This piece was written by my friend, the prolific ‘Jibola Lawal. Its beauty is not in the story itself but in its telling; it reads like a peaceful flowing river with gentle waves.
What’s your earliest memory?
I don’t know how it’s possible that anyone can remember that far back with such clarity. But I can.
I’m 4 years old to the day.
I fell asleep the night before, in my favourite shorts – blue denim, so I could wake up in them on my birthday. Mamma’s belly is swollen so my little brother is still unborn. I don’t understand the concept yet. But it’s fascinating; the swollen belly, the penguin like movement and the reduced amount of hugs so Mamma doesn’t get hurt. At odd times, mamma let’s me feel the kick of the new life in her.
Back to this memory. I’m awake, lying down on my front. My face is to my right, facing east and my mother. I subconsciously feel the presence of my father to the left. Something about his heavy breathing suggests his irritation with having to share his bed with his wife and me.
“He’s old enough to have his own room” I’d heard him say over me, when he thought I was asleep. “Leave him now, he’s still a boy” mother would reply, hugging me closer.
Again, this memory. The gradually rising sun shines brightly through the heavy cream and brown curtains. It’s a Saturday; otherwise, mamma would have roused me earlier for school.
I’m content to lie like this. I can hear the birds outside the window chirp over the hum of the air conditioner. The sheer warmth emanating from Mamma renders the wrapper around my waist purposeless. But then she stirs beside me. Mamma. The rising sun has done its work. My eyes are still closed but I can picture her. She moves up on the bed and rests her back on the headboard. She reaches over to my sides and starts to tickle.
“Omo olojo-ibi, dide” Birthday boy, wake up.
I try hard not to flinch. But then I try too hard, with my eyes squeezed shut and a smile on my face. It is difficult to act like I am still sleeping. So I begin to laugh.
She doesn’t let up as I laugh out loud. I sit up and try in vain to put both my arms around her swollen belly.
That memory fades to black.
That’s the first thought on my mind as I wake up suddenly. I walk over to my wardrobe. I’d already made sure that Baba Friday – the wash-man – had my favourite clothes washed and neatly pressed.
The ensemble was my blue polo shirt from the duty free shop at Barajas, a pair of Levi’s and my suede loafers – a gift from Gran’ma. I look to the side and also freshly pressed are my all time favourites – the blue shorts.
They don’t fit me anymore but I keep them regardless. In a few minutes, I’m showered and dressed. “Have you rubbed pomade?” I can hear mamma ask, from a previous memory. “Yes, mamma” I reply her in my head. I run up the stairs and knock on my parents’ door. But I get no answer.
I knock again and again. It’s a Saturday and nobody gets up till 9 o’clock. But this Saturday is special. I still hear no response so I let myself in. My father obviously irritated at being roused so early, after a week of hard work. “What do you want, you this boy?” he asked.
Mamma is awake too, so is my baby brother. Lying next to mother, where I used to be. I smile, looking over at Mamma.
She knows. She has something planned. She’s just waking up, that’s why.
“It’s my birthday! I’m 10 today!” I say finally.
Surprise, and then guilt, play on Mamma’s face in a matter of seconds.
So she didn’t remember.
I’m drawn to my father’s face and I see sheer irritation.
“So?” He says
“Nothing” I say.
“What have I told you about knocking before you enter our room?”
“I-I’m sorry daddy” I say, and slowly let myself out of their room.
The tears stain my polo shirt as I wept without a wail. I return to my room and take off my clothes. I was never to wear that ensemble again.
“So why do you hate birthdays so much?” Ayotunde asks me again, her vibrant brown eyes and her gentle question summoning me out of my reverie.
I chuckle, “No reason really”, I say.
“The Special Edition Cliquot is on the house, compliments of Monsieur Rogèr”, The maître d’ says as he politely interrupts us “Happy Birthday, Mr Adesanya”.
“Thank you” I say, with a smile.
What’s your earliest memory (birthday or other)? Use the comment box and share.