The sound of the switch as the light came on woke her. Dunni stretched, blinking blearily in the harsh fluorescence. The sound of music playing in the background did not help the small scrimping at the back of her skull, and when she saw her mother standing at the bedroom door, she groaned. It couldn’t be morning already, could it? It seemed like just an hour ago that she had gone to bed. Folarin and his siblings had stayed till late, eating dinner with them and then after her parents had gone to bed, they’d lingered, catching up on family gist.
“Dunni, get up.” Her mum said. “You need to make some more chin-chin, I noticed it’s finished and you know how much your dad loves your chin-chin. We’re already in the kitchen, have been since 4am. I sent Funmi to come and wake you up about an hour ago so I don’t know why you’re still lying down there. Get up jare.”
Dunni turned over and tried to shut out her mother’s voice. However, her mother must have opened the door wider because the music from the living room became louder. Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way. Dunni gritted her teeth; didn’t they know Christmas was over?
“Dunni… Dunni… ” her mother was standing right over her head.
Cracking open a half-shut eye, Dunni saw a ladle tapping against the colorful apron. When she raised her head, the glower in her mother’s eyes made her shrug off her blanket.
“Alright, alright… I’m coming.” She muttered, pushing her legs over the side of the bed.
“I know you’ll like to sleep more, but is it my fault that last night you and your cousins finished the chin-chin you already made? And you know we have to finish cooking in time to get ready for the memorial service this afternoon.”
“I know, Mama. But you agree the chin-chin was great?” Dunni tried to smile through squinted eyes at her mother. It was a bit cold in the room and she looked around for her dressing gown to put over her night gown.
Her mum smiled and beckoned Dunni to follow her. “Come on, maybe it won’t take so much time to make the chin-chin since you’re making a smaller batch. You can sleep later…”
One of the cooking women interrupted them from the now wide open door, “Mama Dunni, the meat is almost done. Should I transfer them to the oil in the frying pan?”
Dunni eyes were drawn beyond the woman to the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree in the living room. The tentative light of dawn filtering in through the drapes gave the outer room the feel of coziness which had fled hers since her mum switched on the overhead light in the bid to wake her. She wiped her eyes and stretched again.
“Just turn off the heat on both, I’m coming,” her mother replied.
When they were alone again, her mother sat down beside her on the bed, the ladle going tap, tap, tap, on her thigh. “Before we go to the kitchen, there’s something I want to tell you.”
“What is it, Mama? Dunni hadn’t had enough sleep, and there was the incipient headache coming on. “Maybe we can talk later in the evening.”
“That will be too late,” her mum said in a low tone. “I thought I could avoid speaking to you about this and have events run their course but I’ve realized that won’t be fair on you.”
Dunni’s heart slammed into her ribcage and she blinked in dread. “This isn’t about Dad, is it?” She dropped the gown she’d been about to put on and gripped her mother’s hand.
“No, your father is fine. This is about you, Dunni.”
“What have I done?” Dunni dropped the hand and shifted away.
“It is what you haven’t done that is bothering me, Dunni.” Her mother dropped the ladle between them and spread out both hands. “You haven’t gotten married, that’s what!”
Dunni could guess what was coming next. This wasn’t the first time her mom would be having the marriage talk with her, in the past few years, it had featured in almost all their phone conversations. However, since her return for this vacation, her mother had mostly left that task to the friends and relations that came to the house. Dunni waited to hear how her mother would approach the talk this time. On her part, she would try to play it cool.
“Time is passing o, my daughter. When am I going to dance at your wedding and carry your children, eh?”
Dunni remained silent, but her teeth clenched in anger.
“You don’t want to talk, eh? OK, I want you to do something for me. There’s someone I’ve arranged for you to meet. Are you listening?”
“I’m listening,” Dunni mumbled. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing but she would hear her mother out first before speaking.
“If you want me to feel guilty, I won’t o. Do you know that all, and I mean all, the girls your age that I personally know are married. You are overdue to settle down, Dunni, and that is the truth. I was confused when you were with that your white man. While I didn’t want you to marry someone of a different culture, I also wanted you to get married and be done with it. But no, you wasted two years with him. Yes, wasted because what do you have to show for it? Nothing. It is more than two years now, and still you do nothing.”
As pain spread through her in a dull ache, Dunni mustered a reply, “What did you want me to do, Mama? Start chasing men along the road?”
“You and this your sharp mouth.” Her mother pursed her lips and shrugged, adjusting her Buba neckline with a long hiss.
Dunni knew what her mother refrained from saying. That it was her snarky and sarcastic talk keeping men away from her. After all she was attractive enough, everybody said how good looking she was. They didn’t have to talk about her shape, she knew it drew men like bees to honey. Sometimes it wasn’t the type of men she wanted, like that Babs from the trek. She didn’t regret how she had dismissed him.
“Anyway,” her mother continued, “if you don’t want to do something, then I will do it for you. But you must get married before your next birthday, that is all I know.”
Dunni couldn’t help smiling. “Have you become a soothsayer now, mom?”
“I haven’t o, but like I said I have planned for you to meet a potential husband. A friend who also has an unmarried son and I, have decided to take matters in hand. Her son is old enough and capable too. We believe you’ll both make the perfect couple.”
“What! You can’t be serious, mom.” Stomach churning as she remembered her brother’s words, Dunni also recalled how her mother has introduced her to the deacon and the strange look the man had given her. She should’ve known that her mother had something up her sleeve, but her silence all this while has lulled her into false complacence.
“I am o,” her mother adjusted her blouse again, avoiding Dunni’s wide eyes. “The woman will be here for the memorial service and she wants to see you. The son has agreed to marry whomever the mother selects for him and I know she will not turn you down, my own daughter! But she wants to see you and talk to you first, she a wonderful woman o…”
“Mama, you don’t really believe I will go along with your plans?”
“What is wrong with you, Dunni? Marriage has proved to be something you cannot do for yourself and here you are charging for me. Abeg, sit down! See, if everything works out as I have been discussing with this my potential inlaw, we can set your wedding date for once you make Associate at your job.”