My wedding night was nothing like I always dreamed of.
Early hours of that third Saturday met me clad in a simple white ball gown and silver sandaled feet. My face went through an amazing transformation by Agnes, one of my close friends.
I pleaded with Thomas to persuade the marriage committee to fix the date of our wedding at a later time because I didn’t want numerous familiar eyes boring into my tired and shamified soul.
Some folks could have heard. In such a ministry where you’d notice when a member was away, or a new face came to church, it could be my affair with Prince had become stale news.
I reasoned church members would transit to their villages for the Christmas celebration. How that failed.
Economy mapped another game plan. Recession did ravage the country mercilessly, like a hungry lion. Last month, the cost of fuel per litre was sufficient to pay bride price in certain communities here in Nigeria.
Standing before the young cute man in navy black suit, yellow tie, and black trousers I said my marriage vows, haunted by eyeballs of numerous Church members who filled the seats.
I met my husband, Thomas at a programme two years ago. My girlfriend, Prisca invited me to that Christian Singles Summit. 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?” Her tiny voice interrupted my read.
Putting the book down on the bed, my eyes met her outstretched arm sticking a flyer into my nose before dumping 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, please”.
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 finding love.
“Just make it a time in God’s presence at least for the Word exposition. The Word works o.” Prisca combed her hair, slung her bag over her shoulder before sauntering out. “I need to see Pastor James”.
I exhaled deeply when I heard the door shut with a bang behind her.
It was mid-August. Then, love had failed to find me. Prisca 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 Samuel, Johnson and Jerry. I palmed my face in shame, blinking back hot tears of guilt.
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 my novel and resumed reading.
The single to mingle 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 past or present deeds. That lewd name tag wasn’t given you by the Lord. You crave for attention and when it shows up but you retreat and shut yourself behind the emotional walls you’ve erected. When will you come out of hiding? When will you let love find you? When my sisters in Christ, will you let the Lord in His goodness restore to you the years you’ve lost loving the wrong men? When will your heart be open to a man who would love you regardless of your past and present?”
The questions stuck on. After what I suffered with Prince and the others, I locked the door to my heart, and buried the keys underground.
During an interactive session, attendees were paired in groups. Thomas was a member of the group I belonged to. He didn’t boast of a towering frame but a good heart. 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 the grace was said, Prisca stood at the door way beckoning on me. Behold Samuel and Jerry stood with Thomas. I almost passed out. How did these know each other? Did Thomas know about my secret times with them under the sheets?”
My face and heart turned sour.
“Are you okay?” Thomas asked, concerned.
“Of course she is. She gets nervous whenever she sees strangers.”
“Don’t mind her, I’m very good.” I managed to say.
Jerry and Samuel excused themselves. That relieved me. Thomas and I exchanged numbers ushering the beginning of a thriving friendship and a marriage proposal, two 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. Prisca advised me never to let this chance slip. Johnson filled my inbox with threats of spilling everything to Thomas if I didn’t return to his arms one more time.
One time became two, three, four and more until I was fed up.
One night, I pulled out my journal and penned my thoughts. Heavenly Father, my heart is pregnant with twin brothers-fear and shame. I love Thomas 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 love him.
I felt them warm and watery. The tears ran down my cheeks to 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. Thomas 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 my wedding. I wondered what went through their minds when the officiating minster announced, “You may now kiss your bride.”
I managed to stay calm at the reception. Prince, Jerry, Johnson and Samuel sprayed money on me as I danced with my husband. Shame and guilt filled me with horror. I clung to Thomas. The guests cheered, interpreting it as love. I could have broken down under the weight of my past.
At 4pm, the reception was over. Johnson drove us to the hotel. Thomas went into the convenience while I stood in front of the mirror admiring my blue dress. I fondled my wedding ring, grateful I was a married woman.
I was 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 in singlet and boxers. “What’s wrong?”
My image at the mirror sold me out.
“But-“ Thomas 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”.
“I had a past with-“
“Prince, your Pastor’s P.A., Jerry, Samuel and Johnson.”
I felt threatened. “What else do you know?” I lowered eyes.
“You never caught any veneral disease because God kept you and preserved you for me. From the first day I saw you, Mercy, 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.”
“God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
The words resonated within my spirit. God spoke same words to me years ago.
“The abortion you had for Jerry is not who you are. Your many nights with the others aren’t what define you. Your opinion about you doesn’t even matter.” My husband touched my chin. “I love you, so much, Mercy. 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 because the sacrifice of Christ has cleansed your conscience. In Christ, there is no more consciousness of sins. Can I make love to woman I married now?”
I smiled and hugged my husband tightly. “Please help me with the zipper.”
For the first time, sex was pleasurable.
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)