There is something terribly wrong with that kind of beauty. It seems to beg for someone to taint it. It cries out to be ruined.
I’ll say it’s not my fault, but somehow I can’t help feeling responsible. That day we all herded to her house to say we were so sorry that she was so unfortunate and that God would surely do something and shame all her enemies, I got scared by all the curses my mother rained on people who hated her.
“They have seen your star and they have done their worst,” Mum declared somberly. “But they can’t block your light, my daughter. They cannot fight your destiny.”
I heard everything that everyone was saying but I didn’t really understand. I know that my little sister IV’s fantasy was for me and Bianca to hit it off one day and then get married. IV idolized Bianca. Every time she embarked on those fancies, I deflected by telling her I had more on my plate than empty fine girls with glamourous selfies that didn’t even begin to mirror their real lives.
“When she comes to this house, we’ll teach her how to be real,” IV would say, tapping twice to like some picture of Bianca on Instagram.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault, really. I knew I should feel a little excited, if I wasn’t happy – and I wasn’t trying to be that – I should at least be given the satisfaction of recalling that I predicted correctly.
“Girls like that are not my kind of girls,” I always say.
But I nursed in my heart a special kind of pride for IV’s looks. She was slender in the very fashionable sense and had a charming smile. All my friends agreed that my sister was fine.
When at 16 she decided to be a model, I helped her hide it from our parents for three years. It wasn’t until a few months ago that our father got to know; I don’t think Mum knows yet but when she does I know there’ll be hell to pay. I can only imagine what her reaction will be.
Bianca’s mother was taking the scandal well, if her reactions were anything to judge by; and for the twentieth time in the roughly ten minutes we had spent commiserating with them, I wondered why I agreed to be dragged along. We were not children anymore. Bianca was 22, and she was well-equipped by years and years of social climbing to handle the situation at hand. I looked towards her full on for the first time that evening, her lithe body coiled on a sofa, her arresting face half-buried in a pillow and half covered by her elbow and it struck me again how very attractive she was.
“Sorry, Bianca,” I managed to mumble.
She made a soft sound, acknowledging my goodwill, and I saw through the space between her arms a single sharp eye scaling my face.
Mum and Bianca’s mum were talking about how difficult it was to have any kind of privacy in the country nowadays. The whole place was infested with human beings who either wanted to smear your name in filth or take away everything you worked so hard for.
“Aunty, it’s the way these things happen now. Everybody almost hates us. Some think we’re spoilt and entitled and some think we’re pretenders and we’re pushing ourselves where we don’t belong,” IV abruptly entered the conversation between the two women.
Usually, Mum would rant and complain about how it was so indecorous of her to speak to her elders without some kind of invitational cue, but today it passed for normal. Bianca’s mum, whom IV had directed her talk at, nodded with a very meaningful expression on her face.
IV’s attention had reverted to the glowing screen on her palms. She had just obeyed an impulse cutting into the discussion of the two mothers and had reclined into her own interests. But that evening, our mothers all felt a need to be dramatic.
“Who told them that we’re rich?” Bianca’s mum hissed. “Do they know how many years of school and combing through offices trying to find something to do have resulted in this thing that they now wickedly envy? Kai, have they no pity?” she was so stirred that her voice began to crack up.
My mum left her chair and went over to sit beside her friend.
“It’s wrong,” Mum said. “You’re just really trying to hold all the ends together and someone somewhere is out there trying to undo you because they think you have it all.” Her arms were around the other woman’s shoulders and her voice was soft.
The woman never ceases to amaze me. I watched her be nice to Bianca and her mother and I knew in my heart that she was just observing some sick social protocol that would immediately prove impotent if the case was reversed and either me or IV got in that kind of situation. My mother had embraced Bianca and assured her that her destiny was great and they were fighting her precisely because of that. I had tried to make eye contact with IV, archive the moment in our shared memories but IV was too preoccupied with her phone.
At last, the drama ended and Mum herded us home again. We didn’t speak on the walk back, probably because Bianca’s mum saw us off to our gate. Our houses weren’t that far apart so we walked to and fro visiting one another, though we lived in a GRA. All the houses around us were the same. Rich or super rich. But we all spoke about ourselves when we had to, as the struggling and despised middle class.
The next time I saw Dayo, he seemed hurt that Bianca had done something like that. I tried to reassure him that it must have been a scam; that my family had gone to the house and Bianca was just your regular undergraduate beauty, but he laughed at me.
“Oh boy, na me wan tell you,” he threw his head back, folded his arms across his chest and wore a provoking stance.
We were outside TH9, waiting for a lecture to round up so we could troop in for our class which was getting late by a few minutes.
“Take am easy, guy,” I said. “Me and that girl grew up together. I know say Bianca too dey form but this thing na set up.”
By the end of that day, however, the whole school proved me wrong. Bianca had attained notorious celebrity overnight and anybody who was somebody had the video of her entangled in noisy passion with the most popular candidate aspiring for SUG president. The video was a bit grainy, but many people, including Dayo, believed it was Bianca.
He broke up with her. She let him go. Though it bothered me a little because Bianca was the only girl I knew as much about as my own sister while growing up, I also had to let it go. I couldn’t well ask her if she really did it. It would be insulting from various angles. Was I asking if she cheated on my friend? Was I asking if she agreed to have mercenary sex to disqualify a great guy? Was I asking if she whored for others’ entertainment? What exactly was I asking?
IV just shrugged and continued her yoga pose. It was something she did while we watched MTV. I never lost a chance to tell her how wrong that was.
“It’s a meditative exercise, for God’s sake,” I’d say. “Meditate a little!”
And she’d laugh at me for sitting in front of the TV like a statue. “At least help yourself while you’re also wasting your time!”
And we’d both laugh. But IV just refused to have the kind of discussions we usually had about Bianca’s sex video. It was novel territory for me. Up until the moment some of the guys made me watch the video, I had never even come close to watching porn in my life. It was very repulsive because it made me think of Bianca in ways I never fully dared before. It sarcastically climaxed my boyhood fantasies.
Funny, that though she should be ashamed of herself, she never shrank. She seemed buoyed somehow by the fact that everyone knew her now. I tried to talk about that with IV as well, but all she said was I wouldn’t know how damaging popularity could be; it became like a drug, and junkies don’t care. I really don’t know anything about being popular, but I still thought sometimes that maybe Bianca was sad. Maybe after school every day she locked herself in her bathroom and cried. Maybe porn star popularity was not worth being a fame junkie for. Maybe she needed me.
So I started trying to check up on her, but she barely replied my chats. Whenever we met, though, she was all sunshine and sugar, Bianca like nothing had changed. This time, I didn’t try to talk to IV about it. My 19-year old sister had entered a major pageant. Dad knew about it but no one told Mum. She was busy hiding her skin, reserving her glow for that magic moment, eating and sleeping right, improvising kitchen spas for herself and studying for the judges while also studying for school. She didn’t exactly have the time to hear my confused musings about our mutual childhood friend.
Bianca’s mum dropped in once in a while at weekends for a few months after that video scandal broke out. She seemed always a little flustered, maybe wondering if we judged her. But as Mum would always say when someone left the refrigerator door open or let the generator run on too long, you gave birth to a child but you didn’t give birth to its character. I felt for the woman; she shouldn’t feel so bad.
Try as hard as I could, I never stopped thinking about that thing. I’m sure even Bianca forgot it before I did. But I knew I had to keep quiet. Dayo moved on to another friend of IV’s and I felt a little pinched that my sister didn’t consider that a betrayal. Bianca had another boyfriend too; I didn’t care to know his name. I guess I’d hoped that somehow she might have learnt a valuable lesson: stay away from boys.
Then last night, while I was picking out my outfit for IV’s big event, someone quietly slipped into my room. I thought it was my sister coming to once more be nervous about how she might win and Mum would then definitely get to know. But when a long moment passed and she didn’t say anything, I turned around and there was Bianca.
She stood there looking at me, a little too directly, a little uncertain, a little suggestive. I didn’t know what to say. I looked away from my closet, unwittingly dragging out a T-shirt that just a while ago meant almost everything to me. I was walking slowly toward her and I think she was floating to me too. My heart was a little cranked up. I knew there was no going back; I was falling headlong into this thing with this girl that might claim she didn’t remember any of it tomorrow, but whatever. The hell with it.