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When A Girl Proposes, Why Do People Have That Look On Their Faces?

A Short Story.

Nneka has never slept in on Saturdays. Never. No matter what her Friday evening looked like, because her policy has always been to be in bed by 3am, so she could have a 4-hour sleep before taking on a new day. But this particular Saturday morning, she did not want to get out of bed. And it had nothing to do with the tiredness she felt after laughing so hard and having a little too much fun at Valerie’s birthday party, the previous night. It had absolutely nothing to do with that tiredness. She has had worse cases and still managed to get out of bed for her ritualistic Saturday morning 7am run. Now the clock was moving past seven, and all she wanted to do was lie still to sort through her emotions and understand why she no longer enjoyed talking to or spending time with Tobenna.

He was all that; complete and fine, yet she was finding herself gravitating away from him, toward…what? What was she gravitating toward? ‘Or is it, who?’ She wondered.

Nneka closed her eyes and digged, and would have continued digging, if Valerie’s sounds of ecstasy did not float into her room.

The intensity of the sound proded her to switch on the television for the morning news. And as usual it wasn’t good. There had been a flood. Another flood. And state officials were proving themselves incompetent.

Nneka settled into the story and, soon, became a part of it through a thread of rejoinder on Twitter.

Her attention stayed on her phone as engagement for the tweet skyrocketed and headlines began to spring up.

“Daughter of billionaire businessman, offers a step by step solution to Lagos state’s drainage problems”, one publication stated.

“Here, let me help you do your job, says daughter of billionaire businessman to Lagos state government.” Another, published, and she chuckled at how the morning was different from how she’d planned it. She was revelling in the euphoria of the moment when her father texted in all caps;

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“You have no idea what you have just done. Put down your phone and prepare for a meeting with the Governor’s wife tomorrow.” Nneka read in his yelling voice.

“I won’t be available.” She replied characteristically, and with a fit, got out of bed.

Her usual meditative view of the city, from the wide window of her 14th floor apartment, at the Medieval Shade, also got flouted as she matched out of the room, not careful about her roughed up bun or t-shirt.

Smell of food whirled to her and she abandoned the thought of stretching at the mini gym and went to the kitchen instead.

“I thought we agreed to make friends and keep a low profile?” Valerie greeted without taking her eyes off the food basket she was unpacking.

“I thought we agreed to muffle and keep it out of other’s ears?” Nneka threw to Valerie’s delight.

The two women hugged affectionately, then returned their attention to the packs of food on the kitchen counter.

“Your father is…” Valerie began as she poured cuts of mango into a smaller plate.

“I don’t care about a topic that has my father in it.” Nneka cut her short almost immediately. “I am hungry. Where did all the food come from?” She bit into a sausage.

Valerie took a moment before offering an answer. “Nonso arranged and had it delivered.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s gone for a thing.”

“Oh. Okay.” Nneka swallowed and picked a plate. She still hadn’t invited Valerie out for the surprise formal dinner Nonso had organised for her that evening.

The previous night’ party was young and spontaneous, and he wanted to give her a magical and romantic evening that she will always remember.

Family and selected friends were going to be there, and her only job was to get Valerie to the venue.

“So, do you have plans for the evening? I have this thing to attend and will enjoy it better if you come.” She rushed through the words.

“What thing?” Valerie asked.

“Some guy I used to know is doing a formal thing and invited me. I really want to go, but will feel more at ease if you are there with me.”

“Does this guy, you used to know, have a thing with how you have been with Tobenna, lately?”

“No. No. No. No.”

“That’s a lot of no.”

“I know. But he doesn’t. You’ll find out soon enough.” She took a mouthful of vegetable. “Tobenna is…” She trailed and paused. “I don’t know! Maybe, I just don’t like him anymore. Or, I never did. Maybe, he’s done something that my spirit has picked up on, and I’m trying to bring it up to the surface of my mind. You know? I…I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure things out. But he’s coming tonight and will probably stay over.” She met Valerie with her eyes and both women laughed.

“Its great that you’re figuring things out, while seeing to it that he sleeps over.” Valerie stressed and gave up, because with Nneka, you let her do what she wants to do, and stay close enough to be there, when she needs you.

“So, this formal thing, how are we going in?”

“Three words: Hollywood. Couture. Bombshells.” Nneka responded with excitement and loaded up a tray with food and made to leave, so as to not slip and mess Nonso’s plan.

“I’ll eat this in my room, between work and TV.” She explained.

“Its fine. Just stay out of public conversations.” Valerie warned. Then added gently, “I have a few things to tidy up, myself. Let me know when to get ready for the thing.”

“Without fail, Val.” She patronised at the door and disappeared. Her job was done and Nonso better have a great program for the evening.

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Of course, he will. She corrected herself. He is a good one. And he knows how to love Valerie. She thought.

Theirs was an admirable relationship that had the right measure of every element firmly in place.

Still, it wasn’t perfect. But they were very close, to perfection, which was why Nneka kept circling back to the idea that Nonso might shock everyone and propose.

He’d stated clearly what the evening was about. But what if not telling anyone his plan, was part of his plan?

She sank into her bed and placed the tray on a stool. And had gone across a glowing recommendation for a show she’d always scrolled past.

Giving the story a chance to engage her turned out to be a good decision. So, reflexively, she threaded a review of it

“She will see you at 2. I will pick you by 1.” Her father’s text arrived, ignoring her position. Nneka murmured, ‘you will be disappointed.’

She settled on the bed and distributed her attention among the TV, the food and her tablet. Some ideas had come to her, about the energy project her team was handling, and she was going over her points again, before the video conference she’d called for, that afternoon.

Later, when the meeting was over, Nneka further affirmed that the personal growth of her team members must be an indication of her great leadership, because everyone came prepared with something to contribute, at a short notice, which was different from how they were when she first took up the position.

The next hours were spent on sleep. She succumbed to the lulling of the food and left the TV playing in the background.

When it was 4pm her alarm went off and she got up to text Valerie to start preparing for the evening.

“I will when I get back.” Valerie replied. “I told Nonso about it and he insisted I shop for a new dress.” She explained. “We’re about to check out. What time are we leaving?”

“The invite says 6pm, but 7 is fine.” Nneka wrote back as she tried to stay awake. “Let me know when you come in.” She sent and submitted to rest.

It wasn’t until another hour before Valerie returned. When she did, Nneka was already awake, but still in bed.

The two women got ready, independently and by the time they saw themselves in the sitting room, each acknowledged the other’s fashion prowess.

The car Nonso sent arrived and Nneka led the way to it.

“He sent a Rolls Royce to pick you up.” Valerie said, casually, and Nneka responded with a smile. Her friend was indeed fooled, she thought satisfactorily.

Nonso had left no stone unturned, as the car was furnished with petals, romance and dreams. Soft and electrifying music played through the duration of the commute and caused the women to talk in whispers and giggles.

At the venue, Nneka led the way to the space. As soon as the surprise was announced, and her friend became aware of why she was there, she snuck away to get out of her elaborate dress, in order to keep the spotlight on Valerie.

Fun enraptured her and she loved it so much she forgot to worry about everything she hoped she had and all she was planning to get.

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As Nonso’s magical displays wrapped up, Nneka saw her friend make her way to the stage, and joined her at the foot, for support.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Valerie began and Nneka smiled at her, but reached into her purse to check her phone for the first time during the event.

She’s just going to say, thank you, she thought, but widened her eyes when she saw Valerie’s text on her screen.

“I’m proposing, tonight. Can’t wait anymore.” It said.

She looked up at her friend, questioningly and Valerie smiled in the affirmative.

Her next few sentences were indistinct to Nneka, but she finally shook off her shock and heard Valerie’s next words”…You came in with a clear picture of who you are, and have made me deliriously happy ever since. Look at all the magic you have shown me, tonight. I love you so much and have always known that it is you. You are the one. So I am asking that you never leave. I am asking that you marry me, Love. Be my husband, will you?…” she recoiled and directed her eyes to Nneka for support.

Nneka reassured her friend with a smile and a clap and went up the stage to stand beside her. She had also seen the look on people’s faces and heard their murmurs and was very thankful for the pianist who was making the atmosphere bearable.

In an instant it became clear why Nonso had remained in his chair, unmoved, while Valerie stewed: He reached into his pocket and brought out a tiny pouch. When both women saw it, they held each other’s hands and began to jump. The pianist helped and they jumped in symphony.

He had planned to ask! Valerie only beat him to it.

Cheers and shouts and confetti filled the air as Nonso made his way to Valerie and knelt.

“I was planning to ask at the car park, to shock you even more. But hearing you desire me this way in front of everyone, is a better culmination of tonight. I love you, Valerie. I will be your husband. Will you be my wife?” He asked. And Valerie held him up, and hugged him, and repeated yes, till music drowned her out.

It was the sight of them hugging and laughing and dancing that forced Nneka to name the thing about Tobenna and her:

He hadn’t proposed. And he hadn’t swept her off her feet with magnetizing gestures, either. He was just there: fine and accomplished and at rest.

Nneka quietly declared herself single again. “I”ll be out all night. Let’s talk over lunch, tomorrow.” She texted him and headed to the cute guy in a red velvet tux, whose eyes had been following her all evening.

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