Sari was 12 years old when her older sister Keke (the middle one) was about to turn 15 years old. This was a big number; the 15th birthday was one of the major crown birthdays in a woman’s life. In Province, this birthday was celebrated with a highly exclusive flower ceremony. Nobody under the age of 15 knew what it was all about or what happened, what they told the young woman. Nobody under the age of 15 was allowed to attend a flower ceremony. Even if you were 15 and older, you had to be related to the birthday girl or a certain special individual to attend this secret event. Men and boys were not allowed either.
The house had been booked for the day. Sari, her dad and Tio were going to the lake that day. Mami had packed them some sandwiches, fruit juice, dried fruit and nuts and some beer for dad. Sari was delighted to be out with dad. When Mami told her that she was not going to stay for Keke’s birthday, she had said it so tactfully and told her not to worry because she would be at the lake with dad and that in three years’ time she would also have her very own flower ceremony. Mami thought that this was upsetting for Sari but Sari couldn’t care less what old women did at the silly ceremony, she got to play in the sun and snack all day and be with dad. Sari loved her father; she could talk to him more openly than she could with Mami. She could ask him many many questions without him getting exasperated like Mami. He was usually home all day on Sundays and that was when he and Sari would have long conversations out in the sun while he smoked his beedi. He would let her climb trees and pick figs and flowers. He let her play with ladybugs and chase cotton-grass. Sari felt that dad loved her more than Mami.
Keke was more curious than nervous. Her big sister had come over all the way from the other side of Province (where she lived with her husband and three children) to be with her on the night before her big birthday. She had told her not to worry and that she would love the ceremony as it was a very important step in a woman’s life.
Keke was waiting anxiously in her bedroom. She was told to stay in there until there was a knock on the door, and then she would come to the living room where all the women would be waiting for her. She sat with her legs folded under her on the carpet. She was wearing a cute white summer dress and her hair had been ironed straight. For the first time in her life, she had make-up on without having stolen it from her mother’s dressing table drawer and quickly wiping it off before she was caught. This time however, Mami was the one who gave Keke some shiny pink gloss, black eyeliner and mascara and asked her big sister to teach her how to apply it properly. Her sister told her that she wished that she had had a big sister to do that with her, but instead on her ceremony, one of their mean aunts had helped her with her make-up in a hurry while Mami was too busy getting the table set for lunch.
Knock, knock, knock. It was time! Keke sprang up from the carpet and quickly went to the door. Her sister was outside and she led her to the living room. Keke could hear her own heartbeat from all the excitement. As she walked down the stairs to the living room she could see about twelve women – mostly middle aged and older. She spotted some of her relatives like Aunt Rosa and her first born daughter, Granny Jo and Lucilla who was somebody’s sister in law or something. The women were sitting on sofas and chairs around a coffee table. The coffee table was arranged with delicacies, crudités and dips and the patterned side plates that Mami only brought out during special occasions. The table cloth matched the curtains which were drawn. There were glasses, fancy doilies and serviettes on the side table, the glasses were also usually reserved for special occasions.
Keke was led to one side of the coffee table where there was a cushioned stool for her to sit. Her big sister helped her to sit (the stool was a bit high), and then went to stand next to Lucilla leaning against the wall near the door. Granny Jo held on to the arm-rest and staggered as she pulled herself up to stand, (she was quite a big old lady).
“Well is this not marvelous? Another one bites the dust hahaha, oh I am just joking. Keke is being welcomed into womanhood. Today my dear (she pointed an arthritic finger right at Keke), you will be given the tools on how to catch a good man and keep him.” The women cheered and clapped except for Lucilla who rolled her eyes and gulped down the last bit of the ‘tea’ in her black mug; nobody saw her though. The women smiled proudly at Keke as Granny Jo continued to speak.
“The women have a very important role on this earth; we keep everything in check, we support and discipline these men and we make and raise good babies and so the cycle continues. Now it takes a good woman to build and support a good man, (the other women nodded in agreement), which is why we will share our experience and knowledge to you young lady today!” She shimmied in excitement when she said that last word. The women clapped and laughed and cheered. “Bring out the flowers and the garment!” Granny Jo yelled into the ceiling.
During the flower ceremony, the mother of the birthday girl had to choose a white piece of clothing for her daughter – it could be anything, a scarf, a dress, a jacket. In this case, Mami had chosen a cardigan for Keke. All the women attending the ceremony had to bring an artificial flower that could be sewn onto the white garment. They could cut it out from an old dress that they had, or make one or buy one. It could be made from beads or cotton or wool – anything, as long as it was not a real flower, for obvious reasons. Mami brought out the cardigan and put it on her daughter and one by one the women came over to sew the flower that they had brought onto the cardigan while giving Keke some womanly advice. This could take hours since some women had a lot of advice to give and some of the older women could not see where to put the needle and thread and and and… so the mother sat next to her daughter and brought her food and drinks and helped out with the sewing. The other women ate and drank and socialized.
Lucilla was the youngest of all the women who had attended Keke’s ceremony. She was 25. Lucilla was not dressed for the occasion like all the other women; she was wearing black jeans, blue Converse boots and an orange tank top. She was slightly short with narrow shoulders and wide hips. Her hair was thick, curly and long but Keke could not decide if she was beautiful or not. Lucilla wore no lipstick nor nail polish nor earrings! Her eyebrows were shaped at least, but she was not doing all the things that made a woman beautiful. Aunt Rosa’s advice was to always have good perfume and a flattering shade of red lipstick when you’re out and about, that way other people will see what a beautiful woman you were. Another woman had said that a woman has an abundant collection of beautiful dresses and cooks in style. Lucilla was not even wearing a dress! When it was her turn to finally sew her flower on Keke’s cardigan, Keke studied her closely. Lucilla pulled out a silver brooch flower with a long pin. She came up to pin it on the left chest pocket and without looking at Keke she said, “Do you know that you have to wash his underpants?” Keke frowned and Lucilla chuckled a bit and looked at Keke in the eyes. She had beautiful big brown eyes Keke noticed. “When you are married, you will have to wash your husband’s underpants, all of them, all the time.” Lucilla whispered the last three syllables. She caught the young girl’s confused expression and then she walked away to her black mug.