says, smiling at the pregnant couple.
The woman returns her smile. “Hi, my name is Nkoyo, and this is Nosa. Until recently, we were colleagues at Hevlos Merchant Bank.”
Ifeyinwa beamed at them. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Nkoyo and Nosa. How did you two decide to get married?
I chuckle under my breath, my eyes darting to Nkoyo’s extended abdomen. Isn’t it obvious?
The bespectacled Nosa clears his throat. “No story, really. We met, fell in love, and decided.”
Hevlos Merchant Bank – February 09, 2022
Nosa had a broad smile on his face as he talked on the phone. “Baby, why are you teasing me like this? Or do you want me to beg?” He chuckled. “Yes, I know I left you just this morning. And yes, I know we barely got out of bed the whole weekend.” He chuckled again. “But after being apart for so long, I think I can be forgiven for wanting to be with you every single moment of every single…”
A knock on his door interrupted him, and a smiling Nkoyo peered into the room.
“Do you have a minute?”
The smile on Nosa’s face faded. “Let me call you back,” he said to the person on the phone.
Nkoyo walked into the office before he could answer her question, still smiling. “Sorry for interrupting your call. Your girlfriend?”
He cleared his throat and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Awww, lovely,” Nkoyo said, reaching for the picture of a smiling dark-skinned woman on his table. “I see this has returned to your desk now.”
Nosa cleared his throat again. “I decided to bring it back.” By now, his impatience had started to show. “Can I help you with anything?”
Her own smile waned as she held his gaze.
Hevlos Merchant Bank – December 20, 2021
Nosa was kissing Nkoyo, backing her in the direction of his desk, hoisting her on the table as they continued to kiss, grope, and fondle. With one hand, he cleared the contents of his table, sending folders and documents crashing to the floor as he and Nkoyo gave in to their passion.
The next day, Nkoyo couldn’t wipe off the smile of bliss and sheer contentment from her face, a dreamy look as she swiveled in her chair, reliving the passionate encounter with Nosa, one of the many they’d had since they started hooking up three weeks before. The conference room doors swung open and Nosa and a few other senior executives filed out with some high profile clients. Her heart raced as she stared at him, trying to make eye contact, but he kept his gaze deliberately averted.
Taking a selfie, she smiled as she captioned it, Missing you already.
She sent the message to him, and across the hall, she watched him pull his phone out of his pocket and read it, his face still expressionless.
Watching their exchange, the person seated in the workstation next to hers, Liatu, harrumphed. “I hear you and Nosa have been hooking up. Doesn’t he have a girlfriend?”
Nkoyo turned to her, the look on her face, smug. “Had a girlfriend.”
As Nosa walked back to his office, he texted on his phone and Nkoyo’s phone soon vibrated with his message.
My place after work?
A wide smile broke on her face as she happily replied; I’m ready anytime you are.
Liatu watched, amused. “I thought you were a lot smarter than this. He’s obviously on the rebound.”
Nkoyo glared at her. “And you know that how?”
Liatu rolled her chair closer. “Jeff and Obinna told me he’s been a wreck since he broke up with his babe. Apparently, they were together for years.”
Nkoyo hissed and turned her back to Liatu. “If you knew they’d broken up, why were you asking me silly questions earlier? It would do you a lot of good to stop poking your head where it has no business.” She started to gather her things and clicked her mouse to shut down her system. “Maybe if you did, you’d free up your time to find yourself someone.”
Liatu cackled. “I’d rather be single than anyone’s sloppy seconds. Not at my age, and definitely not at yours!”
Ignoring her, Nkoyo’s eyes were on Nosa as he emerged from his office. With the most indecipherable of nods, he walked out. Picking up her bag, she rushed after him.
Nosa’s Car – January 18, 2022
Nosa and Nkoyo were sitting in silence, the only sound coming from the purr of the car engine. She looked desolate and he, penitent.
“If you knew you’d go back to her, why did you string me along like that?”
“I didn’t string you along, Nkoyo,” he sighed. “And I’m sorry if it came across that way. If I knew you were reading so much meaning into it, I wouldn’t have let it go on for as long as it did. I thought, like me, you only wanted something casual.”
A tear rolled down her face, and she made no attempt to stop it.
“So, you’re really going back to her?”
He sighed again and was quiet for a while. “I love her, Nkoyo.”
Nkoyo nodded in sad acceptance. Without another word, she opened the car and walked out.
He made to call after her, to say anything to appease her, but changed his mind. Instead, he sighed, started the car, and drove off.
Hevlos Merchant Bank – February 09, 2022
Nosa cleared his throat again. “Can I help you with anything?”
Nkoyo said nothing as her eyes held his for a while.
“Can we talk later?” he asked, rising to his feet. “I really have to leave the office now.”
His eyes widened and he stared at her, frozen to the spot.
She squared her shoulders, her eyes boldly holding his. “Pregnant, Nosa. Pregnant with your child.”
His legs gave way, and he dropped in a heap in his chair, his eyes as wide as if he had seen a ghost.
Nosa shrugs. “So, yeah. We met, fell in love…and well, here we are.”
Ifeyinwa nods and smiles. “That’s lovely. Congratulations…for everything.”
Maxwell lets out an exaggerated sigh. “Wow! What an evening this has been! You see why this introductory class is my favorite?” Grinning, he looks at his wife. “I proposed to this beautiful woman here one hot Sunday afternoon in December 1995, as we sat in a long queue at the petrol station waiting to buy fuel. Sitting in my Nissan Bluebird, roasting in the heat because the car, being tenth hand, had no air conditioning, I looked at the beautiful woman sitting next to me, a beautiful woman that could have been anywhere else, with anyone else, instead of sweating buckets in a fuel queue, and I knew I had to marry her. So, in that hot car, I asked her, and she said yes.”
“The best decision of my life,” Ifeyinwa says, smiling at her husband, before turning back to the class. “One of the reasons we do this, why we ask to hear more about each couple, is to show you how different we all are. Apart from being different as individuals, our circumstances are different, our love stories are different, our relationships are different. You can see how, with ten couples here, no two stories are the same. And that’s what makes us special. It’s what makes this beautiful thing that has brought us to this class special.” She straightens and smiles. “And my husband and I are pleased and honoured to help guide you as you prepare to embark on the most important journey of your life.”
As we file out of the class, I panic when I see that it is almost 10pm. Walking to my car, I don’t even bother to keep in step with Raymond.
“Abi! Abi, wait up!” he calls out.
I ignore him and continue to walk to my car, a big scowl on my face.
“Are you upset about having to drive back so late at night?” he chuckles, when he catches up with me. “I offered to pick you up but you refused.”
I turn around to face him. “Do you really expect me to do this drive every week? Do you really expect me to drive to the mainland every week for this class?”
Raymond laughs. “It’s actually two times a week.”
I let out a long hiss, but he holds my hand as I reach to open my car.
“Sweetness, you don’t have to drive. I told you it would be my pleasure to pick you up. Trust me, I’m not happy either about you driving home at this time.” He sighed and looked around. “Listen, I’ll pay a guard to watch your car overnight. Let me take you home, and I’ll have someone bring your car to you tomorrow.”
I look at him, and rather than be touched by his concern, I am infuriated by it.
“How can you stand here, acting all nice and loving, after I called you another man’s name in there?”
He looks at me, momentarily confused, before shrugging. “It was a mistake. I know you didn’t mean to call me that.”
“What kind of mistake?” I yell in exasperation, hitting his chest with my fists. “I called you another man’s name in our marriage class, but rather than get mad, you’re making excuses for me?”
Raymond holds my hands with his. “Sweetness, relax, okay? You’re wound up about having to come all this way. I get it.”
I shove him and step back, shaking my head. “My God! Why are you this passive, Raymond? Why?”
The smile fades from his face and his gaze becomes more serious. “What would you rather I do, Abi? Throw a fit every time you call me his name or stalk him on IG?”
I deflate, surprised he is aware that I have, indeed, been stalking Lucas, even if Instagram is only one of the many platforms that this prowling has taken place. Awash with guilt, I place my hand on his chest and he pulls me in for a hug.
“Let me drive you home, baby,” he whispers in my ear in our embrace. “We could both do with a glass of wine…and whatever else comes after that.”
I smile as I pull back, his soft gaze making my heart melt. Raymond is the only man I’ve been with that has never left me guessing. He wears his love for me on his sleeve, and being with him is like sailing in tranquil, calm water; peaceful and stress-free.
Except I now find myself missing, wanting, turbulence.
“I better go,” I say, patting his face. “I’ll call you when I get home.”
He nods and kisses my forehead. “Drive safe. No road rage, please.”
“It’s the middle of the night and the roads are empty,” I grin as I let myself into my Honda CR-V. “Lucky for everyone.” Blowing him a kiss, I shut the door.
He taps on the window, making me slide it down.
“The next class is on Friday. I’d really prefer to pick you up, so you don’t have to drive home so late.”
I sigh and shrug, too tired to argue. “Okay.”
As I put my car in reverse, as I wave goodbye, all I can do is wonder why the thought of returning for another class is giving me the same kind of reaction I had as a kid forced to drink cups of herbal tea that tasted like piss, when I was ill.
And why I am comparing our wedding to a sour beverage.
Ewa & Sanya
Ewa is standing by Sanya’s car and shakes her head as she watches the Honda CR-V pull out of the park.
“Na wa o!” she remarks.
Sanya bades goodbye to the men he is talking to – Itse and Boma – and walks up to his car.
“‘Na wa’ what?” he asks, getting into his BMW.
“That guy, I feel so sorry for him,” Ewa answers, pointing where Raymond is still standing, waving at the departing car. “First of all, he waited almost an hour before his fiancée arrived. Then she called him another man’s name, did you notice?”
Sanya sighs and shakes his head as he starts the car. “No, I didn’t notice anything.”
Ewa claps her hands and shakes her head again, spoiling for a good gossip. “Something about them just seems off. Why would they come for their marriage class in separate cars, anyway?”
Sanya turns to her. “Ewatomi, mind your business. All couples have issues, and theirs have nothing to do with us.”
She recoils and her eyes narrow. Hissing, she crosses her arms and turns away, just as their car pulls out of the premises.
Omasan & Itse
Itse is laughing to a joke Boma has cracked, and his eyes drift where Omasan and April are standing. His laughter wanes when he recognizes the bored look on his fiancée’s face.
“I better go. It was nice meeting you, man.”
Boma shakes his hand enthusiastically. “Ditto, my brother.” He chuckles. “I love your sense of humour.”
Itse smiles and takes a deep breath as he and Boma approach the women. “If only everyone liked it just as much,” he mutters to himself.
Seeing him approach, Omasan turns to April. “It was nice meeting you. See you on Friday.”
April beams, her eyes twinkling. “See you on Friday.” She grins at Itse. “You two make such a lovely couple. I hope Boma and I are still like this after nineteen years. Honestly, you both don’t look your age at all.”
Boma winces. He turns to Omasan, embarrassed. “What she meant to say was…”
Omasan smiles at him. “It’s okay. Take care.”
Itse’s smile is stiff, just as Omasan brushes past him to their waiting car.
“Nice meeting you, April. See you later, Boma.”
He turns around and walks to the car, opens the door and gets inside. Omasan immediately turns to glower at him.
“What was all that about me giving you an ultimatum? Why did you have to humiliate me like that?”
Itse rolled his eyes. “I never said anything about you giving me an ultimatum. I only laughed when the other guy said he got one.”
“You laughed in agreement, like you could empathize.”
Itse turns to her, his wide eyes registering his frustration and increasing annoyance. “Well, maybe I can.”
She glares back at him. “Nobody gave you an ultimatum. You didn’t have to come after me. When I moved out, I released you to do whatever it was you wanted to. You’re the one who came to beg me to come back.”
He sighs and starts the car. “It’s been a long day, abeg. Let’s just go.”
With both their faces tight, their car pulls out of the car park.
Ivie & Eric
A chauffeur-driven Audi pulls up in front of Eric and Ivie. She turns to look at him, confused.
“Your other car is here? I thought we were going home together.”
Eric shakes his head. “Don’t you want some space after that tedious class? I know I do.”
She smiles, even though the hurt is evident on her face. “You talk like being with me is some kind of punishment.”
He groans, just as another chauffeur-driven car, a Mercedes, pulls up in front of them.
“Ivie, for the love of God! You can come back to my place tomorrow. I just need a break tonight. Please!”
She nods in acquiescence, not saying anything. He sighs and kisses her on the cheek.
“I’ll call you when I get home. We’ll do lunch tomorrow, okay?” He winks at her. “And dinner. And breakfast the morning after.”
She smiles at him, appeased. “And I know you’ll make it worth my while.”
He winks at her again, as he gets into the Mercedes. “You got that right, kid.”
“I love you,” she says.
“Ciao!” he answers, blowing her a kiss.
She watches as the car drives off, just as a rumble of thunder rips through the night air. A few feet away, Bianca looks up at the sky in dismay.
“It looks like it’s going to rain. Do you need a ride?” Ivie calls out.
Bianca stares at her, wide-eyed, surprised by the offer and also in awe of the flashy car parked in front of them.
“I wouldn’t want to take you out of your way. I’m headed to Surulere.”
The smile on Ivie’s face widens, as she opens the car door, making a quick mental change of plans. If Eric doesn’t want to be with her tonight, she’s sure her parents will. “I’m headed to Aguda, so you’re in luck.”
With a wide smile, Bianca gets into the car.
Nkoyo & Nosa
Nkoyo and Nosa are walking to his car. He is holding her with one hand, and her handbag with the other.
“That was so long and tedious!” she hisses and shakes her head. “And to think this was just the introductory class. What will the others now be like?”
Nosa turns to her, concern on his face. “Would you like us to check out the church near your estate, to see if we can join their class instead?”
She shakes her head and sighs.
“I already checked, have you forgotten? Their class is six months long. We don’t have six months.”
He nods as they approach the car, opens the door, and helps her into it.
“I need something sweet to calm my nerves,” she calls out as he walks over to the driver’s side. “Let’s get some ice-cream on the way home.”
He nods as he lets himself into the car. Once seated, he involuntarily exhales.
She turns to look at him. “Is everything okay?”
He turns and offers her a strained smile. “Everything’s fine. And ice-cream sounds like a fantastic idea.”
With that, he kicks the car into motion and drives off.
Chioma & A.K.
A.K. and Chioma exchange a glance after overhearing Nkoyo’s demand, before they burst into laughter.
“And what about you, my love? Do you also need something sweet to ‘calm your nerves’?” A.K. sniggers.
“That woman looks the kind of person who will milk the life out of her pregnancy. She has that guy on a short leash,” Chioma giggles.
“Not that I blame him, though. When you’re pregnant, there’s nothing you won’t be able to get me to do.”
With the smile still on her face, she smiles up at him. “Well then, we better hurry up and get married so you can show me, rather than simply tell.”
He bends his face so close to hers, they are less than an inch apart.
“How about we go back home and start practicing?”
She blushes before dissolving into more giggles. He lets her into the car.
Ogechi & Zulu
Ogechi and Zulu are walking to his car. She is watching A.K. and Chioma as they flirt, a wistful look on her face.
“Oge,” Zulu calls her name.
She turns to him, realizing she missed what he said.
“I was asking if you’re feeling okay. You haven’t said much since we left the class.”
She shrugs. “I’m just tired. It was rather tedious hearing from so many couples.”
He laughs, putting his arm around her shoulder, inadvertently roughing her blouse. She frowns, irritated.
“Take it easy,” she mutters, adjusting herself to release the part of her blouse his hold has caught.
“I enjoyed it. I liked hearing so many stories,” he says, oblivious of her irritation. Shaking his head, he chuckles again. “Last, last, our own is still better than many others.”
She glares at him. “Seriously? That was your takeaway from the whole thing.”
He clucks his mouth, his laughter disappearing. “Biko, I don’t have energy for your stress this evening. Can’t anyone joke with you?”
They approach his car and she gets into it, ignoring him. He stands there, glaring at the car for a few moments, before walking over to the driver’s side.
“And I don’t know what kind of spirit made you convince me to drive all this way myself tonight,” he mutters as he gets in.
Kris & Bola
Seated in Bola’s car, Kris straps on her seat belt and smiles at him.
“That was actually not a bad experience. I think I’m going to quite like this class.”
Bola nods in agreement. “I like the counselors. They seem really nice and easy going.”
Kris nods as well. “Very. And there were no ageist remarks either.”
Bola shakes his head and chuckles. “Babes, you look younger and more beautiful than all the women in that class.”
She smiles back at him and strokes his face. “You’re such a liar, but I love you regardless.”
He laughs, and she leans in for a kiss. Pulling back, she smiles at him.
“So…we’re really doing this?”
He smiles at her and nods. “We’re really doing this, my dear wife-to-be. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.”
She smiles with him, as he starts the ignition and drives out of the car park.
The Marriage Class
Out on Amazon and Bambooks on February 14, 2023