By Hannah Onoguwe
“Is it paining you?”
It was what Halima, the girl who braided her hair, always asked, especially when beginning to weave from the tiny hairs at her hairline. Many times she would answer in the affirmative, but Halima would only say in pidgin English, without sparing the hairs, “Sorry, Aunty. Make we catch all of them, make e fine well-well.” So with a wince she would hold on to the part of the hair that had been woven to lessen the pull, press it down tightly and bear it. Yes, the hair would turn out beautifully, much more so after the two or three days it took for the tension of ‘new’ hair to wear off.
However, the current situation bore no resemblance to a hair braiding appointment. She almost giggled at the disparity. The next moment though, she was almost sad; she wasn’t supposed to be amused, was she? Shouldn’t she be in the beginning throes of ecstasy? At the very least, she felt she should be more preoccupied with the task at hand.
She looked up at the man above her. He had stilled when she didn’t answer immediately and in the low light of the room she could make out the anxiety that furrowed his damp brow. She took a second to run her gaze over his face, with the unfamiliar passion that made the angular lines of his handsome face so different from the one she was more accustomed to: the attentive, sometimes bland one of her driver.
“No, Kenneth. It’s not.” Bidemi attempted a reassuring smile, but feared it might not be very convincing. The lights must have been on her side, though, because after looking down at her quizzically, he continued his back and forth motions, and she let out an encouraging sound. Hopefully, one of mounting passion.
No, it wasn’t ‘paining’ her. In fact, she couldn’t say it hurt at all. For that, she supposed she should be thankful. Being a 39-year-old virgin, she had kind of expected she would be screaming her head off right about now; a couple of her friends’ deflowering tales had raised the hair on the back of her neck. She was aware that one or two had embellished for effect, but somehow she hadn’t been able to shake the apprehension. But maybe age had just slackened her hymen — made it shrivel and drop right off, who knew? It must have grown tired of waiting and thought it had better get to it….
She didn’t feel any real shame. She had known Kenneth as a member of her church — one of the ushers — for quite a while now, over two years. Being one of the deacons in her church, she had been placed as a supervisor of that department. When Kenneth had approached her for a job, like many others had over the years, knowing of course that she worked in a bank, she had been only a little irritated. She had been surprised at the fact that he could boast of only a WAEC certificate. She had been even more surprised that the clean-looking young man’s English wasn’t as smooth as his appearance had led her to believe. He had grown up in Lagos, and had told her the classic tale of being from a poor background, the firstborn who had sacrificed so his siblings could go to school. Since she couldn’t realistically expect him to occupy any position at the bank, unless that of driver, which was handled straight from the head office in Lagos, she had suggested that he come and work for her at home, washing her clothes, cleaning, and other odd jobs. He even proved to be great at cooking. Discovering he drove well, every now and then over the weekends he did some shopping for her or took her where she needed to go. He had turned out to be almost indispensable.
Bidemi hadn’t set out to marry him, no. It was only when her 39th birthday had rolled around that it had struck her — more forcefully this time, that if she didn’t set her life in motion, she would end up a real hardened, lonely spinster. For some reason that day her girlfriends were either away with their husbands or on some work-related assignment. In fact, Tessie, who had married before graduating from the university, was out of the country attending her daughter’s high school graduation from an American university. All they could do was call to wish her a happy birthday. But there was Kenneth, who had miraculously known, standing at her door that Saturday afternoon, with a cheap card and a small box of chocolates. Working with her, he had caught on to the fact that she loved chocolate and bought her some. She had been amazed and touched. And that was when the idea had been born.
Yes, she had claimed God had ‘told’ her that he was meant to be her husband when she knew it was a lie. God hadn’t said jack. At the back of her mind, she was positive God would understand. She had served him faithfully all these years, killed desire in the quest to remain untouched until marriage — well, relatively, faced her work wholeheartedly believing her dream man would show up one day. He hadn’t. She must admit to herself that when men had showed interest years back, she’d had different ideas of the qualities a husband should possess. And wasn’t it ironic that women like Tessie, who opened their legs for just about anything that was in possession of a penis, were happily married? Well, although her stupidity and circumstance had brought her to this point, she was digging in her heels and not going to let them take her any further.
But how could she, a deacon, tell her employee who was eight years her junior that she was just tired of being single and she thought he was a good choice for her — maybe the only choice? She was still attractive — and to supplement what God had given her, she put her money to good use. She was blessed with a naturally slim build, even though she had gained a few kilograms over the years out of laxity — but nothing dire. She got admiring looks all the time. But that was all she got. Somehow she had become one of those successful women who drove powerful cars that intimidated men. Men her age were married, and if they weren’t, they were running after girls fresh from the university with perky breasts. The last marriage proposal had been from a rich alhaji client of the bank who had asked, with all seriousness, that she consent to be his third wife — after all, he was entitled to four. She had been amazed and a bit offended, but he had touched her arm, the gold in his mouth flashing as he spoke, “Think about it, Bidemi. Time is not on your side.” Oh yes, if she hadn’t recalled every customer service course she had taken, and beseeched God to give her uncommon patience, he would have felt a hard fist, a stiletto heel, and bared teeth on his side.
Kenneth had been surprised, but he had also been sincere in saying he would spend time to seek the face of God concerning the matter, a sincerity that had made her feel guilty — but only for so long. She supposed she had broken protocol; in her church, it was the man who was supposed to approach the head pastor with his intentions toward a woman. But she had known that wouldn’t happen; even though she knew Kenneth found her attractive — things like that were difficult to hide — she knew he of all men wouldn’t have said anything in a million years. He was almost in awe of her. When Kenneth had come to her a week later to haltingly say that yes, he felt God was leading them to be husband and wife, speaking to the head pastor had been mere formality — the man could see that she was determined.
When Kenneth began pumping his hips faster, guttural sounds and broken words spilling from his mouth, Bidemi moved with him, hands on his buttocks urging him on. Harder, faster. She hadn’t even hinted at getting him into bed while they were courting; to be honest, she wouldn’t have known exactly how to go about it if she’d been so bold. But she had done her homework to ensure he was at least potent; she had managed to brush against him when the occasion called for it or at the slightest pretext — to feel the satisfaction of him standing to attention. She knew sex was important, especially to men, although she wouldn’t deny that tonight, past the fumbling and hesitant strokes, along the way, it had gotten quite pleasant for her as well.
But priorities were priorities. Next on her agenda was a child. She wouldn’t waste any time. The anniversary of her fourth decade on earth was coming up in less than four months. She didn’t want to be that woman taking her kids to school who others would think was their grandmother. The whole marriage package would be hers, better late than never. She could work on the big ‘O’ later….if that hadn’t upped and left as well. She was jaded enough to know that there were a whole lot of issues that would arise. For one, she wasn’t exactly sure how Kenneth would fit into her lifestyle, or if there would be an end to his almost subservient attitude, which she had begun to tire of. So whatever happened with him or the marriage — she was nothing if not realistic — at least it would be on record that she had taken the plunge.
She would take as much she could get.
Hannah Onoguwe lives in Jos, Nigeria, the setting of her fondest childhood memories. Her short stories have been published in Adanna Literary Journal, and Litro online. She loves to travel, watch romantic comedies, and try her hand at new recipes.
Artwork: “Little Bird” by Marta Święcek.