Today would have been Mel and I’s second wedding anniversary. I am not sure how we would have celebrated but in classic Mel fashion, she would have been in charge of all the planning; from picking out the destination, to the hotel, the activities and even the restaurants we would eat at. All I had to do was show up and show up I did as long as we were together. But instead, I found myself surrounded by the four-walls of a courtroom.
I looked down on my watch,dreading what numbers the pointers would settle on. It was such a simple activity yet daunting at the same time. It was 2:33 pm, any minute now the court will reconvene. I had stayed in the court room when it was adjourned for the jury to go deliberate. It was unusual that they let anyone stay inside but everyone was extremely nice to me. One of the court officers had come over to ask me to leave; I looked up and we locked eyes and he motioned his hand in a stay-put gesture. My dad and Mr Epande were unusually gentle with me today seeing as neither of them tried to talk me out of leaving the court room.So I stayed. I don’t know how long the jury had been in there but it seemed like a lifetime. I was ready to put this behind me.
I heard the court bell ring and my body went numb at the sound of it. People were flooding the court room. My palms suddenly got very sweaty and my breath heavy. The jurors came back in and the officer ushered the judge in. I think everyone was staring at me, I could feel it but I was not sure why.
“Will the jury foreperson stand please?” the judge asked. I saw a lady stand up from the corner of my eye clenching a white piece of paper in both hands like her life depended on it. “Has the jury reached a unanimous verdict?” she inquired, to which the lady with the piece of paper answered yes.
I must have become a celebrity in that moment because everyone’s focus shifted to me, piercing glances accompanied by inaudible chatter filled the room. I noticed the guards repositioning themselves, hands akimbo directly above their guns, one after the other. They must have been expecting me to erupt into some kind of outburst or pandemonium. So the guards were getting themselves ready just in case and others prepping their cameras for action time. It saddened me that in that moment, the attention had shifted from Mel to me for the wrong reasons. How could they even think for a second that I would jeopardize this moment? Mel would finally get justice.
My hands balled into fists on my knees, moving up and down in a contrived motion on my thighs. I had to device a means of staying calm and this was it. I listened intently, it had finally come down to the wire and Mel would get justice. It was her day. Her birthday after all.
We met in school at the beginning of a Fall semester six years prior when we happened to register for the same course. I was sitting at the back of the class when she walked in last after the professor. She was clad in ripped blue jeans, a white t-shirt and flats with her hair parted to the side and bouncing in the air like she was a movie star. I was in my senior year but had never set eyes on this beauty before. I wondered why? I knew I won’t be going home without as much as knowing her name.
I waited outside the door as soon as the class was over, I had never felt so scared and intimidated to talk to a lady before.Everyone was out in minutes but her; turns out she was a slow one, the last to arrive and the last to leave as well. “Are you alright?” That was my ice breaker when I got back into the classroom and saw her sitting by herself, all secluded. she nodded, “just not sure about this course. Did you hear what he said? oh my world” she uttered evenly before looking up.
“You will be fine. Professor Reid is one of the best, I had him for all my finance courses. I am Emanuel Ndive by the way. You are…” I cackled, stretching my hand towards her.
“Melissa Epande”. she answered with a coy smile and a knowing stare in her eyes. That was the beginning our love story. My last year of college was the best because of her. We became inseparable in a short time, studying together, eating, playing and dancing together. How we found ourselves in a big country such as America, both from the same country and region was nothing short of God’s divine purpose.She was indeed my ride-or-die chick. I graduated and got a job in Atlanta and she had two more years to go.
We would talk on the phone all week, texting and emailing with occasional video-chats at least once a week and made a point to see each other during weekends. She was the most supportive person I ever met, believed in me more than I believed in myself and loved me with all my flaws as I did her. She had the delicate skill of falling on herself and no matter how hard she tried, she always soiled herself during every meal. Her voice was so soft and she spoke very gently, almost as if she was afraid to break the air. Her dimple accentuated her face every time she smiled and it melted my heart every single time. She was the only one who could tease me about how archaic my name Emanuel was and at the same time come up with a nicer version “Ems”.
Her white smile flashed before me and my fists clenched harder.
The judge asked the defendant to rise which he did. He was a nineteen year old Caucasian kid dressed in a black suit and sky blue shirt .He held his head down and bound his hands together before him. Mel should have been standing here with me not him.
July 10th was our wedding day two years ago,Mel had chosen it because it was also her birthday which surprised me that she would want to share two significant days like that at all. It was also on July 10th I proposed to her right after her graduation and I was the happiest man alive on earth that day when she said yes. We sure loved July 10th didn’t we?
I was in church two hours early, waiting with my parents and friends for Mel to walk through those brown mahogany doors and be handed over to me and for the priest to make it official that she was mine forever. I could hardly wait to see what her dress looked like; Mel had an impeccable taste in clothes, so I knew I was in for a treat. Mel was always late, which is why I never second-guessed why she was so behind schedule on that day or even called to check on her.
I was still standing at the alter when I saw my dad run out to continue a call he had just received. He stayed out for a while, then my best man Gabriel was called out too. I felt uneasy within me, it was as though someone had punched me in the gut and I was about to throw up. Gabe came back in looking somber and proceeded to give me the tightest hug. He was crying.
“On the count of manslaughter, how do you find the defendant?” the judge intoned. “Your honor, we find the defendant guilty”. The emotions from that day came rushing back, I was being torn anew. My mom rushed to my side and cradled my head in her bosom, whispering incantations in my head. They couldn’t even find the moronic son of bitch guilty on a second degree murder charge?.
I would never see her pearly white smile again, no thanks to a reckless Josh Porter. He was drunk as a skunk behind the wheel when he lost control of his car, crashing into the limousine that was bringing Mel to church. The ambulance got to her as quick as they could but she was DOA – dead on arrival. Everyone else got out alive but not my Mel.
I was in the clouds while the judge gave her final comments and exited the court room, sentencing was scheduled for next week. The officers took Josh away in handcuffs; my dad and Mr Epande were hugging each other, a queue formed with people trying to condole with me. I didn’t think I was up to it.
I pulled out my phone and listened to the last voicemail she left me on her way to church.
“Ems I am sure you are wondering what girl shows up late at her own wedding right? (she giggled.) “Well, none other but yours truly. I am sooorrryyy (she teased).Moving on………… (takes a deep breath) I am glad you didn’t answer honey, because I want you to have this message always, to be reminded when things get hard, when times get tough, when I get difficult that we are in this together. I love you with all my being and I cannot wait to be your wife. I promise to always be there, remain your number one fan and just do what I do best, love you. You have changed my life (sounds a bit raspy) ….for the better and I will spend my days making you the happiest man alive. My best friend, I love you forever. (breaks into a scream) I cannot wait to be Mrs Ems”.
I would have seen her call if I wasn’t busy chatting it up with my groomsmen.I should have called to check on her, find out what the delay was about. To hell with the norm, we should have driven together. It should have been me. Josh the nineteen year old who was drunk to stupor at 2pm on a Saturday and on a suicide mission should have hit me instead. Not Mel.
I brushed my mom off of me and broke through the crowd, I needed to get some air and clear my head. I didn’t want to let Mel go but I knew today I needed to move forward with my life. It had been on hold for two years. I pushed open the black oak door and stumbled into the streets, bumping into somebody.
“I am so sorry. Are you alright?” I asked frantically, feeling like a jerk.
“It’s nothing…… I. Am. Fine” the lady replied, flashing a beautiful white smile.
“I am Emanuel. Ems for short” I said, stretching my hand to meet hers.
“Rosemary. Rose for short”.