It is the fourth time I’d be sneaking out of bed to check my well ironed “cut-and-sew” cotton waistcoat and black silk shirt hung in the wardrobe, alongside my meticulously polished shoes which were acquired the previous Christmas.
It seems as if morning will never come. I’ve been rambling from one corner of the bed to the other, expecting the much awaited knock (more often than not a bang) on the door by Mom, signifying wake-up time to start preparing for school. A wry smile hits my face when I remember just some years ago I had not the imperial privilege of sleeping on a mattress bed. All that was due to me was a beautifully painted raffia mat (with a pillow and a cover cloth) which had to be changed often due to my incessant bed-wetting (a doctor friend of mine calls it enuresis – whatever that means).
Incidentally, today is my 9th birthday anniversary and you can’t fathom how I’ve looked forward to this day. With my arms folded and supporting the back of my head, I gaze into the invisible ceiling in the unlit room. I try to imagine how I’d be the centre of attraction today in class and (if kismet will smile on me) most probably, the whole school – the applause I’ll receive as I mount the pedestal our head teacher stays on when he invites up birthday celebrants of the day to join him during the morning assembly……
“Wake up! It’s time for school.” Mom shouts as she profusely bangs on the door.
I subconsciously ruffle under the cover cloth disinclined to get out of bed. Suddenly, I remember it’s my birthday – a day I’ve counted down to! I jump out of bed with an exigency of a king’s messenger. I know Mom and my siblings will wonder at the unusual manner I completed my house chores this morning without the customary suasion to perform these tasks consequent of being caught snoozing in one niche of the house.
I feel on top of the world. Let me paint the picture.
Here I am on my 9th birthday anniversary. No school uniform today. I’m well-dressed in my Sunday best and Christmas shoes, to go with new underwear I’ve never put on hitherto and actually saved for today. The excitement won’t let me eat breakfast. My appetite seems to understand there is a sensation inside me which is more compelling than hunger (at least for the moment). I single-handedly convey the drinks and snacks for my birthday party into the trunk of Mom’s car. It’s a pity all my prior cries and sulks couldn’t get a birthday cake out of the tight family’s budget for today’s event. Never mind, cake or no cake it’s still my birthday.
I impatiently hope Mom and my sisters will soon be ready so we’d hit the road. I can’t wait for them to round-off the birthday songs, wishes and other compliments as I look forward to getting to school as soon as these ladies will permit me to begin my day. It’s showtime and I’m all set to start basking in the euphoria of a birthday boy!
We get to school with no hitches during which my mind is most of the travel time on despatch. I can’t concentrate on the tittle-tattles that ensue. Our arrival does create the desired effects as I peep to observe twinkles of surprises on the faces of fellow pupils (or am I just disillusioned?) admiring me in my poised outfit.
Now it’s morning assembly time – an opportunity to officially inaugurate the show-off. During the morning devotion, the head teacher invites the celebrants up. A couple of other individuals are fortunate to share today with me. We elegantly walk through the aisle created by fellow pupils. With beaming smiles I look across the assembly of students as they chorus various birthday songs. I couldn’t have been happier!
The morning classes trail overly long for my predilection. All I can see are Mr. Mensah’s (our class teacher) moving lips and his gesticulating hands as this mind of mine still refuses to concentrate on his lectures. I earnestly look forward to proceeding on lunch break. This usually serves as the climax of any birthday celebration. This how we usually do it:
During the lunch timeout, the celebrant sits in front of the class on an ad-hoc high table to where he/she invites his/her best male and female pals. Almost every class member warms up to the celebrant in an unusually gracious manner so as to be considered for sharing the ephemeral exulted seats with the birthday boy/girl. In addition, the “special guests” also enjoy the rare privilege of having a full bottle of soft drink each to themselves along with the celebrant while other class members parsimoniously share theirs.
Today, I notice Bella my tyrannical bully row mate (who is almost twice my size) has been exceptionally nice to me. She (yes! she) even offers me one of her spare pencils when I couldn’t locate mine on time! Deke out of the blue decides to lend me the Nintendo game he has denied me unrelentingly many a time, while Sola says with a dimple-smile that I’d no longer bother about her Enid Blyton’s I misplaced. How I wish birthday anniversaries could be an everyday event.
Mr. Mensah jump-starts the occasion, after the usual birthday chorus rendered recitatively by the class as he showers innumerable encomiums on me. I almost forget the compliments are meant for me as I find it difficult to believe my ears: Is this not the same well-behaved birthday boy he flogged unapologetically the previous week? I think whoever it was that invented/suggested birthday anniversaries should be celebrated, such a person should be immortalised and canonised. This is one of the few events in an individual’s life when one’s hitherto and/or prejudged “foes” strive to be at peace with him and rare privileges are also accorded him.
Now comes the supposedly easy part but realistically a tough one: Choosing my guests of honour. Without reconsideration, I know who my best male friend-invitee would be: Deolu, our class head of course! Not because he’s the class chief but we do share a couple of things in common. We both are objects of intimidation from our class yobbos as we tend to shy away from any form of confrontation with these troublemakers. Moreover, Deolu possesses many attributes I desire. He has an impressively exquisite handwriting for a young boy of his age – one, Microsoft Word application will be glad to put on its fonts menu and probably patent Deolu Cursive. Regardless of his occasional apprehension, Deolu has an aura of self-confidence and kindliness. He’s ever nattily dressed, keen to help and gracious with a handsome visage and a brilliant mind to complement. He strikes one as a lady’s man. In fact, he’s my exemplar. Hence, Deolu joins me on the high table.
My childhood fantasy remains the bane of my female guest choice. My heart pendulums between opting for the quiet, more familiar but not so exquisite Yemi and the energetic, classy, exotic and much talked-about Michelle.
Yemi has been my schoolgirl fantasy right from the previous class. In between ourselves, though tacit, we are both conscious of this “feeling, inside.” She has been remarkably friendly providing a masked affection, at any opportunity she gets. I remember now how she helped search for my lost pairs of stockings, last school term.
Michelle is the new chic on the block – the hottest sensation! She’s a perfect fuse of white and rich chocolate melanin all in one cast. A European-African descent, her tinge of skin colour is of a rare blend – a spotless tinge, Ethiopian in nature – commonly known as a half-caste. Her arrival on the school landscape last session is akin to breaking news. She is the talk of the whole school. Everybody wants her attention and friendship – so do I. However, a number of students complain about her high-handedness, arrogance and bad manners, but I think they are just envious of this beauty queen. I have been searching for an opportunity to secure Michelle’s attention and probably her affection. This might be it!
The time taken to announce my female guest seems like ages. Adrenalin gushes through my body and my facial nerves twitch as blood rushes through them similarly. My limbs become cold and numb. I can see immense anticipation expressed differently across the over 20 pairs of eyes that seem to await the declaration of a verdict that will impact their lives. The silence that pervades the classroom is almost tangible. Did I see Sola’s eye twinkle with her usual accompanied captivating dimple-smile? I grimace seeing the I-will-whip-you-silly-if-you-don’t-pick-me look on Bella’s face. I dare the consequences of my choice deciding to deal with the fiend, afterwards.
With my heart in my mouth, I declare “I choose Michelle to join me.”
I can almost hear the silent moan exclaimed by the whole class simultaneously. Taken aback likewise, Michelle catwalks with some feel of haughtiness in her steps, to join us at the table.
A quick glance towards Yemi’s direction assures me I’ve made a most ill decision. She drops her head as soon as our eyes make contact. My heart sinks and wallows in abject shame, disappointment and betrayal. Nonetheless, I reassure myself with the company of the most desired celebrity in school. Besides, I owe no one any form of commitment or affection. Do I? Why should I be down with guilt? But deep within me, I know something, somewhere, somehow is not right.
My mind is absolutely absent from the remaining happenings and activities of the day. After the lunch break, I can’t bring myself to steal another glance at Yemi. Howbeit, I delight myself with security of the newly established association and prospects with Michelle. At any rate, I have won the attention of the renowned Michelle! I can’t wait for the end of school…..
As the bell rings signifying the close of day, I hurriedly pack my books. I make a mental analysis of how to accost Michelle. My major concern is how to penetrate her barrier of friends that flock around her like aides. I run after their convoy as they descend the stairs.
“Mi…Mi…Michelle.” I stutter. “Excuse me; I’d like to speak with you Michelle.”
She stops dead in her track, turns and walks back to meet me. My heart beats and leaps for excitement. I can’t believe this angel is all mine. The whole world seems to come to a standstill awaiting my beck and call. However, the look on her face suggests otherwise.
“Listen, Wale or whatever you’re called.” Michelle bellows.
“Never you, involve me in any of your low class so-called birthday parties again. I just didn’t want to embarrass you this afternoon. That was why I honoured your invitation.” She continues.
“I can’t imagine how someone could celebrate a party without a cake.”
She hisses and walks away with her fleet close at her heels, giggling and making faces at me.
There and then, I knew without equivocation, I did make an erroneous choice during the lunch break. My head ached, my belly rumbled and my legs shook all in unison. I pray I’d swallowed up by the ground beneath me. Shame in its full intensity envelopes me. From the staircase landing where I stand stuck, I glance up seeing Yemi. Obviously, she must have witnessed this show of embarrassment. With tears in her eyes, she runs down the stairs, avoiding me as she attempts to suppress her sobs……
“Excuse me sir.” The young lady tries to get my attention. She taps me, hence disrupting my daydreaming.
“This is your account balance.” She announces, slipping a piece of paper towards me. She turns away to attend to other businesses.
“Thank you.” I murmur.
I leave the bank hall walking out absentmindedly, oblivious of my surrounding and forgetting the reason I came there for, ab initio.
18 years after betraying a childhood love, here I am struck by the sudden appearance of my bank’s Client Relation Officer who bears every semblance of Yemi – my heartbroken first love. Coincidentally, as fate will have it, today is my 27th birthday anniversary. Could this really be a coincidence?
In the absence of even the minutest of all doubt, I’m persuaded the lady at the desk is Yemi, but her seemingly expressionless face and business-like gesture confuse me. Moreover, the unknown name plaque on her table beclouds my conviction while the wedding band on her finger discourages me from embarking on further enquiries.
Should I go back in there to find out?
The characters in this story are fictitious. However, some parts of the event may not be untrue 😉