The Wedding Committee


I arrived at the meeting long after everyone had taken their seats. She waved frantically as I walked in. When our eyes met, she quickly pointed me to my seat -- at the front of the table, next to the dark man who wore reading glasses and was reading what sounded like a budget, in a throaty street preacher-like baritone.

It occurred to me at that moment that this was about a lackluster commitment which I had made to her, about a fortnight ago, after her casual request. In his now familiar hoarse baritone, the chairman assertively implored us to reach deep into our reserves and contribute all of 960,000 shillings, to take the burden of cost away from the couple, as an act of love.

"This is a fair approximation of the cost of the big party that we shall throw in three months' time. Now is the time to prove our friendship to Alex... not when he is dead." he said emphatically.

Looking intensely in my direction, he asked for the vice-chairman's help to pass the blank sheets of paper, on which the members are to write their contribution pledges. I dutifully rose, picked the sheets placed on the table in front of my seat and carefully distributed to a room full of brown faces, starry-eyes, and inoffensive scents – all the while reeking with appropriate eagerness but tempered by a thin veil of pseudo-religious modesty.

Seated in furthest corner of the table, wearing an office like purple dress with a matching hat, a middle aged woman cleared her throat and raised her gold adorned hand, in an effort to get the attention of the speaker. In a rounded voice, accentuated by a self-styled American accent and looking at the screen of a huge white phone in her right hand, she requested the speaker to allow for another round of introductions, to allow the members to get to know those who had come late to the meeting.

"...that's a great idea. Hallelujah! Shall we start with you Wageci? Then we go round the room?" The speaker responded.

"Praise the lord" she quipped, while standing up. "Amen!" we chorused. "I am a born again Christian, a mother of two teenagers ...and that handsome man, is the father of my children..." pointing towards the chairman.

"For the benefit of the new comers" looking at my direction, "I am Alex's only sister and soon to be my name sakes' sister-in-law. I would also like to welcome my name sake Wageci to our big family... after waiting for a long time; we now have someone to wash dishes at daddy's home..." Much to Alex's delight, who was already beaming with bashful fluffiness and whose greying hair had acquired a new shimmer.

"...a man who finds a wife finds a great thing." Said Alex as he was gently patting her back, while looking into her eyes. We responded by shouting "Amen!"

"I am grateful to God for find a wife, a mother and someone to warm our house." Wageci nodded in submissive approval - consistent with her future role as a dutiful Christian wife.

Sinking back into my seat resigned, I missed the daring, self-assured, indifferent and self-sufficient butterfly that I once knew. I felt betrayed that wangeci had abandoned her distinct red lipstick, her power stilettos and had since settled into some inoffensive and uncharacteristic look that was indistinguishable from the suffocating sameness in that room.

Was it the terror of a cold bed in the winter of her youth? Was this a settlement for her juvenile son's sake? How could she budge from peer pressure at the age of 40? Does she even love Alex? Was he worth the compromise? I gazed blank at the piece of paper in my hand, torn between celebrating Wageci's chosen expedition and mourning the eventual taming of her once free spirit.

I returned from the vacation of my blank infinity, in time for me to speak. The air was still, dense with a worn scent. I stood up and nervously greeted the audience. Someone at the back of the room shouted "volume!" and I responded by projecting my voice louder to the eager room. Alex was looking at me with the intensity of a mind reader and I looked at him for the first time. His casual urban look contradicted his proprietary tone. His eyes retained some youth but his smile spoke of experience. His face was full of countless stories, whose geography I didn't quite understand.

I looked at Wageci, in my attempt to forage for something to say. It was nostalgic to discern an assuring certainty in her eyes; a sublime strength or was it a mischievous strategy? Quickly, in a generic comment, I congratulated the couple for finding something to love in each other. Her resulting smile was somewhat favorable. I was still unable to interpret it. I swiftly concluded my remarks by asking the members to remember to give their pledges to the treasurer, reading a note handed to me by a benign brown man seated to my left.

My cellphone rang; I walked out to pick it. After my call, it was time to leave, just before the pleasant exchange and small talk ritual of eager strangers. I sent a good-bye message to Wangeci.

Last night, she sent an optimistic reply saying, "Alex and I are so grateful for your contribution. Please rest your mind, your nephew Andrew and I will be fine... I need you to trust me on this one. Wink! Thank you for supporting our wedding."

{ exclusive feature}
by George Gachara {Nairobi: Kenya}

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