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In some cultures, it is traditional for a man to go down on one knee when he is about to propose marriage. But not all men have gone about things in this fashion.

Some have taken their routines to extraordinary lengths. There’s the man who faked a motor accident in which he narrowly escaped and, with his last few breaths, proposed to his would-be bride. Luckily, she saw the humour in it, and accepted. Another man, with obviously a lot of loose change to spare, hired a jet plane to sky write his proposal. ‘Marry me, Marian,’ it said in large white letters against the backdrop of a stunning blue sky. And two other not-so-well-off romantically inclined bachelors in two neighbouring towns, with girlfriends also named Marian, used the opportunity to propose marriage as well.

‘Jack did no such elaborate thing,’ says Eleanor G, ‘He just performed the traditional act on one knee and I, transfixed by the glittering stone in the blue velvet box he held open in his right hand, said yes immediately.’

The ring Jack gave me had a diamond but I simply couldn’t wear it after hearing Donna’s story

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‘What were his exact words?’ I ask her. ‘Jeez, that was fifteen years ago,’ she says, ‘but you know what, it was nothing terribly original. Just something like, “Will you marry me, El? And be my wife for the rest of my life?’” Something like that!

I look down at Eleanor’s hands, both of them, and her gaze follows mine. She gives me a watery smile. ‘You’re wondering, aren’t you?’ I admitted I was. ‘You’re too polite to ask how it all ended.’ I sit silent. Eleanor’s fingers sport no rings. Not a single one. ‘You’re wondering how it all ended.’

She smiles as she says this and I think, this is not the expression an ex-wife wears when talking about a marriage that may have dissolved. As if reading my thoughts she says, exclamatorily, ‘No! We’re very much together, Jack and I. It’s just …’ Her voice trails off. ‘You know,’ she resumes, ‘In our fifth year of marriage, Jack suddenly said, “Hey, El, you’re not wearing your ring. What happened?”’ Eleanor told him she couldn’t talk about it right at that moment, she needed time.

Riots, ugliness, murder and betrayal

But Jack, he thought the obvious thing: that there was someone else. It led to an ugly scene. So … ‘So, I told him,’ says Eleanor, ‘I said Jack, it’s not another man. It’s a woman. And his face went from fiery, angry red, to the paleness of ash.’ She laughs briefly but catches herself almost immediately, saying, ‘It wasn’t and should never be a laughing matter, I’m sorry.’

Anyhow, she went to the filing cabinet where her work files and admin registers were stored. ‘I showed him a picture of Donna, her beautiful face — a face that could have graced any catwalk in the fashion industry and been on the cover of countless fashion magazines. Then I showed him a second pic of Donna. And what had been done to her beautiful face in a land far away, a country that had suddenly discovered wealth in the form of diamonds that had led to riots, ugliness, murder and betrayal on a colossal scale. A face eaten by acid thrown by a wealthy diamond merchant, whose proposal she’d rejected. A face that needed hours and hours of surgery and still preferred to be hidden behind a veil.’

Donna was a recent migrant, a graduate in business economics, and soon became a friend of Eleanor. ‘The ring Jack gave me had a diamond but I simply couldn’t wear it after hearing Donna’s story,’ says Eleanor, ‘in fact every single morning since that day, when I awake my single prayer is, ‘Please don’t let somebody discover diamonds in my city.’ Jack, for his part, understands absolutely.

— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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