My wedding night was nothing like my dreams had been. It was the third Saturday in December, 2015.
I pleaded with Aniefiok to persuade the marriage committee to fix the date of our wedding on that day. I couldn’t bear the thought of numerous familiar eyes boring into me. Some people could have heard. In such a ministry where you’d notice when a member was away, it could be that my affair with Prince had become stale news.
In my sanctified imagination, church members would travel to their villages for Christmas celebration. But the economy mapped out another game plan.
Recession hit the country mercilessly like a hungry lion that in the month of November the price of fuel was enough to pay bride price in certain communities.
Fuel scarcity was a predominant feature of the moment. Clad in a white ball gown, standing before the man in navy blue suit and yellow tie, I said my marriage vows haunted by eyeballs of Church members who filled the seats.
I met Aniefiok in Calabar at a retreat four years ago which Idara, my girlfriend invited me to. I was skimming through the crisp pages of Francine Rivers Redeeming Love which I pulled out of the shelf earlier when she stepped in without knocking. “Wetin you dey read sef?”
Putting the book down, I saw her outstretched arm sticking a flyer into my nose. She dropped her bag on the bed. “Read this one join”.
I put forth my hand to receive it while I kept my novel securely by my side. Single at 30: Finding Your Mate. “Babe, I’m not interested in another marriage seminar. I don’t want to mingle”. I shook my head and dropped the flyer on the floor.”
“You don’t want to mingle is different from you aren’t ready to mingle”.
“It doesn’t matter, mbok”.
I wasn’t 30 yet. I was just two years less than that. My parents, God bless their souls were married in their twenties. My case was surely different. I didn’t want to be reminded of pain inflicted on me by the sharp edges of being taken for granted in the name of love.
“Just make it a time in God’s presence at least for the Word exposition. The Word works o.”
Idara combed her hair, slung her bag over her shoulder before sauntering out. “I need to see Pastor Archibong”.
I exhaled deeply. The year was almost coming to an end and love had failed to find me. Idara was right, I missed having a man. Not any man though, I needed the character Hosea, as a husband.
O God, take the memories away. I still feel Prince’s arms wrapped around my back, his mouth closed into mine. Lord, you know about Kufre, Uwana and Jerry. I covered my face in shame.
I didn’t doubt if God heard me. But I doubted if a good God like Him would cause me to find true love like Gomer did. To steer the direction of my thoughts, I picked the novel and began to read.
The relationship session was interesting and expository. The guest speaker was full of depth and authority. “The reason some of you are still unmarried is not God’s fault. Even if you aren’t in a relationship at 30, you can still get married. You don’t have to be scared of falling in love. Stop qualifying yourself based on your deeds. Stop tagging yourself with a name not given you by the Lord. You crave for attention and when it shows up you hide behind emotional walls you’ve erected for and by yourself. When will you come out of hiding?”
That question stuck with me. After how I suffered with Prince and the others, I locked the door to my heart, and threw the keys away.
During an interactive session, we were paired in groups. Aniefiok was a member of the group I belonged to. He was averaged height. He spoke fluently and participated intelligently. There was this air around him that softened my heart but my mind was trained to laser focus. The Word first, fire catch feelings.
When grace was said, Idara stood at the door way beckoning on me. Behold, there was Aniefiok and Jerry. I almost passed out. How did these two know each other? Did Aniefiok know about us?” My face and heart turned red.
“Are you okay?” Aniefiok asked, concerned.
“Of course she is. She gets nervous anytime she sees strangers.” Idara wanted to be helpful.
“Don’t mind her, I’m very good.” I managed to say.
Jerry excused himself and left thereby giving me relief. Aniefiok and I exchanged numbers. That ushered the beginning of a thriving friendship and a marriage proposal, 2 years later.
I didn’t give an answer that day. Thank God it wasn’t an outdoor proposal. For two weeks, I battled with the thought of marriage. Idara advised me never to let this chance slip. Jerry filled my inbox with threats of spilling everything to Aniefiok if I didn’t return to his arms one more time.
One time became two, three, four and more.
One depressing night, I pulled out my journal and penned my thoughts. Heavenly Father, my heart is pregnant with twin brothers-fear and shame. I love Aniefiok but I feel not good enough for him. What happens when he gets to hear about my sexual escapades? I don’t deserve him. Someone else, Lord! Definitely not me. But I really do love him.
I felt them warm and watery. The tears ran on my rounded cheeks onto my journal. I sniffed.
I have loved you with an everlasting love. I do not call the qualified; I qualify the called.
A week later, I said yes on the condition that our wedding would be fixed when majority of church members travelled. Aniefiok was glad.
I clung to God and fear of how my wedding night would be, having so many skeletons in my cupboard.
My fears did nothing. Even God did not interfere with fate. All the men who had me under the sheets attended the wedding event. I wondered what went through their minds when the officiating minister said, “You may now kiss your bride.”
I managed to stay calm at the reception. Prince, Jerry, Uwana and Kufre sprayed money on me as I danced with my husband. Shame and guilt filled me with horror. I clung to Aniefiok. The guests cheered interpreting it as love. I could have broken under the weight of my past.
At 6pm, the reception was over. We drove to the hotel. Aniefiok went into the rest room while I stood in front of the mirror admiring my blue dress. I fondled my wedding ring, grateful I was a married woman. Married at 30.
A married woman with a dirty past. That defeating voice came again, pervading my spirit with gloom and despair.
The door opened. My husband walked towards me clad in singlet and boxers. “What’s wrong?”.
My image at the mirror sold me out. “Nothing”.
“But-“ Aniefiok tried to touch me.
“Don’t touch me”. I turned to him. “I can’t do this”.
He stopped. “What’s it my dear?”
“I don’t understand you. You love me too much. I’ve deceived you all along”. I never knew when the words spilled.
“You are mine now. I married you. Nothing can separate you from my love”.
“Even my past with-“
“Prince, your Pastor’s P.A., Jerry, Kufre and Uwana.”
I felt threatened. Fear gripped me. “What else do you know?” I lowered my eyes.
“You never caught any veneral disease because God kept you and preserved you for me. From the first day I saw you, Itoro, I knew you were mine.”
I wept into his neck as I fell into his arms. “I’m so sorry, my love, please forgive me.”
“Stop trembling, my queen. Your mess was a qualification for my love.”
I do not call the qualified. I qualify the called.
The words resonated within my spirit. God had spoken those words to me years ago.
“The abortion you had for Uwana is not who you are. Your many nights with the others aren’t what define you. Your opinion about you doesn’t even matter.” He touched my chin. “I love you, so much, Itoro. Let my love pull down the strongholds of those memories and silence the accusing voices.” He bent past my ear whispering, “You are forgiven completely.”
I smiled and hugged my husband tightly. “Please help me with the zipper. My fears are drowned in your perfect love”.
Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18)