August 17th, 1962.
We laid naked in the grass, intoxicated, looking up at the sky and then at each other. The stars twinkled more this night, blessing our union. We were basked in the moon’s violet light and the diamonds from my earring reflected tiny rainbows on his flushed face. He cupped my shoulder, pulled me closer and looked into my mud brown eyes as though he was searching for something. He held my hand, and I looked down at our locking limbs and saw the contrast of our skin, offensive but beautiful. “You’re the most amazing thing I have ever laid eyes on.” He said. I smiled and put a finger to his lips, they were red from my lipstick. I wanted to speak, tell him how good I felt, but I knew he wouldn’t understand me, my mouth was heavy and my tongue would have failed me. As I fell asleep, my mind replayed the entire day.
I stared at my reflection again, displeased with what I saw, I didn’t like this dress. The top was white with a huge palette collar, the belt was an agbalumo red and the pleated skirt was a soft pink. It was quite short, slightly above my ankles and I still couldn’t believe daddy bought the dresses from great Britain. I spun around, trying out different smiles and poses for the mixer tonight. I fantasized about what might happen.
“Tinu! Ahn ahn! Pick one already, time is going!”.She interrupted my thoughts. “Do you think the belt is too loose ?” “Yes, I do. Just look at your suffocating stomach” “I’m serious” I said, I had no time for her sarcasm. I turned to face her, face straight. “Do you think it looks good?” I said, sweeping my hands from the bust to my thighs” “You look like an angel” I smiled a little. She always said that. “Thank you mama.” She zipped me down and I stepped out of it and laid it on the bed with the others. She sat down for a few minutes and advised me to be on my best behavior tonight, “Tinuade, oko mi, remember you are going to represent your father and I at this Mixer tonight, don’t do anything that we will not be proud of.” She said a quick prayer for me and handed me the earrings my father gave to her during ileya. It had a huge lapis lazuli stone in the center and diamonds set around it. She picked out turquoise dress with shiny teal flecks and whispered, “This is the one for tonight.” She smiled, kissed my forehead and walked out of the room. I sat down on my bed and looked outside, the sun was high and brilliant and I knew my friends would be arriving any minute. We had been anticipating the mixer for weeks. We had all agreed to meet up at my house for the preparation, mainly because my house was the biggest and because it was closest to the town hall. Bimpe and Grace were the first two to arrive, followed by Bisi and lastly Ife. Ife was always late. Even for etiquette classes. When we were complete, I stood up and said “Right ladies ! Let’s get started, we have plenty to do.” They all burst out laughing. “Chop chop, no time to waste” Said Bisi, She always mimicked Lady Thorton better than I did. She was clapping her hands and looked down at us imperiously. We laughed again. We had a light snack of chin chin and freshly squeezed orange juice and went to my room to wait. Lady Thorton had reminded us that she wouldn’t be able to come but she’d send her nieces to help us with preparations. While the girls and I were chatting in my room, my mother called me downstairs. “Tinu these are Lady Thorton’s nieces.” I curtseyed and they nodded politely. “Good afternoon, if you would come with me please, I’d show you to my room.” They smiled, looked at each other nervously and followed me. By the time we got into the room, the loud chatter and high pitched screams abruptly stopped. The girls got up from my bed and stood in a neat linear line. “Good afternoon” they chorused. “And a very good afternoon to all 5 of you”. They set their big vanity boxes on the floor and smiled. They introduced themselves in light chirpy voices, “I’m rosemary” said the brunette, “And I’m Anne” said the ginger. Rosemary explained that she was to “do our faces” and Anne was to “do our hair”. We smiled although we didn’t completely understand what she meant by that. After they explained the preparations, Rosemary asked, “Who would like to go first?” We all shot out hands up. The two ladies tapped the carpeted floor gesturing for us to sit.
“Tea-no.”, Anne called me, “I would need hot coal for your hair.” “Let me go and get some” I replied standing up. “Let me come along with you for assistance” Bisi said. “It’s not necess..” “You can’t do it on your own !” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t” I was wondering why Bisi wanted to come with me, I had gotten hot coal a million times without her help. She winked at me, there was another reason she wanted to help with the coal. “Thinking about it, I would need your assistance.”
“I thought so.”
When we were out of the room, Bisi slapped my arm hard and said, “O de so fun mi!”, “Pe kini?” I replied. “That the ladies coming were white.” I stared at her blankly. Bisi wasn’t the smartest girl, but sometimes her stupidity alarmed me. I held her by the shoulders and said, “Bisi do you remember when I said, Lady Thorton would send HER nieces over to help us?” “Ehen?” “HER nieces” I repeated. “Ehen?” “Lady Thorton is white.” “Ehen?” She still didn’t understand the correlation. I shook my head, sighed deeply and told her not to worry. We got the coal and hurried back to the room.
Rosemary suggested that we take turns according to the youngest. We were all the same age but Ife was born in December, so she was first to sit, I looked into the vanity box and saw all sorts of creams, powders and colored tins. While Anne was “doing” Ife’s face, she spoke aloud, as if to teach us, repeating what to do with each beauty item. We pretended to understand, and asked questions that had already obvious answers. The lipstick she said was indelible, “What does that mean ?” I asked. “No matter how hard you try to remove it, it wouldn’t come off for at least 3 days.” What would happen later that night disproved it. By the time she was done, we all clapped and praised her work. I handed Ife the big shard of mirror and she examined her face, smiling so hard, the vein in her forehead was pressed against her dark skin. Next, Anne put coal in the contraption and began to “do” Ife’s hair. She rubbed shea butter and another funny smelling pomade on the roots of her hair. She then began combing it viciously. We all had thick black hair; curly and full. We watched Ife fist her hands and grind her teeth, she didn’t want to be ungrateful and complain but she was in a lot of pain. After a good hour or so, Ife’s hair was completely transformed. It had tight curls and bows and pins to set it in place.
When we were all done up, we smiled and thanked them over and over again till they left, we wore our dresses, and put on similar patent leather black shoes. We began descending the stairs, and my mother had gathered the entire household to cheer us. They all clapped and whistled, making us feel beauty queens. Mama escorted us outside, and told us to have a good time. As we filed into the Mercedes Benz 190 model W110, I asked my mother where my father was and she said the same thing she said for years, “He’s working”. I wasn’t sure of what my father did, but I knew he worked in politics. He made a lot of money because our houses we very big and we rode in expensive cars. I was grateful for any time I spent with my father. He was very smart and very funny and very unavailable. He was a good man, but he had misplaced priorities. “Okay mama.” I sighed. I joined my friends in the car and we were on our way to he town hall. The driver had increased the volume of radio as we sang along to IK Dairo’s “Ko Wa Jo” and Fatai Rolling Dollar’s “Move your body.”
By the time we got to The town hall, my nerves shot up. My palms were damp and my smile fixed. I had a little adrenaline rush, but maybe that was just the excitement. We got down from the car and walked across the garden to the main entrance. There was no one in sight. “Are you sure we are in the right place?” Grace asked, “Yes.” Bimpe pointed to Lady Thorton at the door who scolded us for being late. “Late?” Bisi repeated, “If we’re late does that men everyone is inside?” “Yes, you are the last five I was waiting for.” I think I saw Bisi’s face change color to green. She always got a certain way when things didn’t go according to plan. Grace noticed it too and rubbed her back, “Bisi it doesn’t matter, just breathe, I’m sure nobody will notice us.” in her most soothing tone. When we got inside we saw almost 200 pairs of eyes looking at us. I heard Grace gasp. Lady Thorton took us to our table and Grace rushed to sit down, looking at the invisible interesting play on the table for 30 minutes, waiting for everyone to stop staring even though they already had.
Speeches were being made and the entire hall was restless. Another old white man was talking, he went on and on, about how we were a new generation and so it was in our hands to make Nigeria great, and something about discrimination. The last I remember, he was giving us examples of misconceptions people had about peaceful co-existence between the English and the Nigerians. He said something about racism too, but he lost me there. I began looking round the hall, oblivious to the dull droning, studying each face and trying to determine what each person was thinking, passing comments to my friends and giggling at the people sleeping off. I looked from table to table and right across from me, I saw a pair of green eyes looking back at me and looked away. I noticed there was another person speaking at the podium now, a tall bald man in a faded pink shirt. I looked round the hall again and saw the same pair of green eyes looking straight at me. I didn’t look away this time and he didn’t either. He was good looking for a white boy, he had light brown hair and full lips. He smiled. I smiled back. Suddenly aware of people standing up and clapping,I saw the man in the faded shirt was leaving the podium. He must have thought we were paying attention because of the resounding applause we gave after he had finished his hour-long long speech. “You’re far too kind, remember Nigeria is for all !” he indicated for us to stop, smiling and raising one palm in the air. I tried to find the stranger with my eyes, but there too many people obstructing us.
Finally, It was time to eat. There was a large spread of Nigerian and foreign dishes. While I was dishing out some efo riro, someone nudged me and whispered loudly into my ear, “Is that delicious?” Startled, I turned to face the green eyes I was looking into previously, I nearly dropped my plate and stammered “Y-ye-yes.” Why was I stammering? I handed him the spoon and moved on to obe eja. He dished some efo on his plate and I laughed. “What’s so funny?” he asked with a quirky grin, I looked at him and shook my head. Why would he eat that ? His face would be red with sweat after two spoons. Why didn’t he just eat rice and chicken like all the oyinbos ? I went to my seat and he passed by me, showing me his plate and smiling.
After dinner, Lady Thorton gave a short closing speech and attempted to be in funky, “We would dance until the sun comes up” she said shaking her shoulders which was received with loud approving screams and laughter. Immediately after, the chairs were cleared. Girls were at one end, boys another. We saw the boldest Nigerian boys come out and ask girls to dance, 1 or 2 refused, a few shrieked, and the rest accepted. We danced to The Cyclops’ “She’s only seventeen” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Love and Kisses.” We gyrated, swinging our hips and flinging our arms. A boy from my neighborhood asked me to dance. I knew him very well, his name was Ade Dosunmu. Our mothers were in the same society. While we danced, Ade tried to make small talk which was only polite, but he was boring and had an annoying lisp.
“Excuse me Ah-day, may I please enjoy this dance with this beautiful young lady” Ade nodded and held out my hand for him to take. Green eyes.
“My name is Harry Witicker, what’s yours ?”
“That’s what I said.”
I laughed. Why was it so difficult to for any white person to pronounce my name ? It was a simple name, 6 syllables.
I gave up,“You may call me Tinu.”
“Good, Tea-no how are you doing tonight ?”
“I’m well, thank you.”
The lights were turned off and the disco ball was lowered. The music was slowed down and we held unto our partners. He moved his hand down from my midriff to the small of my back. I looked up at him with wide eyes and he widened his eyes too. Who did this oyinbo Winston abi Witicker think he was? I moved his hands up. He only smiled again. The waiters went round serving us spirit in a small cups, he picked 4 and handed me two. He downed his cups and so did I, attempting to impress.
I didn’t remember saying thank you, I couldn’t have, my throat was on fire.
He dropped our cups on another passing waiter’s tray and held me close again.
“You smell just as good as you look.”
I had never met anyone so forward.
We danced for a few minutes and he pulled me closer, “How old are you?”
“20.” I replied.
“I’m 21.” Why did he keep giving me information I wasn’t asking for? He smiled again.
“Why do you keep smiling like that?”
“Is it bothering you?” making a mock frown.
“I’m just wondering, it seems like you know something I don’t.” I smiled lightly, hoping he wouldn’t notice. He didn’t.
We danced for another 30 minutes or so. I noticed the hall got emptier after each song. “Tea-no would you like to go somewhere quieter ?”
“Just to talk.” With an nod, he held my hand and led me outside and I noticed the garden was littered with boys and girls. Some in groups, some in two’s. I noticed Bimpe far off, laughing loudly and flirting with some boy. We walked round to the back and sat down under a tree. It was dark , but I could see his face.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not much to say.”
“Okaaaaay, I’ll tell you about myself.” he said excitedly.
We talked for hours and hours, and with each minute I got more interested with what he had to say. His father was the second-in-command to the consulate general. He and his entire family had moved to Lagos then to Ile-Ife 2 years ago when his father had secured the job.
He was still narrating his story when I saw Bimpe run across the garden with the same boy in hand. She was running towards me. The both of them stopped in front of us panting. “Harry, would you and your friend do me a favor?” “Depends,” Harry said, wondering what his friend was up to. “Come with me and my girlfriend ?” I turned to Bimpe in shock “Bimpe? Girlfriend?” The boy turned to me and said, “Yes, hello, she’s my girlfriend, I’m Andrew, but you can call me Andrew.” Wow, a funny oyinbo. Olosi. “Do you two know each other? “ Harry was facing Bimpe but asking me, pointing to the both of us. “Yes, we’re friends.” Bimpe leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.
“Well, enough of the introduction, you two come with us.” said Andrew. “Come where?” No one answered me. “Come where?” I asked louder. I didn’t like all this confusion. “You’ll see.” Andrew laughed. We walked for a distance and Andrew told Harry and I to stay put and watch. “Watch what?” I asked, “Just watch.” and with that, Andrew and Bimpe disappeared. Harry explained what we were to watch and I heard Bimpe scream excitedly. “Ooooooh” I said, realizing what was going on. We looked at each other awkwardly for sometime. Tired of standing and waiting in silence, we sat down and talked more. I leaned in on him and he sat up straight to accommodate my weight. “This is just like in the movies.”
“Really ?” I was fascinated, I had never seen a motion picture before.
“What happens next ?” I ask.
He held my chin up and kissed.
Shocked, I bit him. “Ouch !”
“Ouch kini? Why did you do that?”
“You asked me what happens in the movies and I showed you.”
I was quiet for a moment and turned my back to him.
“I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t upset you?” he said, standing up to sit closer to me. I said nothing.
“The truth is, I like you, and I think you’re beautiful, and I wanted to keep you interested.” I was flattered, but that was a stupid excuse.
“Are you sure?”
“Embrace me if you aren’t upset.” I hugged him for what seemed like a minute. Disentangling myself, I noticed how close our faces were. The alcohol I had taken started taking effect and I became a little confident. I kissed him. I don’t know why I did that, but the moment demanded it. He was shocked. “You look very handsome with your mouth open.” I said, biting my lower lip. We kissed again. I ran one hand through his hair and the other cradled his jaw. He kissed my neck and my shoulder. He zipped down my dress and traced circles with his fingers down my back.
“Are you a virgin?” he whispered. I nodded my head.
He kissed me again. He removed his coat and spread it beside me.
He whispered, “Lay there, breathe easy.”
I woke up suddenly, covered in light sweat. I used my hands to support myself as I sat up straight, my head hurt. Looking around I saw Bimpe sleeping, snoring softly, her left breast exposed, nipple peeking out of her dress. When did Bimpe get here ? Where was Harry? And his friend ? My friends? A hysterical calmness flooded me. The sun was rising, It was morning. “Bimpe ! Bimpe ! Wake up !”