Previously on DOWN LOW…
Chief Nelson C. Nweze gently nibbled at a soft morsel of goat meat, still in awe at how beautiful the woman seated across from him was, as she sat bathed in the warm golden glow of the chandeliers in the swanky five-star restaurant in Ikoyi, Lagos.
He watched her in silent admiration as she delicately blew on a hot spoonful of peppersoup and elegantly brought the cooled tidbit to her soft, sensually-shaped mouth coated in a deep shade of wine-coloured lipstick. She chewed slowly, her thickly-lashed eyes closing as the delicious flavours assailed her taste buds.
“You’re enjoying yourself, I see,” he said, smiling slightly.
Adaora’s eyes flew open in surprise and she coughed lightly, swallowing her food. She brought a napkin to her lips, smiling sheepishly.
“The food here is amazing, Chief,” she said.
“This is my favourite place to eat in this town,” Chief Nelson replied.
Adaora nodded in response and slowly lowered her large dark eyes back to her bowl of peppersoup.
What painfully stilted conversation, she thought. What on earth are we going to be talking about when we get married? She sighed and looked back up at Chief Nelson and caught him staring at her with a slightly whimsical expression.
“Is something wrong, Chief?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” he responded, embarrassed to have been caught shamelessly staring. “I just enjoy looking at you. You’re very beautiful, you know.”
Adaora sighed inwardly. “Thank you, Chief, but beauty is a fleeting thing. I will still grow old and grey and everything will sag and droop.”
“But that won’t be for a very long time, my dear. Relish your youth and beauty now. Bask in the compliments. Live.”
“I’d like to think that I am much more than my looks,” Adaora said, looking the man straight in the eyes.
He looked back, drowning in the dark pools. “I am well aware of that, Ada. That is why I took you out today on this fine Sunday evening.” He dropped his cutlery, sat up and looked directly back at Adaora. “We are about to become husband and wife, and I realize that even though I have known you for most of your life, I don’t really know you. I don’t know what your favourite colour is, your favourite food, your dreams, your fears and hopes…” He sighed. “It’s a shame that I didn’t do this much sooner. I hope that you do not find me pathetic.”
Adaora smiled and shook her head no. “Not at all, Chief. It’s quite thoughtful of you. I have actually thought about how little I know about you, but I didn’t know how to broach the subject. I can be terribly inadequate sometimes.”
“There is nothing inadequate about you. Stop talking nonsense,” Chief Nelson chided, frowning.
Adaora smiled again and nodded. “You are too kind, Chief.”
“And can you not call me Chief?” he said. “My wife-to-be should not be addressing me by a title like an employee or a servant.”
Adaora cocked her head slightly to the side. “I suppose I should call you Nelson then, yea? It would take a lot of getting used to.”
“We’ve got quite some time before the wedding to practice, do we not?” Chief Nelson grinned.
“Yes, we do.”
Talk about making lemonade, Adaora thought. A knot had started to form in her chest earlier in the day at the thought of her impending dinner date with her future husband, and now she could feel it loosening slightly. Her lot could have been far worse, she knew. Chief Nelson was a good man. He was kind and generous and a gentleman. He was also not bad looking for his age; a full head of hair with a single patch of silver at the right temple, a kind face and wise eyes, and a fairly flat belly. For a Nigerian man approaching fifty, this was quite a feat.
But she did not want to marry him. She did not want to marry anybody, least of all a man old enough to be her father, simply out of obligation. Was it really selfish of her to expect a man to help her and her family through tough times and not expect to give anything in return?
What did she feel for him? A deep sense of gratitude was there, no doubt. She would not be where she was today without the man’s generosity. What else did she feel? A slight caring and concern, yes, but did she even like him? She was not sure. It was fairly hard to like somebody as a person when you don’t really know them. And if she didn’t know if she liked it, love couldn’t even be a factor.
And this was the man she was supposed to get married to.
And what about him – what did he feel for her? He himself said he hardly knew her, so why did he want to marry her? Did he just want to recoup his investments in her life? Adaora frowned as the question began to roll around in her head.
She looked up and began to speak when the waitress trotted happily to their table.
“Are you and your daughter enjoying everything, sir?” the waitress asked, her expression open with a courteous smile.
Chief Nweze looked up to see Adaora’s beautiful eyes grow as cold and hard as quartz crystals. It was a beautiful yet frightening thing to watch.
“You should learn to think about things before allowing them to drop from your mouth like a leaking bucket,” she hissed.
“Ma?” the waitress asked stupidly, her cheery smile quickly waning under her startled countenance.
“Get out please,” Adaora snapped. “My future husband and I will be having words with your manager about the presumptuousness of his personnel.”
The waitress’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’m so sorry, ma, I thought –”
“You didn’t think,” Adaora snapped, cutting off her apology. “Please just go.” She waved the woman away with an angry motion of her hand.
The waitress scurried away, and Chief Nweze turned to stare at his future wife. Her face was cold and expressionless, but the anger still burned in her eyes.
“I’d like to leave now, Chief, if you don’t mind,” Adaora said.
“That was too harsh, Ada. It was a simple misunderstanding.”
“She is stupid, and please, I don’t want to discuss that,” she returned, her voice cold.
“Does it upset you so much that people think I am your father?” Chief Nelson asked quietly.
“It does, Chief. It does. When a girl my age marries a man quite older than her, the popular opinion would be that she is marrying him for his money. I don’t want to be looked at like that.”
“And you aren’t marrying me for my money of course,” Chief Nelson responded coolly, observing Adaora with an expressionless mien.
“I am not, Chief,” Adaora replied, meeting his gaze and tilting her chin upward slightly.
“So why exactly did you agree to marry me, my dear? I am obviously not your ideal suitor.”
“You asked me and I said yes, because I wanted to,” she said softly. “I could not possibly have rejected you after all that you have done for me and my family.”
“Ah,” the man exclaimed in a quiet voice. “You said yes out of obligation. I see.”
Adaora began to protest, but Chief Nelson cut her off. “Tell me, Ada, do you actually have any feelings for me apart from a sense of obligation?”
Adaora sighed. This very question she’d asked herself moments ago and she wasn’t any readier to answer it posed by her future husband than she’d been when she’d asked it of herself. “I care about you a lot, Chief,” she supplied.
“But do you love me?” he pressed, leaning forward.
Adaora lowered her eyes and bit her lip. She did not like this. Chief Nelson would not like the truth but she would not lie to him. That would just make things worse.
“I’m learning to love you more as a person each day,” she said, hoping to reduce the damage to his feelings and ego. She would not lie to him. She couldn’t.
But Chief Nelson C. Nweze was not a fool. He understood exactly what Adaora was saying, what she truly meant, and as Adaora saw the deep sadness creep into his eyes, she knew that her bullshit was not fooling anybody.
“You do not love me.” It was not a question. It was a statement of a bitter fact.
Adaora did not respond. What did she want to say? What could she say? She did not love him. Any confirmation or denial would only worsen the situation.
“Is there somebody else, Ada?” Chief Nelson asked softly. “Please do not spare my feelings. Don’t lie to me.”
“I try my best never to lie to anyone including myself.”
“Well then, do you love anyone else the way you are meant to love me?” His voice was a harsh whisper.
Liliana’s smiling face and beautiful hazel-green eyes danced across Adaora’s mind, and she sighed, lowering her gaze to her now-cold peppersoup, while her brain tried to come up with an appropriate answer to Chief Nelson’s question that would not hurt him more or hurt herself.
“It’s OK, Ada,” he suddenly said. “Your silence is enough answer in itself. It’s obvious there is another man in your life.”
“No,” she exclaimed. “Chief, there is no man in my life!”
“I think I am ready to leave also, but I need some time alone,” Chief Nelson said curtly. “Go to the car and have Ernest drive you home.” He leaned back into his seat, his face now as cold as it was expressionless.
Adaora sighed inwardly, hating herself. She could feel the knot begin to tighten in her chest again.
“Chief, please…” she began.
But he cut her off. “Go home, Ada.” Giving her a small smile that did not reach his eyes, he added, “And didn’t we discuss that you would stop calling me ‘chief’?”
Adaora sighed and then stood up gracefully, thanking him for the evening. He simply nodded in response as he picked up his phone from the table. She stared at his downturned head for a few more seconds and then proceeded to the exit. In a few minutes, she was ensconced in the back seat of his Range Rover as his driver, Ernest, maneuvered his way out of the restaurant’s parking lot.
Her phone dinged, and she saw that she had a new message. It was from Chief Nelson. She opened it and sighed heavily when she saw the digital print.
I will make you love me, my dear. One way or another!
Written by Santa Diaba