PS That is me in today’s photo by the way…in one of my favorite places in the world – Ithaca, NY. Doesn’t the name even sound perfect?
Nyong took one glance at the full length mirror and bit her lip in frustration. She looked like an onion that had been submerged overnight in water. She looked fat!
She did a mental calculation of all the calories she had imbibed that day and then another one of the number of days left for her period to begin. She was grasping at straws she knew; something to make her feel better about what stared back at her from the mirror.
‘Nyong!’ Her best friend Ada called from the other side of the door. ‘Nyong come out jor let me see what it looks like and so you can tell me what mine looks like.’
A mild irritation took hold of Nyong. She wished she had not agreed to come along on this ridiculous shopping spree. It wasn’t like she and Esam had money to throw around on $100 dresses that she would probably only wear once anyway. Ada was single with no children and had a well-paid job. She could afford such luxuries but Nyong had mortgage to pay, Nsikan’s diapers and Gerber to purchase, bills upon bills that left her and Esam stumped at the end of every month. Yet here she was, pretending to be carefree like when she and Ada had been in college and could afford to buy new dresses at Forever 21 every other week. What added to the irritation was she knew that when they showed up at the check-out counter, Ada would insist on paying. Nyong sighed again as she stared at the woman in a purple dress that was too tight.
‘Nyong?’ Ada called out again, this time her tone tinged with some worry.
‘Ada, it isn’t the right fit. I am taking it off. I will wear one of my old dresses to Bisi’s wedding.’
‘Ahn, ah; at least wait let me see what it looks like on you first na.’
‘No!’ Nyong snapped and then was immediately sorry. It wasn’t Ada she was mad at. It was herself. It was her life. It was her body that had refused to go back to its previous svelte self after she had Nsikan, It was her husband and his refusal to let her work and put Nsikan in daycare. It was the way Nsikan didn’t even seem to need her as much as he used to. He was two now and figuring out life for himself- refusing her help getting out of his car seat, telling her ‘Mama, No’ when she tried to feed him something other than Gerber’s potato mush, finding new paths with his tiny fat legs…
Ada was the one person in her life who still made her feel unburdened and at the same time important. It was Ada who sided with her on the issue of getting a job. Even her parents who had paid her college tuition had told her to defer to Esam’s wishes on the matter. It was Ada who she could call to take Nsikan on days she didn’t feel up to being a mum. It was Ada who left $100 bills in Nsikan’s diaper bag every time she returned him because she knew Nyong would never take a handout but would never refuse a gift from her son. Ada was a good friend, the kind that knew how to love with just the right amount of subtlety.
A sob caught in Nyong’s throat as she stared at the mirror.
‘Girlie,’ Ada said, ‘Girlie, are you okay? Oya open door make I enter.’
’I don’t want you to see me like this Ada’
‘Girl… stop abeg. Who bathed you with hot water after you had Nsikan? Abeg open door make I see road jor.’
Nyong couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her throat and burst forth from her lips.
She opened the door for her friend.
‘Well, it doesn’t look that bad,’ Her friend said upon entry. She avoided looking at Nyong’s face because if there was one thing she knew about Nyong, it was she hated anyone seeing her cry.
‘You are such a terrible liar Ada!’
‘Yeah whatever. All I am saying is this is a size 10 abi? I think if we got you into a size 12, you would look perfect.’
Nyong had chosen to change in one of the dressing rooms for people with special needs. The store was empty anyways so it wasn’t like she was being mean. She just liked the size and comfort of dressing rooms for the handicapped. Besides she herself had felt somehow handicapped by life these past few months.
There was a small bench in the dressing room where handicapped people could sit as they changed so Nyong took a seat before responding to her friend.
‘But I want a size 10 Ada. Isn’t it a size 10 all those singers croon about in their song, how the girl of their dreams is the perfect ten? Thanks to Nsi, I am no longer a 8 but I can at least live with being a perfect ten. At least that one thing in my life could be perfect…’
‘I think that is bullshit, pardon my French but we are in a Forever 21 store, aunty! They make clothes for those oyinbo teenagers with their flat bumbum, without your womanly hips or my D cups. Every other store and I am a size 4 but here I am a size 6 or sometimes 8. And so what if you are a 12 instead of 10? Esam is still as in love with you as the day you first met. And Nsi? He worships the very ground you walk on. Don’t you see the way his eyes light up when you walk into the room? Why would you want to be the girl of some rapper’s weed induced dreams. You are already the girl of those two young men’s dreams, you are their everything.’
‘But what if I want more? What if I want to be more than a mum, more than a wife, more than a homemaker? What if I want to be a lawyer like you? Or a medical doctor like Bisi? Or even just a teacher like I always wanted to be?’
Ada sighed and shook her head at her friend.
‘Well then girlie, you go home, you cook some Edikaikong for your husband and give him some good loving and then just before he falls asleep, you tell him all you have just told me. Esam is a good man, misguided but good and he wants you happy. If being a teacher will make you happy, he will come around to it. Now can you change into your clothes so we can find another store that caters to full grown women? This dress is making me itch.’ Ada said suddenly whirling out of the room like her skin was on fire.
It wasn’t until much later, after they had found perfect purple dresses for the wedding at another store, one of which was in size 12 and could be re-worn for a teacher’s first day, dresses that made them look like sisters even if one sister was twice the size of the other; it wasn’t until then that Nyong told Ada what she had been about to say to her before she whirled out of the Forever 21 dressing room for the handicapped:
‘You; Adannaya Nnnadi, you are the girl of my dreams…’
Song of the day: The Script – Never Seen Anything Quite Like You