And so it was that seven minutes after we arrived at the joint, I was feeling considerably better. We were early but since it wasn’t a normal night out, the place was already jam-packed and speakers blasted out the latest Nigerian hits. In their corner, the live band prepped for the night ahead; the guitarists cutting through the track with twangs of their strings and the lead singer saying ‘Testing One, Two’ so many times into the microphone, it was apparent he only wanted to draw attention to himself. Not that he needed to. He was a man who eclipsed the rest of the band and his shirt and trousers would have been more than sufficient to make them all uniforms. Not only that but he was sweating profusely, droplets which glinted in the light like jewels hung off his eyelashes and chin. And he wasn’t even doing anything yet.
Sarah jumped up the minute her bottom touched the seat, as if it was on fire and disappeared towards the building which housed the main bar. Tonight she was dressed in a pair of pink sequinned shorts, so small they could easily have been pants and a baggy, cut-off t-shirt. Underneath, she wore some black mesh confection, same colour as her t-shirt. When she raised her arms or moved, the mesh alternatively revealed and hid her flesh. All eyes were glued on her but in her black shoe boots, she stomped all their too-keen glances into dust. I watched her walk towards our table, beaming at the waiter bearing our tray of drinks as if he was a lifesaver. He looked dazed.
“Just put it there,” she said pointing. The waiter obeyed, setting the tray down with the reverence usually reserved for royalty. He tried not to look at her shorts, tripping over his feet as he left. I shook my head.
“ Poor guy,” I said. “Why are you torturing all these poor men?” I was joking but the look she flashed me showed she had taken offence.
“Poor men, my ass. I am polite, I am nice, I do not lead anybody on. Half of these men that are looking at me like I am chicken would bash my head in if they knew I preferred the company of women. The other half would try to convert me – their methods might very much include the same things as the other group. So don’t ‘Poor men’ me. They can look but I am not dressing for them.”
“Whoa! Easy. I was just kidding.” I raised my hands.
She sniffed. “Sorry. Sore spot.” She poured out her Heineken and took a long swallow. “You won’t believe how hard I work to keep myself safe. I am small and cute,” she made a disparaging gesture as if the word disgusted her. “I don’t just dress for myself, I dress for survival. And while they are looking at me, I am eating their wives.” I gasped. Sarah Amuah laughed, a sound as silvery as she was cute. It cut through the din. Even Mr Look-At-Me lead singer stopped and stared. Sarah laughed again.
“Speaking of, how is Sarah-Jane?” She made the question sound off-hand and she looked around the compound as she said it but something in her voiced caused the joke I was going to make die in my throat.
“She should be back after Christmas. Apparently, she had to have minor surgery.” I sipped my vodka, neat. It was smooth and burned down a treat. I had led us away from the lights, into the same spot I sat in a few weeks earlier with Merije, by the wall through which the gate opened. I had my back to the wall and could watch as people trooped in and out, taking as much of the party vibe outside the walls as was in. My chandelier earrings brushed my naked shoulders and I shuddered when goose bumps popped all over my skin. My scalp was extra-sensitive from the braids I had paid twice the already exorbitant Christmas season prices for. The girls who had come to plait my hair in the house were no more than thirteen and fifteen respectively but their mother was a well-known hair maker and her genes had passed on to her kids. The box-braids hung neat and straight in their little squares past my hips.
“Surgery?” Sarah Amuah looked wounded. He eyes went liquid and she searched my face for what I was not saying.
“OK, you are scaring me you know; your intensity. It was just appendicitis.”
“I am a pretty intense person. That’s why you love my work so much. And that’s why you brought me here today, as a drug for whatever is ailing you,” she looked away smiling. I had underestimated her. She waggled her eyebrows at me.
“Yeah, yeah, are you talking or are you drinking?” I swallowed the rest of my vodka and reached for the second glass she had bought me.
“I hear a challenge in there somewhere. The last time, I had barely started before you were slurring your speech and going on about a ‘Belinda’. Is that the person you’re running away from tonight?”
I scoffed. “As if. In fact, she will be here soon. She’s coming with my best friend Greg….if you were straight, I would have introduced you two. I think you will really hit it off.”
“Who says I don’t like guys?”
“But…but you said,” I could feel my brain trying to replicate the exact phraseology of our previous conversations but it was slow going. The vodka was burning up everything in its path. “I think my gaydar is broken.”
Sarah Amuah laughed again. “You should see your face,” she started pulling some, sticking her tongue out, puffing up her cheeks, crossing her eyes.
“You look like an imbecile.”
“That’s how you look,” she said. She took another swallow of her beer. “Look, human sexuality is fluid OK?”
“I’m not stupid. I know that. But you like Sarah Jane.” I knew I sounded naive but in that moment, I didn’t care. I was aware that Greg was on his way. I knew he was bringing Belinda. And Wes. I couldn’t keep still. It’s not that what Sarah Amuah was saying wasn’t interesting, but I needed her to keep talking, and if that meant sounding a little stupid then so be it.
“Have you ever seen someone and just known that you were meant to be with them? This thing with Sarah-Jane, it happened out of the blue. Yes, I have been with other women in the past, but…I wasn’t thinking about her that way in all the early correspondences. But the more I found out about her the more I had to know. I just…” She sighed, running her hand through her curls. “I just really like her. I like what she is about, I like how strong she appears. Don’t get me wrong, I am not crazy. I know she might not be what I expect but I have to try. If she can resist me then fair enough,” she shrugged. “But you did say it yourself; I am intense. I go after what I want with all I have. Until then, let’s not be crazy. I will meet this friend of yours too!” We clinked glasses and the look she gave me was so mischievous that I could not help laughing along with her. My earrings swung forward and backwards crazily. One of them ended up trapped in my hair and as I struggled to disentangle it, Sarah laughed all the more.
And that was how Wes found us.
The slow motion thing happened again. Wes walked in behind Belinda and Greg. Greg and Belinda gestured towards the fountain and the bar building behind it, but Wes jerked his head upright and turned his suddenly to the left as if he could hear me, as if he felt me looking at him. He stood looking in the darkness and even though I knew there was no way he could see me, my breath caught in my throat and my heart skipped a beat. When it picked up again it was with such ferocity that my skin prickled with the rush of blood flowing through it. Without waiting for his companions, Wes walked towards me, sliding in the spaces around the tables. He didn’t waver. I sat up straighter in my seat.
“Hi,” he said when he stood in front of me.
“Hi,” I said my voice barely a squeak. Wes was dressed in a black shirt with its sleeves folded up to just below his elbows, black trousers and what looked like black moccasins. He smelled of fresh air and cleanliness and dirty thoughts and the skin over where my heart should be rippled with every beat.
“You look nice,” he said. His eyes seemed to stand out in the dark. I could not look away from them.
“Thanks, errr…so do you,” I said, trying not to look him up and down. Sarah Amuah cleared her throat. “And this gorgeous creature is Sarah Amuah,” I finished in my brightest voice. Wes flashed her smile and the spell was broken. It felt as if I had travelled away from my own body and was slowly making it back. My knees shook.
“Hello” said Sarah, craning upwards to return his pecks on both cheeks.
“He’s my cousin Belinda’s fiancé,” I said and on cue Belinda stomped towards us, pleated mini skirt swishing.
“Ah, I see,” said Sarah Amuah and I wondered how much she saw. Just in case, I promised myself that I would be careful.
“Wes honey, don’t just wander off. We arrived together,” said Belinda stroking his arm. She tugged on his right shirt sleeve and he leaned over and kissed her briefly on the lips. When it seemed as if she wanted to deepen the kiss, he pulled away and said; “Drinks anyone? I got this one.”
Greg brought up the rear. “Nonsense. I brought you here, I got it.”
“Technically, I brought you all here so I got it,” I said, getting up. “I’ll go with you Greg.”
“Not until you introduce me,” said Sarah Amuah, batting her eyelashes at Greg. Belinda relaxed her stance, taking her arm away from where it was curled around Wes’ waist. Wes stopped rubbing the top of her head with his chin when the distance between them widened, making it awkward.
“Wait, are you Hurricane Sarah?” asked Greg.
“What?” Sarah Amuah threw her head back and her laughter rang out. “I have never heard anyone call me that. Is that your nickname?” she asked me. I nodded. I could tell she was pleased. “Well, Abby didn’t tell me you were this sexy,” she waggled her eyebrows again. “Are you a model?”
Greg laughed. He looped his thumbs in the waistband of his jeans and stuck a pose. “I wish,” he said, shaking his head. “Then I could retire at forty.” Truth was, Greg did look like a model in his light blue jeans and white white shirt. His watch was a heavy platinum thing circling his left wrist. It looked expensive. I was still getting my head around the fact that Greg said he was not gay but that still left the question of Eke and what he was doing with him to receive such gifts. Watches like he wore didn’t just fall from trees. I knew from experience. I was going to ask Greg about it later.
“Wow, Armpit Boils is giving nicknames now,” said Belinda breaking into my thoughts. Her smile seemed brittle.
“Be nice darling,” said Wes through gritted teeth. He gave her another kiss on her head.
“Armpit Boil is Belinda’s…” I began to dispel the embarrassment creeping around my neck, but Sarah Amuah raised a hand.
“I am not sure I want to know,” she said, chuckling. Belinda looked as if she had been struck. Sarah stood. Belinda was only about a head taller. “You must be Belinda. I am Sarah.”
“It’s B’lin. A pleasure I’m sure,” said Belinda. She stretched out her hand and she stepped forward at the same time. The light went on, on one of the posts on the far left and our little spot we were standing in brightened.
“It must be time to start dancing,” I said for want of what to say.
Belinda’s nails were a work of art; each one had a studding detail done up in different but complementing patterns. The middle finger even had a stud through it. Her swishy mini was a leather skirt and with it she wore a bustier sleeveless top and a tiny jacket.
“Wow. Cool nails,” said Sarah Amuah.
“Thanks,” said Belinda preening. She examined her nails as if she was just seeing them for the first time.
“Looks like you cousins like things that look like this, eh?” said Sarah Amuah, pointing at Belinda’s top. I could have died. Because that is when Wes looked at me, properly looked at me. He had been looking at my face all this while but as soon as his eyes took in what I was wearing, I watched his irises widen where previously, they had narrowed as the light came on.
“Coz,” Belinda purred. “You look halfway decent for once. Stand up, let me see the whole thing.”
“Belinda, stop it,” I said.
“Abuotito, you stop it. Stand up,” she grabbed my arm and yanked. I smacked her away. “You’re being ridiculous.” She threw her hands up in the air. “What is wrong with you?”
“I am not a performing monkey, Belinda.” My armpits were beginning to sweat.
“You’re right,” she said. “That is to say you’re not a performer. If you’ve got it, flaunt it I say. You obviously haven’t otherwise…”
“Oh for chrissakes, will you shut up?” I swung my heavy braids over my shoulder.
In the silence, I could hear my deodorant working overtime. I had a mirror, I knew how I looked. I wore a champagne-coloured full corset covered with intricate metalwork over navy skinny jeans and nude high-heeled peep-toes cut out on the instep. In the outfit, I couldn’t deny how much weight I had lost from everywhere but my bottom. It stood out even more now and was the only thing holding my jeans up since the waist was noticeably looser. Even the corset fit better – when I bought it, it was with my fantasy weight in mind. Now it looked like I was my at my fantasy weight. My swinging earrings completed the look. “Are you happy now?”
Sarah Amuah whistled. “You know I came with her, but nothing prepared me for that,” she circled my bottom with her fingers. “In its full glory. You should have seen the men staring at her. Only sitting in the dark has discouraged them from swarming all over our table.” She was clearly enjoying herself.
“I bet I could balance a glass on it, it’s like a shelf,” said Sarah reaching for my empty glass.
“It was not that bad,” I said sitting back down.
“It is,” Greg shook his head as if to clear it. “Seriously, when did you grow that thing?”
“I guess all that fat had to go somewhere right?” said Belinda laughed. Wes drew out a seat for her, with her back to the entrance and the rest of the compound.
“I gotta get a drink,” he said.
“Are you okay baby?” asked Belinda, stroking his cheek.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m good. I just gotta…I gotta go get something to drink. Man it’s hot out here,” Wes tugged on his collar.
“I’ll come with you,” said Greg. “Who wants what?”
The silence settled over us as the boys departed, Wes walking like a robot and Greg moving fluidly beside him like a shadow. The music playing over the speakers cut out.
“Testing One, Two,” said the lead singer again. The band struck up a chord and the crowd erupted into cheers as they recognised the tune.
“Oh yeah! This song has my name all over it!” Sarah Amuah stood up and started moving as he music started up. Belinda rolled her eyes and looked pointedly away.