She hissed between her teeth,’ He cheated.’

‘What?’

I lost balance off the plank and fell on my belly.

‘Again?’

The smell of sweat, dust and desperation fill up the air in the gym. Papa, the gym trainer, a 6 3’ fellow with mountains of muscles turns to us. I readjust back to the plank. I peek at Nancy through my armpits.

‘Oh, girl.’

I was a bridesmaid in Nancy’s wedding, a fancy peach vintage themed wedding. We wore single-strapped peach dresses with gold shoes. The groom’s team killed it with metallic grey, white shirts and peach pocket squares. It was one of those wedding urbano, on the shores of lake Naivasha with 300 invited guests, not forgetting the crew of entertainers and professional photographers. The aisle was littered with rose petals and railed with old lanterns. The flower arrangement was nothing but classy and Nancy-ish. There were stacks of hay and cowboy hats around. The details.

As she made her way to the isle, I could not hide the balancing tears. Have you ever been to a wedding? That moment before the bride walks down the aisle, and her favorite walk-down-the-aisle song is playing, that feeling. I was not crying because of the magic of love, and not that I do not identify with. I could not stop wondering who I would down shots of tequila with and shout on the Karaoke mic till sunrise. Yes, she was my partner in crime. The first friend I mad in campus. We had been through storms together. We had seen each other through the heartbreaks and situationships that come with the campus experience. But today, she was saying yes, I do. To a man she loved with a whole heart.

See, I always have mixed feelings about weddings. I have attended a handful only for the food and drinks.  I have never been married so I cannot speak on success rates or otherwise. I am just skeptical about inviting 300 other people to come witness you at the hallmark of your expression of love. Victor’s proposal to her was another theatric, with our help, me and some of her other friends. Again, I have nothing against the theatrics. I am a believer of love is between two people. Whether you propose to her in your bedroom, on national television or serenade her in front of the Eiffel Tower, the only thing that guarantees whether your marriage will succeed is the workability between you two.

But weddings in the African society has little to do with the bride and groom. It is usually a chance for your mother to show off to her friends how you are marrying from a rich family. This is the time that your distant relatives who barely know you, travel to come catch a glimpse of your husband so they can compile a dossier to gossip back in the village as your friends come to gawk at how your husband-to-be was giving them the occasional side eye.

We threw Nancy a bachelorette party. One of the girls had hinted on booking male strippers, but Nancy had retired from the ratchetness. Ever since she found Victor. To her, this was the love of her life. the one God kept for her. She would only take wine and leave the rest of us swine in the club by 10. So, the male strippers were off the table. We went to a household club out of town. We would spend a night and travel back the next evening. Nancy was anxious. She kept on staring at her phone. The rest of us were trying to get her to have fun with the occasional jibes, ‘This is your night!’ The girls got beat first and jumped to the dancefloor. The bride-to-be and I, remained on our seats. To our defense, we are not the drunks who dance the night away but sing into the morning. Truth is, we both have two left and the only dance we knew and had, we were saving for the wedding. I swirl the wine in my glass and turn to Nancy.

‘Are you anxious or scared?’

She smirks her lips and gulps the wine in her glass.

‘I guess both.’

‘Don’t be. Or you can still stick to our pact. Elope.’

We guffaw.

This is a stupid pact we made. On a rooftop. We were both 21, from the worst relationships. We decided, we are never getting married in church. Or garden. The best way to have our exit insurance is to elope. Just elope. When things go south, exit. No one will ever want to know who did what, who did not do what. She broke the first part of the pact, to never getting married but kept the other end of the pact. Not in a church. Nor a garden.

We were only 21. What did we know about life?

The D-day came and went. The honeymoon was a surprise. We did not know where Victor was taking her. Even though, it was a mature thing to step aside and give the newly weds ample time to enjoy each other. A month later, Nancy calls me up for coffee. I just sat there thinking,

‘Wow! What has marriage done to you?’

We grew apart. That is what growth does. You will never see the butterflies hanging out with the caterpillars even though one comes from the other, they are never the same. Wale in his song, the Matrimony says marriage is like any growth. You can never be ready for it. It is gonna to be new. You are gonna have a new life. You are gonna be a new person.

There is this old Swahili saying that goes, unlike hills and mountains people always meet. A year into marriage, they moved into my estate, on the leafy suburbs though. One leg day, I am walking into the local gym and I spot a familiar face. The face looked like Nancy but the body, nothing close. We were both petite during the wedding until life caught up with us. She spots me too. And story goes…

We rekindled our friendship. We would have lunch sometimes or cookouts at her place. Victor was never there. So sometimes, we would down dinners with a bottle of something. This one time, I was at Nancy’s place and just as I was about to leave, she insists I should spend the night. First, out of pure concern I try to tell her how this would be inappropriate for her. I am strong on boundaries. I like to have well pronounced boundaries to avoid unnecessary clashing with the people in my life. secondly, I just love my bed. And it would be torturous straining my back on some couch while my bed catches cold.

She bursts into tears, uncontrollably sobbing and throws herself on the floor.

‘Now, how drunk am I?’

I thought I was asking in my head. I am pink with embarrassment. I sit next to her and she puts her head in my laps.

The groom in the metallic grey suit was a cheat. Just 6 months into marriage, he was already upholstering her. He barely came home some of the nights and when he did, he would ignore her. But marriage is marriage, right? When you say you do, you make a covenant before God and man. That shit becomes way too complex. You cannot get wake up one day and decide you cannot keep up anymore. First you must explain to your parents who did what, then to the government who did not do what and to the community and everyone that attended the wedding why you wasted their time only to walk out of your matrimonial home. She chose to stay.

The next few months I saw her lose herself. She spiraled from the God-fearing woman to the insecure psycho who will stab any woman she finds her husband with a knife. She stopped eating but kept working out. The drinking compensated for the eating. There are days she would barely get out of bed and call me to come get her. The loyal friend, I would rush to her place, drag her out of bed, get her to clean up, force her to eat and drag her to the gym.

Let’s start from the beginning.

She hissed between her teeth,’ He cheated.’

‘What?’

I lost balance off the plank and fell on my belly.

‘Again?’

As much as I loved her, she was putting this burden on me. I could not always be there to pick her up. I could not always be there to tell her she is beautiful, amazing, intelligent and enough. I had a life to piece together. I had a love to find. After the work out, I decide to have a heart to heart with her.

‘Nancy darling, how are you holding up.’

‘I slept for 3 hours yesternight. I guess not bad.’

‘Maybe you should seek counselling.’

She shook her head and walked away. That evening I called and called. She was neither picking my calls nor answering my texts. I admit that was selfish of me. Who was I to ask of a woman to go tell her marriage is failing? The society, stuck in its patriarchal ways would advise Nancy to stick through it. The church would tell her, to keep on praying for him and God discourages divorce. Who was I?

I thought of walking up to her door with 12 red roses. Or maybe I should call Victor and ask for her. She will talk to me. Probably cheating Victor is somewhere in a bedsitter with a 21-year-old, assuring her he will leave his wife. The thought stirred seething anger in me. Every minute I remembered how many times I picked Nancy from the floor, or found her crying in the bathtub I got angrier. Thank my spirit guides I lost Victor’s number after the wedding. I sooth myself to sleep with a glass of wine. I would stop by her place early in the morning to check on her.

The next morning, I am at her door. Victor’s car was not packed outside so I know this God-forsaken bastard was not home. I turn the lock and the door is open. I let myself in, my heart thumping hard.

‘I pray she is okay.’

I kept on whispering. The living room looked unkempt. Clothes and dishes strewn all over. There were some packed fries on the marble table and the TV was on playing their wedding video. I stood for a minute and glared into the screen. Victor really convinced all of us he loved her. For the vows, he had read her the marriage prayer. Lord help me love her, as you love the church your bride…Maybe he was just a great actor.

Her bedroom door was ajar. My heart beat even faster as I pushed it wide open. I broke into tears on seeing her. She stood stack naked in front of a full mirror.

‘Victor, am I not beautiful?’

I began to sob loudly. Heartbroken by the sight of this woman. A woman like me. Broken into pieces by the one thing she believed would piece her together, love. She did not turn to look at me. She kept on staring at the woman in the mirror.

‘You are beautiful.’

‘No. I don’t want to hear it from you. I want to hear from the man who promised to spend the rest of his life loving me. And abandon or else.’

‘Maybe you will never hear it from Victor. Other people can never love us into loving ourselves. It starts from within.’

‘I loved myself before I met him. Don’t you remember we always had the me-times? And the spar? Promising ourselves we will never accept less than we deserve?’

‘We were 21. What did we know about life? But here we are today. Don’t you think, maybe Victor is a lesson learn it. Or maybe he is a purpose, find it.’

‘No. I don’t.’