The Phantom Proposal

A bizarre thing happened yesterday. Someone stated their intention of marrying me. It wasn’t a harmless statement appended to an amusing tweet or picture of mine. It was a declaration expressed in the real world governed by Kikuyu customs and between the two prerequisite father figures.

“So, you’re getting married?” was the first thing I heard from my cousin when I picked up her call. She, who was getting hitched herself this November, was saying back to me the very words I used on her months ago—albeit without the excitement that shrilled my voice. When I said them I was happy for her but those very words recited back to me inspired visions of embarrassing dowry ceremonies, wedding committees and the mouth-drying panic of grown up.

Someone wanted to put me through that. But, who was this person? I’m I not single? I blinked severally, racking my brain to find out if I had in fact been dating a man who’d recently proposed to me. I drew a blank but my cousin was still speaking in a bemused voice so I had to pay attention and get the clues to my upcoming nuptial.

Turns out she heard the news from her mother. As I heard the story the first time, my ex-boyfriend’s father had visited my auntie and uncle’s home and stated that he was planning to make a formal visit to ceremoniously handa ithigi (plant a beacon – this is a Kikuyu tradition that essentially tells the boys lurking in the periphery to take their lurking skills elsewhere).

However, this wedding announcement got even stranger. The man wasn’t going to be visiting my uncle’s house on behalf of the son I’d once dated. He would be doing do on behalf of his eldest son, my ex-boyfriend’s big brother. Good thing I was sitting on the floor already because that was a good time to keel over in shock. I chose to clinch the phone tighter as I tried to process the information.

Naturally, I laughed along with my cousin. This was preposterous! My ex-boyfriend’s brother? The contours of whose face I cannot even recall? It must be a mistake. But wait, there was more. The father had given additional information that could only pertain to my household. Apparently he said something like: “Your late brother, Gakuru.” “His daughter, the last born.”

That sure sounded like me.

My sanity briefly came into question again. It was worse when my auntie took the phone and started making jokes about my joining a new clan. Yo, I was done. Hyperventilating as I vehemently denied that statement, I made arrangements to visit them later in the day to get the story properly. Plus, I had to grill them. Perhaps this was all just a misunderstanding, a statement made in jest…or was it?

Sitting across from both my uncle and auntie in their office, I asked if someone could kindly share the conversation had that morning. Deliberately downplaying the whole fiasco, my uncle gave me the bare bones of the chat. Even as he called for calm (my cousin and I were cackling as my aunt made comments about incoming dowry) and the dismissal of the whole story, I kept badgering. There’s no smoke without fire.

Here’s a little background information. My uncle and auntie live out of town. Their three children, my cousins, are my age mates and I spent nearly all my school holidays at their home. My first and, after several attempts at breaking up, former boyfriend was their neighbour. We met when he caused me to trip over the barbered wire I was attempting to jump over. I remember he had on a Ngomb’e ni wire cap. Ha!

In any case, we rarely ever hang out with his elder brother but here he was asking for my hand in marriage…or so it seemed. After kindly asking my uncle to go over the conversation section by section and allowing me to scrutinize each statement, we were able to come up with a few edits:

1. My ex-boyfriend’s and supposed fiancé’s father did not visit my uncle and auntie’s house with that bold assertion. It had come up during a cursory inquiry into the welfare of each other’s children as the parents shared a bus ride to town.

2. Although my ex-boyfriend’s and supposed fiancé’s father had made reference to our household, he hadn’t stated that his son was eyeing Gakuru’s last born daughter specifically.

3. My ex-boyfriend’s and supposed fiancé’s father hadn’t mentioned kuhanda ithigi but only jokingly stated that wouldn’t it be nice if this union made them athonis (in-laws) one day?

Obviously these clarifications eased away some of the stress but speculation still abound. Which Gakuru daughter did he in fact mean? My elder sister? The one was as single as I? Fine, he hadn’t marched up to the house but there was a strong hint that a relationship was brewing between his son and either my sister and I.

At this point I thought I’d heard it all. But wait, there was more. As I fielded questions on my supposed secret love life from other people in the room, my uncle remembered one other thing my ex-boyfriend’s and supposed fiancé’s father said. Apparently, he heard all the details about his son’s plans to shack up with one of us from his daughter.

Wait, what? I didn’t even know my ex-boyfriend had a sister! Or did I? The more I thought about it, the more I started to hazily recall mentions of an older sister (my ex-boyfriend’s and supposed fiancé’s eldest sister) who was working in the city when I had just completed high school. I quickly asked my cousin if there was any chance I met said sister and she replied in the negative.

Armed with this information, I went to my own sister’s office to continue my line of questioning. Resisting the urge to ask the question of the day and opting instead to dramatically flailing my arms, clap Naija style while stomping my feet in her respectable office, I was able to learn that she too was not about to get married; at least not to my ex-boyfriend’s brother. The question then became, then who is?

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