The sound department just finished setting up when you get there.
The time is quarter to four. You’re early. The ceremony starts by 4PM.
Few people are already seated. You decide to seat mid-hall; it is more honourable to sit in the crowd and be invited to the fore. You’ll pretend your friend hasn’t told you anything about your place at the front of the hall. Just in case he changes his mind.
Three people walk in just then and move towards the table you are seated at. An elderly couple with a young man. Perhaps, their son. You shift on your seat nervously and prepare a warm smile to welcome them.
It comes out just fine—you suppose. The woman smiles back as they reach you.
‘Good afternoon.’ The young man says.
‘Good afternoon.’ You bow your head courteously to the uniformed couple, and the young blood—you briefly compare his body build to yours.
‘Thank you.’ The man, who should be in his sixties voices and shoots a bout of cough into the air—a cold silence follows, wandering eyes settle on your side of the hall. The woman seated at a table close to yours finds a better place. The man’s wife quickly hands him a bottle of water from her black leathery hand bag. You clear your own throat.
‘I’m alright,’ the man says to no one in particular, after two gulps of water from the bottle. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘Good to know that.’ You think, as you mentally calculate the projectile motion of the ‘cough particles’ and wish… No. You couldn’t have worn that with your exquisite traditional wear. You look around—no one else is wearing it either.
You must have moved your eyeballs too fast while scanning the entire hall. Because now, you feel slightly dizzy. This happens sometimes. It’s nothing serious. All you need to do is shut your eyes for a moment and—
‘I have been looking for you.’ You hear from behind you. It is your mother’s voice. You told her not to bother herself travelling down for the ceremony and she said okay, but here she is—her arthritis hardly ever stops her, does it? You rise from your seat and prostrate ‘improperly’—you didn’t know she would come, you’d not have worn agbada.
‘Eku irole Maami.’ You greet.
She has it on—nose bridge to chin, just as it is in the news. It is bright red.
‘O. Bawoni? Ku orire to re e len kansi.’
She is well dressed but not party-dressed. Your mother does not go to any occasion without using heavy jewelries or having on her a tall enough gele. Everything, including the look on her face, screams to you that she has not come to party. Nevertheless, you pull a seat for her beside you.
‘Eseun ma. Ejo ko.’
‘Rara. I won’t be sitting nor staying long. It is you I have come to see. Let’s go outside.’
When she heads towards the exit, you have no other choice but to follow. You wonder what form this is going to take this time, and you pray for some strength and fine response.
She calls you, ‘Oyeleye…’
You are now outside, behind one of the cars in the parking lot. Directly in front of you is the caterer’s van. Containers of food and packs of drinks are being offloaded via the back door. Faster! A fat, badly bleached woman, who is certainly the boss, shouts at two of her staff, and they increase their paces.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
‘Maami. . . What am I doing?’
‘You have intentionally refused to get married and have kids!’
This comes across to you as a strong, false accusation. The aroma of Jollof rice—and whatever else sits in those steel containers—wafting towards you is equally strong. You swallow your spittle and do not speak.
‘Look at yourself, ‘Leye,’ she sizes you from head to toe, ‘you are not getting any younger.’
You sigh and feel ten years older than you already are. ‘I know, Maami.’
‘Stop telling me you know and do something!’
‘I have heard you, Maami.’
She shoots you a serious look, ‘Or are you. . .?’ She expects you to understand. After all, all the friends you played ball with have been married now for about half a decade or more, and the one intimate to you has finally joined the fatherhood gang.
‘Maami?! I’m alright,’ You borrow the exact words of the elderly man at your table. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’
Your mother probably thinks she is responsible for your singleness. Her eyes are saying ‘Anyone that is willing to marry you is okay with me now’, but her mouth is questioning your manhood.
‘If you say so, Leye. If you say so.’
I know so.
‘Are you sleeping?’
That’s the second time you’re hearing that today. The second time you are being asked that same question.
You feel a very light tap on your right shoulder and jolt into consciousness.
‘No, I’m not.’ You run a palm over your face, quickly, to clear your vision.
‘Yes, you were.’ Says a short, dark-complexioned lady who is standing in front of you, smiling. Her eyes are curious, looking at you, and she definitely forgot to powder her forehead along with the other parts of her face.
Soft highlife music—you are yet to make out the musician—is playing in the background. A few people are cautiously walking around, saluting familiar faces. The hall is fuller and noisier than you were previously aware of. You are not sure if you should be ashamed for being caught dozing at an occasion. Or if…
—before you can decide how to feel exactly, it escapes your lips, ‘You look great.’
‘Thank you. I’m asked to request your presence at the front, sir.’
The chest badge on her left breast blinks at you: Royal Ushers. People are still arriving and being seated. Your three companions have been replaced by two kids, who seem below ten, and their parents.
You check your wristwatch. It’s 5:05PM.
You rise and smile. ‘With a beauty like you before me,’ you cannot help it, again, ‘it seems sleeping in public is my good luck charm. My name is Leye, and you are?’
She accepts your handshake, ‘Toyin. Oluwatoyin.’
It is at that moment that your friend and his wife enter the hall with their child. And the compere picks the microphone.