I have always been handicapped in the area of dressing. Perhaps it is much more than that. I simply rebel at the idea of wearing appropriate clothing. My older brother used to relate how, when I was 3 or 4, I would fight when he tried to dress me in warm clothing, when we were in Limuru. Then, when we went down to Mombasa, I insisted on wearing my warmest sweater. That must have been very uncomfortable for me.
Then, as I went into my teens, dressing became much more complicated. All the girls my age would wear tiny skirts or tight jeans. Neither attire suited my lifestyle, which involved scaling walls, climbing trees and jumping off cliffs into the Mtwapa creek. To make matters worse, my developing body was not particularly co-operative. I was very tall, awkward and clumsy by the time I turned 13. My arms would grow right up to my knees at some point. Or I would just wake up and find that I couldn’t fit in any of my clothes. I decided it was much better to buy extra large clothes that allowed for movement, but stayed on if I decided to go up somewhere. I had never had more than one skirt in my entire life. When my mother insisted, I would show up in the house of God in the same worn out skirt or, better yet, one of my rugged jeans torn at the knees, with one red, one blue slipper. I was my mother’s worst nightmare when it came to dressing. Still am. I just cannot get the hang of dress sense.
Mum tried everything. She bought my clothes just to make sure. Quite a few of the dress-up clothes she bought conveniently disappeared off clotheslines. If I couldn’t get the nice clothes to disappear, I would just leave them in the wardrobe until I had outgrown them. So mum turned to Sunday morning talks on ‘how you dress is how people see you’. I truly believe everyone in Mtwapa saw me as a street bum.
As I got older and the boys got cuter, I started worrying about how I looked. By the time I turned 18, however, I had already identified with a gang of youths for whom books, comics and computers made more sense than clothes, makeup and clubbing. I quickly slid back to my rugged jeans and T-shirts. Well, I kept some tank tops. I have more jeans and T-shirts in my wardrobe than anything else. My shoes consist of sneakers, flats and slip-ons. In fact, my mother declared recently that I chose to teach Kindergarten because it allowed me to dress like me.
My girlfriend Apiyo, who is quite like me but pink inside and thankfully with a lot more dress sense than me, recently went into an apoplexy when an older friend of respectable knowledge recommended a black two-row trouser suit, elegant blouse, thin briefcase, Oxford brogues for a very important meeting. Apiyo promptly declared that she would sooner be dead than afflict upon her self such hideous formality. I sympathized with her– which is more than she did for me when I was faced by the magenta gown two months ago.
Cousin Jeanette decided she was going to get married with much ado and no further delay. (I told you I would go and write about it, cousin.) I am still convinced that my entire clan conspired to have me on the wedding entourage. I had escaped far too may of my relatives’ weddings. So a campaign of begging, lectures and emotional blackmail was launched that soon had me agreeing to be in the wedding.
I slept through most of the rushed wedding committee meetings and, when I woke up, I was going to be a brides maid complete with flowers, a shiny silky gown of some hue of pink and heels. I kept comforting myself that I would be alright. When I went for fitting, I made sure that I did not look in the mirror, in the hope that I would be able to bear the horror until the material day.
The day before the wedding, it hit me. It wasn’t just the wedding. It was everything associated with the wedding. First of all, one of my aunts kept referring to my age. Then another took up on the fact that I was almost done with college. Another actually believes that I am an established writer (Thank you.) So shouldn’t it be time I had my own ‘wedding’ and started on the rest of my life?
I have always rebelled. Biology says I should have stayed in my mother’s womb for at least nine months, I decided to get out into the world at 8 months. My parents gave me a name when I was born, but as soon as I could talk; I demanded a name change so fiercely that my family obliged me and legally registered the name I chose. That was my license to do things in the exact opposite of what was expected. My aunts had expected me to get knocked up or go into drugs in my teens since a child brought up without a father was only bound to be ruined. I didn’t do either. So they definitely should have figured out that I wasn’t going to get married at the nice ripe age of 25.
I can’t say my rebellion is all good. Here now I was, watching the bustle of wedding preparation, my head hurting from all the excitement around me, and I was wondering– what if it all passes me by? What if I woke up and found out that I had chosen the wrong career? What if I did want to be a doctor or an architect (those had been choices at some point) rather than a Kind teacher and a writer? What if I did want to drive a shiny blue Musso by the time I was 26? What if I did want to be married young? What if I never got married? What if I never had a home of my own? What if I never had kids? What if I died from all the what ifs? What would my obituary read?
I called one of the best friends of mine first. I was hyperventilating but, when she asked, I could only point to a dress as the source of my sorrow. My other best friend thought magenta was the funniest color to have me in. Silk, shine, magenta. He still will not let me forget.
So it was on the day of the wedding that I struggled with the gown. The bride was tearful, there was no vodka to numb the nerves and the sight of my being dressed in magenta staring at me from the other side of the mirror made my temples throb. I am tall; well, 5ft 8in is quite tall in my family. Jeanette’s maid of honor and the other two bridesmaids are short and petite. In an entourage full of pretty vignettes, I was huge, awkward, out of place.
Did I mention that the gown was strapless, too? When my cue came up and an impatient aunt pushed me towards the aisle, my thoughts were focused on my bosom. Damn, the strapless bra is too tight. Can I somehow push it up so it stops biting me? No, everyone is looking. Jeez is the gown slipping? What if it falls and bares everything? And who is that cute guy? Probably some cousin you have never met, idiot. Then he winked at me and it all came apart.
My foot twisted on a heel. I stepped on the hem of the gown. Something ripped. The gown started slipping. I gasped. The flowers went flying. Someone else gasped. Someone giggled. My heart stopped. And the gown kept slipping. I kept falling. The cute guy caught me, and my gown. Deft fingers (–deft) caught the malfunctioning zipper and brought it back up. Someone handed me the flowers. My ears burnt. My heart started beating way too fast. And I hobbled to the front. In tears.
The cheeky little page boy grinned up at me and piped up loud enough for everyone to hear, “I thaw your booby.”
My two best friends have not yet seen photographs of this. I have been religiously hunting for all copies of the incriminating evidence with the intention of destroying them, lest the horrendous images be broadcast to the whole world. It is bad enough that my entire clan has seen them. Beg as they may, my two friends will never get to see the evidence of such a completely and incredibly comical epitome of the worst wardrobe malfunction of all time.
I have yet to process everything that happened that day. Most of it I am willing to ignore and hope to forget. I know for sure that no amount of blackmail, lectures or begging will get me into another wedding anytime soon. I am seriously considering missing my own wedding, too. The cute guy turned out to be a friend of a friend of a cousin who was getting married himself in March. So missing my wedding probably will not be that much of a big deal.
I wonder though, what would have happened if my parents had forced me to keep Sarah as my name? Juliet sounds nice, maybe romantic, but Shakespeare’s Juliet was a tragic idiot. The other Juliette I know (change in spelling does not account, neither does the nationality) was guillotined. Then there is me. What is your fate, Juliet?
Death by magenta gown?