Celebrating East African Writing!
I take the first step. Glance at the clock above me. Two o’clock on the dot. My heart stands still, freezing in time. What are you doing Nakaaya, I ask myself. Slowly, my mind drifts back to my first love. What was his name again? Uh, Jimmy. What a sweetheart! It was puppy love so, like all high school crushes do, it fizzled out. I unsteadily take the next step. What was it I loved about him? His sensitivity. The goose pimples I would get when he would gingerly kiss my lips. What gorgeous dimples his smile revealed! Yes, but he had this annoying immaturity about him. It could never have lasted.
The man whose hand I hold squeezes me gently, as if egging me on. I barely notice him. My mind then ricochets to my second boyfriend. What a jerk, I grimace. To think that I even put up with his cheating ways! Why do I always seem to be attracted to the wrong kinds of men? Jimmy, Makau, Ababu, Bryan. Hmm…good thing I remedied that anomaly in my character. I have a great guy in Raphael, don’t I? He’s funny, sexy, smart and reliable. And oh so very generous.
What more could a girl ask for? What more? That question sets my mind off on a tangent again. So much more, Nakaaya. I stop in my tracks, transfixed, rooted to the ground. The man whose hand I hold tugs at me, as if sensing my inner conflict. I reluctantly take another step forward in tandem with his rhythm as I ponder over all my unfulfilled dreams. Broken promises. Lost opportunities. Wasted years. Oh how desperately I wanted to become a singer! What happened to that dream of becoming Africa’s next Angelique Kidjo anyway? Well I have to admit that I’m probably not that great of a singer anyway. But I had the passion! If only I had been more aggressive, more confident, more insistent. Who knows where I would be now? No one knows, I think with regret. But life is too short for regrets, girl! I take another step forward.
I suddenly notice the sound of the organ music that has been playing all along wafting through the air. I try to make out the melody but my insistent thoughts soon drown out the sound, leading me back to my earlier train of thought. Life indeed is too short for regrets but God knows I have a bucket load of them! Like, wasn’t I absolutely insane to have passed on that chance to study in Malaysia? Why did I turn down that scholarship offer? Christ, I must have been smoking something really cheap when I made that decision! I might have ended up becoming, I don’t know, a manager of some big old company perhaps or an accountant in one of the leading banks. Now, I just have to contend with this mediocre, low – paying secretarial job.
Well, at least Raphael is rich, I think dragging my foot forward. Is that why I accepted him in the first place? Have I become what I once despised, a gold digging tramp? No, I truly do love Raphael. Then why do I feel this way, torn into two different directions? One side of me tells me that he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. The other side tells me that I haven’t yet lived my life to the fullest. That I still have unfinished business. I should think things through more carefully…
I take another step forward. The hand in mine has moistened. As have my eyes. I am strangely overwhelmed with this surge of sadness. I notice the organ music again. Very melancholic. A fitting soundtrack to my big day, huh? Get yourself together, I reprimand myself. This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life! Don’t all little girls dream of and yearn for this day?
Little girls. This takes me to when I was a little girl, my childhood. Ah, what an idyllic, sheltered existence. No worries, no pressures. Just endless lay and laughter, ponytails and candy. Running through the fields, swimming in the lake they call Victoria. My mothers love, my fathers protection. My heart pines for that lost innocence. Why can’t we just be forever young? If only I was Peter Pan…
Reality, however, promptly kicks in as I take another step forward. You’re no longer a little girl, I chide myself. Life is a journey with different stages. Just accept this stage in your life for crying out loud and get on with it! People are born, become children, blossom into adolescence, mature into adulthood, get married, retire, and then pass away. Like we were never even there. My somber mood returns. What a futile existence, I think to myself. Why are we dying to live yet we are, in effect, simply living to die? We work ourselves to a pulp, hustling and bustling through life yet all our achievements are buried with us in the grave. Wouldn’t it just be easier if we just slept through life while waiting to take our final breath?
I take a deep breath. Yet another step forward. I am deaf to my surroundings, walking in a zombie- like trance, my rhythm dependent on that of the man whose hand I hold. Flashes of my past effortlessly swirl through my mind, it’s like I have a camera in my brain clicking away at all the events that have happened in my life. I’ve heard that this is what happens to people right before they die. Creepy. Am I about to drop dead right now, in front of all these people? I weirdly find this humorous as I imagine the sight of myself falling flat on my face, exposing places the sun never reaches in the process…
As I take another step forward smiling at the thought, my heels get caught up in the mesh of my dress’ train. I trip and am about to fulfill that earlier prophecy when I feel the grip of the man whose hand I hold tighten into a vice- like grasp. The congregation which was hitherto invisible and inaudible to me suddenly comes to life like flowers blossoming on the first day of spring. They all gasp in unison then heave a collective sigh of relief when my fall is caught by the man whose hand I hold. I face him and smile gratefully. He smiles back reassuringly. Close call, I think.
For the first time since I began this walk, I look up to the congregation. Exactly how many are they? They look like at least a million to me. Their bodies and faces soon dissolve into the background and all I can see are their eyes, piercing right through to my very core. For the first time since I began this walk, I feel self- conscious, acutely aware that I am the centre of attention. Half the reason why they are here. Half the reason…
Raphael! Then as if on cue, the sun rays leak into the church, through the windows, flooding my cold feet with warmth. The chorus of my heart sings with joy and the hitherto somber organ music now sounds triumphant. I am suddenly overwhelmed with this wave of happiness. My uncertainties vanish and in their place, a new urge to live takes root. A new urge to believe in the power of the love that Raphael and I share. How could I ever have doubted that this was the right thing to do, I muse incredulously. From the first time that I laid my eyes on him, I knew he was the one. We have this incredible connection that could never be faked. A powerful chemistry that bound us together from the very first time we realized we were in love. I now have no doubts that I am doing the right thing.
I take another step forward. Glance at the clock above me.
Three minutes past two o’clock. It feels more like I’ve been walking down this aisle for an eternity, what with all those sojourns to the past! The man whose hand I hold, my father, turns to me and a smile creases his strong, stately face. “This is it, my little princess,” he whispers excitedly, “you are now about to become a woman!” I return his smile, squeeze his hand and whisper back,
“Thanks for everything Dad. I love you.”
I then turn to face Raphael for the first time. He looks so good with that black tuxedo on, I think. Our eyes lock. His eyes are dancing excitedly. He stretches his hands out to me. I am only a few feet away from him. Without thinking, I burst into a sprint towards him that would make Michael Johnson jealous as my heart screams I love you! I love you! I love you! The congregation hushes, shocked at my lack of decorum. Then everyone simultaneously stands up, clapping their approval and roaring with laughter. I blush with embarrassment for behaving so impulsively. Raphael grins and hugs me tightly, whispering, “I love you Nakaaya. So, so much.”
The church minister then clears his throat to bring back order to the ceremony, a smile playing on his face. What a beautiful day, I think happily. This is it, the big day, our wedding day! The day I have been waiting for all my life! I look around the church and take in all of my loved ones. My mother, my father, my siblings, relatives, my soon-to-be relatives and all our friends. All here to show solidarity with us as we embark on this next stage of our lives. I could never be happier, I think as the minister begins to lead us in the exchanging of vows. Never.
©Susan Munywoki 2011
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