BEFORE WE GOT MARRIED Episode 4 by Ife Grace.
Tomi’s thoughts ran in one direction.
What was it Femi wanted to talk to her about? Was he finally going to ask her the question she’d been waiting to hear him say for the past five months?
She’d never forget the day Becky paid her a visit two months after her breakup with Daniel. At the end of a long chat, Becky had looked at her and said,
‘Can we pray together?’
It had been a simple two-minute prayer but it was the beginning of something different in her life. She’d felt a deep sense of God’s love. It was the day she truly moved on.
The week following Becky’s visit, Femi called to ask if they could grab a bite together. At first she’d hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was engage in a discussion with an unmarried man. Then she remembered she had not spoken to him since the day she saw him at Becky’s house.
I am going to give him an audience, just this once, she’d concluded.She had her plan set. Twenty minutes into conversation, she’d politely tell Femi she needed to return to work.
It hadn’t worked that way. They had talked for hours and met the following day and the next weekend. There was a connection she couldn’t explain. Something kept pushing her forward, nudging her heart towards the light.
‘God, I should be mourning my last relationship.’ She muttered one evening as she sat across from Femi. ‘How can I just fall in love just like that. Why am I enjoying this conversation?’
How long will you mourn for Saul?
She chuckled as the scripture landed on her heart. Does God always have this sense of humor.
So God, what are you saying? She thought.
Your David is here.
‘Tomi, are you listening to me at all?’ Femi asked
She’d quickly brought her mind to the present. What had Femi been saying?
‘I’m here by the grace of God.’
‘What was the last thing I said?’
Tomi laughed. ‘Don’t use that line on me please.’
Femi pretended to be annoyed. ‘Tomi, what was the last thing I said.’
Tomi tapped her fingers on the table and tried to remember what Femi had said before she got lost in her own thoughts.
‘Hmmm…You said you’ve registered for an online course in innovation and design.’ She shook her head. ‘No. That’s not it. I remember clearly now. You were giving me the gist about a strategic idea you pitched to some igbo business men.’
‘To…mi.’ Femi said, dragging her name. ‘Tomi, I said that almost ten minutes ago.’
Tomi covered her mouth with her hand to prevent laughter from escaping her mouth. Femi shook his head, a broad grin on his face.
‘The moment you started chuckling, I knew I had lost you.’
Tomi cleared her throat. ‘I’m sorry.’ Then she remembered something and started to laugh.
Femi looked at her, puzzled. ‘What’s funny now.’
Tomi cleared her throat and shifted in her seat. ‘Can you remember one time we came home from ASUU strike and we sat together at the back while Pastor Abel was preaching. I was given you a gist about an incident that happened in school.’
Femi grinned. ‘Yes, I clearly remember that story. Your roommate had spread her clothes on the line outside and when it started to rain, some girls rushed out of the hostel to the line including those who didn’t spread clothes there.’
Tomi clapped. ‘Femi Your brain is sharp o. It’s been a long time. Almost seven years ago. I can’t believe you remember the story. ’
Femi leaned forward, ‘Let me finish first. If I’m able to tell this story correctly, you will take me out next weekend.’
Tomi stretched out her hand. Femi took it. ‘Deal.’
Femi rubbed his hand over his side beard, ready for the challenge. Tomi folded her hands and kept her gaze on him.
‘Ok, so when your roommate got to where she dried her clothes, everything had disappeared including the napkin she used to dry her shoes. At first, she thought someone had helped packed them but after three days and the clothes were nowhere to be found, she brought an old woman to the hostel. The woman sat in the courtyard and laid out a red cloth in front of her. Then she brought out cowries and began to make incantations.’
Tomi placed her hand on her head. ‘Oh God! You remembered all the details. I can’t believe this.’
Femi went on. ‘Your roommate took a bell and rang it continuously. Girls came out of their rooms to watch. She said if within two days, her clothes do not return to the line, the thief will run mad before the end of that week. Your roommate got all her clothes back that evening.’
Tomi stood up and clapped. ‘Femi o!’
Femi was not done. ‘That’s not all. Your roommate later told you that the old woman was just a beggar at the market where her mother sells. It was at that point that Pastor Abel stopped preaching and focused his attention on you.’
Tomi shook her head. ‘I was so embarrassed. Then he asked me the same question you just asked me.’
‘What was the last thing I said.’ Tomi and Femi chorused.
Femi tapped his forehead. ‘What answer did you even give him.’
Tomi laughed so loud that the man in a navy blue suit sitting on the table beside hers started smiling. ‘I said, when Satan comes through one door, don’t bother to look for another door of escape. Jump down from the window.’
‘Did he really say that?’
Tears were running down Tomi’s face from too much laughter. ‘I don’t even know. That was the first thing that came to my head.’
And they had talked for hours until it was almost dark. As Tomi got to the room, she replayed their conversations and her heart was filled with so much warmth and joy. For five months she had watched and prayed, looking out for warning signs but the more time they spent together, the stronger her love for him grew.
Was he going to ask her to marry him?
Femi arrived just as the painters finished their work. Tomi’s heart fluttered at the sight of him. He hugged her and put a bottle of wine on the table. He looked around the shop.
‘This is beautiful. I thought you wanted to design white circles around the edges of the wall.’
Tomi stood beside him. ‘I changed my mind. I saw a design on Becky’s laptop and fell in love with it. You think that’s better?’
He shook his head. ‘Not at all. This is cool. I actually prefer this. The shop already welcomes your customers even before they meet you. Really lovely.’
Femi’s gaze rested softly on Tomi’s eyes. She held her breath praying silently he wouldn’t hear the way her heart pounded fast. She needed a distraction and reached for a pair of scissors.
‘You didn’t go to work today?’ Tomi asked.
Femi thrust his hands into his pocket. ‘My boss gave me the day off.’
Tomi wanted to get to the root of the discussion. ‘You said you wanted to talk to me about something.’
Colour drained from Femi’s face. He looked into her eyes and lost the boldness to declare his intentions to her. The words he had rehearsed flew out of his head. Would she withdraw from him the way she had done when the news of their parent’s affair broke out? The last thing he wanted was to lose this friendship that had become dear to his heart.
Femi shrugged. ‘Nothing really. I guess I was looking for a way to spent time with you.’
Tomi looked away, disappointed. She must have been lost in her own fairy tales. Femi felt nothing for her and just enjoyed the friendship they shared. She was probably not the kind of woman he wanted. Didn’t Peju meet a man like that? After a year of friendship believing he was going to ask her out, he turned around to say he never had feeling for her.
Lord, I don’t care! Tomi almost screamed out loud. I’m not going to allow this man toy with my emotions.
Femi uncorked the bottle and poured wine into two paper cups. He gave her a cup and held up his. ‘Tomi, what you’ve done in this shop is remarkable. I am positive you’ll stand out here in Ado-Ekiti. You are a phenomenal woman and I am proud of you. I’m sorry we don’t have glass cups. But we can make do with this. Let’s make a toast.’
Tomi dropped the cup on the table and rose to her feet. Femi sat there wondering what he had said that had made her upset.
Femi got up and went to her. ‘What’s wrong?’
Tomi took a step backward. ‘I think we should just stay away from each other.’
Femi’s heart broke. Tomi was pushing him away again? ‘Tomi, please. What have I done wrong?’
‘We are getting too close and I like to define my relationships. I don’t want to keep making assumptions and-‘ Tomi stopped and stared at the floor. ‘I just think we-’
Femi’s eyes burned with desire. He held her chin. ‘Tomi, please look at me.’
Tomi shook her head. She kept her face down.
‘Tomi, I love you.’
She raised her head and looked at him. ‘What did you just say?
Femi sighed. ‘I know this isn’t the formal way of proposing. I planned my speech but I can’t remember anything. I didn’t see any vision about you. I have no dream to narrate. I just know deep down in my heart you are the right person for me. I’ve known this before you left for Lagos. Tomi, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you please pray about it?’
Tomi chuckled. ‘Why should I pray again when God has already given me the answer. Yes, Femi, I will marry you.’
Femi stared at Tomi, unable to believe what he had just heard. Did she just say she would marry him? He grabbed the edge of Tomi’s working table, unable to suppress the joy in his heart. Tomi placed her hand on his shoulder. He turned to hug her.
‘Thank you Tomi.’
He wanted to say more but the words were stuck in his throat.
What they didn’t realize was that the decision they made that day to get into a marriage union together would push them right in the center of the fiercest battle they’d ever encountered in their lives.
‘You want to marry Femi?’ Tomi’s mother stopped stirring the vegetable soup on the gas cooker and stared at her daughter. ‘Is this some sort of a joke?’
‘Mum, I’m serious.’
Her mother turned off the cooker. ‘Make the semovita and call Ayo to peel some oranges for your father.’
Tomi sighed in frustration as she watched her mother walk out of the kitchen. The kitchen door opened again. Tomi’s mother stood at the entrance.
‘Don’t think about it Tomi. Kill whatever desire you have for that boy and look for a real man. You can’t marry him.’
Tomi left the pot of water on the sink and followed her mother out. ‘I’m an adult and I can make my decisions.’
Her mother spun around. ‘Have I always imposed my decision on you? When you chose Mass communication when I wanted you to study law, did I force you against your will? When you abandoned your masters programme and pursued fashion designing, did I say No. Even when you moved to Lagos to start your business, didn’t we all show up when your brand was launched? You are my darling daughter and I am proud of the decisions you make but on this one, you have decided like a child and I won’t take it.’
Tomi’s mother climbed the stairs. Her father stood at the top, holding a newspaper. He waited until his wife walked past him before descending the staircase.
‘What’s going on between you and your mother.’
Tomi folded her hands. ‘She doesn’t want me to marry Femi.’
Her father looked confused. ‘Who is Femi?’
Tomi exhaled. ‘Sis Bimbo’s son.’
He gave Tomi a surprised look and walked quietly to the living room. Tomi was fuming as she entered her room. Her sister was the only person she could talk to.
Ayo was pulling off her black suit when Tomi entered the room.
‘How can my mother tell me I can’t marry a man I love without giving me any concrete reason. ’
Ayo looked at her sister. ‘Tomi, she doesn’t have to give you a reason. You know it already.’
‘Ayo, for goodness sake, the affair with his mother happened ten years ago. Besides, how is Femi’s fault in this.’
‘He came from her loins. See Tomi, I think you are just excited about entering a new relationship. You need to relax and heal from Daniel’s hurt so you don’t jump into the same wahala. I strongly believe you are making a mistake. ’
Tomi sat on the edge of the bed and clasped her hand against her forehead. Her family has rejected Femi. Not even one of them had her back except of course Seyi, her brother. He was in the boarding school. Even if he stood by her, how did that count. Tears stung her throat. She left the room for the veranda.
A tear dropped down her face as she ran her hands over the rusted railings.
Oh God, is this what we are going to face?
Her phone rang, jolting her out of her thoughts. She reached into her jean pocket and pulled out the phone.
‘Hi dearie. How are you?’
Hearing his voice brought fresh batch of tears. She couldn’t speak. When she tried, her lips trembled.
‘Sweetheart, are you crying.’
Tomi wiped her tears and tried to control her emotions. ‘Femi, I-’ She stopped, unable to get the right words out.
‘I’m about leaving my boss’ house, can we see?’
‘Ok, I’ll be there soon.’
Ayo came to the veranda as she ended the call. ‘Mummy said I should tell you dinner is ready.’
‘I’m not hungry.’ Tomi said and walked back into the house.
‘Don’t do this to yourself Tomi. You-’
Tomi turned around to face her. ‘I’m not hungry Ayo. Do you want to give me a lecture on that too?’
Annoyed, Ayo raised her hand. ‘Sorry o.’
Tomi washed her face and dressed up. When she got downstairs, her parents were in the dining room, eating.
‘Where are you going to?’ Her mother asked.
Tomi didn’t even give her mother a glance before storming out of the house.
When she arrived at Captain Cook, Femi was already sitting by the window, waiting for her. He rose as she approached him. When he pulled her into his embrace, she broke into tears. Femi held her, making no attempt to pull away.
Tomi raised her tear-smeared face from his shoulders. She stared into Femi’s eyes. ‘I love you. Why can’t my parents just understand that.’
A fierce love consumed his heart. He had expected this battle. He was ready to fight it, no matter how long it took.
He wiped the tears from Tomi’s face. ‘I love you too. Much more than you can imagine.’
Tomi narrated what had happened that day. ‘Nobody is supporting us. Not even my sister who always stand by me. I don’t even understand.’
Femi didn’t say anything for a while. He looked lost in his thoughts. Finally, he cleared his throat. ‘Tomi, I don’t know how long this battle is going to last. We can only trust God for help. Are you ready for us to fight this together?’
It seemed the opposition by her parents was deepening Tomi’s love for Femi. She sat there looking at him and knew she’d fight this no matter what.
‘Yes. I am. I don’t care about my selfish mother who wants to carry bitterness to the grave. What happened between your mum and my dad was a long time ago. Can’t she just move past that? ’
Femi leaned forward. ‘Tomi, we will not win this fight by anger. We will not respond with stubbornness and resentment. God already told me that love is how we win this. We follow only the instructions the Holy Spirit gives us. We will not walk by flesh as far as this matter is concerned.’ He paused. ‘Don’t argue with them please. When your temper begin to rise, just keep quiet and remember that God is in control. We watch and see how God handles this.’
Tomi held his hands. What she felt for Femi was deeper than what she’d ever experienced. It was more than the desire that warmed her blood every time he looked at her. When they started the relationship, her thoughts had been consumed with how wonderful her wedding night would be.The kisses, the hugs, the curdles, the affection, the romance. But this was deeper. She knew that no matter what, she would not let him go.
Tomi’s relationship stayed on her mind all through the bible study the following evening. She found herself kneeling during the prayer time, praying passionately for God to intervene in her relationship.
Sort this out Lord. Touch the hearts of my parents.
At the end of the bible study, Peju tip-toed behind Tomi and covered her eyes.
‘Peju.’ Tomi said, pulling her friend’s hand away and turning to face her. They hugged.
‘How were you able to tell?’
‘Your small hands are hard to miss. They could barely cover my eyes.’
Peju laughed. ‘I’ve missed you.’
‘I’m still angry with you. You didn’t tell me you were travelling out of the country.’
Peju wrapped her hand around Tomi’s waist. ‘Ma binu joor. It was urgent. Tomi, I would have missed that opportunity. You remember that application I made for one Telecommunications Workshop in Ghana. I didn’t know I had been selected. The truth is, I didn’t expect it. If you know the number of people that applied for that program. Apart from that, I’d applied like few hours before it closed. I was just reluctant sha. Barely three nights before the workshop, I got a mail from them. I had to rush to Lagos to get my documents ready.’
‘Good to have you back. Hope you enjoyed yourself.’
‘Ah Tomi. God will help us in this country. If you see the kind of people I met there. I was asking myself. God, when will I get to this level.’
Tomi laughed. ‘We will get there someday.’
‘So what have I missed? I can’t wait to hang out with you and Becky.’
Tomi almost spilled out the news of her relationship with Femi but she restrained herself. She remembered Peju had been upset the first time they had met Femi washing his boss’ car at Becky’s house. It was better to keep her out of the loop.
‘Nothing much.’ Tomi hugged her again.
As they moved away from a group of nursing mothers and their crying babies, the P.A to the Pastor’s wife approached the two ladies.
‘I’ve been searching everywhere for you.’ The P.A addressed Tomi. ‘The Pastor’s wife wants to see you.’
Peju cast a questioning glance at her friend. Tomi shrugged and followed the P.A. They walked down the corridor of the auditorium to a smaller building behind that served as the secretariat.
The office of the Pastor’s wife was sparsely furnished. Apart from a table with bibles and books on it, there was a brown bookcase and a brown leather sofa with a dispenser standing next to it. Pastor Shade was fetching water from the dispenser when the P.A led Tomi in.
‘She is here ma’am.’ The P.A announced.
Pastor Shade dismissed the personal assistant with a wave of hand. Tomi remained standing. She already sensed why she had been called. Had her mother told the Pastor’s wife about her decision to marry Femi?
Tomi sat with her back straight. She wanted to be done with whatever this was. She waited patiently as the woman drank the water slowly and left the cup beside the dispenser.
Pastor Shade settled at the end of the sofa. ‘I was informed you got into a relationship with Femi.’
Tomi remained silent.
‘Tomi, what has gotten into your head. Why would you make such a foolish decision. Is it that Garden Assembly no longer have brothers that suits your taste?’
Tomi stared at the Pastor’s wife, wanting badly to get up and walk out of the office.
BEFORE WE GOT MARRIED
To be continued