BEATRICE WATCHES THE parking lot, her ornamental beads jingling. “Is Sumbua coming?” she asks her mother standing beside her.
Her mother purses her lips. “I don’t know. But you already have other guests here. Go cater to them.”
Beatrice watches the slowly filling parking lot with longing. She hopes her favourite cousin shows up. Mama Beatrice knows the girl won’t show up. Or she’ll come late.
SHE ARRIVES AT the first ruracio meeting two hours late. She wants to park her white Range Rover near the gate. The hapless parking attendant, being paid five hundred bob and a free meal for the day, doesn’t know how to deal with such women.
“Madam, you have to park your car in the compound.”
Sumbua looks at him with a kind smile, her white teeth a brilliant, almost silvery glimmer, and he doesn’t know what to say to those teeth. His eyes become downcast and he sees her ample bosom, centred by a tasteful cleavage, crowned with a necklace as glittery as her teeth. He doesn’t know the kind of necklace it is, only that it’s very expensive.
“I’m leaving in a few minutes, si it’s ok if I leave it here?” she says amiably.
He gulps. These are the women his father complains about. They think the world revolves around them. She smiles at him again and tilts her head and he understands how they rule the world. He defies the urge to sway towards that intoxicating scent coming off her.
“Madam, Mama Beatrice said all the cars have to be parked inside the compound.”
She sighs and looks around. “Sawa.” She sounds so put out, he almost wants to apologise, but there are other cars to manage.
She manoeuvres her ostentatious car to the space she’s directed to. An unending patch of grass bordered by a puddle of mud and water and God knows what else. It’s fine. She’s here briefly. Once she parks the car, she studies her reflection in the vanity mirror behind her visor. Satisfied, she steps out of the car, carefully, dramatically. Her Louboutins will make her pay for this. She makes an awkward step as she shuts her car door and heads towards the main tent. Her car’s electronic fob hangs off her middle finger, next to the big rock on her ring finger. The sun glints off of it. Van Cleef would be proud.
Her scent precedes her when she reaches her family. They see her. They are smiling that blank, polite It’s-good-to-see-you-but-it’s-really-not smile. However, she’s taking too long to get to them. Their smiles are getting tired. Her heels keep digging into the ground.
Sister Nyakinyua, Sumbua’s cousin, watches the slow-moving saunter. The bright red soles of those ridiculous shoes irritate her. Sumbua should emulate her frugality more. She used to be told that all the time when they were children. Sumbua never listened. Nyakinyua takes in the ring, the necklace, the sunglasses, and the hat. How will she embrace people without falling over?
Sumbua finally arrives at the tent. “Muriega?” she greets the group. They all respond, wondering what next to say, to do. Should they wait for her to walk round, greeting each and every person? She doesn’t. She latches onto a cousin, squeals in delight. The cousin squeals back. Nyakinyua almost sneers. The cousin, Shiku, is a miniature Sumbua. Big ideas with her head in the clouds. If she doesn’t see the light, she will end up just like Sumbua. Someone will have to talk with her. Nyakinyua’s eyes search for their aunt, Shiku’s mother. She needs to get away from that cloying perfume.
Sumbua sees Nyakinyua leave in her periphery. She will be receiving a passive-aggressive phone call from Shiku’s mother soon. She can already imagine it.
“If you had children of your own, you would understand, eh? You know they can’t be exposed to such behaviour.”
She has bigger concerns. She excuses herself from Shiku and goes looking for the bride and groom. The meetings haven’t started yet. It’s the best time to catch them. Sumbua finds them talking with Auntie Annette. She takes a fortifying breath.
“Hi, Auntie Annette.” She hugs her loosely, like you would a lecherous uncle.
Annette doesn’t hide her scandalised expression as well as she thinks she does. The bride and groom are happy to see Sumbua, though.
“I’m so happy you could make it,” Beatrice gushes as they engage in a warm embrace. The groom, Macharia, even lifts her off her feet.
“I thought you had said you couldn’t make it,” he says.
Sumbua laughs as she’s put down. Her heel digs into the earth. “Ugh,” she exclaims as the couple support her arm for her to dig herself out.
Annette makes a guttural sound. Sumbua looks on blankly at the judgement. The bride and groom get embroiled in a conversation with Sumbua. Annette walks away, not believing her conversation has been hijacked. She will have to warn the bride and groom about Sumbua. Especially Beatrice. A new bride doesn’t need that kind of influence.
Sumbua tells Beatrice she needs to talk with Macharia briefly. The bride wanders away. “I won’t be able to make it for the rest of the events.”
His eyebrows reach his hairline. It’s the only place his face shows expression. Of all the in-laws, she’s the only one who makes him feel welcome—not judged. He needs her in his corner.
“I have a gift for you and Beatrice.”
He shakes his head. “You don’t need to.”
A ringtone cuts him short. Sumbua looks at her phone’s screen. She smiles apologetically. “I need to take this, it’s Paris.”
His brow furrows. Why is Paris calling? Who is Paris? What is going on? He can’t ask. Men don’t get curious. Especially about a woman’s affairs.
“Yes, I got here.” She laughs. “Yes, I took two weeks. The company can survive without me.” Another round of laughter. “No, I haven’t given them their gift yet—I won’t wait. I’m not really needed here. . . . Okay. Yeah, my flight is tomorrow morning. Okay.” She twirls the ring on her finger with her thumb. “I know. I love you, too.” She shuts her phone and turns back to him.
“What was I saying?” She smiles. “Oh yes, I left them in the car.” She turns to head to the car and spots the parking attendant. She raises a manicured hand and calls for him. He comes running.
“Can you please collect that kyondo in the boot for me?” She hands him her key before he even says anything.
He looks at the fob. He doesn’t know how to work those. He turns to the groom for help, but he looks just as lost. She smiles again. Whatever. He takes the key and heads towards the car. Before he’s out of earshot, she stops him.
“Do you know how to work that key?” He wants to scream. He turns and waits for her to continue. “All you have to do is stand near the boot. The door will open itself.”
He nods and lopes towards the car. It’s been surrounded by other cars. Didn’t she say she was leaving early? He will need to escape before she sets off. He stands near the boot and the door pops open. The white suede upholstery is intimidating. He picks out the basket in the centre of the floor and stares at the door. How is he supposed to shut it? He moves to put down the basket. The door shuts itself with a dull thump. Oh.
He carries the basket delicately to her. She smiles when she sees him approaching. Then she frowns. “Oh, it’s not this one. There is another kyondo near the corner. You can leave this one here. It’s for Mama Beatrice.”
The groom’s eyebrows dance. She brought her aunt something? Even after everything? The parking attendant dutifully goes back and returns with the right basket. She takes it from his hands and almost drops it. The groom reaches out and helps. She deposits the entire weight in his arms. Then she turns to the parking attendant.
He stares at her for a moment. Shakes his head and walks away. She gasps as if she has forgotten something. She calls him back. The young man looks ready to commit murder. She removes her phone’s case, picks out a folded thousand-shilling note and hands it to him. “Have a soda, eh?”
He is suddenly more enthusiastic. He’ll never understand why his father has a problem with such women.
The groom shifts the basket in his hands. It smells good. Casablanca lilies rest on the edge. Beatrice’s favourite flowers. Sumbua probably knows her best of anyone in the family. She will be heartbroken to learn Sumbua isn’t coming to anything else.
Sumbua smiles, kisses his cheek and whispers, “There is enough in there to help with whatever these people demand. You can say it came from an uncle if they ask.” She tilts her wrist to look at the face of a dainty watch. He laughs. He’d thought it was a bracelet.
“Heh, I need to get going. You’ll make sure Beatrice’s mum gets this basket.” She points at the basket on the ground with her chin, looks around. Probably for Beatrice. She spots her in a coven of aunties. There is no way she’s going there. She turns back to him.
“Please say bye to Beatrice.”
She teeters off in her ridiculous heels towards the car park. After what feel like hundreds of announcements asking guests to move their cars, the Range Rover finally makes it out and floats away in a cloud of modest dust. The function breathes a collective sigh of relief. Macharia doesn’t understand why.
Mama Beatrice and his soon-to-be wife approach him. Beatrice looks dismayed to find Sumbua gone. Macharia hands her a lily. She sniffs it and smiles.
“It’s a good thing that woman has gone,” Mama Beatrice complains. “That woman can disturb people.”
Macharia remains quiet. Beatrice tries to defends her cousin. He looks at the basket on the ground. Mama Beatrice’s eyes light up.
“What are those? Did she leave anything?”
Beatrice looks at Macharia. “No,” they both say.
Mama Beatrice tsks, “Some people can be so selfish.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gloria Mari is a Nairobi-based freelance writer owned by her pet cat.