bouquet

The Halliday house bustled with activity for the days following. The aroma of seasoned grilling beef, goat and chicken sifted through the neighborhood. Cars lined the cul-de-sac, spilling onto the next street but the neighbors didn’t mind. It wasn’t everyday there was a wedding reception in the neighborhood and many were already stopping by to drop off gifts and salutations. The groom-to-be wasn’t around to accept either but his beaming mother graciously accepted both.

Tunde and his brother were still running all over town, picking up wedding gifts prepared by their mother before dropping by the tailor’s shop across town.

“Relax,” Silas smirked from the passenger’s seat. “You’re practically bouncing on your seat.”

Tunde grinned at his brother before turning back to the road. In less than six hours, he would call Anaya his wife.

On the other side of town, Anaya bowed her head solemnly as Hadiza traced the ink pen over her open palm. Torn with excitement over her wedding and regret for her mother’s disappointment, Anaya wished her mother would just say something. Even a scoff over her foolishness would be better than the stifling silence between them.

Leeza entered the room seconds later with her hands full of noisy, golden jewelry. Anaya’s eyes widened. “Am I supposed to wear all that?” her eyes fell on her mother’s bowed head. She frowned at the elaborate design on her open palms, knowing that this was the only way her mother would be happy with her. She would have to swallow back her protests for a modest wedding garb and allow her mother to dress her like a traditional Fulani bride. Closing her eyes, Anaya sat back and let her mother and sister adorn her from head to toe.

Hours later, Aman moved from his wife to the veiled bride beside him. Overwhelmed that this was once his little girl now on her way to becoming a man’s wife, he managed a wry smile and reached down to lift his daughter’s painted hands. “You are beautiful…” he whispered only for her ears.

Anaya bit the inside of her cheeks, already feeling the tears gather in her eyes. She blinked them back, not wanting to smear her kohl-painted eyes. Her neck was itching from the rough material of the veil and straining from the heavy weight of the jewelry. She wanted to scratch her skin but feared the jingling of the metal would stir her mother’s ire. They’d spent three hours getting her ready and she couldn’t spoil all their hard work. It was all she could do for her mother now.

“Be at peace, my dove.” He gingerly patted her hand before releasing it, not wanting to stir Hadiza’s anger.

“Papa?” Anaya’s soft voice pulled him back to the present.

“Hmm?”

“Thank you…” her voice cracked, threatening to succumb to the tears she held back.

Aman smiled and nudged her shoulder. “No crying. We don’t want your mother to be angry with us for too long.” His wife hadn’t uttered a word to him still and it’d almost been a week and a half since Abdul’s hurling insults. He shook off the regretful pangs, knowing that despite his wife’s cold demeanor, he felt a peace over him. He’d made the better decision and his daughter would be happy. “His family will take care of you.”

Anaya forced herself not to bite her painted lips at his soft, wistful words. Why couldn’t she have both her family and his be happy as she was?

“Dearly beloved,” Pastor Daniel Raddon said with a gentle smile as he took in the bashful bride and her solemn-faced husband. “We are gathered here today, in the sight of God and this company…” he paused to look over the small crowd of the two families, some neighbors, coworkers and kind members from Tunde’s old church sitting behind them. Giving the beaming crowd a nod of greeting, he turned back to the young couple. “To witness and celebrate one of life’s greatest moments and add our blessings to the union of Olu…” He paused for a moment, brow furrowed as he mulled over the man’s name.

“Olutunde,” Josephine Halliday called from her seat and the crowd laughed softly.

“Tunde,” Pastor Raddon muttered with a grin when Tunde smiled patiently. “Olutunde Halliday and Anaya… Bah-lay-wah.” He heaved a sigh and laughed softly. “You two are the most colorful couple I’ve ever had the privilege to wed.”

Under the chuckling around them, Tunde and Anaya peeked at each other before smiling at the penitent pastor.

At the end of his warm and sagacious charge, Pastor Raddon asked them to face each other and hold hands. Tunde cupped Anaya’s hands and his eyes took in her beautiful face. He wanted to tell her that he was proud to have her as his partner and lover for life but Pastor Raddon’s voice urged him to pay attention.

“Repeat after me,” he said kindly. “I…”

“I, Tunde,” Tunde began in a clear and steady tone, his eyes to read the words from the Pastor’s mouth before returning to Anaya’s face to repeat them. “Choose you, Anaya, on this day… to be my lawfully wedded wife.”

Anaya’s body trembled under his eloquently-spoken vows, feeling every single syllable straighten her resolve. Even before it was her turn to speak the same words, Anaya knew that she would love this man for all of her days. She wanted nothing more than to be with him for as long as God willed it, believing that this was the very person she’d been born to love and cherish.

“I promise to unfailingly seek out the best I can in you, loving you every day,” her vision blurred amid the tears but she quickly blinked them away, wanting to forever gaze at the hungry, longing look in Tunde’s eyes as he read every word from her mouth. “In every way, until the end of my forever… I love only you, Tunde,” she couldn’t help but add, her heart soaring within her ribs.

The crowd cooed as Tunde relayed his response gently to his bride.

Pastor Raddon grinned at the two lovebirds and nodded with satisfaction. Pausing as the couple exchanged simple gold bands, he led them through their first communion together.

Aman snuck a glance at his reticent wife sitting stiffly beside him, wishing he could share a moment of communion with her. He pulled his eyes away and watched proudly as his daughter lifted the piece of bread to her mouth.

Placing the cup on the podium positioned behind him, Pastor Raddon turned back to face the couple with a kind smile. “Having pledged and sealed your vows by the giving and receiving of rings in the presence of both God and this company… and having shared your first communion with God as a couple, it is with great pleasure that I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” He could hear the crowd holding their breaths as he turned his eyes fully on the groom. “Tunde, you may kiss your beautiful bride.”

Tunde’s grin was as devastatingly bright as the first day she’d met him. Anaya’s heart threatened to fly out of her chest as he lifted his hands to brace her arms. Her throat went dry as he lowered his hooded gaze to her lips and she tilted her chin.

“You’re beautiful, my wife…” he whispered, lowering his head toward her.

Leeza grinned openly as Tunde pulled her sister into his arms and took her mouth in his. She didn’t dare look away, clapping loudly with the cheering crowd as Tunde thoroughly kissed his wife.

Pastor Raddon grinned openly as Tunde placed a supporting arm around his wife’s waist and turned to face the crowd. “It is with great joy and honor,” he said over the crowd’s cheering. “That I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Tunde Halliday.”

“Congratulations!” Leeza cheered along with the crowd who was now standing. She stood with her father, clapping louder all the while ignoring her sullen mother still seated beside her. Lifting a hand to wave as Tunde and Anaya walked down the aisle, Leeza giggled with glee. Anaya looked so happy and content. She snuck a look at her beaming father  and smiled gently. Maybe one day she’d make him that proud but until then, she was content being Anaya’s immature little sister. Catching Anaya’s eye, she winked audaciously. “Congratulations, Mrs. Halliday.”

Anaya smiled graciously at her family but froze momentarily when she noticed her mother still seated, her gaze averted. If only her mother would just look at her with warmth, or say that she was happy that she’d finally reached her destiny.

Noticing his daughter’s waning smile, Aman stepped in front of Anaya and pulled her into a brief hug. “Be happy, Anaya…” He kissed her temple and released her.

<<Part 15 || Part 17>>

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