It took 34 dress changes to fit into something that suited the occasion without betraying my total sense of loss at what my position is with the rest of the group. I fiddled, frustratingly at my part frizz, part floppy hair and tried desperately to find the right side of gorgeous without coming across as overcompensating or attention seeking. Every quiff and attempted braid seemed far more intent on being morose than stylish. After picking a stray belligerent strand of over moosed and conditioned hair out of my red eye for the umpteenth time, I settled for hairclips, a ponytail and a look that wailed – desperate spinster, looking for the perfect cat. Sigh!
My cell phone rang with an ascending tone of demanding as a car hooted impatiently outside my window. I dashed through to my bedroom which was exploding with clothes, shoes and other random knick knacks that you only seem to find when you are looking for the one thing you cannot have – like your youth, your sanity, your perfect ‘look at me now!’ body…and indeed, look at me now: eyes puffy and weary, my sure determined nose now wonky and downward facing like a dog that's spent a little too many winters at an animal shelter. It frightened me just how much I had aged and how much more of this I have to look forward to. This would be the 7th wedding/baby shower/naming ceremony/graduation from kiddy nursery/ celebration of the first bleeding tooth and whatever else happy people choose to celebrate this summer. I often don’t mind. It’s usually one of the few occasions my friends would actually willingly invite me to events these days. Our Saturday night outs and Sunday brunches have over the years been replaced (for them) with date night, meet the parents dinners, family weekend away, wedding anniversary and play dates. I used to be a welcome addition to dinner party tables until I became the single friend that needed to be fiercely shielded away from their partners and now…well, I’m the aunt who shows up at christenings and gives the ridiculously expensive presents.
The bleating phone which until now had taken a temporary breather cried out, reminding me why I was standing in the foyer looking a sorry mess. I’d come to get my phone and purse. The taxi driver on the phone bellowed some expletives and expressed exactly how much he would be adding to the final bill to compensate him having to wait for me.
‘Fine. Just give me a second. I need to pick up the present from my room. I will be right with you.’
Several minutes later, irrationally large wrapped gift box in hand, I take one final look at the small round mirror in the hallway I had inherited from my mom and chided myself for letting today get to me. I knew this day would come didn’t I?
In the car, I worried about the plants I forgot to water, the fish I forgot to feed, the dishes I left in the washer, the clothes in the dryer waiting to be ironed, the dry cleaning which was three weeks past it’s collection date, the driver going too fast, the driver going too slow, my clothes getting rumpled, the presents being unsuitable, how to deal with seeing the gang again. Anything to distract me from the moment I had so foolishly and eagerly signed myself up for.
The journey itself was pleasant enough. The driver tutted something in a foreign language as I passed him his fare with no tip (serves him right for being so ill-tempered!) and as he drove off I wanted nothing but to run after the car and have it take me back to my rented flat on Titcombe Street. I started towards the reception hall, rehearsing again my excuse for not making it to the actual ceremony. Reminding myself to casually add that I sadly (sadly? Yes, go with sadly. Far more personable…) could not stay long as I had a pressing matter to attend to at the other end of town, when an overly excited arm waved frantically at me. I wave back, cursing myself for leaving my contacts behind and having my glasses too far away from easy reach. The walking blob and hand moved towards me and my dread was replaced with relief as I recognised Phyllis at once. With the ceremony of air kisses performed, Phyllis launched into an update on who’s who and what’s new in the life of all. In the five minutes it took to walk over to the reception room, I was thoroughly worn out and reminded exactly why I conveniently did not keep much in touch with her.
‘So, what’s the dish on you then?’ – Phyllis aka the society gossipmonger asked and for the many stories I could have told her, I chose to say nothing.
‘Trish?’ Phyllis nudged me impatiently.
‘I’m sorry; I think I just saw Toyosi. Where are you seated? I’m going to put this heavy box down, say hello to Toyosi and her family and I’ll be right with you Phyllis.’
She mouthed an ‘oh’ and I would have felt bad for treating the one welcome face I had met so far with little more than a polite conversation had her little boy not come over, snotty nosed and tugging at his mom with chubby hands, asking for some jewoos or something to that effect.
‘Junior, hasn’t mommy told you to wait your turn when she is talking?’ Phyllis said.
I looked from her to the little boy and saw the other reason why I don’t keep in touch with Phyllis. She, like a number of the people in the hired venue, was a conniving little runt. In the space of fourteen drawn out months, she got the man, the house, the children and the picket fence I was working my way up to and then had the cheek to tell me she’d no idea I was remotely interested in my then boyfriend!
I again made my excuse from the gossip queen and ran as if haunted towards the gifts table.
‘Trisha!’ Someone called.
Oh god why do I put myself through this? I mean no one cares if I am the fucking bigger man anymore! Why in the name of all that is right with the world do I seek out ways to continually torture myself with these…
‘Sola’ I say without needing to turn around, there was no mistaking that sickingly sweet voice of hers that always got her way.
I turn to face the beautiful poster woman for a fertility goddess and hug her over a bump.
‘Sola! How ARE you? I’m sure you weren't pregnant when I saw you last, didn’t you just come back from a second honeymoon?’
‘Oh Trisha, that was last year, the wedding feels like yonks ago now! I was so skinny and gorgeous then, now look at me! Fat blub with twins on the way.’
She giggled excitedly and waited for the compliment she knew was sure to come.
‘Oh nonsense.’ I said on cue. ‘You look fabulous! Just looking at you takes me want to walk up to the clinic right now and order me one of those bumps! You are positively glowing my dear. How do you do it?’
‘I know! Aren’t I just? I didn’t realise how many weirdo’s are out there till I got pregnant. I swear I get more men trying to chat me up now than ever before. What kind of pervert fantasises over a pregnant woman anyway?’
‘Sola, you are the most beautiful woman I know and now, this pregnancy makes you look even more like the goddess we crowned you back in high school. I feel sorry for the poor men you and your pheromones are enchanting.’
She did her signature coy giggle. The one that always raised invisible boomerang arrows in the air, shooting delicately at her cheeks and leaving dimples in its wake. The same giggle I’ve seen her use to disarmer even the most faithful of men.
‘Gota love ‘em hormones! I don’t think I’ve let Dayo have a good night’s keep in months! Apparently pregnancy makes you horny. Not that you’d know anything about that. Oh…that was such an insensitive thing to say. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s the hormones, I just say things and not think and well you know…I mean you don’t know…well, you wouldn’t would you? Unless you’ve been pregnant, I mean…
‘It’s okay, I do indeed know nothing about that but I do remember what it’s like to be randy and have a Dayo in my bed. Those were exciting times but the whole chlamydia scare thing wasn’t really to my taste. I imagine he is a much more faithful husband to you than he was a selfless boyfriend to me. He’d be an idiot to not be there for you during your hormonal demands. Now, if you’ll just excuse me, I need to drop this box by the gifts aisle.’
Two down, twelve to go. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!! My cheeks flushed a hot shade of pissed! If I weren’t black I’d look like a non-energy conserving light bulb. Who’s idea was it anyway to have the gifts aisle at the far end of the hall?
(Oh great. Mommy dearest. Shoot me now!)
‘Atinuke, is that you?’
(Lord I wish it wasn’t)
‘Atinuke…it’s you isn’t it?’
(no, it isn’t me…this is all just a figment of someone’s twisted imagination)
‘Yes ma, long time no see. I didn’t know you were in town.’
‘Oh, I came in especially for the Dakota wedding. You know Koye’s dad and my husband are golf partners, I couldn’t not attend.’
(yes, and the tale of the insidious circle where everybody knows everybody continues)
‘Aunty, this box is heavy, would you mind if I put it down at the gift aisle first and I’ll come back to greet you properly?’
‘Oh. Isn’t there a young gentleman to help you with that?’
‘Well, if you had not thought yourself too much of a woman for my Papa, perhaps you wouldn’t have needed to shame yourself by carrying that box alone.’
‘I mean really, I don’t think you understand how much you hurt Papa by turning him down when he proposed but thank goodness he found the love of his life. They are getting ready to have children now you know? He would be here if it wasn’t for business. You know he made VP at his firm?’
I grit my teeth behind pursed lips.
‘He is doing so well now. Atinuke, maybe you should think about going to give your life to Christ and pray that God finds you a good husband. My Papa is so good to his wife; you should only see how he showers her with gifts.’
(is that before or after the beatings and emotional blackmail)
I felt my two-day-old threaded right eyebrow rise involuntarily.
‘Aunty, I really must go. This box isn’t getting any lighter, but I will come right back to catch up, I’m sure you have stories and pictures to show me.’
‘Oh yes, pictures! You should have seen the wedding, it was such a wonderful ceremony. I have pictures in my purse. Such lovely day, nothing like this one. Everything was so well organised and … oh, where is my purse, Atinuke, can you not put that thing down and help me look for my purse. My Papa looked so handsome, I was so proud! That could have been you with him, you know?’
‘Aunty, forgive me, I would love to rehash the disaster that was my relationship with your son. Perhaps even let you know exactly how your perfect Papa hurt me till I was a walking train wreck of a woman but I really must set this down over there. I’ll be sure to come back as soon as I find a single fibre of my being that wishes him and his sorry ass something more than polite conversation.’