“What?” I asked, stepping away from Wes.
“I’m serious Abby, I want to be with you all the time. I am crazy about you. I keep thinking about you, us in your flat in London. ‘Abbylissima’ you said, remember?” Wes grabbed my hands again. I could feel sweat prickling in my armpits and I badly wanted to scratch them.
“But what about Belinda?” I asked through the sinking feeling in my stomach. “You came here to marry her did you not? And what we had in London, it was a one-time thing.”
“I don’t know about Belinda, Abby,” Wes kneaded my bottom. “I don’t have all the answers. I just know that I can’t stop myself feeling this way. God, even right now with the risk of getting caught, I just want to stay in here with you forever. I want to lay you down and take off all your clothes and fuck you silly.”
“Wes,” the feeling in the put of my stomach turned ice cold. “That’s not…” I was going to say ‘That’s not love’ but as I replayed the conversation, I realised Wes hadn’t used those words, not actually. “Wes, this was a mistake.”
“No, Abby, no. Don’t say whatever you were going to say. We are good together. What we do is good, “ he grabbed both my hands again. “Would it be so wrong if it felt so good?”
“Wes, I’m hot, Uncle Vince is coming,” I said hearing my uncle’s footfalls down the hall. “We’ll talk about this later, okay?”
“God, Abby,” Wes ground into me. “See what you’re doing to me? I want to fuck you right here, right now. I don’t care who sees it.” Wes was rock hard. When I gave him a little squeeze with my hand he had placed on his crotch, he groaned so loudly, that I clamped my other hand over his mouth.
“Wes, stop. I have to…we have to stop. I have to go okay? Your fiancée has decided on a slumber party for tonight.” My head swam. The pantry was suffocating. I reached for the door. “Why do you want to marry her then?” I didn’t know if the question was more for him or myself but I didn’t wait for the answer. I pushed open the door and walked out.
“Ah there you two are,” said Uncle Vince. “I was just dialling your number Wes. Are you ready to go?”
I knew then that Wes had walked out right behind me. I prayed his erection was one of the fast dissipating ones.
“Wes and I are planning a surprise for Belinda. She’s stressing and has now decided that she wants a slumber party with all her bridesmaids tonight. I think Wes needs to do more to calm her down, instead of having a boys’ day with you, Uncle.” I was prattling and I knew it but I couldn’t stop myself. My heart still raced from Wes’ words. When I looked at him he was smiling at my uncle, his eyes completely normal, no hint of the self that wanted to do bad things to me a moment earlier.
“I have the rest of her life to calm her down, am I right dad?” he asked.
“I don’t even want to know what that means,” said Uncle Vince. “Let’s go, Wesley. See you, Abby.” He kissed my forehead.
“After you,” said Wes when they got to the door. As the door shut behind them, Wes turned to me, winked and blew me a kiss.
My cousin Belinda was adept at inspiring the right amounts of fear and reverence. And so it was that at eight pm prompt, the bridesmaids started arriving, dressed in their night time finery, if you could call it that. There were more pyjamas and t-shirt combos in attendance than anything I slept in (mostly nude) or that Belinda did (barely there).
“Hi, ya’ll!” she stood at the top of the stairs like a queen welcoming her royal subjects. She wore an open peach-coloured satin robe which trailed behind her like a cape. Her negligee comprised a lace-edged camisole and tiny shorts the same colour as her robe. Belinda took the stairs one at a time. “Thank you all for coming. The room’s been set up for us tonight. This way girls.” She led the way to the second reception room which we all referred to as ‘The Small Parlour’.
There was a collective gasp when she pushed open the door. The Small Parlour was anything but at the best of times – it was bigger than my mother’s kitchen, dining and living room combined. And right now it was crammed full of food; jollof and fried rice, chicken, beef and lamb dishes, plantains, cupcakes, chin-chin, puff-puff, different types of cakes, and lots and lots of wine and champagne.
“Help yourselves to whatever you need,” said Belinda. “We’re going to need to take a vote on what films we want to watch from pile I selected for the evening, but for now, I hope you’re hungry!”
“I thought you said she only planned this in the afternoon,” Sarah Amuah whispered to me. Unlike the rest of us, she was dressed in a skimpy white teddy inside a navy-blue ankara robe. She looked virginal. I had seen Belinda give her an evil look when we entered, but Sarah flashed her a grin and pretended not to notice.
“She did,” I said, frowning. “But you know Belinda. Whatever she wants, she will get. She probably threatened the poor cook.”
“Yes, but in one afternoon? Such volumes of food…it’s impossible,” said Sarah. I shrugged and said nothing.
“Otito, why are you standing over there whispering? Mingle. There’s lots of food,” said Belinda. “I wouldn’t have thought you would be slow to take…anything.”
“Enough with the fat jokes Belinda.” I smiled but I could already feel the strain of what was sure to be a very long evening. Belinda’s eyes were over-bright I thought. She was acting as if she had had a sip of something strong and it was making her careless. “There are other people besides us here.”
“Oh, we’re all friends aren’t we? We’re family. I’m sure they know how we all joke together.”
I didn’t know her bridesmaids. The ones I grew up with battled between looking pleased that Belinda had chosen them to be on her train and looking bewildered since they barely knew her. I wasn’t about to let Belinda joke with me that way in front of a bunch of strangers before we had been properly introduced.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if told everyone what you were like when we were kids,” I said. “Aren’t you going to introduce all of us?”
“Oh, that’s a great idea! Everyone listen up! Otito my cousin has decided on a game for us to play after we eat. It’ll be called ‘Who Am I?’. We could…” Belinda fluttered her manicured hand, thinking up the rules of her game ‘We could write out our different characteristics, like dislikes, hobbies, that sort of thing on bits of paper, put it in a bowl and then we have to guess which one of us is being described as we read it out. How’s that?” There were murmurs of assent from around the room.
“Great!” said Belinda, “I’ll get some pens and paper. This is so exciting.”
Sarah Amuah shrugged and went off to join the queue for food. First there were the plates and trays, then the mains and desserts and then drinks with straws and glasses. Everything smelled so inviting, so lovely. My stomach grumbled but I couldn’t think about eating. My mind was occupied with Wes.
“I’m baaaack,” said Belinda sashaying in with pens and coloured paper pre-cut into squares. “Otito why aren’t you eating? Is it because of what I said? Don’t be so sensitive.”
“It’s not that, Belinda…” I started.
“Everyone knows that bottom fat is not from eating food anyway. It’s from doing bad-bad things,” Ezinne piped up. “Otito, why don’t you just marry so that you can do those things without shame? It’s showing on your body. Men will know.”
Silent but deadly, I said to myself. Ezinne had not changed and I was right about my instincts to avoid her all along. Now that Toochi was absent, she had declared herself the unofficial replacement over the more loquacious Oluchi, who at the moment was more concerned with punishing a chicken drumstick.
“Abi o?” Oluchi said with her mouth full nodding her head and looking me up and down. Belinda made a face. “All you career girls. Everybody knows that no man wants a career woman in his house making trouble for him. Will career keep you warm at night? Will it give you babies?”
“Is it not the hotel you came back to build that burnt to the ground?” Ezinne continued. Belinda chuckled to herself. I flashed her a look and she raised her hands in a gesture of blamelessness.
“What is this? Is today ‘Attack Abby’ day?” I asked.
“I thought your name was Otito? Which one is Abby again?” asked Ezinne warming to her topic.
“Maybe she wants to be white now. Changing your name will not make you white,” said Oluchi, licking her fingers. She reached for another drumstick.
“Oh, please. Respect yourselves. If I want to be called ‘Abby’ I have the right to be called that. It has nothing to do with you so why don’t you just eat your food?” I asked. “I am sure Belinda has gone to a lot of trouble for all this to go to waste.”
Ezinne’s eyes flashed. “Look at her. Just because she has gone to London she thinks she is better than the rest of us,” she said.
“Ezinne, what is your problem?” I asked the question in my lowest voice, but it shook from rage. We were attracting attention.
“Ladies, ladies, what’s all this? I thought we were having a good time?” A look passed between Belinda and Ezinne but before I could say anything, she continued. “Let’s just relax and have a good time. Wha’dya say?”
“Ask your cousin, the Queen of England what her problem is, B’lin,” said Ezinne. Her thick accent struggled over the unfamiliar name. “And my name is no longer Ezinne. It’s Ezzy.”
“And my name is not Oluchi, it’s ‘Luchy,” Oluchi piped up.
I hissed and turned on my heel as laughter erupted behind me. “Come back cuz, we’re just kidding! You know it’s how girls do!”
I forced myself to turn with supreme effort. I smiled. “I am not walking out. I need to make a call. I’ll be right back,” I said.
“Good, hurry okay? Your mum and my mum will be joining is soon. It’s a real women’s convention today huh?” Belinda grabbed me. She kissed both my cheeks hard. “Relax, cuz. It will soon be over.”
“It will,” I said thinking about her wedding, about how much I missed Greg now that he was not talking to me. “I just need to call Greg. I’ll be right back.”
I tried Greg’s number six times. He didn’t answer.
I stood outside the backdoor for a while, replaying Belinda’s smirk and Ezinne’s barbed words. I felt my heart beating against my crossed arms as if it wanted to jump away. My chest heaved. I thought about Wes and shook my head. Belinda was enough to make anyone go off the deep end. Even as I said this to myself, I wondered about Wes himself. We’d had so much fun but it really should have stopped in London. There was no need for it to continue and now…now what was I in for?
‘Just say the word, Abby’.
It felt cowardly to me. If he didn’t want to go through with the wedding, why would he wait for me to ‘say the word’? Why not just call it off? And what if I said the word? It wasn’t so much what people would think of me as it was living with Wes. He had a beautiful body and those eyes…! And yes, in London if he had stayed for breakfast, there might have been something between us. But he hadn’t and there wasn’t, so it was moot. I started dialing Greg again and changed my mind. What else would he say that he hadn’t said before, that I hadn’t already told myself since the day of our failed copulation?
I grinned wryly. That is to say I failed to come. Wes hadn’t. Dwelling on it made me feel weird. Churlish.
I breathed in and out deeply and felt much better. Wes might always excite me but there was nothing there, there could be nothing between us. He had come down to marry my cousin and no matter what I felt about her, I could not be the person to break them up. They deserved to find out if they would last the old fashioned way. But Wes had been honest with me in person. He deserved to hear my answer that way.
‘Can we meet up? I need to tell you something.’ I didn’t hear anything back.
“Hey,” said a voice behind me. Sarah Amuah stood there watching me. “Are you alright? You’ve been out here a while.”
“Yeah, I needed the fresh air,” I said, tucking my phone away into the breast pocket of my pyjamas.
“Why do you let her talk to you like that?” she asked. “If any cousin of mine tried that they would be spitting out their teeth.”
I looked at her in her mesh-work black heels and knew she was speaking the truth.
“Let’s go back inside,” I said. It was difficult to explain. “I wish Greg was here.”
Belinda had two glasses of champagne in her hands when I came back. “Hey cuz!” she screamed as I came in. “We thought you were going to sleep outside forever.” She downed both glasses of champagne and tottered towards me. “Were you out there calling Gobbling Greg…?”
“Don’t call him that,” I said.
“Oh Gobbling Greg, save me, Belinda is being so mean!” She made a face, prancing about like a demented bat. She elicited a few titters, mainly from Ezinne and Oluchi. The rest of her audience smiled. “Why don’t you just grow up, Otito? You’ve been doing the same thing since we were kids.”
“Belinda I think you’ve had too much to drink,” I said. She picked up glass of wine. I took it from her. “And it’s not your business if I call Greg or not.” I took a sip from the glass.
“Yes, why don’t you just go ahead and take my wine? Huh? That’s all you do is take, take, take isn’t it?
“Belinda, I’ve heard of cold feet but this is ridiculous.”
“Can we get back to the game now?” asked Ezinne. Beside her, Oluchi tucked into a big bowl of ice cream. I didn’t think I had been outside that long but all the girls were at various stages of dessert.
“Oh, yes, the game!” Belinda threw her hands. “It’s my turn to pick isn’t it?” She skipped to Ezinne’s side, closed her eyes and picked out a folded piece of paper. Belinda’s manic energy made me wary. It was not like when Sarah Amuah swept people along to heights of ecstasy, this was something different. Belinda’s eyes were too bright and not just from drink. Something about her seemed jagged and non-bridal. And all I wanted to do was take her outside and dunk her head in the pool. She was driving me more insane than usual.
“Ooh,” she said. She put a finger to her lips as if whatever she was reading from the paper was too salacious to share.
“What does it say?” asked Ezinne.
“I don’t think I should,” said Belinda. Her eyes narrowed. Her smile seemed to have been carved into her face. It was the parody of a smile. “Maybe Otito should read it,” she said.
“Hey! She hasn’t put anything in the bowl herself. Why should she read our stuff eh?” said Oluchi. The other girls gave varying degrees of assent or dissent. Through it all, Belinda held out the paper to me, unmoving. I crossed the floor and snatched it from her hand.
I wanted to be sick. My stomach churned and I realised I hadn’t had much to eat all day when I tasted acid on the back of my tongue.
“Well?” asked one of the other bridesmaids, when I didn’t say anything. “What does it say? I’m dying to know.”
“I’ll tell you what it says,” said Belinda getting to her feet. “It says: ‘I am a dirty whore who is sleeping with my cousin’s fiancé. Who am I?”
“Belinda what the hell…?” I started to say. Ezinne smirked. Oluchi’s eyes were as round as saucers.
“I’ll tell you the answer!” Belinda screamed. “It’s Otito. The fucking home wrecking bitch who is sleeping with her cousin’s fiancé is you!” She flung her hand at me and something struck my eyelid. I looked down.
It was the other half of my button.