My eyes open at 7am, as Lovely Day by Bill Withers belts from my alarm clock radio.
And a wide smile forms on my face.
What better song to wake up to on my wedding day!
I sit up and stretch in the most exaggerated manner I can, before hopping off the bed and doing a small dance to the catchy song. Oh yes! It sure as heck is going to be a lovely day alright!
When the song stops playing on the radio, I put it on repeat on my iPhone, blasting it on the most permissible loud volume my neighbours won’t call the Cops for. I sing along with it with all gusto, my entire body, heart and soul reverberating with the words. How else would one feel on the day they marry the person they have loved for pretty much all their lives!
Yep, today is the day I marry the man I have loved since I was 5 years old…Okwudili…or as he’s been called since we were teenagers…Dili!
Sitting with a cup of coffee at my little study table overlooking my busy Manhattan neighborhood, a wide smile breaks on my face as I travel down memory lane. While it was love at first sight for me, it wasn’t quite the same for him. Our parents, our fathers specifically, were childhood friends and even though life had taken them down different paths, what with my own dad opting for the modest Civil Service profession and Dili’s father hitting the jackpot with his lucrative manufacturing business, the two men had remained friends. Despite the distance that separated our own humble home in Yaba from their luxurious one in Ikoyi, both families saw each other at least twice a month.
I remember the very day I knew I was in love with him. It was at his 5th birthday party, which was three months and two days after mine. While my own ‘party’ had been little more than a few friends gathered round our small living room stool, with my tiny cake flanked by bottles of soft drinks and beer, Dili’s party had been a full-on carnival. But all the fancy food and games had paled into insignificance the moment I’d seen him emerge from their grand mansion in a jet black corduroy trouser and waistcoat set, a sparkling white shirt beneath, with his lustrous black hair combed into a shiny afro. I’d lost my heart to him then and there. Even at that age, I’d noticed the dimple in his chin, the light brownness of his eyes, and the aquiline nature of his nose…and I knew I wanted nothing more than to be his wife one day.
But hoping to be his wife was one thing…being noticed by him was another. For some reason or the other, I remained totally invisible to Dili…not only at the age of 5…but even when we were teenagers. The truth of the matter is that I was invisible to almost everyone. Of all my three siblings, two sisters and a brother, I was the only one who’d taken my mother’s features. While my siblings inherited our father’s caramel coloured skin and dainty, almost feminine facial features, I’d inherited my mother’s much darker colouring and rather severe facial features. My eyes too large, my nose too broad and my lips too thick. Add to that the fact that years of sucking my fingers had given me the dentition from hell, it was no surprise that I was overlooked by almost everyone, despite the fact that I was the oldest.
As we grew, the distinction between me and my sisters became even more apparent, with their Amazonian heights and blossoming bodies. I have lost count of how many times Ebere and Uchechi were either mistaken for models or approached by all sorts and manners of Modelling Agents. For me, no such luck. My body didn’t blossom like theirs and I remained rake thin for the longest time, no boobs and no ass. And as my height decided to freeze at 5 feet 4 inches, a model I was never mistaken for.
So I guess it was no surprise that Dili never noticed me. Instead, he noticed my sisters…Ebere especially. I think I was 15 when I realised the boy who had my heart actually had his eye on my 13 year old sister. I watched in heartbreak, every time they visited us or we visited them, as Dili and Ebere would giggle in a corner and I knew I had lost him to her. I was too ashamed to confront her about it, and instead suffered in silence for the next 2 years, until Dili’s family abruptly moved to Enugu. While I was sad to see them go, I was glad not to be subjected to watching him cavort with my sister much longer. The most annoying part of the whole thing was that Ebere wasn’t even interested in him. He was just one of the multitude of the boys who were pursuing her.
Thankfully, for all I lacked in looks, God gave me in brains. I excelled in my studies pretty much all my life, and when I got an almost perfect score in my SATs and was offered a scholarship by the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S., I finally got the chance to shine. For the first time in my life, I was the centre of all attention as my parents were the proudest I had ever seen them. Even my siblings were excited about it, bragging about it to all their friends. Their sister was going to school in America. It wasn’t something that happened to people in our social and financial circle.
The ringing of my phone jolts me out of my reverie and I smile as I see the caller-ID is none other than my best friend and colleague, Mia. She squeals as I answer the phone, and I know she is just as excited for me as I am.
“It’s your wedding dayyyyyyyy!” she screams over the phone. “I hope you’ve doused yourself in the body oil I gave you and are getting yourself all sexy as we speak!”
“I haven’t even had a shower.” I laugh. “It’s not 8 o’clock yet. Our ceremony isn’t till 11. There’s still lots of time.”
“Just make sure you look amazing, okay?!”
I smile as my vanity rears its head. “I look amazing everyday, Mia!”
She laughs in return. “That you do, Ezi! That you do!” she pauses briefly, and I already know what she wants to ask. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you? Won’t it be lonely getting married without your family there?”
“Thanks hun, but that’s how Dili and I want it. His family won’t be there either. It’s just both of us getting married at City Hall. No shrills or frills.”
Mia sighed. “But that’s so romantic though. Almost like you’re eloping!”
I smile and nod. Yep. Almost like.
“Take lots of pictures, okay?” she says, just as I shoo her off the phone. “I can’t wait to meet him!”
“You will!” I say, disconnecting the line, eager to finally hop in the shower and get myself prettied up for the man who will be my husband in a matter of hours.
It’s so wonderful to say that word. Husband!
After a long soak in a strawberry, vanilla and coconut infused bath, I embark on the process of getting myself beautiful for my wedding day. Thankfully, good dental work has taken care of my teeth, and an expensive skin care regimen has added a nice gloss to my dark skin, but I still have to spend considerable time on makeup to give me a less severe look. It took years to perfect, but I can proudly say that I am now able to transform into a very nice looking woman indeed. It just takes something of an hour to achieve.
This morning, I spare no effort and put all my expensive make-up to the task. Satisfied with the outcome, I slip into the lace Dolce and Gabanna slip dress I have splurged on. I’m glad I didn’t go with my first instinct to buy a no-name skirt suit for the occasion. It’s my wedding day after all. What better opportunity will I ever have to look amazeballs!
I finish off the look with a large red rose attached to my long and wavy weave. I wish I had enough hair to pull into a nice, sleek bun…but after struggling with my limp, lifeless and uncooperative hair for decades, I finally gave up on it, chopped it all off, and have been hiding under weaves and wigs ever since.
Waving down a taxi, I’m glad that I live in Manhattan, a place where a woman can be dressed like this and not even raise an eyebrow. In my figure hugging white designer dress, red hair accessory almost the size of my face, and sky-high red stilettos, I know I’m very overdressed for a Thursday morning. But hey, so is half of New York!
It is a short ride to Lower Manhattan where City Hall is, and as I disembark from the taxi, I see a few other women dressed in the same understated bridal manner as me. I smile at all of them, my fellow City-Hall brides, my heart is still dancing from the excitement of the day. I make my way upstairs, and just as I walk into the room, I sight him…the love of my life!
Dili walks up to me and embraces me. “You look spectacular, Ezi!”
I blush, happy to be getting the desired result from him. “So do you!” I say to him, even though he hasn’t even bothered to wear a suit, but is instead in a striped shirt and dress pants.
We take our seats, wait our turn, and by 11:30am, Dili and I have been married by a Justice of the Peace. We exchange a broad grin as we are pronounced husband and wife and walk out of the room, hand in hand.
“That was quicker than I thought it would be!” Dili exclaims.
“I know right!” I squeal. “We did it!”
Dili pulls me into a bear hug. “Thank you so much for doing this, Ezi! You’re a life saver!”
I look around nervously. “Not so loud. You want us to get arrested?”
He makes a ‘yikes’ face, and I have to stop myself from laughing.
“I need to call Onyeka, to tell her how it went. She’s been texting me all day!” he says as he walks away. “I’ll see you later, Ezi. I’ll bring my things over to the apartment later today.”
The smile on my face fades as he walks away, and I can tell when Onyeka is on the phone as his face lights up like Christmas lights at Rockefeller Plaza.
Onyeka is his fiancée back home in Nigeria.
And our marriage is a sham marriage we both agreed to, so he can get his Green Card.
I stand alone on the sidewalk, now feeling overdressed in my overly expensive white dress and unreasonably high red shoes. I know I have no right to be sad or disappointed. I was the one who’d made the offer to him anyway. I was the one who offered to help when I saw that he was drowning. But I think somewhere deep inside of me, the 5 year old Ezioma wished that Dili would take one look at me in that City Hall room and fall head over heels in love.
But alas, by leaving me standing alone on a Lower Manhattan street, dressed like something out of a Calypso music video, it is a painful reminder that this is just a marriage of convenience for him…and that his heart belongs to a beautiful, light skinned, 6 foot tall, 27 year old back in Nigeria.
Later that day, sitting before my laptop preparing to write my daily column, Soundtrack of My Life, for the Manhattan Buzz, as is my ritual before I write, I prepare to play the song that is the soundtrack of my day. When I woke up this morning, I’d thought it would be Lovely Day for sure. But as I sit with my heart on the floor, it doesn’t feel quite like such a lovely day after all.
Instead, I select Rod Stewart’s Handbags and Gladrags…because this reflects how I feel at that very point in time.
Handbags & Gladrags – May 15, 2014
…Deception is a bad thing. Self deception is the worst. Sometimes, we paint a picture of a fairy tale, when we know that our reality is in actual fact more like a scene straight out of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
So, here’s to all of us who have at one time, or maybe even right now, lived in fool’s paradise. If we can’t get out of it, we can at least make it a fun place to be…no?
‘Ever seen a blind man cross the road
Trying to make the other side?
Ever seen a young girl growing old
Trying to make herself a bride?’
Yep, folks! That’s the soundtrack of my life today.
I am startled by the sound of my buzzer. Stealing a look at my clock, I see that it is 5:32pm, and just about the time Dili would be arriving. Taking a deep breath, I pray for grace…not just to face him today, but to be able to live with him for the rest of the time we have to keep up this charade.
God help me!