Chidima admired herself in the mirror. She liked what she saw – at 35, she could easily pass for 25. She had natural light skin, which most African ladies went to extreme lengths to have. Most Londoners assumed she was Brazilian, with her light skin and fake hair, until she spoke – that and her natural hair, which wouldn’t grow no matter how many tried and tested products she used, were the only remnants of her Tanzanian roots. As a little girl, she was well liked, and every bride wanted her as the flower girl. Unlike the darker girls in her village, she was in every wedding and this amassed her a vast collection of Sunday bests. As a grown woman now, her figure [she was often told], was not typical African because her backside was as flat as a pancake – that didn’t bother her too much because her bosom made up what her backside lacked. She glanced at her reflection once more before jumping into the shower. She was getting dolled up to meet her Nigerian boyfriend, Okwebe, of three years for dinner. Her prayer friend, Nesa, had assured her that he was going to propose that night.
Okwebe had gone to Nigeria a week before summer, and Chidima had travelled to Tanzania at the beginning of summer. They planned to meet at the end of their respective holidays in Kenya for a 3-day safari, but Okwebe cancelled because his great auntie had died and was being buried that week. Chidima went on the safari alone and used the time to ponder over issues, she spent a great deal of time over-analysing the issues – some real some imagined – like why Okwebe really cancelled. She had a weird feeling in her gut, and everything she’d heard about Nigerian men played like a movie in her mind, where she was the star of that movie. The one that played repeatedly was of Okwebe getting married to some Nigerian royalty.
“Nigerians always marry Nigerians,” her friend Soni told her often. She had recounted several stories of men she knew who dated her friends, and who had gone to Nigeria on holiday only to come back married. Soni was a diehard pessimist whose every encounter, every experience and every story had a bad ending. Chidima was in turmoil, much like the wild beasts migrating from Tanzania to Kenya while trying to escape the inevitable doom of becoming Mufasa’s family dinner. She sat quietly in the van she shared with other lone travellers as they travelled the breadth and width of the Mara watching the great migration and looking for overfed lions as they lay lazily under trees.
Chidima was born in Tanzania but spent her mid to late teenage years studying in Kenya because her father believed she’d learn better English there. She didn’t – instead, she spent those teen years partying hard with the Kenyan teen elite and paying students from poorer families to do her homework for her, which meant she failed the final secondary exams miserably. The only thing she perfected was the Nairobian slang, sheng [a mixture of several vernaculars, English and Kiswahili – only spoken in Kenya], and her polished Tanzanian Kiswahili decayed to Kenyan standards.
When she returned to London, Okwebe was still in Nigeria. She skyped him but the connection was so bad they didn’t say two words to each other. He texted a few minutes that the internet was bad and that he would be seeing her in a week’s time. Due to the doubts sowed by Soni, which didn’t ebb away with Okwebe’s promise, Chidima decided to request prayers from her born-again-prophetess friend, Nesa. Nesa was renowned all over London as the go-to person for prayers. When she arrived at Chidima’s door, she knocked so loudly and urgently it startled Chidima. She peeped through the spyhole wondering if it was the police or one of her neighbours – you had to be buzzed in to get in their block of flats. She saw it was Nesa, who’s eye looked so close to the spy hole it was possible she was peeping too. She opened the door and before she could ask who buzzed her in, Nesa burst in and pushed past Chidima without a ‘hello’, then started speaking in an unintelligible language and moved from room to room. She looked bewildered and possessed.
“Don’t shut the door just yet Chidi!” she bellowed.
She then proceeded to shoo away some invisible entities and shut the door.
“It’s clear now, we can speak to God.” She said with finality and an eerie calm. Chidima didn’t say anything, if she did Nesa would curse her into seven generations. They hugged. Chidima offered her a drink but she declined.
Nesa was a staunch Christian and prayed about and for everything. Although she was just a few years older than Chidima, anyone could be forgiven for thinking she was her mother – from her demeanour to her dress style. All her clothes were made from kitenge, leso or tie n dye, or anything resembling African print, and she always had a headscarf – she could not understand why women walked around naked. She asked Chidima to cover her hair before praying. Chidima, though a Christian by birth did not pray like Nesa did. Her mother often scolded her for this and said it was the reason she was in her late thirties with no children or husband. It was because she had walked away from God. So, a change was necessary – enter Nesa, because Chidima’s faith was not sufficient to persuade God for favours. She had lots of questions, and the answers she got from people of God were always the same – God knows best; God’s ways are not our ways; do not question God etc.
“Jehovah Jireh….” Nesa started and prayed for everything and anything and for Okwebe to see Chidima for what she truly was – a woman of God. A God-fearing woman. At that point Chidima wanted to interrupt because she did not want God to be angry with her [she was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a woman of God]. Nesa, however, was on a roll asking God to protect His children from the evil one. The evil one waiting in the wings with poisoned arrows and fashioned weapons. She asked God to protect and wash them with the blood. She asked God to bless them and the works of their hands. Chidima was amazed that Nesa didn’t thank God for anything – all she did was ask. In the middle of it all, the phone rang and Nesa paused, Chidima hesitated, Nesa grabbed her hand tightly and continued praying, asking God to protect them from technology and shield them from worldly temptations and possessions – this from a woman who walked around with the latest iPhone. Afterwards, they drank murubaini [herbal] tea made in Kenya.
When Okwebe returned to the UK, he went straight from the airport to her flat. This excited Chidima beyond measure, and any doubts planted by Soni soon vapourised. She spent the next few days showing Okwebe just how much she missed him and loved him. She had perfected the art of cooking jollof rice and pepper soup – Okwebe’s favourites. He ate in silence, apart from the occasional ooh and aah to signify how good the food was. She relaxed and cuddled up to him on the sofa as they watched recorded episodes of scandal.
Three days later.
“Babes, I have to go home today, to unpack and such (such – the annoying word Okwebe used often when he didn’t want to go into details about anything). Tomorrow night I’ll pick you up at around 7. Dress nicely I have a surprise for you.” He winked at her. He had no idea that her heart was beating dangerously. He booked an uber and within the hour left. Chidima, for the first time in a long time, got down on her knees and thanked God for intervening and for Nesa. The doubting Thomas in her, of course, kept her mind occupied, but her faith was now stronger than any Thomas or Soni.
The awe-mazing Okwebe picked her up in a hired limo. You gotta love Nigerians. They do everything in style and in big ways unlike most Kenyans or Tanzanians men, who would ask to meet you in the restaurant. Chidima was dressed to the nines – her 6-inch Louboutin lengthened her short frame and her bulging middle was tucked away by a 9-inch steel boned latex waist trainer. She was every inch an African princess; he was the knight in shining armour draped in Gucci and sporting the latest Rolex.
When the limo stopped at the Hilton on Park Lane, there was no denying this would be the night. The limo driver came around and opened the door for them. She stepped out looking every inch a superstar. Okwebe had a new suit she had not seen before, and shoes made from pure crocodile leather [poor croco]. She smiled at him as he held out his hand for her, and together they walked into the hotel lobby and towards the lifts. Once inside, he pressed the 28th-floor button. Chidima’s heart melted and any leftover doubts evaporated – forever this time – no one does dinner at ‘Galvin at windows’ for the hell of it – it costs a small fortune, to say the damn least.
Their conversations were calculated and sometimes unnatural because Chidima expected a proposal at every course. Finally, Okwebe ordered champagne, when it was served on chilled crystal glasses, he got on one knee.
“Chidima, my Tanzanian princess, the love of my life, will you do me the honour and be my wife….”
“YES!!! YES!!” She didn’t wait for him to finish as she screamed and kissed him as the other guests cheered on and said congratulations. When everyone had settled and calmed the hell down, Okwebe said. “I have something else to tell you babes!” She didn’t like it when he called her ‘babes’, it was too general, like darling, which meant absolutely nothing. She looked at him with a smile, expecting him to suggest they honeymoon in Zanzibar – her dream honeymoon destination.
“I am gay. I have known this forever but I thought it would go away. I love you, that is true and real, but I prefer to be with men. I’m in love with a man I met on holiday. My family would never understand so I need you to be my wife. Please forgive me, but I thought you should know……..”
Her ears popped as if the restaurant was pressurised. The distance between them magnified and she felt like she was watching him from space. His lips were moving but she could not hear what he was saying. She stretched her left hand in front of her and the sparkle of the tiny diamond winked at her. She toyed with the diamond engagement ring on her finger and plotted……