When I was a child, I loved weddings. I made a cute little bride, and my services were in high demand. Even those with only a loose connection to my family wanted me in their bridal procession. The little bride is a miniature version of the bride, complete with miniature wedding dress, miniature tiara, and miniature prima-donna ego. I took my work very seriously. I was not one of those toddlers who burst into tears when the opening chords of the processional sounded, running off to Mama with stage fright. Nor did I need to be escorted down the aisle by a parent, clutching my hand to stop me from tripping over. I was a confident walker. No matter how many meters of tulle encircled me, I always made it unscathed to the front of the church, where I would make a military right-angle turn and march to my designated seating.
But the shelf life of a little bride is brutally short. You work for one year, two if you’re lucky, then somebody younger and cuter comes to take your place. ’Twas always the way of the world. After that career came to an end, I had to settle for the consolation prize of flower girl. A little bride is the second most important person at the wedding, a close runner-up to the bride. A flower girl, in comparison, is only an extra with confetti. The confetti was a great comfort, though. The church doors would open; the bride and groom would walk out triumphantly; and we would be waiting in a line, poised to shower the new couple with glittering paper. Inevitably, some of the confetti would land on us, and we would spend the rest of the wedding picking out the sparkles from our hair.
And then there was the limbo between flower-girl age and puberty, when you were too big for the bridal train and too young for anything else. Weddings became deserts of adult socializing, loud music, oily food, and deep boredom. Little did I know that boredom was better than what was coming next: puberty. In some ways, it’s the same for girls across the world: breasts, hips, periods, and pimples. But having these four at a Nigerian wedding suddenly signaled something. You were now a woman, or at least an “almost-woman,” and almost-women did not play games at weddings like flower girls, nor, like older children, did they sit down like guests. Almost-women and women at Nigerian weddings were there to serve.
After the bride, it is difficult to say who is at the top of the Nigerian wedding hierarchy. It’s a tie between the parents of the couple and the highest-ranking politician on the guest list. But I am certain who is at the bottom: single women. Once you step into the hall and it is espied that the fourth finger of your left hand is tragically bare, you are marked as standby waitstaff should the hired waiters fail. Many a time, I have gone to a wedding, holding my invitation card like every other guest, only to be summoned to a serving spoon or a food tray. At one wedding, they were kind enough to provide aprons for us so we wouldn’t stain our wedding finery. At another, the hired catering company came an hour late. All the single women, wearing the bride’s aso-ebi, were rounded up by the bride’s brother and asked to set the reception tables.
The brother of the bride walked among us like an overseer, barking orders, shouting, “Hurry up, the guests are waiting!” When I confronted him about his rudeness, he replied, “Don’t you want to support your friend?”