Some clients made being an efficient professional twice as hard to pull off. Kristi was presently sitting across one of such clients and her jaw was starting to feel stiff from the effort of her amicable smile.

“I just want everything to be perfect.”

She had said that twice before and with the same trapped-rabbit panicky look in her eyes both times.

“Everything will go as planned.” She never promised perfect. Everyone interpreted perfect differently, she’d learned that from a very wise woman. “We have all your specifications noted down and we would follow them to the tee. Nothing will go wrong.”

“Hopefully not.” Her name was Hannah Odiete. It would be Hannah Medua in six weeks. “But you don’t know my family. My mum especially.” She let out a moaning sigh, and Kristi applauded herself for not rolling her eyes. “She’s too demanding. Demanding to the point of difficult. She would whinge and moan if things don’t turn out just as she wants them.”

She kept the opinion that it was disrespectful to say that your mother whinged to herself. “Then we will make sure that everything turns out the way that will satisfy her. Believe me, it’s possible.” Kristi went on before another complaint could bristle out. “This is something we have done again and again, and we have never failed to get it right.”

“Yes, my aunt assured me you are really good at catering weddings. And I saw first hand how organised you are at my cousin’s wedding.” Hannah smiled. But of course, the smile flustered off at the crop of another worry. “But this thing with uninvited guests. I don’t know why we do it here, attend an occasion we’re not invited to. Do people even realise how hard it is on celebrants when you have to deal with people you didn’t plan for?”

“It happens everywhere. People love occasions, weddings especially, and just want to be a part of them.” Of course, some just want the food. But she will save that thought. “But you don’t have to worry. We prepare for unforeseen circumstances and sail through them most times. Just rest your mind and get ready for your day.”

“Oh, I want to do that. I’m so excited. This, meeting the perfect man and having the perfect wedding day, is all I’ve always wanted. It’s my dream come true.” Hannah’s smile beamed now.

But there was no perfect man, Kristi thought when she finally left her and got back on the road leading to Ikeja from Anthony Village. If you were lucky, you’d have a wedding day close to perfect, but never the perfect man.

No man was perfect. No *one* was perfect. The wishful dream to have a perfect man was usually how many a bride had wound up disappointed. Herself included.

Kristi sighed and switched lanes to settle behind a dazzling silver Volkswagen GTI. He had been perfect, not because she’d been oblivious to his flaws, but because he’d been the man she wanted. Their wedding day had been a dream come true too. Whatever the little dramas that had surrounded it, and there’d been a few, it had been the perfect day for her. For him too, he’d told her. But that perfect day, the perfect memory of it, had become tainted one year, ten months and eleven days later.

She scowled at the memory of that day when he’d told her another woman was carrying his child. She hated to remember; had even learned to forget it — most days. It was done. Over. Their marriage was a technicality now; in name only. Nothing else binding. A simple divorce decree would make their separation final.

But she wasn’t ready for that decree. Kristi acknowledged this thought with a soft sigh. It sometimes shamed her that she still held on instead of moving on. She sometimes, more frequently these days, asked herself why she did.

Because she didn’t want to be termed a divorc√©.

No, she gave her head a slight shake, that was too easy an answer. It was more because she wasn’t ready to let him go. Not ready to let their marriage, their life together, go. Not permanently.

Marriage had meant everything to her and because it had meant sharing a life, one she’d wanted almost from the get-go of meeting him, with him. She’d found their home, a beautiful house in the Gbagada area of the city, a lovely neighbourhood, and she’d built up that home, carefully picking all the bits and pieces that made it up.

It had been wonderful. The first few months had been amazing, almost unbelievably so. Then it had shifted into simpler every day happy moments. And sometimes, trying moments. But it had been she and him and no one else. Until another ‘she’ had happened and it wasn’t just the two of them anymore.

Still, she didn’t want a divorce. She might have moved out, left her home, left him, but she didn’t want a divorce. She didn’t want to be single again. Didn’t want to deal with first dates and first kisses. Or the debate whether to have sex with a new partner or not.

She missed sex.

The thought snuck in but Kristi shoved it aside as she did many times to avoid leading herself into temptation. What she didn’t want, and this she was certain of, was a cheating husband. No, she didn’t want, and had never wanted, a man who would break his vows to her. Three in a marriage wasn’t the bargain she’d made.

It was demoralizing when your man, your husband, cheated on you with another woman. It said that you were not woman enough somehow and when it was termed a ‘meaningless affair’, it made you feel even less.

Men thought that when they said an affair had meant nothing, that it consoled you. But it didn’t. It had made her feel worse. It had deepened the wound. For something that meant nothing, he had chosen to jeopardise their lives together which should have meant everything.

Oh, stop whingeing, Kristi ordered herself and then grimaced because that word was going to stick to her mind for the next couple of days.

Her phone rang just as she was coming up towards the Flyover bridge and she pressed the button on her hands-free.

“Could you get smoked fish and some fresh tomatoes on your way back? Your father suddenly wants fish sauce for lunch.” Her mother never wasted time on pleasantries with family. Not when she was on the phone and her credit was reading.

“Okay.” Kristi acquiesced, waited until she cut the line before she let out the sigh.

Now, this was the snag about moving in back with your parents when your marriage had issues, they started treating you like a little girl again.

Okay, she didn’t mind running errands for her mother, or her father either. That was never a problem. And she could have rented a place of her own. But she didn’t want to. Besides, her father would hyperventilate over it. He was old school in such matters. A girl lived with her parents, or some family member, until she went to live with her husband. It was respectable, moral and all of that.

So, she was the daughter back at home whilst her sisters were safe and secure in their own homes and she shouldn’t whinge at being sent on errands.

“Oh, Lord!” Kristi muttered as she found a spot to park her Primera, got out and headed into the market. That word was sure a menace in her head now.

It took her only fifteen minutes and she was back in her car and on the road. Her phone rang again and she frowned at the caller ID before picking the call.

“Hello, Levi.” He hadn’t called her in nearly one year.

“Kristi.” Her name blurted out in a voice too raspy it didn’t sound like his. “Mama…” There was a choked breath. “She’s gone. She’s gone, Kristi.”

“Gone where?” But the buzz of alarm that shivered through her told her where.

“Just gone. She’s left us.” There was a pause, then the line was cut.

Kristi stared at the trail of traffic ahead of her. But it couldn’t be. Mama — her mother-in-law — was gone? Dead?

“No!”

Her denial was audible. She grabbed her phone, hit redial on her mother’s number. Her heart was palpitating. Shock, fear, grief, confusion, and some emotions she couldn’t recognise sent her eyes watering.

“Mum, Mama’s dead. Levi just called me.”

“God forbid!”

“It’s true.” Her voice shook with the shock that had echoed in her mother’s. “I have to go over to her house. Levi must be there. Tell daddy, please.”

She ended the call, switched gears and upped her speed. Oh God, how can this be? How can it be?

She pulled up beside the half-length wall fence, switched off the car and vaulted out of it. Absently, she noted that Tekena Cookey’s Honda Crosstour was at the other side of the gate. Of course, he would be here as Levi’s long time and closest friend.

He was a friend of hers too, Kristi thought but only absently.

Inside Mama’s living room, Levi was seated, head buried in his palms, on the sectional sofa. Tekena had his hand on his shoulder in soothing fashion. Kristi recalled now that she and Mama had been seating on that sofa only five days ago, discussing Hannah Odiete’s upcoming wedding.

Now, she was gone?

“Levi.”

The chasm that had separated for a year and eight months closed up. She went straight to him, her heart running ahead of her feet. Grief, raw and shocked, lurked deep in his eyes and broke her heart — for him. For both of them.

“How can she be gone?”

“I don’t know.” Levi took the hands she held out, pulled her to him and let his head droop over her shoulders. “Kristi, I don’t know. I don’t know. Chioma called me, something around nine. Mama hadn’t woken up at her usual six-thirty. She’d thought maybe she was sleeping in. But when the time started driving towards nine, she decided to rouse her. Went in. Called her. Shook her. She wouldn’t respond.”

Levi raised his head, shook it. He still couldn’t take it in. It still was too shocking. “So, she called me. I came over. We took her to the hospital. They… they tried to revive her. CPR and all that. She didn’t respond. It didn’t work. The doctor pronounced her dead. Dead, Kristi. Mama’s dead.”

“Just like that?” Kristi looked piteously at him, tears, hot and heavy, wet her face. “Mama is gone just like that? Oh my God! Oh Levi!”

She wrapped her arms around him and together, they wept.