The light coming from the gap between the curtains was like a hot four-inch nail shoved into my eye socket. I inhaled sharply and jerked away from it, rolling too enthusiastically and ending up on the floor.
“Ow.” If not for the pain reverberating throughout my body – and the fact that I could breathe, I could have sworn that someone had shoved me in water. My head swam. I could feel acid working its way up my throat from my stomach. My chest burned. Eyes closed, I felt my way around the floor. My hands touched something wooden and splintered and travelled upwards. A bed. I was in my room in my mother’s house. How did I get here? I pushed forward and encountered squishy leather. It smelled. Shoes. My stomach roiled again. I crawled faster, making my way towards where the toilet door should be.
I thanked God for my bad habit of never putting the lid down on the toilet because as soon as I felt the cool tiles of the bathroom, hot vomit poured itself out of my guts without any effort on my part. All I needed to do was open my mouth. I cracked my face on the bowl as I tried to contain the flow and some of the vomit slid down the bowl and ended up pooling around my knees.
“Damn you, Sarah Amuah,” I said trying to inject enough hate into the words. “I hope wherever you are, you feel five times worse.” I crawled over to the plastic water storage container by the bath tub, scooped some up with the bowl left for this purpose and rinsed my mouth and my face, spitting into the tub. Kneeling upright, I peeled my clothes from my body and dumped them in a bucket under the sink. I ripped some of the toilet roll sitting on the toilet brush handle and wiped the vomit, flushing everything down. I crawled into the bath tub and filled my bath bucket from the tap. Taking a deep breath, I scooped up some more water with the bowl and poured it over my body.
My screams chased the alcohol from my system.
“The way you screamed, I thought you were dying. London living has really spoilt you if you can no longer bathe cold water.” Greg was lounging on my bed when I got out of the shower.
“Greg!” I threw myself at him. He held me tight. I could feel him sniffing me. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked. My voice was buried in his neck.
“Sniffing you. I want to make sure you’re clean. You should have seen the state of you when I came to check earlier.”
“Why are you not letting go?”
“You’re the one not letting go!”
“I’m drunk. I can’t trust myself to stand. What’s your excuse?”
“You’re naked under this towel.”
“Ewww, Greg!” I smacked his head.
“Stop beating me, your mother is downstairs.” I smacked him again. “I will tell her,” he said.
“And I will tell her you were talking about me being naked.”
“I will tell her that you saw me on your bed and …”
“Yeah, yeah. What are you doing here?”
Greg looked at me like I had grown an ear in the middle of my face. “I said I was coming back on Saturday, remember? Today is Saturday.”
“Yes, I know, don’t be silly” I swatted his hand away when he tried to take my temperature. “I mean, why are you early?”
“Why not? The best way to beat the Christmas rush to make it out first.”
“I guess,” I busied myself pulling out underwear and clothes. Greg placed stacked both pillows behind his head and stared at me as I pulled out a pair of jeans and then another. I held them both up and he raised an eyebrow. “Which one?” I asked.
“Neither. Wear a dress.”
“I want to wear jeans.”
“Then why did you ask me?!”
“I don’t know. Aren’t you guys supposed to know such things?”
“Wear something comfortable. You have a lot of work to do.”
“What do you mean? What work?” My head swam. All I wanted to do was eat some corn pap and go back to sleep.
“Belinda is coming home tomorrow. Your mother has been baking like crazy and as soon as I got here she drafted me in to help; after giving me an earful about a tiny girl who banged on her gate at five in the morning.”
“Sarah.” I shuddered. “That girl is crazy. I am never hanging out with her again. I can’t believe she could still drive with the amounts she had been drinking. She never even tripped in her heels.”
“Oh,” Greg sat up. “Sarah-Jane? You didn’t tell me she was small. Or wild. I like her.”
“Not Sarah-Jane. A new Sarah. Sarah Amuah. She is crazy, I tell you. She is designing the brochures for the hotel.”
“She sounds like someone I would like to know.”
“Ugh. She is too much for you. You’d never be able to keep up with her as a friend, trust me. Where is Eke anyway? I thought he was your shadow.”
“He’s downstairs,” Greg said smirking. I eyed him. “Listen, I’ll leave you to dress up, but I am giving you five minutes – six tops. If you’re not dressed and downstairs to help out, I will come in here and drag you out myself.”
“If you try it, I will tell your mummy what I caught you doing when we were ten years old.” Greg stopped on his way to the door, wincing as if he had just stepped on a splinter.
“You promised we would never talk about that,” he said.
The smells coming from the kitchen were plentiful; chin-chin, chocolate cake and puff-puff. I could see my mother’s iron pot on the smoking stove which she came outside for that very reason. I felt sick. Eke was chopping vegetables on the counter nearest to me wearing one of my mother’s aprons inscribed with ‘Kiss the Cook’.
“No, thanks,” I muttered under my breath.
“Ah, Abby. Good morning,” he said. His smile was tinged with just enough of something else to make me wonder if he had seen me passed out.
“Did you come upstairs to my room?” I asked, feeling combative.
“No,” he said. “I don’t go where I am not wanted.”
“And yet here you are,” I said. I didn’t know what it was about Eke that rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed to me like Greg was paying with his life for living – or maybe even loving – this man.
“Who says I am not wanted?” he asked.
I turned away, busying myself with pouring water into a cup. I took a sip. My stomach complained. My mother came in clutching at her wrapper, followed by Greg bearing a tray of cupcakes.
“Abuotito, so this is the way you have been behaving in London, eh?” She said by way of greeting.
“Good morning, mummy,” I said. Eke sniggered and anger boiled in my veins.
“What is so good about the morning, eh? How could you come back to my house in that kind of state? Is that how I brought you up? To hang around in beer parlours getting drunk? What if something had happened to you? How do you know that something didn’t happen?”
“Nothing happened to me. Why are you overreacting? It was just work drinks.” Greg stuck the tip of his tongue out at me, picked up a cupcake and bit into it. His eyes watered and he started hopping from foot to foot. It was still very hot.
“I am talking to you and you are laughing eh?” My mother tightened her wrapper. “Okay, laugh at me. I am a ridiculous woman, who doesn’t understand what it is to be ‘happening’ afterall. You young people think you have seen it all, but you don’t know anything….”
“I wasn’t laughing at you,” I said still cracking up. Greg was trying to swallow the cupcake now before she turned around and caught him.
My mother sniffed, ignoring me. She clapped Eke on the back. “Thank you, my dear,” she said and just like that, my anger was back.
“You couldn’t talk to me in private? No, I am not saying I needed talking to. I have been working hard for how many months and this is the end of a long process which began from and idea that I had and yet I have got no acknowledgement of this. Then I go out for work drinks…ok, yes, I had a little too much and I shouldn’t have, but give me a break mother.” Greg was stuffing the cupcake wrapper into the pocket of his shirt. “Where are my own cupcakes mother?! I have been here all this while. Where the hell are my own cupcakes?!” I was rambling but I didn’t care. I meant to put down my cup of water as my hands were shaking so hard, but somehow I ended up slamming it. Water sloshed over the rim.
Greg stepped forward. “Otito, that’s enough.”
“No, shut up.”
“No, you shut up. Don’t talk to her like this.” He made sure I was looking at him. “Not like this,” he said again.
I knew what he was saying. My mother wouldn’t hear what I was really saying; all she would hear was me attacking her. Not like this. Not in anger. Greg and I both knew what my mother’s problem was; he had known since we were children, but holding the mirror up to her now…
“You’re right,” I said. “Sorry, mummy.” She sniffed and took the tray of cupcakes from Greg.
“Can you believe it? I made these in a pot of sand,” she said. I knew the matter was forgotten. “Wait till Belinda hears this.” I groaned and buried my face in my hands. Greg rubbed my back and Eke stood at the counter going ‘chop chop chop’ with his knife. He hadn’t even turned around through it all. I wondered whether to admire him or hate him even more. As I turned to leave I heard her say “Bia, Greg. Did you eat one? After all the weight you lost you want to look like a bag of cassava again?”
It was Greg’s turn to drop his head into his hands.
“I’m feeling sleepy,” Greg said. He was lying beside me in his white sleeveless vest and trousers and smelled of the smoky banga soup we had just eaten.
“Go home then,” I said.
“You want my mother to freak out? I haven’t fulfilled my requisite six hours at yours.”
“It was never that long. We used to go back and forth between houses.”
“Yes, but that was when we lived next door. I don’t know why your mother moved to this place.”
“It was the only place she could find land with the money I had given her. You know some people…they don’t like to sell to women. And after Aunty Mabel and my Uncle Joe moved down here, the last thing I wanted was for her to live under their thumb. He offered her their Boys’ Quarters you know.”
Greg nodded. “You told me.” He turned on his side, bunching up the pillows under his head.
“Your biceps are almost as big as my head,” I said.
“Your bum is twice as big as my head,” he said.
“Why do you always have to go there? My bum is not my fault. I didn’t create it. I can’t make it go away.”
“Nor should you,” Greg’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Wait till Belinda sees. Remember how she used to strap pillows to her bum with your mother’s wrappers?”
My mouth dropped open. “Do you know I forgot all about that?”
“Yeah, she wanted a bum so badly. And now you have the roundest one I have ever seen.”
“You make it sound disgusting.”
“It isn’t. They are just high and round…like two oranges.”
“She’s a big Hollywood star now,” I said with sarcasm. “They don’t do big bums.”
“Errr…hello? Kim Kardashian…”
“Reality. Not Hollywood.”
“Music and dance…terrible films.”
“Anyway, she isn’t a ‘big Hollywood’ anything. A few bit parts in films…”
“Yes, I know that. But how are you sure?”
Greg eyed me. “Google. And your mum showed me the clippings that Belinda sends her. Odds and ends. Besides, if she clips them and keeps them they must not be worth much. We hear about the big stars here in Nigeria. Charlize Theron doesn’t need to send us clippings, if you know what I mean.”
“We don’t know Charlize Theron,” I said, lying to face him. “She might do.”
“I doubt it,” said Greg, closing his eyes.
I studied him for a moment; the way his lower lip dipped down, his nostrils and his eyebrows which had always lain obediently as if they had been groomed which I knew they hadn’t. Greg’s breathing slowed. I smiled and turned my back, snuggling into him.
“Otito?” he said sleepily.
“Yes?” I forgot to mind what he called me.
“I should go,” he pulled away, picking up his shirt.
“Okay,” I said, spreading my wrapper over myself as my source of warmth disappeared through the door. “Don’t leave me alone tomorrow o.”
“Never. Am I not Gobbling Greg? Belinda needs her complete set. Don’t worry. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Greg came back and kissed my forehead, pulling on his shirt as he went.