By Nneka Ezealor
Click HERE for the previous episode of BETWIXT
Salma came back on Sunday night and he was happy to see her. She was like a mother hen, and fussed for him like he was a baby. She worried that he didn’t look like he had been feeding well and proceeded to cook up a storm. Good thing he hadn’t had much to eat all day because her meals were always too good to be missed. After dinner, they sat together going over the lists and discussing other things they had to do in preparation for their wedding.
“Dan, baby, are you okay? You seem a bit…em, I don’t know…” She placed a hand to his forehead.
“Me? I’m okay. Yes. Maybe just a little tired.”
“Oh, poor baby, I’m sorry, we can do this tomorrow.” She closed the notebook and started closing the magazines and putting them away.
His BlackBerry beeped. It was a message from Kate. He hastily typed a reply and deleted the chat history. Not that Salma would go through his phone, but, he’d rather be safe than sorry.
* * *
“Hello, Dan. How have you been?”
“Babe! I’m fine. I’m sorry I’ve just had a lot on my table. Work late. I’m sorry I haven’t…”
“So it’s just work? I’ve missed you. When can I see you? I need to talk to you.”
Dan swallowed hard. He was happy this conversation was happening over the phone and Kate wouldn’t see how the words “I need to talk to you” caused his eyes to widen in fear.
“Oh, is there a problem? Are you okay?” He replied with all the calmness he could muster, massaging his forehead.
“I’m fine. Let’s meet for lunch.”
Dan was going to give her an excuse of being swamped with work, but he thought hey, just tell her about Salma and get this thing over with already.
“Okay. 2:30. I’ll pick you up, abi?”
“2:30 is fine. And no, I’ll come pick you up.”
“Okay. See you then.”
Had she found out about Salma? Dang! I should have told her earlier, instead of avoiding her. How exactly do I tell her? Thing is, I love her but I don’t want to disappoint Salma.I’m torn betwixt the two.
His chain of thoughts was broken by the buzzing of the intercom, the voice over the static informed him that he was needed by the boss.“I’ll be there immediately.”
Kate Osifo and the lunch date were temporarily forgotten.
* * *
“We’re getting married in two weeks. I…. I should have told you earlier. I wanted…”
“It’s okay, Dan. I knew.”
“Y…You knew? How?”
“Salma is my accounts officer at TedBank. She gave me an invite to your wedding last Thursday.”
* * *
Salma sat across from him. The open page of the notebook in her lap was empty. She was supposed to be taking notes. The pen slid out of her hand for the second time. She wished the coffee table were a little higher so she could hide her hands underneath it. She rubbed her sweaty palms on her jeans again, and shifted in her seat, nodding slightly.
Truth was, she hadn’t heard anything he had been saying in the past hour. She had been staring at his lips. And the little tuft of facial hair just under the lower lip.
What would it be like to have these lips pressed against mine, his tongue doing a slow waltz with mine? And if he brushed them softly against my neck and descended, lower…
She closed her eyes and exhaled softly.
“That would be just perfect, don’t you think?” He looked up from the magazines spread on the table “Salma?”
“Oh, yes. Perfect for what?”
“The couples loveseat. The swing-in-a-tree idea I told you about.”“Oh. That! Yes, yes, sure. It would.” She bit her lower lip, chiding herself for fantasizing about her wedding planner.
* * *
Jude looked away quickly as she bit her lip. Why was she always doing that? Did she have any idea how he wished it were his teeth nibbling gently on those lips?
And this beach bronze lip gloss sef, e no dey help the matter!
“ I, um, would you like a drink? Water? Juice?”
“Juice, please. Thank you.”
He went into his personal office to get the drinks from the fridge there. He closed the door gently behind him and ran his hands over his hair. A familiar dull ache was starting at his temple.
Not again, man. Not again after Chinelo.
His eyes rested on the avocado green divan set against the fawn colored east wall of his office. The divan hadn’t been green that afternoon. It had been a pale yellow. He remembered how Chinelo’s bronze skin had looked on it.
He remembered the crimson stain, signifying her transition from maidenhood to womanhood. He remembered that he had fallen madly in love with her in the weeks that followed. He had had crushes on several brides before. He had had a taste of what their soon-to be husbands would be enjoying on their honeymoons.
But he had never fallen in love with any of them. Except Chinelo.It hurt him even more to think she only slept with him to get back at her fiancé for cheating on her with her cousin. Yet, she went ahead and married him. For his millions, she said.
Then, Salma walked into his office two months ago. And his throat felt that dryness it hadn’t felt in a long time. It was her eyes. No, it was the smile that played on the right corner of her lips as she talked. The way her waist and hips moved under the bluish gypsy skirt she wore reminded him of Efik maidens doing the Ekombi dance.
Earlier today, he had caught her gaze twice, and he saw it. He was so sure. She wanted him just as much as he wanted her. But, here he was, helping her plan her wedding to another man.
He rubbed a sore spot on his left shoulder and grimaced, took a pack of juice from the fridge and grabbed two glasses from the tray before heading back to the outer office.
The chilled juice seemed to cool the flames of passion burning in them and they were able to go through the rest of the wedding details they were supposed to discuss. Forty minutes later, he walked her to the door as they shared a joke and laughed heartily.
Jude stood with his hand on the door handle, making some last minute suggestions to her. He heard a soft thud as her bag hit the floor and her arms circled his neck and waist.
Her mouth tasted citrusy from the juice.
* * *
The reverend father’s voice sounded very far away. Her eyes grew misty as tears filled her eyes.
“Will you, Salma Christiana Sanda, take Daniel Olabode Akande as your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part, so help you God?
Dan looked into her eyes, beaming his brightest smile. He had responded “I do, so help me God” to the same question from the reverend father a minute earlier.
Poor guy. If he only knew….
The reverend father cleared his throat and was about to repeat the question when she spoke.
Her voice came out weak and raspy. She swallowed hard and let go of Dan’s hand.
“I’m sorry, Dan.”
“Salma? Are you okay? What are you…?”
Her mother screamed and collapsed in a heap on the pew. The guests began to murmur, some standing up and putting their hands on their heads in shock a s she walked out of one of the side doors.
Jude was standing outside with his side to her, talking on the phone to his staff at the reception. He spun round as he heard his name.
“Jude, do you really want me to go back in there?”
“Then take me away from here.”
They half-ran to where his car was parked, and in a few seconds, they had hit the road.
* * *
Kate looked for a spot to park her car and wondered why there were so many people standing outside the church. She was late and had hoped to catch the tail end of the wedding ceremony and meet them during the photo session. At least this would show Dan she had no hard feelings. And then, she could move on.
As she approached the church, she saw that most people were not smiling but talking in low voices and shaking their heads sadly. She saw one of the groomsmen. She recognized him from Dan’s office.
“Hey, Banky. What’s up? Have they finished?”
“Finished ke? Salma left Dan at the altar. They didn’t get married.”
“She what? Why? Wh..?”
“Dan is inside, sha.”
She saw him at the far end of the church. His best man stood beside him, his hand on his back while Dan held his head in both hands.She went and knelt in front of him, dropping her purse on the floor beside her. She took his face in both hands…
“Dan. I’m sorry, Dan.”
“Kate. You came. You…”
His voice broke off as he sank to the floor beside her, their tears mingling as they kissed.