“So it’s our birthday next week Saturday and we always have a party. Are you going to come?” Remi said to Jumoke as they closed their books, their exams would start the next week.
“A party? But our exams start on Monday, can’t you postpone it?”
“We’re ready for it!” Remi said. “Why are you so serious? Enjoy life a little!”
Jumoke shrugged. “I don’t know if my mum would allow me to go for a party when I’m writing a very important exam.”
“So my mum is unserious for throwing a party for us?” Remi accused.
“I didn’t say that…!”
“But that’s what you mean…”
Jumoke shook her head, and wondered why she was in a relationship that was becoming an emotional burden to her. How long would she put up with Remi’s pettiness?
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I‘ll plead with my mum to let me come.”
“A party when you’re writing your exams? Why can’t it wait until your exams are over?” Mrs Oludare said.
“I don’t know Mummy…” Jumoke replied lamely.
“Alright, you can go. I’ll think about it.”
As soon as she was gone out of the room, Tinu Oludare faced her husband. “Honestly Sola, I don’t know why I allowed Jumoke to be friends with the Williams’ daughters.”
“I thought you were happy that one of them was helping Jumoke with her mathematics.” He replied distractedly, his attention on the newspaper he was reading.
“Yes, but I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t made a mistake.”
“Why?” he put down the paper and looked at her.
Mrs Oludare sighed. “They keep making these demands on her…”
“Yes, first it was the issue of her not wanting to talk to Lanre, now it’s this party…”
“Talk to Lanre? They wanted her to talk to Lanre? Their son? Who is they?”
Tinu Oludare didn’t like the fact that her husband was asking for all these details. Couldn’t he keep up? “Their son is Lanre. “They” is Funke and her daughters.”
“Why doesn’t Jumoke want to talk to him?”
“She’s not comfortable around him and I told her that she doesn’t have to talk to him. But it caused a fight and they just settled it and now they want her to come for a party when she is writing her exams…”
Sola was confused, there were too many details, his wife was whining. He hated whining.
“Let me get this. She doesn’t want to talk to the Lanre boy?”
“And she doesn’t want to go for the party?”
“Is she being forced to?”
“So why is there a problem?”
“You don’t understand Sola…”
“You’re whining, you know I hate it when you whine. Find the solution to the problem and stop whining!”
He picked up his paper and continued reading, irritated that his concentration had been broken for trivialness. Tinu sighed, Sola didn’t understand that what seemed inconsequential was a big deal to her. She had to be diplomatic with the Williams and at the same time protect her daughter.
Jumoke walked into the Williams’ compound and thought of her mother’s words.
“Just go this time so that it won’t look as if you’re being snobbish, but after this time don’t go back there and cut off your relationship with those girls, this wahala is too much!”
She saw the twins dancing to the music blaring from the speakers. Several teenagers and young people had gathered in clusters, eating and laughing. In a small corner by the hibiscus flowers, was a small group of adults who were eating and drinking as well. The Williams were seated with them and Jumoke could see Mrs Williams giving an order to the man behind the barbecue stand just by the group. She wondered why her parents had not been invited.
“Jummy!” Remi called out excitedly while Gbemi pursed her lips in resentment.
“You invited her?”
“Of course I did! She’s my friend.”
“I really don’t know what you see in her.”
Remi left the dance floor and went over to Jumoke who was sitting by herself and eating her plate of jollof rice slowly.
“Why are you sitting by yourself?”
Jumoke shrugged. “I just wanted to sit here.”
“Come and dance with me.”
“No!” She replied petrified.
“Come on, stop being so shy!”
“Let me finish my food! I’ll come and join you.”
“Are you sure?”
But Jumoke had no intention of fulfilling her promise. She continued eating her food and looking at others dancing. She would wait for a little while and then leave quietly.
“Jumoke!” Mrs Williams stood by her side dressed in a blue and yellow patterned gown.
“Yes ma, good af…”
“Yes! Stand up and come and get something for me.” she ordered and kept walking.
Jumoke took one look at her food and put it on the chair, the chicken would have to go uneaten. Mrs William walked into the house and went into the kitchen.
“Do you know how to make a salad dressing?” she asked without looking back.
“I said do you know how to make a….” she shook her head. “You know what, don’t worry. I’m sure you haven’t eaten many salads in your life.”
Jumoke was still trying to recover from the insult when she pushed a silver tray into her hands.
“Take that outside. Open the foil gently and serve it to the adult guests.”
“Ma?” Jumoke was confused, why was she even asked to do this?
“Didn’t you hear me the first time? I said take it outside and serve it to the adult guests! Now go quickly, Honorable is expecting that chicken. Make sure you curtsey, they’re very important people.”
“Yes ma.” Jumoke replied.
Outside, she served the adults the warm plates of fried chicken garnished with green and red peppers and onions.
“My dear,” a big plump man said with a leer. “What is your name?”
“Honorable leave this one o!” Mr Williams said biting into a piece of chicken. “This is my friend’s daughter.”
“You shouldn’t have brought her here now! You know my eyes are always looking for precious things.” He gesticulated with his podgy hands.
“My dear, go inside. I’ll be there soon.” Mrs Williams said.
Back in the kitchen, Jumoke shook her head unbelievingly. Mrs Williams had turned her into a waiter, had Remi invited her for this purpose? Why hadn’t she called any of the other teenagers at the party?
“Are you okay?” A voice called out from behind her and she jumped startled.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.” Lanre said, holding out his hands in placation.
She nodded and looked around uncertainly.
“What are you doing here?”
“You mum told me to being this tray here.”
“What? Why would she do that? There are waiters here for that.”
She shrugged, glad to receive his sympathy and see that he also considered his mother’s actions improper.
“Come with me, you should be enjoying the party.”
“No thank you. I don’t want your mum to be angry…”
“She won’t be angry…” he said firmly as his mother came into the kitchen.
“Ah Jumoke, oya bring the tray. Come and help me to serve the salad.”
Lanre was stunned to see his mother actually ask this of Jumoke.
“Mum, aren’t there waiters here for that?”
“She’s here to party mum! Come with me!” he grabbed her hand and pulled her away. “I’ll send you the most good-looking waiter okay?”
Mrs Williams shook her head. “Alright go and party just make sure you send me the person immediately.”
“Thank you…” Jumoke said to Lanre as soon as they were in the sitting room and pulled her hand out of his.
“Are you about to run away again? You know it’ll be ungrateful of you to do that right? I just saved you from serving my parents’ friends.”
Jumoke didn’t see what she could do. “What do you want?”
“Just sit with me for a while will you?”
“I don’t want your sisters saying…”
“Nobody will say anything! Stop worrying!”
Lanre turned out to be funny and Jumoke was glad that she relented. She laughed so hard and ate much more than she would have because he kept calling for every kind of treat. Remi saw them from afar and smiled, wondering what had changed her friend’s mind about her brother.