AUNTIE FUNMI PULLS ON THE measuring tape held tight around my waist. I hold my breath, suck in my stomach a little, because I want the dress to fit, like really fit. But Auntie Funmi is the best seamstress my mom knows, so she taps my arm—smacks, more like—and hisses at me in her strong, Yoruba accent, “Ah-ah! Adanna! So you want to be doing like this at the wedding the whole time?” And she holds her breath and shifts side to side like she can’t walk or bend her knees. “You will just look uncomfortable.”
Chioma snickers from where she’s sitting at the dining table. She has a swath of bright ankara fabric over one knee while she flips through a catalog of old-school dress styles. We lock eyes and she snickers again, none too remorseful for the situation I’m in. Auntie Funmi is pissed she has to redo all these bridesmaids’ dresses only two months before Chioma’s sister’s wedding, and she’s taking it out on me just because I’m the last girl to be fitted. How is it my fault, though? Does she know how difficult it is to be me right now? I’m in my last year of high school—debate team, staying on honor roll, plotting my law school track—I have so many other things I have to do aside from plan what I’m going to wear for Genny’s wedding.
Auntie Funmi wraps the measuring tape around my arm and tightens it, peering down her nose at the small black numbers that overlap. Her eyes flick over to mine. “Are you still losing weight?”
“I wasn’t to begin with…,” I murmur. Auntie moves on quickly. My eyes dart to the book she’s scribbling in where she keeps our measurements. Auntie Funmi has been doing clothes for my family since I was very young, but I don’t think I’ve changed that much from last year. Chioma’s aunt and uncle had a dedication ceremony for their newborn, and the two-piece dress I had made still fits me just fine. Auntie Funmi is just being a busybody.
Chioma flips a large page in the catalog and scrunches up her nose like she’s smelled something bad. Her thick Senegalese twists fall over her shoulder and she has to shimmy and shrug to push them back over. “Auntie,” she calls, “are you sure the style Genny picked for the dresses is in here?”
Auntie doesn’t bother looking up as she runs the tape from my shoulder to my knees. “Yes.”
“But they’re all so tacky,” Chioma whispers. Auntie doesn’t act like she heard her, but I chuckle a little. “She couldn’t find something on Pinterest? Why does she want us to look ugly at her wedding?”
“Tch, as if you don’t know your own sister,” I sneer playfully, jutting out my bottom lip in arrogance. Genevieve, Chioma’s older sister, who used to get both Chioma and I to braid, unbraid, and wash her hair while we were growing up because she just got shellac done and do we know how much shellac costs? Genevieve, Chioma’s older sister, who used to crop family members out of pictures where she was the only one who looked good. Genevieve, Chioma’s older sister, who went viral for a hot second as “Jesus girl at Riley’s” last summer and leveraged it to the max.
Where do I even begin with that story? Riley’s is a vegan joint that sells pastas and things in Toronto’s east end. Genny isn’t vegan, but she was going on a date with this guy, I think his name was Jacob. He wasn’t bad looking, but one time he posted a pic of him and Genny on his socials, and she told him to take it down because she knew it wasn’t that serious for her. He was trying to become an influencer or something, so he was always filming things. Jacob gets this bright idea to take Genny to Riley’s even though neither of them are vegan (we later found out it was for a “First Time Trying Vegan Food” video he was working on). Genny gets to the counter and asks what the cheese is made out of, since it couldn’t have been dairy. The lady says “cashews” and Genny gets this blank look on her face like she’s transcended time and space. Her mouth cracks open a smidge and she pouts, unsure, before she narrows her eyes and utters, “Je-sus…” with the most contempt I’ve ever heard. It’s hilarious and you couldn’t go anywhere online for a month without seeing her face.
Cut to last Christmas when she and her girls were vacationing in Nigeria. They were in a club in Abuja when someone in VIP recognized her as the Jesus girl and invited her and her friends to their booth. Neither of us were surprised hearing this when Genny first told us because she’s always had that kind of effortless charm. She just gets things when other people have to struggle. But wow our mouths dropped when she recounted how she spotted the one and only Skeleboy sitting there. Yes, that Skeleboy, Mr. Obafemi Oluwadurotimi Balogun, arguably the best Afrobeats artist-producer-turned-philanthropist-artist-producer of our time. Skeleboy me, Skeleboy this money, everything na Skeleboy—that Skeleboy! Genny came back home after her vacation and they did the long-distance thing in secret with her slipping off to Nigeria here and there. Fast forward to one day when she comes back with a real diamond ring from Skeleboy—and plane tickets (tickets!) for Genny and her immediate family to fly to his Lekki mansion in Nigeria to meet his parents. Unreal!
I’ll never forget the look in Chioma’s eyes when she barged into my house the day after she got back on Canadian soil, skin tired and blotchy, looking like a whole haggard wreck from the long flight. With manic eyes and a lofty, ghostlike twinge to her voice, she recited, “Adanna … Skeleboy me, Skeleboy this money … everything na Skeleboy o!” And we cried for an hour.
I can’t believe I’m about to be related to Skeleboy.
Well, not actually related. Chioma and I aren’t real cousins—our parents met each other when they immigrated here and wanted to hang with other Nigerian Igbo families. No, the only real family I have are my parents, and Sam. Obinna Samuel, my brother. He’s older than me, but younger than Genny. He’s not around anymore.
And we’re not allowed to talk about him.
Chioma’s ringtone goes off and it’s a Skeleboy song, his most popular one, “Yanga.” I laugh. “You’re going to have to change that, bro. Imagine if your future brother-in-law hears that. So embarrassing.”
She closes her eyes and begins to hum the song, dancing side to side, while she sings: “Do me, do me, do me yanga!” She sounds horrible.
“Gpek-gpek-gpek,” Auntie Funmi teases, dropping her measuring tape from my back and folding it into her hands. “Sounding like common fowl.”
Chioma laughs so hard the fabric on her leg slides down and she has to bend to pick it up. She folds it neatly and sets it back on the table. The gold and blue fabric will look so nice once all our clothes are made. I can imagine all us cousins lined up in our uniforms, posed super extra for the family photo—the family photo with Ske-le-bo-yeee. Oh god, how close will I be allowed to stand to him? Will his entourage circle him and Genny or will he want to hug us, suddenly enamored with our hybrid Igbo-Yoruba-some-Ika-some-Isoko-cousin family dynamic? Tribal conflict where?
Auntie Funmi closes her book of measurements and turns to lean against her table, arms folded. She says something in Igbo, and I know it’s in Igbo because suddenly she sounds more like my mom and less like the Yoruba of a Skeleboy song. When neither Chioma nor I move, Auntie Funmi begins to cackle. “What is it? You no know say I sabi Igbo?”
“Well, we don’t, so…,” I say. The wave of shame is not lost on me, and it’s like saying it aloud brings about a layer of guilt I don’t need right now.
Auntie Funmi’s cackle is almost sinister. “I know, o! You oyinbo children. I said, ‘Okay, that’s it, you can go.’ You don’t even know that one?”
Those magic words have me slipping away from Auntie as fast as I can and darting straight for my sweater and bag in the corner. “When do we pick up the clothes?” I ask over my shoulder.
“Give me, hmm, one month,” she says, chewing her bottom lip in contemplation. “I will call your mom and tell her.”
Chioma gets to her feet and we both thank Auntie Funmi, even though it was only me getting measured. Chioma came because I need her to drive me to Williams after. It’s four thirty on a Thursday and I promised to be at Williams Café before five to go over debate plans with Justin. He thinks Mr. Patel may have slipped him our topic for the next competition, and Justin can be dramatic and ugly competitive sometimes, so I’m not surprised at all that he wants to practice so early. Too bad this was the only time I could come and get measured. I’m just lucky Chioma can drive and her dad agreed to give her his old rusty-ass sedan.
I settle into the passenger’s side and tap the dashboard like we’re in some movie and someone is chasing us. “Okay, fast fast, hurry,” I say, bobbing impatiently in my seat.
I’m half kidding but Chioma is whole-annoyed. “Don’t fast fast me, Ada,” she hisses as she turns the key in the ignition. The old car roars to life, but just barely. Its engine is loud and it’s taking seventeen years to back out of its parking spot. “If you were in such a hurry, you should’ve asked Tayo to drive you.”
I feel my heart thump in my chest at the mention of his name, and at the thought of me being alone with him in a car. It’s not like I haven’t been alone with him before—we’re friends and, most of the time, we do everything together. We’re just close like that. Still, I stumble over my words, “Wh-what? No?”
“He just got his license! He’d kill us. That boy can’t even parallel park.”
“No one actually can, though.”
“And he’s busy anyway.”
She grins, glancing at me. “So you did ask him?”
I button up quickly, unsure if my next words will be my last. Chioma is always teasing me about Tayo, probably because he’s a boy and I’m a girl and we’re both the only Nigerian kids in our grade. Plus, like I said, he’s my friend. We’re friendly. God, why am I even getting into this with her? Chioma graduated high school already, but she’s so interested in my life. Doesn’t she have university things to care about or something?
“He said no?” she presses again. “Huh?”
“I didn’t ask him,” I tell her. “I just know he’s busy because I saw him at school earlier. Whatever. Turn right here. It’s a shortcut.” I quickly point down another road and Chioma does as she’s told.
At a stoplight, Chioma quickly plugs her phone into the aux cord and turns on “Yanga.” I snicker as she rolls her shoulders, bobs her head, and gets ready to launch into full car dancing mode. “Get it out of your system now, o!” I tease in pidgin, in my acquired Nigerian Igbo accent. It doesn’t sound quite as authentic as Mom’s or Dad’s, but it works for us cousins. We talk like this sometimes when we’re all together. Our vernacular and sentence patterns change like we’re enjoying malt and chicken somewhere outside a restaurant in Ikeja—or, whatever it is that Lagos youth do, anyway. “You can’t be behaving like this in front of your in-law.”
“I know, I know,” she says, still giddy. “Sing with me.”
The beat tricks us and Chioma starts to sing a whole five seconds before the first verse, which has us laughing even more. By the time Skeleboy launches into his first “do me,” we’re clawing over each other trying to match up to his rhymes. “D-do me—do me! Do me yanga, o!”
The song goes into its last verse while Chioma pulls into the Williams parking lot. There are a few cars littered around, but it doesn’t look like it’s too full. This place gets packed on the weekends with university kids who need that perfect blend of coffee-shop ambience and two-for-one espresso to ace a test. It also gets packed during the evenings, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’m usually at home by the time the sun goes down, studying in my room while my Spotify playlists rotate through the night. Mom and Dad don’t like me going anywhere in the evening these days, that is, unless Chioma is with me. Can’t believe they trust her so much, honestly.
I turn down the music in Chioma’s car really fast. It’s quiet out here and I don’t want to disturb the peace. Plus, we can’t be that car blasting Afrobeats after hours in this neighborhood. There aren’t a lot of passersby on the street, but I can still feel phantom eyes on us. People are probably looking through the windows at Williams to see whose car is making all that noise, you know, who’s disturbing their second two-for-one espresso deal.
Chioma recoils at the sudden emptiness in the air. “What’s wrong with you? Let me finish my song,” she says.
“This is a public place,” I say, sounding a lot like my dad, and quickly gather up my things before she can spike the volume again. “Thanks for the ride. Tell your parents I say hey.”
She manages a wave even though she’s frowning, still mad about the volume. She’s acting like she isn’t about to turn it up the second I leave. If there’s one person who doesn’t know that her sister is about to be married to a top star, well, they’ll definitely figure it out by the time she’s done belting the next song.
Copyright © 2022 by Louisa Atto