Birthday Blues

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.


I’m 10.

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.

33 thoughts on “Birthday Blues”

  1. Wow…. the way this story is told… I’m almost moved to tears. :(
    Almost. It’s sad, especially for me since I’m a birthday person through and through. My earliest memories… hmm.. I’m not sure which one came first but, there’s my birthday party with my brother, I can’t remember how old I was. X_x
    Then there’s my dad beating my mother senseless. Although, there’s many instances of this one.
    Beautiful post.


  2. There’s this much talented buddy of mine that specializes in the art of spinning nostalgia like a web and suffocating you with it, so subtly that you don’t realize your breath is being taken away.

    I think they call him Jibola?


  3. Love the story, as always with Jibo’s tales.

    Earliest birthday I remember is my 8th. Most memorable is probably 10th, that was the first I celebrated. 11 was nice too and then followed the sadder periods of my life. Didn’t celebrate another birthday till 21 and haven’t celebrated another since.

    I like birthdays, mostly. I just wish I could remember more of my past birthdays with relish…


  4. I love birthdays. I have always had every birthday celebrated. No matter how small. My mum, my family and friends never forget. And I always get something purple from at least 1 person :D. I love, love my birthdays
    @thatifygirl: that’s such a terrible memory to have. Hope ur mum is much better now. Is she still with ur dad?


  5. I can proudly say I read this ages ago *the spirit of famz is upon me* and I LOVE Jibola’s writing!!! His words that give way to a detailed imagination of what he’s saying… *sigh*
    Earliest bday memory….I think it was my 5th…my daddy is a party man…was always something like a big deal. Party at home…me in my denim ensemble as well! ^_^ *Jimz yacket and jimz sket* as a boss *knacks shades*
    Ok…I’m tlkn too much…


  6. Earliest birthday memory..14th.not because I’m forgetful but because asides my 1st (which I can’t remember), that was my next ‘birthday celebration’. And at that age, I was told “you’re too old to be celebrating your birthday like a child”. Like I had any as a child…sigh…ignore my rambling. Lovely story.


  7. Naaaw….this is called CREATIVITY… detailed that it felt like iwas with yu…kudos!!!
    Uuuhm…earliest birthday memories was ma 5th birthday…atleast thats d one i rememba very well..d whole ensemble tho mine was velvetin(akwa oche) jacket n shorts…dnt laff joor…twas in vogue then!! folks hav alwas made Birthdays a big deal,so i v neva missed celebratin ma birthdayz with no matta hw little….Finally,d write-up got me!


  8. I love the telling too. Poor lil’ boy.
    My 10th birthday :D Big party at Shodex garden…..
    My parents had just seperated the year before. so much tension.


  9. I can’t remember any of my birthdays right until university when I started celebrating it by myself. I can vividly remember my immediate bro’s eight year old party and how my mum outdid herself. My mum also makes sure she marks my younger sisters birthday. I look forward to my birthday, but when its like two days left, I lose interest. My birthday is sometime next week, not looking forward to it, I just thank God for life.

    Most of my early life memories is based on the tension that existed between my parents and how most times I never felt loved.


  10. I hate birthdays. . .never had fun memories of them
    My last birthday I was forced to celebrate cos I got 3 cakes. .can’t have dem all can I?

    Same way I hate xmas. . .infact I hate any celebration


  11. I was 8. Woke up in my multi-coloured long johns. Rubbed my eyes at the top of the stairs then realised how odd it was that there was no sound in my house and no one upstairs. Ran down, swung open the kitchen door and nearly had an apoplexy. “Surprise” it was my birthday! And they got me the toy cash register I wanted! :D


  12. my earliest memory is a staggering feat. i was one year+
    still learning to walk. doctors didnt know why i couldnt only just crawl at two. i remember moving along the walls in a white hospital.

    cool story (y)


  13. My earliest memory, nursery 1, I was 3 yup.. Infact,Whenever I smell crayons, it reminds mee of that class! LooL….and well yeah, on a certain birthday, my dad didn’t wish me ‘many happy returns’,-like he always did…Boy,did I weep!!!!!! It wAs a lot of things sha, the day went sooooo wrong! Haha


  14. I love birthdays cos atleast i get some special treatment lol. Thanks to boarding house, most of my birthdays have been really dull but i’m looking to change that.
    Na wa for that harsh daddy sef..


  15. Hmmmm… My first memory has to be the day after my little sister was born and we went to see her & my mum at the hospital and I was too short to see inisde the cot where she was :( but then my dad picked me up to look at and kiss her :D mm


  16. My first memory was my 4th birthday party… It was fantastic. I’ve always been a birthday person and I’m sorry for those who don’t like them. May things change for the better as you celebrate more.


  17. Finally found Dania from Afrosays’ Decade II project. This should be interesting. Still looking for UcheAnne.


  18. My earliest memory? Telling my mother that he mother was dead. I was almost 4. I can still remember the way she wailed and just crumpled to the floor, right before lunchtime.


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