“You have nothing to say for yourself, huh bitch?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I said pointing at the button on the floor.
Belinda cackled. She tossed her head back and gave the most dramatic laugh I had ever heard. It was as if she was reading out her lines: ‘Ha ha ha ha ha!’
She crossed her arms, shooting daggers at me. “Oh, is that how you’re going to play that? You’re going to stand there and pretend nothing is happening are you?” Belinda’s voice rang in the silence of the room. Everyone stopped eating, stopped smiling, and stopped talking. The silence was deafening.
“Do you know my cousin Ndu?” asked Ezinne. Her gleeful expression seemed out of place in a roomful of people whose faces registered varying degrees of shock, discomfort and surprise at the turn the evening had taken.
“What?” I asked, startled by her line of questioning.
“My cousin, Ndubisi. You know him. He was in primary two when we were in primary six, elephant ears, used to cry a lot…no? Of course you would not remember him. He is too small to notice is he not? But you, you’re a big madam building a hotel. Everyone knows you.”
“Look, Belinda, I am leaving. I am sure this is your idea of a joke but I don’t find it funny.” My voice quavered. I hoped no one noticed.
“Do you know where I found that button, Armpit Boils?” asked Belinda. Ezinne tittered. “I found it in the cuff of Wes’ jeans. What did he do? Rip your dress open?” Belinda nodded, eyes glittering as she walked towards me. “He does that. He likes to rip my dress off too.”
“My cousin Ndubisi, remember he used to have bow legs?” Ezinne said.
“Will you quit it with your damned cousin Ndubisi!” I yelled at her. I couldn’t focus on the both of them at once; Ezinne distracting me with her asinine conversation, Belinda creeping steadily closer. I was sure there was a point to it but I wasn’t thinking straight. All I wanted to do was to get out of there with the minimum of fuss and some measure of dignity. And then call Wes and tell him what I was going to do face-to-face: ‘It is over.’
“Guys, lay off her okay? This isn’t funny,” said Sarah Amuah.
“Fuck off, lesbo bitch. Nobody invited you,” Belinda purred silkily, not bothering to look at her. It was as if she had rehearsed those lines as well and was waiting for her cue.
“My cousin Ndubisi told me a very interesting tale a few days ago. Apparently he was under the illusion that you were the one marrying an oyibo. We got into a quarrel because of it in fact…” said Ezinne.
“He saw you, okay slut? Don’t even try to deny it. He said your pants were on the floor and the room was a mess.” Belinda exchanged a conspiratorial look with Ezinne. “Her cousin is the receptionist for the Okido hotel. He saw you. And afterwards when Wes ordered room service… you could imagine my surprise, especially since I knew Wes was working with you. You don’t work in your robe do you?”
“Maybe she does,” said Oluchi. “Maybe that is now she got her job. I thought you said she was a secretary? How come she is now building a hotel, eh?”
“Good point, Oluchi,” said Belinda. Oluchi looked like a dog with a juicy bone. If she had a tail, it would be wagging. “And then I find your button in Wes’ jeans…”
“You know what?” I stood my ground. My body was beginning to tremble. It was as if a rushing wind filled the room and goosebumps popped on my skin as a roaring filled my ears. The other girls didn’t seem to notice. “You’re crazy. I don’t have time for this.” I turned to leave.
“Look out!” Sarah Amuah shouted.
Someone launched themselves at me and I went down. I heard laughter. Oluchi was on top of me. I tried to push her off but she must have been eating all that food for this very moment because I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.
“Turn her around! “Belinda screamed. Someone grabbed my legs and I kicked out. Ezinne fell. I took the opportunity of being turned to hit Oluchi in the stomach. She clutched it and started retching.
Ezinne looked at her in disgust. She turned to me and tried to push me down as I scrambled to get up. I punched her in the throat. As she coughed, two girls I had not been introduced to came forward. I knew I had to get Belinda to act.
“What is this, Belinda?” I asked. “You’re sending your minions to do what you can’t?”
“I don’t want to break a nail,” she said. “Besides, I don’t think you’re worth my energy.”
“I bet that’s what you say to Wes. That’s why he’s cheating on you,” I said.
Belinda kicked at me with her feathered high-heeled mules as I lay on the floor. I rolled away. I struck out at Belinda as she rushed me, hoping to sweep her little body to the side like disused clothing. I miscalculated. She was on top of me. She pulled my hair, slamming my head into the floor. Stars exploded in front of my eyes.
“You let go of her!” I heard Sarah Amuah say. Belinda was on the ground. “Stop it.” Belinda slapped her down with the back of her hand.
“This is between us, Sarah,” I said getting off the floor. Belinda had taken me unawares and now my skin was on fire from her nails. “You try that shit, again Belinda and I will smack you down.”
“Oh, now you can talk,” she pushed at Sarah Amuah. “Get off me, lesbiana!”
Sarah held on. “Behave yourselves! You are acting like children.”
“We should leave!”
“Someone should separate them now!”
“Is it your business? Let them fight.” That was Ezinne.
“Spoilt brat!” That was me.
It was a free-for-all. It was as if everyone was possessed, as if we had infected them. I couldn’t tell who was trying to stop Ezinne and the now recovered Oluchi, I didn’t know who was on whose side. Grievances were aired in slaps, knocks, pulls, somebody’s wig sailed through the air and landed in the ceiling fan.
I got to my feet. Belinda lunged for me again and I side-stepped, meaning to trip her up. I tripped instead on the coffee table and fell backwards shattering the glass. Belinda was on me again. She weighed nothing on most days but the fury in her eyes made her determined. She pushed me backward into the broken glass. I tried to push her off but someone was holding my arm. I looked up. A feral Ezinne grinned back.
“Hit her, B,” she said. Belinda raised her hand to obey. I spat into Ezinne’s eyes. She howled and let go. I twisted suddenly and Belinda fell off.
“You’ve always been jealous of me, ever since we were kids! I gave you everything and still you were never grateful!” Belinda screamed.
I brushed myself off. My back felt as if it had been cut to ribbons and I could feel a cold liquid all over my back. “Grateful? Grateful? You treated me like I was some poor relation and expected me to grovel for crumbs!” I said.
“Don’t think about it,” Sarah Amuah said to her joining me on my side of the room. She did not look me in the eye but the gesture pleased me all the same. “You’re bleeding,” she said to me.
“Newsflash, you were a poor relation,” said Belinda. She smoothed her hair into order. “I did you a favour, coming to spend holidays in this one-horse town with you and Gobbling Greg.”
“Oh, now the truth comes out,” I said. “You did me a favour? Wherever you went, all you did was take, take take. You took my friends…”
“You had no friends. And is it my fault people prefer me to you?” asked Belinda.
“People prefer your money. Look around you. You had to threaten and cajole and influence your way into a bridal train. Which person here is your real friend? Hands up if you are,” I threw the challenge to the room. “No Belinda, don’t turn around. I want to see who raises their hands when you’re not looking.”
“You’re a moron,” she said. “And a whore to boot. I knew you were not to be trusted. Even when we were kids.”
“Anybody who has ever known you has hated you. Do you think I met Wes here? I met him in London while he was celebrating his Bachelor’s Weekend. That’s right! Way back when.” I clicked my fingers for emphasis. “He wanted me then and he still wants me now. ‘Just say the word, Abby’! That’s all your marriage is to him. I can’t believe I even felt sorry for you.”
Belinda looked shocked. Her mouth dropped open slightly, but I only saw it because I was watching for it. She recovered quickly. “Hahahahah!” she laughed. “You think you’re something special? You think you’re the first big butt ho he’s propositioned? He says that to everyone! Poor Armpit Boils, thinking her Prince Charming has finally come. Well in this fairy tale, I’m Cinderella honey.” Her words dripped like poisoned honey from her lips.
“Tell her, B,” said Ezinne. “Walking around all the time like her shit doesn’t smell, she is actually beginning to believe she is worth something.”
“Shut up Ezinne. She doesn’t care about you any more than you do about her. You just like causing trouble and gossiping. Oh my God,”
I froze as it occurred to me.
“You planned all this didn’t you? You knew all along and you were just playing one of your sick, twisted games, weren’t you?” I shook my head, looking around at the food and drink and all the trouble. “You wanted everyone around while you humiliated me including…” I looked around. “…our mothers. That was why you invited them, wasn’t it?”
Belinda righted her lipstick with the edge of a nail. Her face wrinkled in distaste. “And surprise, surprise Shamu has disappointed me yet again. All she had to do was bring your mother here on time and she failed.” Belinda rolled her eyes. “Honestly, I bet she was busy stuffing her face and forgot.”
That’s your mother you’re talking about, I thought. The mother who gave birth to you.
Belinda misjudged the look on my face. “Oh come on. You didn’t really buy all that did you?” Why would I come to you for anything? Watch.”
She started sniffling. Great big tears fell from her eyes. She looked so forlorn that the ladies in the room shuffled, caught out by the need to offer her comfort and not being sure that they should. “Otito, I think…” she gulped. “I think Wes is having an affair.” Her lips trembled.
I had seen the whole thing before and it didn’t move me. “Just quit it Belinda.”
Belinda started laughing as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s that easy, stupid. I am an actress.”
“I don’t know how I never saw it before. I thought you were just spoilt and mean…but you’re bad. You’re a vile, vile person.” I shook my head. “I give it to you. That was an Oscar winning performance.”
Belinda bowed slightly. “There can be only one Queen, Otito, and I am it. You know,” she tapped the tears from her eyelashes with one finger. “I thought I should give you a chance. I thought you would feel guilty and confess everything. I would have forgiven you because I am a bigger person. Instead you were quite willing to walk out of my room holding onto your precious little secret.” Her smile did not reach her eyes. “I guess acting runs in the family. You should try it professionally. Maybe Nollywood. I don’t think you’re ready for the big leagues.”
“Wes is welcome to you. You both deserve each other,” I said.
“Look at Miss Thing, acting like she didn’t have my sloppy seconds,” said Belinda.
“Yes, but I am not still going ahead to marry a liar and a cheat because I am afraid that nobody else will have me,” I replied. The girls ‘Oohed’. One look from Belinda settled them into silence. I smiled. The clique was breaking up.
“At least I have Wes,” she looked around when Ezinne made a sound of approval. “You have nothing, creeping about on your belly after other people’s men like the worm that you are.” Belinda picked up the robe that had fallen on the floor during the fight and slipped her arms into it. “Everybody loves me, even your own mother prefers me to you, always has.”
I gasped without meaning to. Belinda knew she had hit a nerve. She smirked.
“I’ll tell you all a secret right now guys,” she looked around the room as if she was on stage. “Otito’s mother wishes she wasn’t born. And why should she?” she continued, ignoring the murmurs around her. “Bad blood will always show. A snake will always birth a snake.” She was stalking me again, moving ever closer as she spoke, words falling from her lips like thorns. “And everybody knows, nothing good ever comes from a child born of rape.”
“Belinda!” My mother walked into the room. I had never seen her look so livid.
Belinda’s face crumpled. I could see the faux-tears forming as she turned to face my mum. “Aunty, thank God you’re here. It’s Otito. Otito slept with my Wes.” She sobbed. “My wedding…is…next…tomorrow… and she…and she…”
“Oh God,” muttered Sarah Amuah. “Why won’t this girl grow up?”
I could see my mother softening, swayed by Belinda’s tears. My spirits seemed to whoosh out of me leaving an empty shell. Of course my mother was going to take her side. I felt like I was nine. Belinda and my mother always seemed to bring it out of me.
“She slept with my fiancé!” The tears were flowing freely now. Ezinne looked amused. Oluchi looked bemused.
God, this girl is an idiot, I thought looking at Oluchi. I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for them all. Belinda would discard them like used toilet paper now that she was done. There was no way she was going to let them hang around now with all they knew. She was willing to shoot herself in the foot just to humiliate me and they were all going to pay the price. Did they really think that once she left, she would remember them? Belinda used people. The end.
“Let’s go,” said Sarah Amuah tugging on my arm. Again, she had read it correctly. I was emotionally and physically drained by the charade.
“Hold on, Otito,” said my mother. She had her arms crossed on front of her. Aunty Mabel came in panting. I saw Belinda pause in her dramatics long enough to shoot her a look full of such spite that she shrank back.
“Belinda, who told you that Otito’s father was a rapist? Where did you hear such a thing?” My mother’s voice was icy cold. It had been a long, long time since I heard her sound this way.
“My dear, you know how children are,” said Aunty Mabel. “I am sure she didn’t mean anything by it,” she said, quick to defend her daughter. How much does she know? I wondered.
My mother raised her hand. Aunty Mabel’s eyes looked like dinner plates. “Not now, Mabel dear. I am sure she can speak for herself.”
Belinda sniffed. “Aunty everybody knows…I mean it’s not your fault saddled with that.” She stabbed the air in my general direction with a finger. I was numb. Nothing could hurt me anymore. I was just watching everything unfold as if I was as not a part of it. I could see on my mother’s face a quiet sort of determination that I had not seen in a while. She was not swayed after all. She was going to get to the root of things. Her night time boubou flapped in the breeze from the open door behind Aunty Mabel.
“Who told you?” my mother asked.
Belinda saw at the same time as I did. My mother was resolute. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” she threw her hands up in the air, all traces of tears gone. “My mother did okay? You know she did. What that man did to you, I’ve always felt sorry for you, Aunty…”
“Sorry for me?” My mother stood up straight.
“No, you know what I mean,” said Belinda. She sidled up to my mother and hugged her. “Don’t be angry. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just…Otito slept with Wes!”
“Eh?” Aunty Mabel ambled into the room. As if for the first time she took in the upturned cushions and the broken coffee table. “You slept with who? Which Wes?” Aunty Mabel narrowed her eyes at me. She looked fit to spit. “You jealous wretch. I saw the way you were looking at him. Why don’t you go and…”
“Simmer down, mum. I already took care of it,” said Belinda rolling her eyes. Aunty Mabel had been gearing herself up for a full scale verbal assault. Her chest was pumped full of unused air, her breasts almost under her chin. She looked around for someone to unleash it on.
“You felt sorry for me,” my mother stroked Belinda’s cheek. “You felt sorry for me,” she said again, speaking more to herself than Belinda. “I remember a party…I think it was Toochi’s, Otito do you remember? She didn’t invite you but everyone in your class had been invited.” My mother was looking at me. “I found you under the bed, you and Greg, asleep together holding hands. You had been crying, there were tear stains on your face…Greg had boycotted the party, even though he had been asked to come.”
“Mum, I don’t think now is the place.” My breath hitched. I knew I had to leave before I started crying. Why was she reminding me of that humiliation?
“Do you remember what I told you?”
I nodded. Always return good for evil.
My mother looked at Belinda. She stroked her cheek. “You were such an unhappy child. I thought maybe, if I loved you like my own…” she let her hand drop. “But you felt sorry for me…”
“No, Aunty,” Belinda interrupted, shaking her head vigorously. Her bob swished back and forth. She clasped her arms under her chin in the parody of a plea.
My mother got up. “Let’s go home baby.” She clutched me by the arm and walked out into the night. I heard Sarah Amuah clicking softly behind us.
“When we were almost at the car, we heard Belinda say very loudly. “You couldn’t bring her here when I told you to? God, mother you are useless!”
My mother shuddered. “That poor man is in for hell.”
I laughed and she joined me, but not for long. “You know we have to talk, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I nodded. I snuggled up to her in the back seat. The last thing I heard before I fell asleep was Sarah Amuah say: “This is why I don’t date men.”
“You probably have the right idea, dear,” said my mother.