The Choice (chapter 5)

Sarah's shoulders sagged. She stared at her reflection in the mirror with so much dissatisfaction.

She pulled off the dress she wore and searched for another. Femi had told her to look her best. They were to travel to see Femi's parents as earlier scheduled. Sarah eventually found the wear that pleased her. She dressed up, arranged her hair, and applied talcum powder on her face. She took her lip-gloss from the table and applied some to her lips. She rubbed her lips against each other and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled, finally satisfied. She arranged her things in her bag and searched her room for nothing in particular. She needed something to pass the time while waiting for Femi to arrive.

Sarah's phone rang. She took the phone and swiped the screen. "Hello, dear," Femi said from the other end of the line. "Good morning. How're you? Are you ready?" Sarah said. "I'm downstairs." "Alright. I'll be with you in a minute." Sarah hung up and carried her bag. She slipped her legs into her footwear and left the house. After about five hours of driving, Femi parked the car. "We're home," Femi said and flashed Sarah a smile." Sarah bowed her head and shut her eyes. "Lord, we thank You for journey mercy. Thanks for shielding us from evil. Glory be to Your name. In Jesus' name, I have prayed. Amen." "Amen," Femi said. Sarah sighed. "Dreamboat, I'm nervous." "Don't worry. Breathe in and breathe out. You'll be fine," Femi said and smiled. "But why am I like this? You weren't nervous like me last week when you visited my parents," Sarah said. "Says who?" Femi searched Sarah's eyes. "I was, my dear. But I manned up. It's your turn. Let's see how much confidence you have." Femi stuck out his tongue at his fiancée.

Sarah slapped his shoulder. "Naughty you. You couldn't even encourage me." Femi laughed and opened the door. "You'd better step out now, or I'll leave you in the car," he said. "You are mean." Sarah opened the door and stepped out. Femi laughed. He walked to the gate of the house. Sarah followed, glancing at herself every minute to check if she was intact. Femi opened the gate and stepped in. Sarah followed. The dog lying in front of the house stared at Femi. As soon as Sarah came into the dog's field of vision, it sprang to its feet and began to bark. Before Sarah knew what was happening, the animal charged at her. Sarah hid behind Femi, shivering. Nothing scared her more than dogs. She hated dogs. Femi tried to calm the dog, but it slipped from his grip and jumped at Sarah. "Jesus!" Sarah screamed and raised her hands to cover her face. The dog fell, and Femi hit it with his leg."

Sarah wasn't injured, but her cloth was torn. The dog had pulled the lower part of Sarah's skirt with its teeth. Sarah sighed. What was this? How could a dog be so violent? She cast the dog an angry glance. The dog lay on the floor, barking. Femi pulled Sarah close and rubbed her hand. "Sorry about that. You'll be fine," he said and led her into the house. Sarah could only nod. Her mind was filled with thoughts. Femi knocked and opened the door. He walked into the house. A young girl ran to him and embraced him. "How're you, Toke?" Femi said. "I'm fine. It's been a long time since I saw you. You're welcome," Toke said. "Thanks. Where's everyone?" Femi said. Bisi, Femi's sister, and Toke's mother walked into the living room. "Sister!" Femi said before Toke could respond to his question. He approached his sister. Sarah stood still, whirling her head. Her eyes traveled from the curtains to the chair, television, and all that came into their route.

"Good morning, ma," Toke said to Sarah. "Good morning," Sarah said plainly, still trying to recover from the effect of the previous incident. "Come have your seat, ma," Toke said and walked away from Sarah. "Good morning," Bisi said to Sarah. Sarah genuflected. "Good morning, ma." Bisi looked away from Sarah and dragged her brother into one of the rooms." Sarah sat on a chair, staring into space, awaiting Femi's return. She pushed the awkwardness that crept over her aside and exhaled. Femi, his sister, his parents, and two other people Sarah later knew were Femi's uncle, and aunt walked into the living room. Sarah quickly knelt on the floor. She smiled, her eyes filled with rays of light emanating from her delight. She was meeting Femi's people for the first time. She had conquered, at last, Sarah thought. She was only a few steps away from marrying Femi now. "Good morning, mas and sirs," Sarah said, still smiling.

All, except Bisi, said good morning in unison. Femi's father spoke next. "Welcome, my daughter. Please rise to your feet." Papa Faronbi walked to Sarah and lifted her hand as she rose to her feet. He patted her shoulder and went to the opposite chair. Mama Faronbi, Femi's mum, gave Sarah a scrutinizing look— from the hair on her head to her feet. She didn't let the moment when Sarah was on her feet pass her by. She grasped every detail she could. Sarah was dressed in a blue top and a chiffon-like skirt that stopped halfway to her shin. The cloth was beautiful and fitting, thanks to her curve that was well defined. Nevertheless, there was a 'but.' Mama Faronbi's eyelids fluttered. Sarah was too plain. She had good shape, but her face was far from what Mama Faronbi could call beautiful. Not that Sarah was darker than it could be at 7:00 pm on a rainy day, but her complexion wasn't completely even. A side of her face, just in front of her left ear, was darker. And she had pimples scattered on her forehead and cheekbones. Sarah's hair was neatly braided and packed, but something about it didn't appeal to Mama Faronbi. To Mama Faronbi, Sarah seemed not less than two years older than her son.

Irritation dripped into Mama Faronbi's bloodstream. How could Femi bring home such a person? She had better not be the lady Femi told her over the phone that he wanted to marry. Probably Femi's fiancée was sick, and her elder sister came to apologize on her behalf. "Please have your seat," Femi's dad said as soon as he was seated. Sarah obeyed and took her seat. Mama Faronbi's eyes caught the moderate tear on the left part of Sarah's skirt. She swallowed in an attempt to organize her thoughts before speaking. She knew if she opened her mouth right away, she would say more than she intended. Sarah's gaze oscillated from one face to another. "How're your parents?" Papa Faronbi said, his expression calm and welcoming. "They're fine, sir," Sarah said. Papa Faronbi nodded. "Thank God. Where are you from?" "Oyo State. Ibadan, to be precise," Sarah answered. Papa Faronbi smiled. "I know Ibadan very well. Where is your family house located there?" Sarah hesitated for a few minutes, trying to ransack her brain for an answer. "Er. It's around—" "Arrant nonsense. You don't know where your family house is?" Mama Faronbi snapped, glowering. Sarah blinked.

Mama Faronbi's comment had thrown her off balance. She glanced at Femi. He flashed her a smile in an attempt to lessen the effect of his mother's harsh response. Sarah swallowed and exhaled slowly. "It is in Molete, ma," Sarah said. Papa Faronbi gave his wife a warning look. They had barely familiarised themselves with their daughter-in-law to be; it was too early to treat her with contempt, he thought. Femi's father returned his gaze to Sarah. "Hmm. That's good. Omo Ibadan, ki ni show re?" he said and smiled. Sarah smiled and raised her hands to cover her face. She knew what the question meant. It was a common funny question thrown at Ibadan indigenes. "Ki lo je lana? Ki lo fi joko?" Papa Faronbi said and laughed at his shy visitor. Everyone–except Mama Faronbi and her daughter, Bisi–found Papa Faronbi's joke funny and laughed. Papa Faronbi and his younger brother, Esan, conversed with Sarah. Mama Faronbi couldn't hide her displeasure for long. She flared her nose. "What's that on your skirt?" she said, pointing to the tear on Sarah's skirt.

Sarah cast a glance in the direction Mama Faronbi pointed at. "It was Sulu that tore her cloth when we got here. It nearly bit her?" Femi defended before Sarah could utter a word. Mama Faronbi clapped her hands. "What? Sulu did what?" Femi tightened his expression. "I'm not joking. The dog tore her skirt." "Sulu never barks at strangers, let alone attack them. How come?" Bisi said, staring at Sarah as though she had the answer to why the dog attacked her.

Sarah exhaled. She blinked repetitively, unsure of what to say. Femi moved to the edge of the chair. "Why did you say, 'how come? How would we know why the dog attacked her? Thank God I was in a good mood; I would have killed that stupid dog," he said. "But Femi, you know Sulu is the gentlest dog ever. It rarely even barks. Sometimes I wonder if it is a dog to begin with. I can't believe it tore her cloth," Bisi said insistently. Mama Faronbi nodded. "Except there's something beyond the physical; Sulu never attacks. It recognizes and loves good, pure-minded people, even if they are total strangers," she said, corroborating her daughter's claim. Sarah was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. What was Femi's mother insinuating? Did she mean Sarah was a bad, evil-minded person? "You didn't tell me your dog was omniscient," Papa Faronbi said and cast Bisi and her mother a belittling look.

He turned to Sarah. "Sorry, my daughter. I hope you were not injured?" Sarah shook her head. "Not at all. Thank you, sir." "Back to our discussion. What's your full name?" Femi's father said. Papa Faronbi and his brother continued to converse with Sarah. Sarah did well to respond as politely as possible, ensuring her answers were appropriate. Shortly after, Femi introduced Sarah to everyone seated as his wife-to-be. Sarah knelt and greeted them again as a would-be wife was expected to.

Femi told his parents he was ready to start the wedding process. Mama Faronbi sighed, her lips flattened in discontent. She knew there was little she could do to influence Femi's decision. At his age, he was old enough to decide for himself."

"That's good. The earlier, the better. Have you met her parents?" Papa Faronbi said. "Yes, I have. They're very good people," Femi said. "I'm happy to hear that. I think we have to start preparing then," Papa Faronbi said and glanced at his wife. "What do you think?" he added. "Ah. Whatever you say is fine," Mama Faronbi said. "This isn't about whatever I say. Say your own," Papa Faronbi said. Femi's mother scratched her hairline. "Okay. Femi should meet with Sarah's parents and give us feedback on when we can have an introduction. Then we'll do the necessary," she said. Femi nodded. "Okay. I will do that," he said and turned to Sarah, raising a questioning brow. Sarah understood his unsaid question. "I'll talk to my parents as soon as I get home. Femi and I can go see them during the week," she said.

"That's good. We'll expect the feedback," Papa Faronbi said. "That reminds me, now that we're talking about a family introduction, I think I need to ask a salient question," Esan, Femi's uncle, said. "Go ahead. That's why we're all here," Papa Faronbi said and rubbed his mustache. "Femi, you should know the tradition. Is your wife pregnant?" Esan said. Sarah's eyes widened. Femi's wife? Pregnant? She didn't understand. Did Femi have a wife somewhere? Or what exactly was Femi's uncle saying?" "She's not yet my wife until after a proper wedding. And she's not pregnant," Femi said in a plain tone. Esan laughed. "I don't seem to understand." He turned to Femi's father. "Brother, hear your son." The opportunity Mama Faronbi had been waiting for was finally here.

She gave a wry smile. "Femi, don't tell me Sarah is not already pregnant," Mama Faronbi said before her husband could open his mouth to talk. Femi shook his head. "She's not pregnant. It's not allowed, Maami. We are Christians." "Shut your mouth before I shut it for you. You're Christians. Who are the pagans? How dare you?" Mama Faronbi said. "This is not about religion. Sarah has to get pregnant before the family can recognize her as your bride. Until then, the family will do nothing," Esan said. Sarah bit her lower lip. It was as though someone had set a fire beneath her buttocks. Her eyes oscillated between the speakers. Femi exhaled. "I don't think that is possible. I can't sleep with her until I marry her. I trust she'll never even allow me. She won't waste a second before casting out the devil in me," he said. Bisi and her mother laughed. Bisi glanced at Toke. "You, go inside," she said. Toke rose to her feet and walked into one of the rooms. Bisi turned to face Femi. "Don't tell me you've not been a man with your fiancée already." Femi knew his sister was asking if he had slept with Sarah yet. He shook his head. "I've just told you it's not possible." Esan and Bisi laughed.

"This is unbelievable. At this time of life, when can many things go wrong? You want to fail to take caution?" Esan said. Mama Faronbi removed her scarf and threw it on the floor. "See my life. Femi! What rubbish are you saying? What if she never gets pregnant? What if she's just trying to lure you into marrying her?" she said. "Woman, watch it. It's not all clothes that are suitable for drying outdoors," Papa Faronbi cautioned. "Ah, my husband, we can't watch our only son walk into a trap?" Mama Faronbi said. "Quiet!" Papa Faronbi turned to Femi and Sarah. "My son and daughter, it is the tradition that you both show us that you're compatible before we consent that you get married. And the evidence of that is pregnancy. We'll leave you to think about it," Papa Faronbi said in his usual calm voice. Sarah blinked, unsure if she heard right. She knelt on the floor, her palms spread out in plea.

"Daddy, I understand you perfectly. But I want to appeal to your kind self to consider us as well. I'm a born-again Christian, a worker in my church, and a devoted believer. Femi and I had prayed very much before we started this relationship. And we both believe it is God leading us into marriage now. We love each other. We hide nothing from each other, we understand each other, and we're very much willing to spend the rest of our lives together. It's an abomination to God and a sin against my body to let any man sleep with me before marriage. It's also an utter shame to the church. We trust God will give us wonderful children in marriage. Please permit us to skip the tradition," Sarah said, tears in her eyes. Bisi stared at Sarah's askance while she pleaded. Just like her mother, Bisi had no iota of affection for Sarah. She hissed."

"Excuse me, this one, you are telling us a story. Are you a virgin?" Bisi said as soon as Sarah was done talking. Sarah was dumbfounded. She hadn't expected such a question from any of her in-laws-to-be. Truly, she wasn't a virgin. She wasn't even in any way close to it. But what did that have to do with this? After all, the Scripture told her that she was a new creature since she came to Christ. Old things were passed away. All things had become new. Was she supposed to go back to her vomit after submitting to God? Sarah opened her mouth to talk, but words stuck in her throat.

"What does that have to do with you, Sister?" Femi cut in. He could sense how embarrassed Sarah was. "It has a lot to do with me, Brother. How dare she rub Christianity in our faces? She should do what she ought to or find someone else to marry," Bisi said and eyed Sarah. "Watch your mouth, Bisi," Papa Faronbi said. He stared at Sarah. "Sarah, please have your seat." Sarah sighed. She resumed her seat, her hands folded. "It's true that our tradition requires that you get pregnant before we can consent to your marriage.

However, it is not intended to cause a rift between you and your fiancé. It's good to be a fervent Christian; in fact, that is the kind of woman I want for my son. But both of you need to sit and work things out. Even if the pregnancy is a day old, we'll allow you to get wedded. I hope you understand," Papa Faronbi said. Sarah wasn't sure whether to nod or shake her head. They were challenging her stand with God, and they expected her to understand. How could she? Femi's father noticed Sarah had tuned out. "Sarah, are you with me?" he said." "Yes, sir. I'm listening to you, sir," Sarah said. "Good. So as I was saying, do the needful and get back to us." Femi shrugged. "But Daddy, I have said I can't do that. Are you saying I should remain unmarried forever except I consent?" "You will not remain unmarried forever in Jesus' name. Son, you will marry. The right woman, in fact," Mama Faronbi said, gesticulating.

Sarah cast Femi's mother a glance. Mama Faronbi even had the audacity to mention the name of Jesus in this. Sarah shook her head. "But why is it compulsory? Anything can be changed, and this tradition is not an exception," Femi said. "No, it can't. You might not have a child forever if you didn't do it the way we have told you. I'm sure my brother won't keep quiet and watch his only son choose to become childless in life. You have to toe the line," Esan said. "My dear, those who have tried it in time past regretted it. It's either they become childless or break up eventually. The aftermath of trampling on tradition is always grave," Bisi said. Mama Faronbi nodded. "You have spoken well, my daughter. Femi, not after these warning signals will I allow you to have your way.

Even Sulu, a mere dog, called your attention to something important. Sulu was probably trying to fight evil for you," she said. "Watch your tongue, Woman!" Papa Faronbi said. He was uncomfortable with Mama Faronbi's display of hatred for Sarah. They talked back and forth. Femi told his parents he would give their suggestion a thought and get back to them. A while after, Mama Faronbi asked her son what he would like to eat since nothing had been prepared before his arrival. Femi said he was comfortable with whatever food he was served. When Sarah "was asked the same question, she respectfully declined to eat. And Mama Faronbi wasn't even in the mood to persuade her. Sarah endured through the rest of the time she spent in the house, and not until Femi said it was time to leave did light return to her eyes. Femi and Sarah said their goodbyes and left."

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