The room was dimly lit by a lamp at the bedside table which threw soft shadows on the lone figure on the large bed of the honeymoon suite.
Turning restlessly on the bed, Tare lay on her back, her gaze fixed on the ceiling, her mind a jumble of thoughts, most of which were dark, gloomy. She thought of the events of a few hours before when what began as one of the most exciting days of her life had ended in such a horrible manner.
On the day of her marriage to the man she loved with all her being, whom she should have been spending the night with, the first of many in their future, she was all alone, sad and in the grip of such misery, she felt she would die.
A lone tear sneaked its way down her face and fell on the soft pillow. As if on cue, the door to the bedroom, which had been slightly ajar, opened to admit Tejiri, her best friend and her chief bridesmaid at the wedding.
She had changed from her bridesmaid’s gown of baby blue satin and tulle into a large T shirt which left her plump thighs bare.
She walked quickly across the room stopping by the bed to gaze down at Tare. Tare stared blankly up at her, then turned on her side, her hand supporting her head on the pillow.
“You’re crying again,” said Tejiri. She sat down on the bed. “You’ll fall ill if you continue this way.”
Tare remained silent, staring blankly at the floor. Tejiri could not fathom what she was thinking as her eyes were shielded by the long, false eyelashes she had fixed for the wedding, part of the elaborate make up done by a popular professional make-up artist, remnants of which remained on her face.
Tejiri was still speaking.
“Your Mum just called. I told her you were asleep. She said she’ll send the driver to pick you up tomorrow or anytime you’re ready to go home.” She paused. “Gloria and the other girls are hungry so I’ve ordered room service. Shall I bring some for you?”
There was no answer so she repeated the question.
“I’m not hungry,” Tare said quietly.
“But you’ve hardly taken anything all day. You need food to gain some strength.”
Tare sat up abruptly, stating in a peevish tone. “I said I’m not hungry! How can I eat in my situation?” She stopped, then in a piteous voice full of the anguish she was feeling , said:
“I feel my life has ended! I just want to die! Let me die and leave this cruel world!”
“God forbid! You’ll live and not die! You’re still young, you can start afresh!” said Tejiri, hugging her friend close to her.
Tare tried to wriggle out of her grasp, crying over and over: “Let me go! Let me leave this world! Let me die!”
The others in the living room of the suite, hearing the cry of distress, came into the bedroom. The first to enter was Gloria, Tare’s cousin and one of her bridesmaids, then there were Mina and Doris, both of whom were also on the bridal train.
They sat on the bed, consoling their friend, who just some hours before had looked so happy, radiant and beautiful as she had stood at the altar beside her groom, exchanging their vows.
The gloomy atmosphere in the room, akin to that of a funeral was in sharp contrast to the joyous mood at the wedding reception earlier in the day or when the newly-weds first met months before…
Tare stared at the deflated tyre , her mouth turned down in frustration. She was on her way to the domestic airport to pick her sister Genny who was coming from Port Harcourt.
“God, why now?” she grumbled, checking her wristwatch. She had less than an hour to get to the airport and was running late. She did not know how to change a tyre and was considering taking a cab ( her mechanic could fix and pick up the car later), when a cream Toyota Camry parked in front of her car.
“Is there a problem with the car?” asked the young man who came down from the car.
“It’s the tyre,” said Tare, looking up at his face, wondering if she had met him before…
He assessed the situation . “Do you have a spare?” he asked, squatting and checking out the deflated tyre.
“Yes” she answered quickly, too glad that help had come her way. She opened the car booth and brought out the spare tyre and some tools.
He worked fast and soon, the bad tyre had been replaced and after checking everything was in place, he straightened up. “I think it’s ok now,” he said, picking up the tools and replacing them in the booth.
“Thanks so much. I was just about abandoning the car to pick a cab when you came along. You’re a God-sent. I’ve no clue about changing tyres.”
He wiped his hands with a hanky.
“I understand. I’ve sisters who drive but it will be easier for them to fly than change a tyre,” he said, a wry smile curving his lips.
Tare brought out her phone and said: “Can I have your number?”
He gazed at her with his clear, calm eyes before answering.
“The name’s Eddy.”
"I’m Tare. Thanks Eddy for your help. I’ll call you,” she said, smiling.
She stood watching him as he walked to his car and drove away.
“Nice guy. And he’s cute,” she muttered to herself. Then remembering her sister, who must have arrived at the airport, she quickly got into her car.
Their order arrived in several dishes on a large tray. It was the bar/restaurant’s speciality and a favourite of their customers: grilled, spicy catfish with chips and vegetables.
“Bon apetit,” said Tare, picking a chip.
“Do you come here often?” asked Eddy.
“Yeah. My girls and I often hang out here on Friday evenings before we head to the club,” she said.
“So, how come you’re here alone tonight?”
“You’re with me so how am I alone? Anyway, I wanted to give you a treat for helping me out the other day. My girls can be quite noisy especially after a few drinks and will only distract us.”
He looked at her keenly. “Distract us? Are we on a date or something?” he asked.
“What I meant to say is…I mean.”
“I understand.” He smiled. “Do you like me?”
She gave him a quizzical look.
“What do you mean? I’m only showing appreciation for your help to me. Don’t read any meaning into it,” she said a bit sharply.
He smiled again.
“What about your boyfriend? Will he be okay your being here with me?”
“Boyfriend?” she said, with a short laugh. “I don’t have any. We broke up.”
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“It’s ok. What about you? Do you have a girlfriend? A wife?”
They chatted for long and at the end of the evening, she knew a bit about him. An engineer, he worked with a construction firm in the city with dreams of starting his own company someday.
The second of five children, he had an older brother and three sisters.
Being with him was relaxing and Tare wanted them togo to the club after the meal. But Eddy excused himself, stating he had a prior engagement.
“With the girlfriend?” she asked as they walked towards the car park. He had told her about the lady, who was doing her NYSC programme in Jos.
“She came home for a visit and we planned seeing tonight before she leaves in a few days,” he explained.
He got into his car and she stood by his window, looking down at him. “I enjoyed today. Can we do this some other time?”
“Why not? I’ll call you and maybe we can arrange something,” he said.
“That will be nice. Good night then,” she said. After he had left, she got out her phone.
“Mina, where are you? I’m heading to the club. You girls should join me there. Toyin’s with you? When did she come in from the U.K? "
Though she knew he had someone special in his life, Tare could not stay away from him. They had been meeting regularly after their first outing together and she enjoyed spending time with me.
There was just something about him that kept pulling her to him, making her device ways of seeing him.
Two months after they met, she got an IV for a colleague’s wedding and immediately decided Eddy would be her date for the day. A few days before the day, she gave him a call.
“What’s your programme like this weekend?” she asked.
“Nothing special. What’s up?” he said…
She told him about the wedding invitation.
He did not seem too enthusiastic saying: "I'm not normally into weddings but for you..."
"Thanks, Eddy. See you then!"
After ending the call, she smiled happily to herself and immediately began planning her outfit for the day so she would look stunning...
Six weeks later
Tare picked up her mobile phone and handbag, said 'Goodnight' to her colleague who was working late and stepped out of the office.
It was Friday evening and she was meeting Eddy at a funspot at Ikeja.
In the past, she spent most of her weekend s, when there was no work with her girlfriends. But with Eddy's arrival on the scene, she saw less of them.
And they were not amused.
" What's so special about this Eddy guy that you've abandoned us for him?" whined Mina.
"I thought you said he had a fiancé. Are you planning to be a second wife?" Toyin chipped in.
"Poor Tare! The guy has used 'love charm' on her!" Doris, who seemed to find fun in most situations, laughed derisively.
Tare ignored her friends and continued to see Eddy. What they did not realise was that he was the first guy she had felt drawn to since her last relationship ended nearly ten months before.
She felt happy in his presence and always looked forwards to being with him.
She knew she was falling in love with him but she could not help herself.
Even knowing he belonged to someone else, his girlfriend, Ini did not stop her from dreaming.
Of having him to herself. Making him her man.
The following weekend, he would travel with her and the rest of her family to her hometown, Kombia in Rivers State for the coronation ceremony of her uncle.
The late king had died without a male heir and a successor had been selected from among his brothers.
Prince Dumo, her father's older brother had been the chosen one.
Eddy had been impressed when she told him about the forthcoming ceremony.
" You didn't tell me you were from a royal family. So, should I start calling you Princess Tare?" he had said teasingly.
"No way! Who wants to bear such fancy titles in this 21st century! " she had rejoined, laughing.
He had agreed to make the journey to her hometown with her for the coronation.
"I've never watched a coronation ceremony before. Sounds interesting."
"Hope you're not scared of water. Kombia's an Island. It can only be reached by boat or ferry."
She looked forward to the trip. And was hopeful that being together for a whole weekend, far away from Lagos, anything could happen...
The coronation ceremony went on throughout the day, watched by a large number of the townsfolk as well as visitors to the Island.
Towards evening, Tare, feeling tired from the events of the long day, decided to take a break before the parties and other activities that would take place that night.
She took Eddy's hand and they walked away from the palace, the sounds of the ceremony- the drumbeats, singing and general revelry - following them as they left the town centre.
They walked down a winding, narrow path and soon emerged on a beach. Birds flitted among the tall coconut and palm trees that bordered the beach, their birdsong in tune with the roar of the ocean waves as they flowed onshore.
Tare bent down to remove her high heeled shoes, sighing as her tired feet sank into the soft sand. Eddy did likewise and they walked barefoot on the white sand.
"This is the ocean side of the Island?" he asked, gazing over the vast expanse of water into the horizon.
"Yeah." She pointed to their right. "You see that tall structure over there? That was the lighthouse used by ships from Europe and other parts of the world to the Island centuries ago. There's even an old trading post about a mile down the beach where my ancestors traded with the 'oyibos'* those days."
"Interesting. There's a whole lot of history here," said Eddy. "I like this beach. It reminds me of Lekki beach in Lagos without the crowds on public holidays."
They were silent for a moment then turning to him, she said:
"My mother likes you."
He turned to gaze at her.
"She has been asking all kinds of questions about you- 'Where is he from? Who are his parents? What does he do? Is he the one you want to marry? - until I'm sick of the grilling! She only does that when she likes a guy."
"And what did you tell her?"
"What else?" she said, shrugging. "That we are just friends."
He turned to face her and holding her by the shoulder, his thick eyebrows raised, said: "Is that all there is between us? Just Friendship?"
"Is there anything else? she said, her heart suddenly beating fast at his closeness.
He drew even closer.
" Yes. This," he said softly as his lips closed on hers...
To be continued
Note: 'Oylbo' is a local term for a white person