A Friend in Need
Episode 30 (Final Episode)
As Tayo’s Best Man, I was responsible for organizing the wedding reception. All hands had been on deck for the planning. Mrs Okafor had been very supportive, both morally and financially. Debby helped with the decorations of both the church and the hall to be used for the reception. Once or twice it had crossed my mind and I’d wondered if it would have been proper for Tolani to attend Tayo’s wedding if her studies had not taken her out of the country.
As I sat there in the church, I engaged my mind with thoughts of all that was to happen afterwards. I’d given certain instructions to the manager of the event centre we were to use. I silently prayed that all things would go as planned.
“Now, we proceed to the ceremony.” The voice of the officiating minister jolted me back to consciousness.
“Omotayo Matthew, do you take Omolola Maria whose right hand you now hold, to be your lawfully wedded wife? And solemnly promise, God helping you, that you will be a true and devoted husband to her? That you will love her even as Christ loves the church, and honour, cherish, protect and care for her for the rest of your life? And you will keep yourself to her, and to her alone, until God by death separates you?”
I watched closely as Tayo took a deep breath before responding: “I do.” Flashes of cameras sprayed over him. Tayo continued with his vow, turning from the minister to his bride, “I, Omotayo Matthew, according to the word of God leave my father and my mother and join myself to you, to be a husband to you. I promise to love you dearly and to care for you with all my strength; from this moment forward, we shall be one.” The congregation roared with ‘Amen’ and jammed their hands in several rounds of applause.
After they calmed down, the minister turned to Maria and asked, “Omolola Maria, do you take Omotayo Matthew whose right hand you now hold, to be your lawfully wedded husband? And solemnly promise, God helping you, that you will be a true and devoted wife to him? That you will submit yourself to him as unto the Lord, showing reverence to him as the head of this union? That you will love, honour, cherish and comfort him for the rest of your life? And you will keep yourself to him, and to him alone, until God be death separates you?”
With a beautiful beaming smile, Maria answered, “I do.” Looking Tayo right in the face, she continued, “I, Omolola Maria, according to the word of God, voluntarily join myself to you, to be a wife, a confidant, and a worthy partner to you; from this moment forward, we shall be one.” Another resounding ‘Amen’ echoed through the auditorium.
The minister concluded the ceremony by pronouncing them husband and wife. Quoting from the Scriptures, he added, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” After the rendition of the choir, a short exhortation followed as the preacher emphasized the importance of building their homes on Christ: “Any union that is not founded on Christ’s love cannot last. No marriage can survive on infatuation or lust; you need true love. And, as a proof of your genuine love for each other, you must be patient with yourselves and ready to work; love is hard work.”
Turning to the congregation, the preacher exhorted them to first ‘fall in love with Jesus’ so that He would be there to guide them in making the right choices in life. “If you establish a relationship with God, He will be there to direct you when the time comes to have a marital relationship. He also heals broken homes and mends broken hearts.” He concluded by inviting people to surrender their lives to God and have fellowship with Him and His people.
We moved from the church to the event centre for the entertainment of guests. There was plenty of food and drinks. Friends and family felicitated with the newly wedded couple and sang special songs to wish them well, while they also brought their gift items forward. I and the Best Lady, Mercy, helped the couple receive their gifts. In a flash, my eyes caught the label on a particular gift on Mercy’s side which was addressed to Mr and Mrs Adekunle, ‘with love from Mrs Tolani Victoria Olawale.’ Could it be the same Tolani? At first, I thought the first name was just a coincidence, but the second name, Victoria, made me doubt that it was a mere coincidence. Tolani’s second name was Victoria, though her last name was Abayomi.
If it was her, could it mean that she was now married? Was she back from the States? Did she bring the gift by herself or did she send someone? I looked round to see if I would see her around. I didn’t want to raise any alarm, so I didn’t ask anyone. My eyes scanned the whole hall over and over again but she was not in sight. I decided not to mention anything to anyone about my observation until the ceremony was over.
At the close of it all, the Master of Ceremony invited the groom to give his vote of thanks. Tayo thanked everyone—family, friends, well-wishers. Then he turned to me and thanked me specially. He spoke so fondly of me to everyone to the extent that I was almost moved to tears. As he was about to return the microphone, I told him I had an announcement to make. He handed me the microphone and took his seat.
I signalled the event planner and the lights went off. A cold silence filled the dark hall. After about 10 seconds, Mozart’s ‘Elvira Madigan’ Paino Concerto II began to play softly in the background. A spotlight beamed on me on the high table where I stood and followed me as I stepped off from behind the table and went towards where the guests were seated. John was right beside me with his camera to record every step I took while the guests watched with arrested surprise.
Another spotlight focused on a table to reveal Debby in her gorgeousness. I had asked that her table be set in the front of the hall. Just when I almost reached the table, I remembered that she once mentioned over lunch at work that she liked flowers for their beauty and sweet smell, so I turned, and went back to the high table. “Maria, please I need to borrow your bouquet.” I whispered. She gave it to me without delay and I headed back to Debby’s table. She was seated like a queen, blushing like a winter-rose. Mrs Okafor, seated on the other side of the table, winked me a smile as I crouched on one knee, holding the bouquet towards Debby.
A wave of thoughts rushed through my mind: her imperfections that I’d noticed, her snoring habit which I disliked, my phobia for nurses’ needles… I brushed off all the thoughts with a determination to proceed—regardless. I knew I had my faults too and was just as imperfect as her.
“The first time I set my eyes on you,” I began, “There was a connection I could not explain. It has taken me days, weeks and months of observation, meditation and prayer to understand this mystery…” As I continued, I occasionally paused to catch my breath like one in a race. Her eyes grew misty.
“My heart has been captured by your—” I was saying when a tear that she’d been struggling to hold back since I knelt before her rolled freely down her left cheek. I quickly reached for a roll of tissues I kept in my pocket for a scene as this, and handed it to her. With trembling hands, she collected it but made no move to dry her eyes. I watched as another teardrop rolled down her right cheek. I couldn’t tell if her tears were tears joy or of pity that I came too late, but I shrugged off the thought and continued.
“I, Daniel Oluwafemi, love you from the depth of my heart… I… I cannot continue to hide my feelings for you.” Extending the bouquet towards her, I finally popped the question, “Deborah Ogechi, will you marry me?”
I was sweating from the heat of the spotlight that circled us both, and so was she. She sniffed loudly and dried her face. I could almost feel the pinching touch of all the eyes in the hall focused on us. Debby stood to her feet, collected the bouquet from my hands, and, between sobs, screamed the most romantic word I’d ever heard, “Yes!”
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