‘THE AWARD CEREMONY’ by Chioma Nnanna (1/8)

I was shortlisted for an award. It is a big deal – renowned, recognized and most importantly, international. There is something about being validated by foreigners; it says you’re now a little more than just a local champion. An international champion, if you may. I have a child and a husband who wears bow ties and skinny trousers that cut off right before his ankles. He is thirty-five. Sometimes, his rainbow colored socks embarrass me when we’re not in the circle of other eccentrics and oddballs. That man does not know how to act. We could be going to a village meeting, and my husband would knack suspenders on his skinny jeans and dirty sneakers get-up, as if the combination alone is not bad enough. He calls himself, “alternative.” This is the man I married. I love my husband but I certainly will not be seeking style tips from him. We are in London. My husband’s outfit is laid out on our hotel bed. He is sitting across from me, wearing those contraptions he calls glasses. “What do you think of this?” He is holding up what looks like Ankara suspenders, and wearing a small frown on his gorgeous oval face. I do not respond; I have bigger problems than my husband’s choice of apparel. Our baby is sitting on the other side of the bed, wearing only baby powder and a smudge of formula on his rosy fat cheeks. I sigh. Oh to be young, naked and without a care. “These suspenders says, ‘educated but African,’ don’t you think, babe?” “Yes, no one would know you’re educated and African without them, Dr. Chuka Nwaeze,” I reply, dryly. I have my own problems. I am in London for an award ceremony at which I am at risk of standing in front of hundreds of people (if I win), and I can not decide what to wear. At least my husband has his suspenders, either this one or the other fifteen options he packed. I think he has a Kente one too. I brought with me three outfits: a seemly skirt suit in sky blue to be paired with sensible shoes and a brooch shaped like the continent of Africa (always repping), an adventurous pant suit that said, ‘I am here and this whole shebang is mine’ (paired with my sensible shoes and that killer brooch) or the outfit my mother-in-law packed for me. I haven’t opened the package but I can see the fabric through the transparent bag it was packed in, and it is beautiful albeit inappropriate. My mother-in-law is a fashion designer but she often forgets that not every occasion is an Ankara occasion. Sometimes, a girl writes her first book, is overwhelmed by how well it does and somehow finds herself in the UK for the first time, the recipient of a prestigious nomination. My mother-in-law does not know that sometimes local champions become international, and being international comes with a suit. “What will Amara wear?” I asked my husband who has now settled for a different pair of Ankara suspenders. “Didn’t you pack clothes for her?” he responded as he rose to check the box we came with. “I did, but if you’re wearing that multicolored thing, and I’m wearing the sky blue skirt suit, and she’s wearing the dress grandma made for her, wouldn’t we be too much a color riot,” I say with a pout. My husband turns towards me with his “you must be joking” face. “You’re wearing that sky blue suit? Wait, you brought that sky blue mess?” “Says the man who plans to pair his Ankara suspenders with Nike sneakers,” I retorted. “It’s called being edgy! You, on the other hand, are just razz.” Razz, is Nigerian slang for having bad taste in the most uncool manner possible. “It’s not razz!” I exclaim, “it’s practical and makes me look serious and smart.” “If you were the fifty year old wife of a pastor, yes.” I laugh. My husband is not the funniest but he has his days. “So what do I wear now? The pant suit?” I fall with my back onto the bed. The event is in three hours. “Have you tried the dress my mother gave you?” Sigh. My intern, Ada, told me to hire a stylist but I didn’t think it was necessary. Now, I wish I listened to her. “Ankara is not for oyibo events,” I say. Chuka raises his brows and holds out his Ankara suspenders to me. I roll my eyes. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try on my mother-in-law’s dress. I pull it out of the bag. It’s long but not impractically long for a mother of a toddler. I throw it on, over my underwear, half hoping I hate it. It hugs my body in all the right places but somehow manages to hide my post-pregnancy pouch. I hear my husband whistle. “Babe, you should definitely wear this.” There’s a headwrap and a shawl in the package. The headwrap is held together with pins and a note that says, “Ready to wear because I know you’re terrible at these things.” I wear the headwrap on my head and look at my reflection in the antique mirror in our very British hotel room. I have to admit, I do look beautiful. “I’m wearing this,” I whisper. My husband is dressing up our child. He nods slowly but he does not know I’m about to take this slay up a notch. I pick my daughter up and swing her around my back with her limbs wrapped around my waist. I grab the shawl my mother-in-law packed (that genius woman!), and I tie it around my child and across my breasts in a small knot that mimics the one on my headwrap. I look in the mirror again; I see myself, an African woman in all her glory. It’s an hour to the event. My husband, in his funny clothes, and I, with our baby strapped behind me, magnificent in the outfit my husband’s mother made me. How did such a stylish woman raise this man I married? My husband snaps on his signature bow tie, offers me his arm and says, “Now, let us go and show these oyibos what’s what.”

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