I was at a wedding last weekend and as it tapered down, I found myself sitting next to the maid of honour who was taking a break from dancing.
I had said hi when she sat down, but nothing since then.
At the front of the hall beside stacked tubers of yam, the wedding singer was hailing the bride’s parents, their faces frozen in the painful smiles of tired celebrants.
From beside us, I heard a loud “HEY” and a young man approached us. He started talking to the bridesmaid.
“I loved your speech. It was really funny,” he said. “When you said that part about being secondary school roommates, I died laughing.”
He was posed to continue, but his eyes flickered over, noticing me for the first time. The tiniest moment passed between us, then he said, “Okay” as if in response to a telepathic request and walked away.
I watched his departing back and I don’t know if I imagined it, but his head hung low and his shoulders seemed slumped.
I turned to her, my right leg brushed her left. “Should I have given you guys space?” I asked.
She shrugged, crinkling her nose. “Naaah….if he wanted something, he should have tried harder.”
At this point, although he was already across the hall, his head snapped up like he had heard us and he turned around and swaggered back, hands in his pockets and a little bounce in his step.
I hadn’t minded his little pick-up attempt earlier when I wasn’t talking to her. But now that I had established rapport with the give space question, I saw him coming back swooping in like a hawk, eyes gleaming, talons outstretched, and many negative thoughts went through my mind.
For the rest of the evening, he hovered over us as we tried to talk. He would finish my sentences, hijacking my anecdotes and turning them into his own jokes. If my story was too long, he would yawn. Openly. Not even covering his mouth.
Rather than pull up a chair next to her, he stood the whole time using the mobility to his advantage. He would stand in front of us pretending to stretch his back and do this hip thrusting thing. Then he would relocate, standing behind her and leaning on her chair. He would knead her shoulders. “You must be tired from all that dancing.” And she would giggle, even though I honestly don’t think she was all that tired.
The pressure was getting to me. In the air-conditioned hall, sweat beaded on my forehead like a civil servant turning down a bribe. I dabbed at it with colourful party tissue.
Her knees, pressed together, swung between the two of us like a gauge indicating which of us she was currently found more interesting. If I said something funny, she would tilt to me ever so slightly and our knees would touch. But if he picked the carcass of my joke and turned the mockery on me, she would face him, a subtle shift that broke knee contact.
It was getting late. My brother waved from the entrance and gave me the sign that he was ready to leave. I signalled him back that I was caught in a life-and-death situation and he should go on without me. Which was a complex thing to signal because we live four hours away from the wedding and I had no other way of getting home.
Thirty minutes later, the hall started to empty. People were packing up the chairs around us.
During a long period where her knees hung dead centre between the two of us, I locked eyes with him.
“Rock, paper, scissors. Best of three.”
He thought about it for a minute, barely moving his lips. “No.”
He said, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. One time. Winner takes all.”
I did the mental calculation. I shook my head.
He said, “Arm wrestling.”
His eyes grew tiny. “Let’s take it outside.”