In the end, Resumption Check-in went exactly as Liz expected it to go. Mummy said “I told her” twelve times. Kathy and Lola went “missing” three times. Daddy barely said five sentences, and Liz almost snapped at the third aunty who “wondered” aloud why Janey was repeating SS2. By the time Janey and Liz were assigned their dormitories for the term, Liz was ready for a three-month break from every member of the Bello family that wasn’t Janey. Truly, absence made Liz’s heart grow fonder, or at least, less irritated.
“Remember the daughters of whom you are,” Mummy said by rote, the words falling from her lips as if she would violate some unspoken commandment if she didn't say them.
"Yes Mummy," Janey replied for both of them because Janey knew her sister wouldn't, and it was one of the many reasons Liz loved her.
Sporting twin expressions of displeasure as they climbed into the van, Kathy and Lola chorused, “Bye bye.”
“Bye,” Liz said with a half-smile at her twin sisters who were more upset at being pulled away from the action than not seeing Janey and her for the next three months.
With a wink and a smiling nod, Daddy turned on the engine and the gold-colored Honda Odyssey made its way through the emptying field.
Liz breathed a sigh of something-too-close-to-relief and slung a carefree arm around Janey’s shoulders, “Let’s go and see if Mary has come yet. She is supposed to bring Sweet Sensation ice cream for me. I don’t want it to melt, abeg.”
Jane laughed, her rhythmic laughter filling the air and warming Liz’s heart, “Nawa for your own kind of mother oh. Shouldn’t you be the one buying the ice cream?”
Liz kissed her teeth playfully, “Abeg, abeg, abeg, abeg, abeg. Go and find your own schooldaughter if it’s paining you.” Janey just smiled and nudged Liz in the direction of the hostel in response.
As they walked past the mango tree on the edge of the field, which was one of Liz’s favorite spots in Christ Mercy, she almost reached out to give the tree an affectionate pat as if to say hello to an old friend, but the two unfamiliar-looking boys having a discussion a few yards away under the tree stopped her. One of them, obviously a returning student as he was wearing black-n-blue, was speaking quite animatedly, and though she caught a good look at his face, she couldn't tell who he was. That was strange, because she liked to think she knew everyone in Christ Mercy. Okay, maybe not everyone, but allow a girl her delusions.
The other one was a new student, though he was obviously trying to hide his JJC status by wearing blue-and-black-colored mufti. That was also strange. Who chose to blend in when they had the opportunity to stand out? New students only had a few days to show off their closet before they were stuffed into the same colors as the rest of the school. And he had already wasted one of those days wearing a similar outfit to their Sunday black-n-blue.
Liz shook her head in secondhand disappointment. Though, she begrudgingly admitted, he filled out that blue polo shirt rather nicely. She didn't even know teenagers could have shoulders that broad. And he was tall, not in an overly lanky way, but in a way that brought the word testosterone to mind. And that was just his back view. If his front matched the back just a little, Christ Mercy girls were in for a treat. But let her not get ahead of herself, she would wait until she had seen the front view and had at least one conversation with him.
"Do you know the guy talking to the new student?" Liz asked Janey, when she saw her sister was just as distracted by the teen male specimens under the tree.
"At all. But he is a fine boy, oh." Janey said as she flirtatiously moved one of her thin braids behind her ear and straightened non-existent wrinkles on her pleated black skirt that accentuated a backside that Mummy, in her partiality, passed on to only Janey and Lola.
Liz gave her sister a sidelong glance that was heavy with meaning. "Oshey Lara Croft, target acquired."
Janey just smiled sweetly as if she didn't do this every year. As if she would not have that boy wrapped around her little finger before the end of the week. "I don't know what you're talking about, please. Move joor, let's go and eat your beggie beggie ice cream."
It was Liz's turn to laugh loudly and if you guessed that her laughter wasn't as rhythmic or effortlessly inviting as Janey's, you–dear reader–would be absolutely right.
According to everyone who had ever met her, Mary Chiamaka was a little uninteresting, and that was okay with her. Honestly, being interesting seemed exhausting. You always had to know what to say and when to say it. And it had to be funny, witty or somewhere in between. No, thank you, she'd rather read a book or watch a Korean series.
To be interesting, you had to be mentally and emotionally available all the time for other people's entertainment, and that just sounded like punishment to Mary. If she got up on the wrong side of the bed, she wanted to stay irritated in peace without anyone expecting her to smile or engage them in conversation. And, honestly, if that made her uninteresting, standoffish, proud, or whatever new adjective her classmates managed to come up with over the month-and-a-half holiday, then she’d gladly wear that badge on her chest.
Okay, it sounded a little too much like Mary was not glad to be back in Christ Mercy for the new school year, and that was not entirely true. She really was excited to see Belle after the long holiday and to begin her final year in Junior Secondary School. But, yes, she missed her room, her portable DVD player, her laptop full of recently downloaded movies, and guaranteed solitude. The many perks of being an only child.
Yes, Mary was an only child. A miracle child, if you asked Mama. The child Dr. and Mrs. Chiamaka had spent well over a decade praying, hoping, and waiting for. The thing is, once you knew this about Mary, many things about her started to make sense. How her parents granted her every wish as if to make up for her lack of siblings, and how that only made her feel her solitariness even more keenly. How socially awkward she could be sometimes, and though she was always top of her class, she never sounded as smart as she did in her head. How she craved solitude, but was drawn to personas like Belle who were people-magnets.
Calling Belle a people-magnet was the perfect metaphor, really. It was like Belle had a magnetic field that attracted everything with a pulse into her orbit. Belle was interesting, and Mary was content watching her from the sidelines, glad that the attention was on someone else instead of her.
"Doyin, how are you? Is Mary in this hostel?" came Belle's voice from the dormitory door as if Mary had conjured her up.
"Belle, yes, I'm here oh!"
"Sweet Mary, where is my ice-cream ?” Belle asked in a sing-song voice, to the tune of Prince Nico Mbarga's “Sweet Mother,” and Mary felt her lips widen into a huge grin.
Belle sauntered over, Janey next to her as she always was. They were not twins, but they might as well be. Where Belle was, Janey was usually less than five feet away. And they complemented each other perfectly. Where Janey was fair-skinned, sweet, and soft-spoken, Belle was a chocolate-covered firecracker.
Belle collapsed onto Mary's bottom bunk bed with a dramatic sigh, her large brown eyes bright with excitement and gossip, "Janey has already chosen our boyfriend for the year and we have not even been in school for up to two hours."