The delicatessen had no name. It was simply referred to by the locals as ‘the joint beside the Lekki Waterside Hotel.’ It faced the vast stretch of the Atlantic which snaked through Lagos Island. It was mostly open air, and the strong, unrestrained circulation of fresh ocean air carried about with it the tantalizing smells of grilled fish and the boisterous laughter of the patronage. There was music too, unobtrusive and segueing seamlessly from one track to another, and a few men and women shimmied to the beats on the small open space that was the makeshift dance floor.
“Guys! Over here!” James hollered, waving a hand and half-standing from his seat when he spotted his friends walking into the environment.
Ifeanyi caught sight of him moments before Tobi did, and both men began to make their way to where James was already settled. When they got to the table, the three men went through the male ritual of shaking hands, thumping each other on the back and making cryptic jokes, as ones who had not seen each other in weeks. The three friends were busy men with full personal and professional lives. James was married and streaking up the rungs of the corporate ladder of the banking industry. He’d had his newborn first child dedicated in church three Sundays ago, and it was during the ceremony that the friends last met.
Tobi had been one of the priests who officiated the ceremony. He was currently in street clothes, and didn’t have his collar on, as he settled in his seat with a grin at something outrageously funny that Jerry had said.
“You are serious temptation, James,” Tobi said. “Serious one, and the things you say are forever my cross to bear.”
“Yes, father,” interjected Ifeanyi, with a quick flick of his hand in the sign of a cross.
James roared with laughter. He was a robustly-built man; everything about him was big, including the laugh which was loud and rich. “But it’s true nah, even written in the bible sef, in the Songs Of Solomon, my favourite chapter of the scriptures.”
Tobi chortled. “Of course it is. You know what else is written in the bible? Get thee behind me, Satan.”
An outburst of laughter broke out among the friends. The banter that ensued lasted as a waiter came to their table to take their drink orders. Tobi wanted a Chapman, and Ifeanyi a beer. James already had a half-full bottle of Guinness, which he presently tipped over his tumbler so the golden liquid could pour out in a foamy rush into the glass. He’d also already placed an order for grilled fish, and murmured a reminder to the waiter to have the dish before them soon.
As the waiter departed and the men continued with their conversation, Ifeanyi idly watched an attractive young woman in a very short skirt rise from a table across the space to make her way toward the grilling section.
James followed his line of sight to the woman, and lifted a hand to snap his fingers in front of Ifeanyi’s face, causing the man to blink and draw back a little from him.
“Wetin dey worry you?” Ifeanyi growled.
“Comot eye for woman,” James said with a grin. “You have just about put a ring on it, have you not? So leave all these side shows to free agents like Tobi.”
As Ifeanyi began laughing at that, Tobi bristled in mock affront, “Hey, I’m married too. To the Lord!”
“Yes, and man shall not live by bread alone,” James rejoined, “but by the word of God which cometh in miniskirts and tight jeans.”
Ifeanyi doubled over and slapped the table with his palm as his mirth shook his body. Tobi merely smiled at James and said, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil.”
“Hey, I’m not evil o,” James said with laughing protest.
“That is debatable,” Tobi sallied back.
The waiter just then returned with their drinks, followed by another who came bearing a large dish from which wafted the sharp aroma of their repast. The large fish lay there, smoked and garnished with innumerable condiments. The men didn’t waste time before digging in.
“So, Jerry, how far?” Tobi began around a mouthful of fish. “What’s up with the wedding of next century?”
“My brother, you don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.” Ifeanyi took a sip of his drink.
“Is Aidee even keeping you in the loop, you know, with the wedding details and preparations at all?” James enquired.
“Mercifully?” Tobi arched a brow. “You don’t want to know what’s going on concerning your wedding?”
“No, not that. I don’t want to get in the way of Aidee concerning what’s going on with her wedding,” Ifeanyi corrected. “Yea, her wedding,” he reiterated at the looks the other two men gave him. “The babe has turned into a bridezilla. These days, it’s all wedding this and wedding that, place settings, flowers, guests lists, music, the wedding dress –”
“Oh, you definitely do not want to get in the way of anything concerning the wedding dress,” James interjected.
“Exactly!” Ifeanyi huffed. “It’s becoming exhausting, even for a bystander that I am. And the wedding is nine months away.”
“The closer that date comes, the more unbearable that bridezilla will become,” James joked. “I hope you have a safe house you can move to when we get to December.”
The three men dissolved into another round of laughter. Moments later, when they sobered up, Ifeanyi said with a sigh, “It’s almost a nightmare, really. And Aidee has become so obsessed with making everything grand and perfect for the big day.”
“Let me guess,” Tobi intoned, “the wedding dress is some bespoke designer creation from overseas?”
“She’s traveling to the States next month to inspect three dresses she had placed on hold for her two months ago,” Ifeanyi deadpanned.
“And how much is that setting you back?” Tobi asked.
“It scares me to investigate the financial statistics of this wedding,” Ifeanyi replied, effecting a delicate shudder.
“Well, you can afford the luxury of not knowing,” James said with uncharacteristic graveness. “But as your account officer, these expenditures are daily brought to my attention each time there’s activity on your cards. And trust me, man, there’s a lot of activity. Your wife-to-be is blowing through your money like that March 28 is the day for Rapture, and she has to spend as much money as she can before the saints are called.”
Ifeanyi shrugged. “I love her. I’ve got the money. And the wedding happens only once. Let her have a ball.”
“But is this the precedent you want to set for your marriage?” Tobi queried, a frown settling on his brow. “Yes, the wedding is just one day, but the marriage is a lifetime. If you indulge her now, let her believe the journey into matrimony begins with such lavishness…” He stopped talking with a meaningful snort.
“You know women,” James picked up from where he stopped. “You’ll just find yourself married to Obiageri, instead of Aidee.”
“It’s not a laughing matter, Jerry,” Tobi chided.
“Guys, relax,” Ifeanyi protested with a smile. “Aidee’s just being Aidee – making the best of a situation. The situation is our wedding, and the best if what she deserves.”
“Yes, but what if Aidee doesn’t stop being Aidee, and your marriage becomes a long list of situations to be made the best of,” Tobi said.
He didn’t really ask a question.
And Ifeanyi didn’t give him an answer.
For a few awkward moments, they focused on their meal and drinks, a silence that James predictably cracked when he tossed out yet another joke.
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