“This? This is where you went to school?” Belinda gestured around the empty classroom with her sunglasses dangling.
“Yes,” I said for the umpteenth time. She was getting on my nerves and I eyed Greg in exasperation. “You know, you didn’t have to come. If I recall you have a wedding to plan.”
“Oh, please. Mummy was driving me crazy. I had to leave her for a few hours. But this?” She gestured again, voice rising. “I can’t believe this is it. I mean, I know I made fun of you for living in this backwater town but I had no idea your school was this bad. You definitely got off easy.”
“Yes, but look how well we turned out,” said Greg nudging me.
“Yes, indeed,” I said. An unemployed rent boy writer and a project co-ordinator. Definitely prize-winning stuff.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Wes taking photographs. “Just awesome.” He placed his foot on a bench to frame a shot, slipped and knocked against a metal pillar holding a part of the roof up. Dust rained down on him.
“Honey!” Belinda screamed, rushing to his side. Her screams caused more dust to loosen and fall. She shrieked.
“Stop shouting Belinda!” I said.
“Can we just get out of here before we all die?” she reached Wes and started cleaning him. Wes snapped off a few shots and started coughing.
“Stop, I’m fine honey, really. God, this place is just amazing. Look at this.” He showed Belinda his screen.
“It’s just a lizard,” she said sullenly.
“It’s a beauty. I can totally see you guys here. Little Greg and little Abby,” he turned to me smiling. Two days in the East had darkened him considerably but his eyes were still as piercing as ever. I stuck my tongue out at him to dispel the goose bumps creeping up my arm.
“So mature,” said Belinda, stretching out the last syllable. She rolled her eyes at me.
“So, tell me a lil’ something about being here, you guys,” Wes was persistent. I turned away from him.
“Well,” said Greg, rising to the occasion. “This is where I sat in Primary Five next to the lovely Nkili Okeke. Like her name suggests, she was a thing of beauty. I could stare at her forever. Otito’s class was that way.” The both of them wandered down the hallway, with Greg pointing and Wes snapping away. Their laughter boomed, bouncing off the empty classrooms until it seemed to be coming from all around us.
“Hurry up guys. I have to get my nails done,” shouted Belinda after them. They did not reply. She scrutinised the bench next to her and touched it with her fingertips. “Ugh. Lizard droppings. So gross. Give me your bandana, Otito.”
“Oh com’on, please. I can’t sit on this.” She wiggled as if she had lizards crawling all over her skin. Today she was wearing tights white shorts and a light denim shirt. Her hair was artfully tousled and she had Havaianas on her feet.
“Then stand,” I said.
“God, quit being such a bitch. Give it here,” she wiggled her fingers at me.
It was stifling in the classroom. I didn’t want her to start so I sighed and pulled off my bandana, smoothing my hair down.
“You know, you really should get a touch up,” she said, glancing at my hair.
“And that was why I had the bandana on. You’re welcome.”
“I’m just saying. You should take better care of yourself. The hair you had on Sunday wasn’t hideous.”
I ignored her. Belinda yawned loudly and tapped her feet. A cloud of dust greeted her and she stopped. She sneezed once, twice. “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe you went to school here. It’s a wreck.”
“Yes, you keep saying.” I went off towards the nearest blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘Belinda is a brat’ in tiny letters.
“What are you scribbling over there?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“God, you haven’t changed. You’re still so boring,” she said.
“I was just thinking the same thing about you,” I replied. It was as if she didn’t hear me.
“You always counted on Greg to make you seem more interesting. Greg was the one people liked, not you. I can’t believe you’re still friends. I thought for sure you would have lost him to the friendship wilderness.”
I gritted my teeth and added the words ‘Stupid’ and ‘Spoilt’ to my sentence.
“Oh and those girls of course. The ones who are in my train…although they weren’t really your friends either, were they? And they were backwards just like this place but at least their leader showed potential. What was her name again? Ugh. Can’t remember.”
“You can’t remember her name and she is in your train?”
“She asked nicely. And your mum said she was cool. Apparently she has like a gazillion kids now. You know she tried to act like the queen bee when we were kids but I put her in her place fast. Only room for one in this hive and it ain’t her.”
I pulled out my phone and checked the time. I could no longer hear Greg and Wes making noises. The only sounds were of Belinda snorting like a horse, trying to clear the dust particles from her nostrils and the birdcalls from outside.
“What are they doing?” She asked, standing.
“I was just thinking the same thing myself,” I said. “Greg? Greg!” In response a series of talons scratched on the roof. I knew they were just lizards scrabbling across the hot zinc but Belinda screamed. “Ow! Belinda what the hell?” She stepped on my toe. I grabbed my foot in my hand and started hopping about.
“Do you think anything has happened to them?” Her eyes were saucers in her face.
“Are you kidding me?” Whatever patience I had left evaporated. Belinda was looking at me as if I was the hardy knight and she the damsel in distress. “You grew up here!”
“I did not grow up here!” She clasped her hands together. “I don’t know what fetish things you have here. Remember you told me there was a shrine around here?”
“There are shrines everywhere. Stop that,” I smacked her hands away as she tried to grab me. She was either a very good actress or a very bad one, but she was beginning to spook me. “Greg?” I tried again.
“Wes? Honey?” called Belinda. Our voices came back to us. We sounded scared.
“This is stupid. I am going to look for them,” I started down the hallway, Belinda right on my heels, taking two steps for every one of mine. It was darker than the classroom we had been standing in. The gloom was broken up by screen walls letting in a latticework of sunbeams a intervals, otherwise Belinda might not have followed. Her breathing filled the hallway.
“Do you have to breathe so loudly,” I asked. She clapped a hand over her mouth, and crept on beside me. I shook my head and opened the door to the next classroom. “Guys?” The next one was the same; no sign of the two of them. I noticed that the door out the other end of the hallway was slightly open at the same time that Belinda did.
“They probably just went…” she began. The door to our left bust open and two white figures burst out.
I stumbled, lashing out with my right arm. It connected with solid flesh behind one of the figures and it sat down with a thump. Belinda shrieked so loudly that she woke the bats nesting in the ceiling. Two of them flew out and made for another darkened corner. The last I saw of Belinda she was running with the other white figure in pursuit.
“Ow. You pack quite a punch,” said Wes’ voice. The figure on the ground rubbed its left cheek.
“Wes? What are you playing at?” My arm was still raised but my knees were together to stop the involuntary squirt of urine from becoming an eruption. I pulled the sheet away. Wes was laughing. “You think that was funny? Where did you even get these?”
“In that cupboard in the corner. I think this is the art room. God, I have a headache. Why did you hit me?”
“Why did you scare me?”
“We were joshing around. Help me up,” he said raising a hand. I pulled him up and he swayed on his feet.
“Are you alright?” I asked, stepping back to give him room.
“No. My ears are ringing. Damn girl.”
“That should tell you never to try and scare me next time.”
“I have learnt my lesson. Scouts’ honour. I will never try to scare you again,” Wes said, raising two fingers.
“Were you in the Scouts’?” I asked innocently. His eyes were twinkling again.
“No,” he said. I punched him in the arm. “Ow! What was that for?”
“For lying,” I said walking away. I heard a sound behind me and turned. Wes leaned on the door jamb, a strange look on his face. “Aren’t you coming?” I asked.
“In a minute,” he said, rubbing his arm up and down. “I think I like watching you leave.”
“I can’t believe you hit him,” said Belinda. “You better hope he doesn’t have a bruise in our wedding photos.”
“I thought he was a ghost! At least I did better than you did. You just ran off screaming.”
“You thought he was a ghost so you hit him?” Belinda was incredulous.
“I’ll tell my other ghostly brethren to watch out. You are kick-ass,” said Wes. “I will wear my bruises with honour.” He touched his cheek. It was still a little red but stretched out as he was at the poolside in his swimming shorts, nobody was looking at it. His body was even better than I remembered; six-pack, strong arms, sculpted pecs. A cluster of girls giggled loudly two tables away and the boldest of them kept turning around to give him lingering looks.
“Wes, honey,” said Belinda. “Could you do my back?” She passed him the bottle of sunscreen. Wes sat up in his deckchair and undid the straps of her bikini top. Belinda held her hands over the cup as he slathered the cream all over her back, tossing her head back and ‘Mmming’ loudly. The bold girl hissed and turned back to her friends. She said something and they all started laughing. She gave Belinda dirty looks. “Thank you, boo,” she said when he was done. Before he could do up her straps, she gave him a big wet kiss.
“You two need to be married, asap,” said Greg returning with drinks. Wes made to pull away but Belinda deepened the kiss, pressing her chest to his. Her breasts spilled out under her armpits. I couldn’t tell if Wes was red from the sun, turned on or whether he was a little embarrassed. The bold girl hissed again, a long drawn out one that carried and Greg sized up the situation. “Okay, I get it. Please continue.”
He passed me a Fanta Chapman in a glass with a straw and set out the other drinks on the table; a glass of soda water and lemon for Belinda and a bottle of Remy Martin with two glasses. Belinda broke off the kiss to take a sip of her drink..
“God, kissing is thirsty work. I’m going for a dip,” she announced. She tied her bikini top and stalked off to the deep end, walking past the group of girls. She stopped. “I like your hair,” she said to the bold girl in her American accent. The girl narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
“Thanks,” she said, but I could see her checking out Belinda’s toned body in her mismatched designer bikini and realising that she could not compete, just as Belinda intended she should.
“Where did you get this cut done?” She asked, fingering the girl’s hair. “I hope you don’t think I am being rude. Oh shit, my ring’s caught,” Belinda laughed self-consciously. “This is so embarrassing.” By the time she pulled her hand out of the other girl’s weave, she had stolen all the girl’s friends. They were cooing over the stone, while the other girl sat with a frozen smile on her face.
“Another one bites the dust,” said Greg. I caught his eye and smiled. I kept forgetting how perceptive he was. “I bet you N500 that she’s inviting those girls to your wedding right now,” he said to Wes.
Wes laughed, and poured himself a drink. I knew Greg was right. She would want the bold girl to be utterly humiliated. She had to know that there were not of the same calibre in any way. That was Belinda all over. Why win when you could vanquish?
“Where’s the grub dude? I’m starved.” Wes slapped his belly.
“It’s coming,” Greg said. He took a sip of his drink and watched the people frolicking in the pool. Silence settled over our group. A girl in the water broke away and swam towards us. She flicked her fingers splattering Greg with droplets of water. Greg smiled.
“You’re too handsome to just lie there like that. Get in the water,” her voice was as deep and as cool water.
I made a face. “Please don’t tell him that,” I said. “His head is big enough as it is.
The girl flicked him again and another of her friends swam over to join her. The splashed and whined until Greg gave in. He executed a shallow dive and didn’t come up. The first girl shrieked when he tugged her under, followed by the other one. He rose up, carrying her on his shoulders and sank down again.
“So, what the story with you two?” asked Wes. He closed one eye, the better to see me in the sun.
“Story? What do you mean ‘story’? We are just friends.”
“Good,” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
Wes shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess…never mind.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You should go swim.”
I pulled my towel higher on my abdomen covering up my, one-piece suit. It was an optical illusion of a suit, black on the sides to make my waist thinner than it actually was and yellow everywhere else. “No, thank you.”
“Com’on. I’ll go if you go.” Wes changed eyes, squinting through the other one.
“No. Wes, listen about this morning…”
“What about this morning, Abby?” He opened both eyes.
I forgot what I was trying to say. “I’ve forgotten what I was about to say,” I confessed feeling foolish.
“You too, huh?” Wes got off his deckchair and took Greg’s place on the table, below the huge umbrella.
‘No, not me!’ I wanted to scream. I would have walked away then but after what he said in the morning, it would be practically the same as admitting that it had affected me. That I still found him attractive. That I knew he did me. A waiter arrived with the nibbles, setting them down before Wes as if he was a king. Wes tipped him with a handful of brown notes which he pulled out from this wallet lying on the table.
“How much did you tip him?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Stop trying to change the subject,” said Wes.
“I am not.”
“God, Abby,” he said, running his hand through his hair again. “I almost kissed you today. Did you know that?” He looked to where Belinda was still chatting with the girls. “God help me. I wanted to.”
“But you didn’t. You’re a decent…”
“I still want to.”
I swallowed. The sugar from the Fanta made my teeth feel like velvet. I looked to Greg for help but he was still splashing about in the pool. The girls had formed one team and the boys another, each one trying to dunk the other under. Greg was grappling with a girl who seemed to be more engrossed with wriggling in his arms than playing the game, his biceps bunched with the effort of keeping her in check.
“Wes,” I began.
“Don’t say my name like that,” he shook his head. “You’ll murder my resolve.”
I could breathe again. “I’m glad you’re resolved.”
“I’m not,” he leaned back and shook his head. Suddenly he twisted out of the seat. “Geronimo!” he shouted before jumping into the pool. I wasn’t sure if there was a bulge in his swimming shorts or not but just the thought of it was enough to quicken my heartbeat. I remembered.
The Fanta in my glass didn’t hold any appeal. I reached over, picked up Greg’s glass and downed the brandy in it.