The Accidental Bride
Chapter 1: Good-Bye Philly: Hello Lagos
I hopped on my last train from Center City to the airport. Philadelphia stood tall behind me in the full bloom of fall, the time of the year when leaves turn into glorious shades of burnt orange, lavender, rust, pumpkin spice, golden yellow, and raspberry red. Soft sunlight pierced through the trees, casting golden glows on the houses that lined its path. I watched as the city slowly disappeared before my eyes, giving way to shadows, the shadows I felt before fleeing Lagos.
If not for Dad’s passing, I had promised not to visit Lagos again till I had a husband.
Unlike some of my friends who came to Philadelphia for a better quality of life, I moved to Philly because of my rambunctious family.
At 37, I was unmarried and my family would marry me off to a bird if a willing one flew by.
On my part, I was quite satisfied with my life. I had a good job and could have bought a lovely house on the Peninsula, but my family insisted that buying a house would negatively impact my spouse-getting-efforts.
I remember how petrified I was on the night Felix, my ex-boyfriend left me. My aunties gathered at my parents’ house to bemoan. You would have thought Felix died. My petrification turned to humiliation when my aunties kept trying Felix’s phone number till late into the night. I wondered what they wanted to tell him!
To please come back to me?
That day, the prospect that something might be awfully wrong with my family was birthed.
So, coming to live in Philly was just perfect for me. Life suddenly became easier. No more embarrassing do-you-now-have-a-boyfriend questions. No more sudden family-wide calls for fasting and prayers that a man should find me! I had my 40th birthday in peace without the usual birthday-morning-tear streaked-mournful calls from my mum, dad, and aunties. Not that they did not attempt to cry when they called on my 40th birthday, just that once they started, I was quick to play the bad-phone-network-connectivity-issues game.
So, my dad passed on and I had to hop on a Lagos-bound plane to perform my last respect.
More than the fear of seeing the remains of my late dad, I was terrified to face my uncouth family with their prying eyes and incessant vexatious husband-prayers.
For about the 15th time in my life, I thought of renting a gentleman to act as my fiance throughout my stay at home in Lagos. My online search for a man-rental service was unfruitful. I was going to abort the thoughts when Fern, my white American friend volunteered to travel down with me to the bull shark’s tank.
Fern is my fun-loving best friend and I could not have chosen a better pretend significant other!
Fern and I landed in Lagos on a day with unforgivingly hot weather of 35 Degrees Celsius. I had prepared him not only for the oppressive heat but also for any absurdity my non-compos-mentis family displayed.
I wished to be given the opportunity to mourn my late father and hoped his burial rites would not be overshadowed by the excitement of my family meeting Fern.
Aunty Pei was the first to sight us at the airport. I was shocked when she headed straight to give Fern a full-body hug, ignoring me.
Next came Mum. She was chanting along the lines that God has replaced her sorrows by giving her a son-in-law. I pitied her for a second until she started recounting how choosy I had been about men and that all my friends were married. At that point, I fell in love with my plans even more.
On the morning of Dad’s burial, Mum sneaked into my room with a well-tailored blue aso-ebi for Fern. She has shrunk since Dad passed and I could see she misses him so much. Again a part of me thanked my stars for bringing Fern.
“This is for Fern,” Mum said, throwing the aso-ebi on my lap. “We made it before you came, we knew you were coming with a man. Pei was sure of his cloth size, she saw it in a vision.”
“You know, I prefer someone from here,” Mum continued, sitting by my side on the bed.
“But right now anything you bring is good.” I watched Mum as her lips formed the words. Those same words that caused world wars between us before I skedaddled to Philly.
Anything? Mum? Seriously?
I looked at the well-tailored aso-ebi hilariously. My mum never ceases to amaze me.
“Thanks, Mum. It’s lovely,” I said, admiring the richly patterned aso-Ebi. “It’s a bit different though, I thought we were wearing orange and white today for Dad’s program.” I continued as Mum made her way out.
“It’s for the wedding. We will do it tomorrow morning before the guests who came here for the burial leaves,” Mum said without blinking.
“Hmm…whose wedding? You didn’t tell me we were having another occasion!” I asked playfully. I had a mix of joy and sadness at the prospect of having a family wedding at the same time as Dad’s burial.
“Yours!” Mum replied sharply, shocking herself at the sound of her own voice which came out with a higher pitch than she expected.
Avoiding eye contact, Mum made her way out of the room.
Chapter 2: This Family Is Relentless!
Fern was in the front yard, dancing with my aunties and uncles when I found him. They were singing folklore karaoke, clapping their hands, and tapping their feet the traditional folklore way.
Dressed in the African outfit that my family made for him, Fern blew a kiss and continued his unrhythmic dancing as I tried getting his attention.
My aunties pulled me into the group.
My grand-uncle K, an orthodox church vicar pulled out my hand to give marital blessings to Fern and me. I struggled. He prevailed. Fern stretched his hand voluntarily.
He is a natural!
I searched Fern’s eyes for answers, he returned again with a kiss.
A kiss? Fern?
Before I could return my gaze to grand-uncle K, he had pronounced a marital blessing!
Aunty Pei popped a bottle of champagne and screamed, “God has turned our mourning into laughter ooo”. I must confess, she looked drunk.
I was speechless.
“Your father knew this would happen, he planned it all. This is exactly how he wanted it. Your marriage will be blessed, my daughter,” Mum said as she walked by.
Planned it? My dad planned it?
Aunty Pei shoved me to my knees to join Fern who was already on his knees in prayers, with his eyes closed!
Grand-uncle K was still praying when from an angle, I saw another of my aunties arranging bridal flowers.
Where did they get that from? What is happening here?
Still in my thoughts, Mum pulled me back indoors. Desperation clouded her eyes as she shoved me into the movie room. A pitiful victorian wedding dress hung on dads’ vintage metalware. A pearl jewelry set and a pair of bridal shoes lay on the antique projector table beside the dress. Every accessory that I will need for my wedding day was present.
I tripped over as Mum turned me around to unzip my blouse.
Is she just about dressing me up for a wedding?
I would never have even bought this type of wedding dress for myself.
The whole setup looks more like a wedding than a burial! It is not fair on Dad! I looked at my mum in disbelief.
I finally found my voice and revolted.
“Mum, I want to see Dad!” I yelled, freeing myself from her grip.
“Where is he? I want to see his body now!” I continued.
I made for the house intercom to call Sule, the family chauffeur, to drive me to wherever my dad’s body was embalmed.
I shivered as I heard a male voice behind the drapes.
I looked at Mum. She smiled proudly.
“I’m not dead love,” Dad said as he exited the back of the drapes, “I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for your joy. And that’s exactly what I did.”
“Oh what a father!” Mum said with gentle tears. She clutched her chest in appreciation as she looked at my dad proudly.
‘’Dad?” I yelled, momentarily transfixed. I repeated in the same breath, “Papa?” I began to float. I could not feel my toes.
Is this a joke?
Am I dreaming?
Is Papa really alive?
Dad stretched his hand to hold me. I pulled back, horrified. The more he stretched, the further I ran.
My mum blocked the exit door so I could not escape the room.
It became a haunted circus in the huge movie room. The same room where my family watched movies such as the Witches and Beetlejuice is now one with those movies!
Dad caught hold of the hems of my dress as I stood on the steady antique projector table, towering above my parents and holding on to a remote control as a weapon.
Dad and Mum group hugged my legs.
I could not take it any longer.
I passed out.
Chapter 3: Crazy People!
I was soaked through by the time I was resuscitated.
Still dripping in my resuscitation water, aunty Pei led me through the living room.
My other wedding-obsessed aunties and uncles were in the large living room, all dressed up in wedding guests’ outfits. My vicar uncle was dressed as the priest and he was in character.
They were ready for the wedding whether I was dead or alive!
Fern looked dapper in his tux.
Is this part of our plan Fern? On whose side are you?
Aunty Pei dragged me back into the movie room. As she picked up the Victorian wedding dress to start dressing me up, I gained back my voice.
“I must confess! Fern is just a friend,” I blurted out.
“You want to marry your enemy before?” Aunty Pei asked sarcastically.
“Stop! This is an intrusion to my person and an abuse!” I grabbed my zippers from her as the words flew out of my lips loosely but from the depth of my soul.
“Who is abusing you? No abuse in this house, only love, love, love,” aunty Pei sang out her words.
“Abuse? Intrusion to your person?” She laughed hysterically and continued, “when did you start speaking all these big-big grammar?”
“Abeg turn your yansh let me tie this wedding bow well,” aunty Pei continued, turning me around like a mannequin and parting the gigantic bow on my bum.
Aunty Pei looked deranged, to be honest.
At this point, it was obvious to me that I had to escape with Fern. My family is now worse than when I left for Philly. They are now berserk with their wedding frenzy and most likely contracted other schizophrenic psychosis along the way.
To successfully escape the twilight zone, I decided to play along as much as possible. I began singing along with aunty Pei. She became so excited and yelled out her incongruent song even louder, dancing and twisting her hips.
I developed a throbbing headache.
I knew I needed to let Fern know things had gotten out of hand. I needed to let Fern know we must escape and we must escape fast.
Still singing hysterically with aunty Pei, I signaled Sule to get Fern.
Chapter 4: Wedding By Force! Hello Philly!
Fern came into the room bursting at the seams with life. He had a piece of pepper-fried chicken in one hand and a glass of African palm wine in the other. He was loving the cultural mix that he was experiencing and the flavor-fulness of the dishes had lived only in his dreams.
Escaping my unsuspecting aunty Pei who was still lost in her hysteria, I dragged Fern to a corner.
“We have to leave, this is not part of the plan! Dad is alive! They’ve all lost it. I’m sorry you are going through all these. My family has gone worse than I left them,” I said in one breath.
Uncle Tunde walked by and kissed Fern’s forehead.
A few voices in the living room were frantically looking for Fern. I no longer existed. Fern was all my family ever lived for.
“But my parents are here,” Fern said with a mouthful of chicken.
Fern swallowed hard to explain further, “To ask for your hand in marriage. My cousins are here too.”
Silence. Wide-eyed, I grabbed Fern by the arms as he tried to disappear into the family room.
“Fern, my family will marry us off in a heartbeat if you keep playing along. I’m sorry I brought you into this mess. I sincerely thought dad was dead and we have a burial to do. I have called the airline and booked the earliest ticket for tonight out of this malady!” Fern was dancing to the loud wedding Afrobeat in the background as I rambled on.
“I don’t mind being married off to my African princess,” Fern replied.
“African princess? Your? You’re my best friend and you said you don’t like marriage!” I yelled.
“No, I’m not. I pretended for love,” Fern said, dancing characteristically out of tune as he spoke.
Fern licked his oily fingers as he continued, “I planned all these. Yes, I did! I knew Papa was not dead. I knew you wanted a boy…” Fern went on.
I felt betrayed!
Hypnotized, I walked to my luggage and tossed in all my belongings.
Fern went on his knees, chicken in one hand. He looked useless.
What a sight!
“Marry me!” Fern yelled. Two strands of chicken peeping through his gums.
The reality hit me like a thunderbolt. Fern is as deranged as my family!
I wobbled helplessly through the living room, dragging my luggage on whoever had their feet on my path.
I would rather have a glass for lunch than spend one more night with my family and Fern.
Throwing Ferns’ new airline ticket at him, I escaped the house and made my way to the airport in the waiting cab, closing the cab door close on Fern’s oily lips.
For the first time since I landed, I rested my head on the taxi back seat as I was safely chauffeured to the airport.
It was minutes to boarding when I saw my parents, Fern, aunty Pei and uncle Tunde frantically shuffling through the airport queues looking for me.
Aunty Pei sighted me, I leaped back into the lounge. I watched from afar as aunty Pei struggled with security and customs to get through to me.
I heard Fern yelling, “marry me!” nonstop over the airport crowd.
The airport stood still at my family’s drama.
I watched on from the lounge as a spectator, leaving my family to their mystery and pretending I never met them.
The drama continued as the airport security led my family out. Aunty Pei was fighting, fists and toes.
As my plane lifted, I looked down over Lagos. The picturesque aquatic city sat elegantly as ever, pulling me back in, reminding me of how I grew up loving her. Reminding me of fond childhood memories.
The Atlantic ocean surrounding Lagos glistened as the plane settled in the air, bringing back teenage beach memories and how my family flipped from being fun lovers to a boorish frenzied lot as I became of marriageable age.
I shuddered as I processed the events of the past few days. This is self-exile. Lagos is history. I would never come back.
Lagos — City in Nigeria, West Africa
Aso Ebi — Nigerian traditional family clothing
Yansh — Broken English term for ‘butt’
Abeg — Broken English term for ‘please’
About Jumoke Eniola-Odepe
Jumoke Eniola-Odepe is the author of Memoirs of Great Ife and Tell Your Black Girl Daily. A lawyer by day and a writer by night, she received her Bachelor of Laws at the University of Ife and her Master of Laws at the University of Ottawa. She is a lover of summer walks, family cookouts, and everything indoors during winter. She and her husband live in Southern Ontario with their two extraordinary boys. You can visit her online at www.activepens.com.
Copyright © 2021 Jumoke Eniola-Odepe
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the written permission of the copyright owner.