It’s Clive. He greets me with his trademark smile. It’s hard not to notice his upper left canine which looks more of an incisor.
“Are you going to answer that?”
He pauses for a second before accepting the call. “Can I come in now?”
He steps forward and embraces me amidst laughter. The embrace lasts for about seven seconds. I can feel his aftershave faintly pierce my nostrils. He finally stops, takes a few steps back and observes his watch
“We have to get going. You’re getting married in under one and a half hours.”
I frown. Don’t I know that? I mutter silently.
“We have to be there in time for you to…” He stops suddenly when he sees a lighter and an open pack of cigarettes lying on the living room table. One cigarette is peering out of its pack.
“Have you been smoking?”
“I thought about it.” I say timidly, like a baby afraid of punishment.
“I see the wedding day jitters have got the best of you. How are you feeling?”
I ponder this question carefully as I retreat into the living room. I look back at Clive and note the look of concern in his eyes. For the first time I also notice he’s shaven-sporting a full number-one cut on his head while his beard remained untouched. I inspect his outfit. He’s wearing a tailored charcoal-grey suit, similar to mine. His white shirt is however more crisp, which makes his black tie completely stand out. Any objective opinion would undoubtedly render him the groom and not me.
“It’s not jitters. Trust me. It’s just that I’ve never felt so neutral in my life.”
“You’ll be alright.” He says with a warm smile spread across his face. It’s reassuring. “Don’t worry yourself too much.” I smile back, trying to show some conviction.
We stand in comfortable silence for a little while. I glance at my watch. It’s about an hour to go till the wedding. I break the ensuing silence.
“We should go now, don’t you think?”
“Yes we should.” Clive says, also glancing at his watch.
I walk hurriedly to the door but Clive stops me. He ties the top button of my shirt and tightens my tie. He takes a few steps back and inspects me keenly from head to toe, with a frown on his face. He takes out the white rose boutonniere from the left lapel of his suit jacket and pins it on mine. He steps back again, and this time smiles widely at his work.
“Now we can go.”
“What about yours?”
“I have an extra one in the car. I’ll have time to fix mine before the ceremony. You won’t.”
He makes a good point. We hurry out but I stop when I see a limo parked in the compound. Clive continues walking hurriedly.
“It seems some people have leapt higher up the social ladder.” I joke.
“Yeah you!!” Clive says as he opens the passenger door for me.
The first person I meet at the church is my mother. It seems like she had been standing there a while, probably to meet her son, I don’t know. I smile at the prevailing thought. My mother smiles back; oblivious of my thoughts, and reaches in for a hug. I wrap her in my arms tightly, as if holding on for dear life, and think about how much I love her. She tightens her grip too. We finally let go of each other. She then looks at me. I could tell how happy she was, proud that she can finally see her only son get married. There is something about her face; it was glowing, akin to a Beemer’s headlights at high beam. She licks the tip of her thumb and rubs the corner of my mouth and for the first time in my life I don’t feel embarrassed that she’s done that.
The bride’s relatives who have arrived begin to convene a few metres away. I kiss my mother on the cheek and I go meet them. I overhear my mother thanking Clive for being such an elder brother to me. I was born three hours before him. I want to shout. But I don’t. For some reason I don’t dispute that statement whatsoever. He was always there for me in my toughest times and had a knack for giving good advice. Perhaps this is why the decision to appoint a best man was a no brainer. A piercing laugh from one of the women in that group interrupts my thoughts.
I greet them. Most of them are people I have never seen before in my life. They’re dressed in such a flamboyant fashion. The odour of their extravagance was telling; trickling down from their colourful dresses and imported shoes to their sophisticated handshakes. Behind them, the last of the guests are making their way into the church.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, turn and see that it’s Clive. He pulls me into a hug that gives an eerie sense of farewell. He takes out his boutonniere and pins it on his suit jacket. Does it look okay?. He asks. I reach in and touch it; making a pretense of attempting to fix it. I nod my head after surveying it for a few more seconds.
“Well, that’s your cue.”
I immediately wrap my head around his words. I tug at the lapels of my suit jacket, turn and walk towards the church with Clive close behind. I stop at its entrance and I do a superhero pose, something I’ve seen happen on a TV show. Apparently if you do that before a really hard task, you will perform immeasurably better. Clive walks up and asks what I’m doing. He laughs and tells me I have to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy. I disagree. It’s one of the best. I tell him.
Heads turn as I make my way down the aisle. I walk somewhat unsteadily, like a blind man feeling his way as I try to keep pace with the slow music. The knot in my stomach gets tighter with each single step. The faces in the crowd encompass strangers and long lost friends and relatives. The faces on the cupboard in my living room are brought to life again. They came after all. I mutter silently. Some memories absent in my mind until that point in time reappear. I turn my head and focus on the wooden podium at the centre of the stage. I glance again at the congregation; this time subconsciously, and notice the heads still turning, like I’m a gust of wind blowing through a field of corn. I heave a huge sigh of relief when I finally reach the altar.
The vicar is there. He is as dark as pitch. His head is bald as an egg and shiny as the dewy star of dawn. One could use it as a mirror. I joke, silently. He’s wearing half-moon spectacles that make him look more of a judge than a vicar. I stand there motionless, with my hand in my pockets. I smile faintly, exposing a small part of my teeth for those interested in flash photography. There is a sudden scourge of whispers as heads turn more than they did for me.
The bride approaches the altar as the string orchestra behind me plays the Canon. I watch her as she calculates her steps diligently, as if she was playing a game of chess. Her dress is as white as the moon’s flame. The atmosphere around the church has now changed. The knot that had by now become loose in my stomach is now lodged in my throat. She’s soon adjacent to me at the altar. She’s stands there silent, like a little statuesque figure. Sweat breaks on my forehead as my knees become weak, much weaker than they were a few hours ago. The vicar smiles and delivers the all familiar opening statement.
“Dearly beloved…” he begins. Dearly beloved? I analyse the words. What does that even mean? Is he saying he is in love with the congregation? Is the congregation in love with us? That’s stupid. What am I even saying? I look at Anita. The calmness she had shown earlier had begun to wane and a sense of nervousness had ensued. Her fingers are twitching slightly. I reach my hand out to ease her. She’s trembling softly, like a shivering squirrel on a pine-tree branch. I hear the fading voice of the vicar. He’s asking whether anyone has a valid objection to our marriage. A voice deep within me is eager to respond, akin to primary school children shouting ‘Teacher’ repeatedly when they know the answer to a question. It’s that voice from earlier on in the day. It loses patience and begins to speak, and much to my astonishment, is as convincing as ever.
“I have a reason, because marriage is such a leap in the dark.”
“I have a reason, because I want to stay the same for donkey’s years. I want to stay in the past. I want to be left alone, to hang out with my friends at football matches and bars and argue about who has the best FPL team.”
“I have a reason, because I am stupid generally. I don’t know how to be happy let alone make someone else happy.”
“I have a reason, because I am impulsive and have a knack for being overconfident at the wrongest of times. That’s what has led me to this funeral, with someone who is just as lost and frightened as me.”
“I have a reason, because quite frankly, I am scared as sh….”
In those few seconds I feel as if I’ve lost all speech. I turn to look at the congregation. I spot my mother at the front row. She’s elated and can’t stop smiling. I turn back to the woman in front of me. Her smile has reappeared. It’s dazzling white, like snow in sunshine. I realise at that very moment that I wouldn’t love her differently if I did decide to walk out at that moment. I realise that that inner voice will never be heard, not because it would provide a dramatic end to this funeral, but because I realise marriage is what happens when you realise life is bigger than you. I realise that I want all this to be over, not because the tide of events is too strong; okay maybe that could be a reason, but because, but because, but because, I do want to marry her.
The vicar smiles and asks me, “James Ndiritu, do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do.” I say, in a matter of seconds, with an absolute conviction that amazes me.
Anita says the same. The vicar delivers his verdict, pronouncing us man and wife. I take her veil off. Her eyes are shining, just like the way they do in the movies. I lean in to kiss her. She kisses back rapidly. She’s regained her acuity from before, as she walked down the aisle. She whispers that she loves me. I say the same to her. A deep dimple appears on her left cheek as she stares at her ring. I realise at that moment that, I am reborn.
Or at least I think I am.