BENUE Writer Series / FICTION

TENDER FLAMES (A Short Story) by Pever X

He was a fiercely ambitious youngman, intent on making loads of money and breaking free from the tenacious clutch of want. He resented his papa, who was too contented for his liking, but his mama was his heroin; she was the antithesis of her husband.
Shana did nothing in life without stopping to consider whether or not it was a lucrative venture. His mama was from Eastern Nigeria, so his dogged quest for the bills wasn’t considered the least bit unusual. Shana could do anything for money except swindling, stealing and killing and that was because he was always careful not to allow his desire for money degenerate into avarice.
The youth corps member was a keen mind, smart, enterprising and perhaps cunning and handsome too. He appeared even more handsome in his slinky dark suit -which perfectly molded his well-built frame- as he waited in the marriage registry on Fodio road to be hitched up with chioma, a fellow corps member.
They first meet at the sokoto NYSC orientation camp Farufaru two months back. What struck Shana about Chioma was not her beguiling beauty, not her curvaceous nubile body or her comely face. It was the simple fact that he saw a likeness of himself mirrored in her, that which drew him to her like metal to magnet.
It was quite easy for Shana and Chioma to get talking and become great friends as they were of like minds; both go-getters and very ambitious, neither of them interested in romance but okay with platonic relationships. It was while they were on camp that the idea of a phony marriage was bred and hatched.
Shana had been the one who suggested they fake marriage and receive the five hundred thousand naira grant the NYSC gave to serving corps members who get married during the service year. Chioma needed no prompting; she was already down with the idea even before Shana explained how they would go about executing it. They both agreed to do it discreetly. Neither of their families was to know until perhaps when the money was paid. Only few people witnessed this sham union. The marriage registrar, two witnesses picked from the street, two area inspectors of the NYSC and handful corps members.
When Chioma thought about the day of her wedding, it was always conducted in a splendorous cathedral, with huge stained glass windows, pretty frescoes by Michelangelo and life size sculptures by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and never once envisaged wedding in a cramped dusty court room, with broken window panes, a leaky roof and fans that never worked. She always pictured herself in a white gown, with fitting bodice and lace trimmings, but not her present ensemble – dowdy cream satin gown and a mismatched pair of stiletto. But the money involved was staggering, she could have wedded in rags, in a hole without qualms.
“The marriage isn’t a real one,” Chioma kept reminding herself. She could still live her life as she pleased. The only thing she was expected to do was to act married a few times and split five hundred thousand naira with her supposed husband, then divorce after a year or so. That was THE DEAL.
What Chioma didn’t anticipate was, she would have to act married most times because, she was reposted from her place of primary assignment in Kuchi, Kebbe local government area to Sokoto town shortly after their marriage and to the same school that was Shana’s place of Primary Assignment. The idea was to bring the newlywed together. They were both offered a furnished two room apartment by the school and the one room accommodation that had earlier been offered Shana was revoked, much to their chagrin.
At first Chioma insisted they shared the household chores but was soon to realize Shana was no good in that department. He couldn’t even cook an egg, not to mention sweeping, scrubbing, washing dusting and mopping. In the end, she resigned herself to doing the house keeping solo. Two hundred and fifty thousand naira was worth doing a lot for.
Shana had come to appreciate Chioma in many ways as they stay together. She wasn’t only dutiful, intelligent, smart, beautiful and charming. She was also a good cook and each day, he looked forward to her delectable meals.
As time dragged and they waited for the big money, Chioma and Shana found themselves spending loads of time with each other and enjoying it too. They played scrabble often, argued a few times and bantered tons, sometimes way into the middle of the night before retiring to their separate rooms to catch some Z’s
Day after day, Chioma realize she was less free to do as she pleased. She was the partying type but couldn’t attend parties anymore because Shana who wasn’t keen about partying, wouldn’t accompany her to any and she wasn’t about to go all by herself. The last time she did, he brooded for a week, refused to eat her meals and talked sparingly to her. During this time, their once cozy animated home became like a cemetery to her. She missed chit chatting with him, missed listening to his wise cracks and how he intended to spend his share of the money when they eventually get it.
Towards the end of the service year, Chioma and Shana became quite inseparable; always together and not because they were acting married couple. Fairies played ping pong in Shana’s head each time he saw Chioma talking with some other guy. Chioma fell ill anytime she noticed Shana was paying attention to some other girl. Once, Shana hit one too many bottles at the Mami market, got sufficiently high and slept out in a friend’s apartment close by and Chioma developed a huge migraine. She was rolling all over the bed when he returned the next day. He rushed her to the hospital and fussed over her until she was well again. He also secretly resolved never again to imbibe so much of the demon drink that would cause him to sleep out. He reckoned Chioma may need his support if she took ill at night again.
There were those times Shana stopped to think he was perhaps developing a thing for Chioma, but he always laughed it off as inane. That was until they received and split the deal money – a day after their passing out parade – and it was time to part ways. Shana didn’t want to see the last of Chioma and for thousandth time, wished their marriage wasn’t phony. But he was never going to mention this to her; how foolish it would make him seem.
Chioma was mirthlessly packing her bags when Shana reluctantly dragged his box into her room to bid her farewell or so.
“I’m done packing,” he announced.
“I’m almost there too.” Chioma didn’t look up from what she was doing as she spoke. She wasn’t about to let Shana see the Sadness in her eyes.
“Maybe our marriage should have been for real,” Shana blurted out after much hesitation. “Jeez! I’m I supposed to say that?” He slapped his head thoughtfully.
Instantly, Chioma stopped what she was doing and rising to her full height, stared at Shana with happy doubtful eyes. Her lips moved to say something, but she was at a loss as to what to say.
“Would you take your wife with you to Makurdi?” Chioma asked eventually, though she couldn’t believe she asked such a question and felt like kicking herself all over. She should have said something like “yeah maybe.”
Chioma’s question caused Shana’s heart to miss a beat. As he gazed into her face, the flaring passion in the depths of her coffee colored eyes found its way to his heart and that moment he realized she meant the whole world to him.
Shana surprised Chioma by closing the gap between them and clasping her in a hug like he would never let her go, for it felt so good to have her in his arms and surrounded by the warmth of her body.
“Let’s go right away,” Shana smirked.
“Not now dumb.” Chioma smacked Shana on the head playfully and they both cracked up. A moment later, they were billing and cooing and both wished that moment would last forever.
Four months later, Chioma and Shana are walking arm in arm, down the aisle to be hitched yet again, this time by a priest, at the behest of the bride’s churchy parents. It was in the splendorous Makurdi Catholic Cathedral, without frescoes, but stained glass windows and life size sculptures; not by Giovanni though. Chioma was gussied up in a white gown, with a fitting bodice, lace trimmings and a long train. Her groom was looking just the way she had always thought he would look. I know this because I was there.





Pever X lives on the South bank of the River Benue in Makurdi, NIGERIA. His literary strength lies in short stories and longer fiction. His novel, CAT EYES is in press and scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2013. He blogs at


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