Onuma hated reunions.
Everyone smiled sweetly but their eyes judged. It was an unrivalled competition. From who wore the most expensive outfit to whose husband was the most powerful. She was always the worst dressed. Who could blame her? She was saving two-thirds of her salary for her perfect wedding whenever it will happen.
Her mother had warned her not to make herself a topic of discussion at the next Christian Mothers’ Meeting. She even advised Onuma to hire a man to stand by her side at the wedding if possible.
Onuma did try but most of the men she knew were from work and they were either married or separated. The single ones seem to dread wedding ceremonies.
She knew what was coming if she attended Abigail’s wedding, but she had to. It was, after all, her sister’s wedding. Onuma was going to be twenty-nine in two weeks, the day of the wedding. Abigail was good at usurping her. Who else would fix their wedding on their spinster sister’s birthday? Abigail wanted to remind everyone that as a twenty-year-old undergraduate she had acquired for herself a husband who happened to be a bank manager in his twenties.
She shouldn’t feel bad. After all, she had rejected the man her father had chosen for her after he had done the traditional introduction rites and decided to go to the university. She should be glad to be a trendsetter, since after her rebellion other girls in the community chose to go to university.
She wasn’t sad. She was bitter.
She wasn’t the prettiest girl in town but she wasn’t the most mundane either. At twenty-nine she had a doctorate and a good job and was desperate enough to date her boss. She almost went to the registry to marry him until a woman showed up claiming to be his wife. That was six months ago.
Her only consolation had come from Sumptuous Cakes Galleria. The new habit gave her a voluptuous backside, well-rounded stomach and chubby arms. She was going to her sister’s wedding without a man. To cap it off she was going to be her sister’s bridesmaid. Her family knew all of her male friends. Her father had made it his duty. Who would be willing to stand by her? She was a blunt, opinionated woman: a rebel.
She looked at her reflection, grimaced then smiled ruefully. She played with her plummeting stomach, lifting it and letting it sag, and decided to toss out any ice cream, éclairs or chocolate in the freezer. She was still baffled at how rapidly she gained the weight. Two stones in two months didn’t seem possible. She turned to her side to gauge the size of her stomach, sucking it in.
She had two weeks to get in shape for the wedding. Her mother had blackmailed her into wearing the bridesmaid dress Abigail had picked. Abigail needed nine bridesmaids and must have that. Abigail was obsessed with the numbers three and nine. She was short of one bridesmaid because one of them was suddenly unavailable and she was her sister’s last resort.
Her father believed it would help her get noticed and hoped it will boost her chances of getting married.
She hated being laid out on display. But she hoped their worked, because she was desperate for a man of her own. She was tired of being alone.
Ejiro, her best friend and colleague, had called to let her know she had a solution to the bulging situation. The flowing dress could cover a lot of discrepancies except the bridesmaid dress was two sizes too small, but her stomach made the dress look like she was pregnant. The neckline was a little too low for her barely-there breasts. It was going to need padding.
Ejiro arrived thirty minutes later with three black outfits that looked like swimsuits. One stretched to the knee. The lower part of the other two was shaped like panties. Two of them had straps. With Ejiro’s help she was able to get into two of them before pulling the dress on. She arched her back. It was hard to stand otherwise.
The wedding day finally came, and the sky was covered in grey cloud. Onuma carried an umbrella in case it rained. She had forgotten that she may need to sit down until she got into her car. When she got to church she was stiff from sitting upright and her legs wobbled from numbness. One of the pads underneath her breast was beginning to show. A church warden descended on her with a purple shawl which clashed with the cobalt blue dresses of the wedding party. It smelled of stale breast milk, like a baby that hadn’t been bathed in days.
Abigail slid her a look with her teeth clenched from under her veil which said ‘you better die right now’.
Onuma twisted her mouth, feigning ignorance. In a funny way she always did seem to steal the show. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday and her stomach let out its third growl. It was quite loud but everyone was up and milling about so it went by unnoticed.
The wedding ceremony started promptly which was typical of orthodox gatherings. Onuma heard groaning and creaking as people got up or shifted for the latecomers. Her thighs hurt from not being able to sit properly, and she was beginning to feel light headed. She was so relieved when the ceremony finally ended. The photo shoot went by without a hitch.
The sky darkened and everyone scrambled to the reception venue which was being held at the back of their uncle’s house. The rain started just after the opening prayer. While the guests were safely tucked away from the rain, she was forced to leave the canopy to get her aunt’s cane and her grandmother’s snuff box. It was already raining heavily so that by the time she got to the house, some spokes in her umbrella were bent.
She was completely sodden by the time she returned. Her dress clung to her body. Fortunately the bodyshapers were seamless. After giving her aunt and grandmother what they requested of her. She turned to make a quick exit and bumped into her father.
Her father tucked her hand in his and she walked stiffly beside her father as he introduced her to every man, young, old, so long as he was single. Half of them gave her leering looks, she didn’t blame them. They should see her without that many bodyshapers, when she looked like an advertisement for Michelin tyres.
She held her head. Her vision was getting blurry and she couldn’t risk eating or sitting down, so she staggered towards the exit and stumbled on a length of rope. Some of the teenagers that sat near the rear of the tent came to assist her. They tugged the rope so hard that it didn’t only break the heel of her shoe but took down half of the tent that was behind their high table.
Onuma gasped and scuttled to a seat near the exit. The master of ceremony was still cracking jokes but people were no longer laughing. Their hanging jaws caused her to look at the high table behind her. The DJ lowered the volume on the music. In the captivated silence the sound of grunting filled the tent; “yes, like that, oh yes, mh-huh.”
Fortunately, the children had their own tent. Onuma who had slid into a chair far away from the scene and was pressing her phone. Though her head was lowered she saw her sister bury her face in her hand. Everyone else seemed frozen in time, except for her grandmother, who picked up the part of the canopy on the ground and threw it over the romping couple. It was only then that they stopped. Her uncle couldn’t look in their direction. He walked briskly towards the nearest exit, dragging the girl who was already crying with him.
Onuma looked over at her aunt, but the woman was oblivious to what had just taken place. She was partially deaf but her head lolled to one side. She was probably drunk again or just sleeping. Meanwhile, one of the teenagers was talking to her mother who was now batting her vicious eyes at her. Her mother would have literally gorged her eyes out had she been sitting beside her.
Her uncle was barely out of sight when a boisterous woman came lunging towards the high table. The woman was pointing at Abigail’s husband. “So it is true! You married another woman abi? Useless man…”
“Who is this?” Abigail asked her husband.
“Taah, who are you? You think you can snatch my husband?”
“Husband? What? Honey, what is she talking about?”
The groom slouched and cleared his throat.
Abigail’s hands were shaking as she tapped her husband. “You’re not saying anything.” He winced and loosened his tie but didn’t get up.
“Say something!” Abigail nudged him.
“He has nothing to say because it is true.” The woman spat and then turned to the groom. “Did I lie?”
Abigail shook him, pleading that he say something.
The boisterous woman by this time had moved behind the table and was walking towards them. As soon as the woman closed the gap between them, he got up half-running to the exit and the boisterous woman chased after him. Onuma’s mother undid her huge gele – head tie – and covered her face with it. Her father was fuming, his nostrils flared. He wasn’t looking at Onuma but at her sister. Apart from Onuma’s mother no one else cared about the man banging some maid, they were more interested in the rotund woman whose hand was hooked in the belt of the groom as he tried to make a quick exit.
Onuma was overcome with the urge to urinate so she got one of the boys to get her a taxi. She looked around surreptitiously before she snagged two bottles of wine from the table closest to her, before slipping out. As soon as she got close to the hotel her bladder could no longer pretend to be patient. She hurriedly pulled out five hundred naira from her purse and tossed it at the driver then ran across the lobby to her hotel room.
She struggled to come out of the bodyshapers but it was too late to hold back so she sat in the bath and let go. It was only then that she realised that she’d forgotten to collect four hundred naira from the taxi driver. She sighed with relief, removed the bodyshapers and turned on the shower.
An hour later, she was on the bed with an open bottle of wine on the bedside table as she flipped through the channels for a romantic movie. Served her sister right for fixing her wedding on her birthday. She raised the bottle and took a sip. Maybe tomorrow she would console her sister, but today belonged to her.
She raised her glass.
Happy birthday to me!
Onuma hated reunions.