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  • Nothing under the Sun
  • Timi Soleye

If you’ve never smoked a cigarette six degrees north of the Equator you must be told that in a tropical climate it’s a completely different experience, as I found beside the flies and party rice. At most points during the day the ambient temperature feels sufficient to set a cigarette aflame sans match—except that it’s so wet in the air.

The inhalation of the smoke is a different experience, almost labored, and the smoke tastes like ash, and your mouth tastes like an ashtray someone has spilled a drink into or a soggy napkin wrapped around a cigarette butt. There’s no relief from the contrast between the smoke and crisp air that are the hallmarks of smoking in England and the cigarette itself burns sulkily: fitful and unenthusiastic.

The rubbish, smoke, and I stood, just out of sight of the main body of the reception, at the caterer’s aperture at the far end of the large tent in which the women of society, and it was mostly the women, carouseled around. All but a few wore one or the other of the peach or mint-green lace, declarations for the bride or groom, and their outfits against the backdrop of the yellow tent decorated in yellow ribbon supported the notion, which was foremost in my mind, of an Easter egg parade. On a dais bisecting the space sat the happy couple though you could not tell from their glassy-eyed vigilance over the proceedings if they were in fact happy or not.

Round large trays were held aloft like lily pads on the flow of guests by waiters all bent at angles squeezing past each other and between the tables full of guests. There were bottles, wine glasses, and cartons of juice stood around the table centerpieces, humongous tacky brandy glasses six-inch-full of water in [End Page 89] which plastic flowers floated pink and yellow, and though there was no cutlery on the table, if a meal was brought a knife, fork, and spoon in a red faux velvet pouch would accompany it.

The main entrance of the tent was a flower-covered archway and entrance was accomplished, for the most, part via a procession of arriving guests, which funnelled slowly down the red carpet that stretched from the archway to about half the width of the tent, some six feet from the dais of the bride—and to a lesser extent the groom—such that every entrant who achieved the head of the procession was afforded briefly the chance at the termination of the carpet, to be at the mathematical center of the tent ideally placed to be noticed by the bride or groom and to be seen by everyone in the tent who cared to look before evaporating into the throng as they sought a seat. For those who did not care to be looked at or did not think themselves worth seeing there were subsidiary entrances where one could slip in without remark.

Electric standing fans spun busily throughout the room adding to the general impression of constant movement that with the crowd and the noise made the place a festive beehive. It was difficult to focus and the distractions were compounded further by the succession of half-recognized faces spread through the “young people’s” section of tables, where a number of people I may or may not have gone to primary school with sit and stand enjoying a betimes jovial and raucous camaraderie. These are the prior returnees, who have, like I have, finished university and have returned to Nigeria to rebegin life in Lagos as adults.

The why and wherefores of writing are not easily reported but as I sat down to write on the morning after the wedding reception where flies had gathered above the grass behind the buffet table and waltzed across the piles of remaindered food left on the white plates—“Fine Porcelain: Freezer and Dishwasher Safe” if you cared to look beneath the plate—ready to be scraped and washed, motivations were inconsequential.

Wakefulness comes to some people like a broken bone snapping into place; I...


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