It started with “I don’t” will be out in 2 weeks! Yay. Release date is 1st December. You can preorder now on Amazon.
To whet your appetite, here is Chapter One. Please let me know what you think.
It’s all smoke and ashes
This is it. After a series of panic attacks and one prolonged episode of cold feet, today I’ll make one of the most important decisions of my adult life.
It’s my wedding day. The beginning of the rest of my life with the man I fell in love with over a year ago.
He is everything I’ve ever hoped for in a husband—A good-looking man with a steady job, a guy who gradually wormed his way into my heart.
Peering at my reflection in the mirror, I draw in a long breath, letting the optimism I’ve mustered for the past few days wash over me.
Yes, I want this. Have prayed for this for a long time. A future with my husband, saturated with love and laughter. A marriage as strong as that of my parents. Despite my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, their deep connection remains.
The anxiety in the pit of my stomach doesn’t mean anything. The fear that flutters in my chest every now and then when I think about the possibility that this could be a mistake shouldn’t count for anything. Should it?
I love Jidenna, and I know he loves me too. That’s all that matters. Our love will conquer anything that comes our way.
“Oh, my goodness, Anuli, you look wonderful, simply lovely,” my mother gushes, snagging my attention. Her gaze roaming over me is wide with admiration.
“Thanks, Mum,” I say, heat warming my cheeks.
With a smile, I turn back to the mirror to admire the outcome of over two hours of preparation. My mother is right. I look fantastic, even if I say so myself.
My wedding gown, flown in from Lagos two weeks ago, suits me perfectly. I’m dressed in a white, flowy ball gown with a fitted bodice that has a pretty flower pattern. It’s off-shoulder and falls to my ankles. My bridal look is complete with shimmery shoes, silver jewellery, and sparkly diamonds, making me look stunning in the mirror.
“I love your makeup, Anuli. It complements your yellow pawpaw skin tone perfectly,” my best friend Iriah says, joining my mother beside me.
I chuckle as I glance at my reflection again. Indeed, unlike other makeup artists I’ve used in the past, Kayode hadn’t attempted to make my face appear lighter. He’d used just the right shade of foundation that complements my toffee brown hue.
Iriah adjusts my veil and draws in a deep breath as she fixes her gaze on mine. There’s a film of tears in her eyes. “I’m so happy for you, my dear friend. And I wish you and Jidenna all the best,” she says, her tone croaky from emotion.
Tears well in my eyes and I blink them back rapidly. I don’t want to ruin my perfect makeup. “Thank you, but please, guys, stop,” I say, darting my gaze between my mother and best friend. They are staring at me with sheer joy twinkling in their eyes. As if I’m a priceless artefact in a history museum. “I don’t want to ruin my makeup with more tears.”
My mother reaches for my hand and takes it in hers. “Okay, my love, I’ll stop gushing over you. Lemme check on your father now. He’ll probably be uneasy at the venue without me,” she says.
I nod. “Thanks, Mum.”
Even though I want my mother here, she needs to be with her husband. His dementia makes him restless in any unfamiliar environment.
She smiles at me, squeezes my hand, and air kisses me. “I pray you and Jidenna have a wonderful marriage,” she says.
“Amen!” I say.
“Amin o, Jesu!” Iriah says at the same time.
My mother leaves and I’m alone with my best friend. She’s my chief bridesmaid. I can’t even contemplate any other person worthy of this role.
Iriah is my ride-or-die, just like I’ll do anything for her. And she looks great playing the part in a violet silk gown which accentuates her curvy figure. Her long, curly weave swept to the side of her pretty oval face draws attention to her elaborate custom-designed multi-stone earrings.
Although four of my much younger cousins are my other bridesmaids, Iriah is the only one I’ve allowed to be a true part of the process. She’s the only one apart from my parents and the members of my glam team I’ve allowed in this room. For the most important day of my life, I need only positive vibes around me.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married!” she squeals, clapping her hand in excitement.
She reaches for my hand and takes it in hers. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? You know I’ve got you either way.”
I understand her question and why she asked. Only a week ago, I’d revealed to her I was having wedding jitters, worried about taking this next step with Jidenna.
Although I reassured her the next day that it was just a fleeting feeling based on a groundless premonition, I can tell she’s still apprehensive.
“Of course, I’m sure. Won’t be here if I wasn’t.” I say, then point to her. “I’ll make sure you catch the bouquet so you’re next.”
She waves a dismissive hand and sucks her teeth. “Don’t bother, my yeye boyfriend will never propose. I’ll dump him soon.”
“Udoka might surprise you o. Everyone can tell how much he adores you.”
“Na adore I go chop?” She lets out a hiss. “I know his family wants him to marry an Igbo woman. Preferably someone from Anambra state like you. As a Bini girl, I’m not his first choice. And I’ll not stand for it.”
“Don’t say that. He isn’t tribalistic at all.”
“Udoka may not be, but his mother is, and she’s a huge part of his life. I know he’ll eventually give in to her.”
“You can’t be so sure—”
She shrugs, cutting me off. “Well, I don’t give a shit. I’m the chief architect at Highlander, the most prestigious firm in West Africa, have my own house and investments. I don’t need him. Or his family.”
Her tone is firm and confident, but underneath her nonchalance, I sense a vulnerability. She may not need Udoka, but she definitely wants him.
“Yass! Boss Bitch! You don’t need him,” I say, snapping my fingers in support. No matter how I feel about it, giving Iriah this emotional boost is paramount. She needs it.
She laughs, leans forward and air kisses me. “Seriously, Anuli, I’m so thrilled for you. You’re a beautiful and wonderful person. Jidenna is lucky and I hope he knows it.
With a huge grin on my face, I say, “I’m the fortunate one.”
I know that it’s not easy to find a love like I have, and I can’t wait to be at the altar saying I do to the man of my dreams.
I didn’t say I do. I didn’t get a chance to.
Instead of my father, who has dementia, my older brother Ekene walks me down the aisle. He hands me over to my groom and strolls away.
My heart is bursting with pleasure as I look at Jidenna. The smile on his handsome face reflects the love shining in his eyes for me.
Standing at the podium before us is the priest, dressed in his regalia. The organist’s pause from playing the melodious music signals the start of the ceremony.
At the priest’s command, everyone in the audience sits down, and my groom lifts my veil off my face.
I stare into the eyes of my future husband, my chest fluttering in excitement. Jidenna looks striking in a black tuxedo custom-designed to accommodate the expanse of his broad shoulders and muscular build.
“You look … divine,” he mouths to me, causing my skin to flush with pleasure. I’m so excited, my heart is ready to explode.
“Let us begin,” the priest says. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness and celebrate the union of…”
The priest’s voice fades as I fix my gaze on Jidenna. After two years together, it’s about time to take the next step in our relationship. About damn time.
When I turned thirty, the pressure to get married hit me in the chest like a forceful blow. I began frantically searching for a husband. It was as if an internal biological clock suddenly switched on.
All my life, I followed the rules. The ones set by my strict parents. Focus on education, avoid bad company, complete first degree and Masters in psychology, and find a good job after NYSC. I achieved all without losing my focus.
Soon, I found myself a twenty-six-year-old woman who had never been in a relationship with a man, and with absolutely zero experience in the dating world.
So, I went on a rampage, trying to make up for lost time. It was a disaster. My first experience with a boyfriend had been a huge mistake. Let’s just say that I regret losing my virginity to a man who had no clue how to treat a woman.
After another go at dating, I took a step back, avoiding the opposite sex like they were infectious. Until I turned thirty.
That morning, I had a panic attack. I was single, with no prospects of marriage on the horizon. So, I made a list of what I wanted for a future partner. I would not compromise any longer. I wanted a man to fit the mould of the image I created on that A1 sheet of paper.
Meeting Jidenna 5 weeks later felt like winning the lottery because he met all my criteria for a husband. A 33-year-old manager in a global tech firm who is not only generous but also good looking.
He is tall, dark, and handsome, with closely cropped hair and a goatee that surrounds full lips. His athletic build, because of his dedication to exercise, also got my attention. A fitness enthusiast like me, I was impressed.
We met at a gym when he politely corrected my form on a thigh master I was using wrongly and hit it off immediately.
When he asked me out on a date later that day, I was thrilled. It didn’t take me long to picture this day. The moment we would exchange vows at the altar in the presence of our friends and family.
“Time for vows.” The priest’s deep voice reels my mind back to the present. “Do you take Anuli, Chiamaka Eneh to be your lawfully wedded wife, Jidenna, Charles Chikwendu? Do you promise to love and cherish her for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?” the priest asks.
His gaze pierces mine as he nods. “I do.”
My heart expands with joy at hearing him say it. God! It’s finally happening. I’ll soon be a Mrs.
The priest turns to me. “Now, your turn, Anuli, Chiamaka Eneh. Do you take Jidenna Charles Chikwendu to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to love and cherish him for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”
I draw in a deep breath as I pin my gaze on Jidenna. Finally, I get to cross this threshold. A step closer to the kind of life I dreamed of. “I d—”
The front door to the cathedral bursts open, echoing in the air. I and everyone in the room turn simultaneously towards the entrance to find a woman dressed in an Ankara boubou, a toddler on her hip and a young girl holding her hand.
“Ifeanyi! So, it’s true!” she yells, marching purposely towards where I stand with Jidenna, her eyes wide in shock. “So, this isn’t a dream.”
The entire room erupts into pandemonium. My mother and brothers jump to their feet and rush towards the intruder.
They try to pull her away, but she is even more forceful, almost dropping the child resting on her hip. “Leave me alone!” she shouts, pointing her finger at Jidenna. “That man is my husband. I thought he was in Nigeria building a home in Abuja for us. Instead, he’s here marrying another wife.”
My entire body goes into shock, every cell inside me freezing in time. This is a dream. A joke. But it isn’t.
The woman continues to shout. “Ifeanyi! So, you are marrying a new wife. Without informing me. Chai! So, you’re really in Nigeria to marry this … this woman instead of building our house?”
I dart my gaze at Jidenna expecting to see him shocked. Surely, this deranged woman has got things mixed up. She certainly has the wrong man. Jidenna isn’t Ifeanyi. There must be some kind of mistake.
His expression isn’t shock. It’s anger. His jaw is tight, and his eyes are blazing with rage.
My gut plummets. Oh my God!
Blood pounds in my head, making me dizzy. My entire body is trembling, but I remain standing, not sure how I’m managing to remain upright.
“I have a right to marry whoever I want, Somto,” Jidenna seethes through clenched teeth. “Your father married three wives and you expect to be my only wife? Get out of here!”
A sudden, sharp pain strikes at my temple as blood rushes to my head. My legs give way. I would have fallen like a heap on the floor if not for arms that grasped me on the waist. Without having to look back, I know it’s Iriah from her floral perfume, the one I gifted her for her 30th birthday.
“Jidenna, how could you do this to me?” I cry out, tears clouding my vision. “How could you lie to me?”
He takes a step towards me, but stops, as if thinking better of trying to touch me. “I didn’t lie, Anuli, my love. I just … my wife and I have been separated for years.”
“Liar!” the woman shouts. “We’re not separated at all. We are still very much married.”
I don’t bother looking at her. My tunnel vision is narrowed on Jidenna, my heart racing like a speedboat. “How could you?”
“I love you, Anuli … just ignore all this and let’s get on with this ceremony.” He drags his palm over his face roughly, a sign of distress I’ve come to recognise. The way he usually acts when he feels trapped. “Marry me. Say “I do”, and I’ll explain later. Please.”
I gasp, not sure I heard him correctly. Is he being for real? Does he think I’m that desperate? That I’ll simply ignore that there’s another woman standing here claiming to be his wife and go ahead with the wedding? Did I give him such a desperate vibe in our relationship? Did I do or say anything that would make him even contemplate I would accept this?
“Please just say, “I do” in front of the priest now, Anuli baby,” he implores, his tone a desperate plea. “I want you to be my wife. I want to be your husband. There’s no law against polygamy.”
Rage erupts inside my veins like a volcano, hot and fierce, melting away every sense of appropriateness I have. I lurch towards him and slap him across the face with all the strength I can muster.
“I don’t! I don’t! I don’t!” I chant as I hit him again and again.
He pushes me away from him and I land on the floor, my white gown billowing around me.
Like a zombie, I watch the mayhem that unfolds seconds after. My brother, Ekene, leaping forward and landing a heavy blow on Jidenna’s jaw, the fight that breaks out between both families, all the yelling and cursing, chairs being broken, and the priest fleeing the scene.
Within minutes of the madness starting, I can feel someone helping me off the ground and leading me out of the church. I suspect it’s Iriah, but I can’t be so sure.
There’s a loud buzzing sound in my ear, but I can still hear my mother and Iriah’s soothing remarks.
“It’s better you found out now than after the wedding.”
“God was looking out for you. Thank God you didn’t marry such a liar.”
“You dodged a bullet, Anuli. Thank God. You’d have married a married man.”
I swallow hard as I slump into the backseat of a vehicle. I don’t know whose, but I don’t care. My mind is spinning in multiple circles. What the hell just happened?
Dodged a bullet? No. There’s a hole in my chest from the bullet breaking my heart. A loud wail erupts from deep inside my being.