Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 52
beaver moon, 2023

new works

Busayo Akinmoju

Pretty Work

We all had dreams of being prettier. Sola's baby hairs would grow in, fill out the bald patch around her hairline. We would all wait, we were only seventeen. Pretty would come.
And we didn’t even bother to count the days – the hostel roster kept us busy. Washing on Tuesdays, games on Friday nights. On Saturday; out to get Suya with a boy, hiding a rounded belly under a peplum blouse. Or too slim hips in flowing gowns. Acne, with carefully parted hair.
And that was only in the beginning.
Towards the wet, rainy months – April, May, June — those sisters, we grew closer.
In those months, we felt delicate, but didn’t say it to each other. There were boys hanging over our speech, waiting to sniff out any weakness. And make up their mind to go to the next girl.
So, even in our closeness, there was a frenzied dance under those rainy months.
When it stormed, we sat in our rooms over plates of garlic-blended stews on white rice. Played charades. Pulled out the lipsticks stored away in quiet drawers, and tried them on. The reflection, a bright purple smile, curved back.
Then we tried on new wigs we got from the middle-aged shopkeepers at the market – their sense of style held old Nollywood side-parts, and pencilled in eyebrows. And a brown dot over the upper lip, to make up for an un-inherited beauty.
The wigs we got were only for looking presentable at school. The makeup for jokes. We said so. Wanted to believe it. It wasn’t for the party at the end of the year. We weren’t trying on new skins to guess what we would look like when we became pretty.


The boys said this: that because we were girls, we went shopping together. And only for that reason.
Really? Even when we tried on new dresses in a make-shift changing room, zipping up the fabric for the other girl as she sucked herself into it. Even when we haggled the price into something redundant. Even when Mimi decided to not get the pink skirt after all. Even when Tola spent the whole afternoon talking to her boyfriend on the phone, ignoring the rest of us.
Even when we took separate okadas home – tired of one another’s presence, grudging our next meet up in the hostel halls. But still hoping to catch the other wearing a skirt you thought genuinely looked good on her.
Even then? With all of these choices. Did we do it because we are girls, or because of the bounding fragility of being human? That the ordinariness and consequence of it is held in the simple choice of what fabric colour is best. What friend is true and really loves you? Who knows how to dance with the gentle words that say the truth, and do not leave you feeling less than whole?


Very soon, it is September.
Almost the end of the year, the rain slowing into a drizzle. The new skirts unworn, the wigs still in their packages. Friendships already tested by the wear of the months. Not yet whole or fully formed, but growing into it.
And surprisingly, the pretty began to form in the mirror, even at seventeen. We began to watch each other with a new exhaustion. When someone’s cheeks grew rounder, took on a silken glow, we no longer wondered when it would happen to us, but if. When we walked to class together, and a boy’s eyes lingered over only one of us, it began to hurt. More.
There wasn’t anger, or contempt. Just an imperceptible sinking into a fact – link the first plop of rain on already soft ground – that we were not all to eat the fruit of prettiness equally. The party at the end of the year would happen later on, and your hips might still be too slim, or too wide. Your natural hair bunching out under the new wig you preserved for months. Your appetite for attention fading, as the lights in the party clinked on peoples’ shiny skins, the molars at the back of their laughs. And you are alone in a corner, waiting for the pretty to come.
There wouldn’t be a ‘we’ anymore – me and my friends. But a veritable you, at the party, holding a solo cup, wondering where your friends are. Where their acne scars, the stretch marks over their shoulders went to. You thought everyone was waiting together. Not for the year to end, but for years to come. Years with twenties in them; twenty-one, twenty-three, pretty in a mature way you could never hold at age seventeen. Pretty together with your friends.
At the party, it would happen that you would feel like it were a dream; all of the early months in the year when you planned your new shapes together. Your new skins, your new futures.

Busayo Akinmoju is a writer and a doctor. Her work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Lucent Dreaming, The Republic, among others. She likes to read, and to relax on long walks. Website: here.