People might claim that the sixteenth year
Of a teenager is rather dear.
My case, however, was nothing near.
Don’t question it; let me make it clear…
In about four rapid but solid taps, her flat palm, as wide as a table tennis bat, sent pains to my thigh.
“Oh oo…” I grumbled, my voice garnished with fatigue.
“My fren wake up!” She uttered in one hasty breath, “get up and prepare for school.”
I nonetheless laid still on the bed.
She suddenly moved to the back of the bed to bring the terror that spoke louder than her voice — Slender Brown. This was no human name, at least to the understanding of my family members. It was the name we called the brown and slender “cane” my mother used to discipline us. (This same object of terror had other names in other families in the neighbourhood — Iya Tunde calls it: Mr. Do-good; Mummy Chisom named it: Dr. Goody goody; And almost every evening whenever Joseph came back from school late, we all heard her “Truthteller” landing on Joseph’s buttocks.)
I knew better than to remain in bed. But before I could run out of the room, she had found Mr. Slender Brown and she stood at the only door out of the room. Today wasn’t a lucky day.
My mother held the cane up. Her eyes on me, mine focused on the cane. And the cane stared back, bold as a mirror, ready to devour.
Abruptly, mummy smiled. I didn’t know why.
“If not that today’s your birthday now, you would have seen my other side,” She made her reason for the smile obvious, “Will you go and prepare for school?!”
It was more of a command than a request. And I understood that. Today was my birthday? I didn’t even remember sef. I went to the sitting room. My other sisters were already there, leading the morning devotion. I sat down too, and my mum came out of the room. We rounded our prayer with the Rosary. Shortly after, we went to do our various assigned chunk of chores. It was a new week and based on the weekly rotation, it was my turn to wash the dishes — the only nightmare I was physically awake in and yet couldn’t do anything about. Customarily, washing of the dishes had to be done the night before — my mother hated seeing dirty dishes in the morning — and so I tried not to make as much noise while doing so.
I pinched the edge of a soup plate, white as an elephant tusk. And dripping from it was a horrid mixture of slimy okra remnants, oversoaked rice grains, water and some clustered ships of red oil afloat. A God-has-blessed-us-with-manna spot that must have been trodded by roaches and God know what else. Iyamma!
I didn’t know how I later washed those dishes, but I was so glad I survived the experience!
Since my battle with the dishes was a rather long one, I got to school late. And the gatekeeper at the school was not my mum; he didn’t know that it was my birthday that day. And I didn’t bother telling him. Other malicious students had used that as an excuse for not being flogged. But that was no longer effective since Mr. Paul realized that one of my seniors, Jide, had had up to three “birthdays” just last month. So I didn’t “sweat” it. It was past 8 am and my reward, just like other students in my condition, was to do ten rounds of frog jump across the vehicle-barren street. This “forced exercise” was then rounded off with five strokes of the “cane” on my aching calf. I nearly crawled to my class that day.
Finally getting to my seat to rest my legs was as relieving as water is to a traveller of the scourging desert. It was only a drop of relief that the day started with my favourite subject — Physics. The way our physics teacher interestingly explained projectile motion quickly soothed the pains I was experiencing earlier. And after some other subjects and note-writings in-between, it was the time almost every normal student longed for — lunch break time!
Being my birthday, well, apart from mum’s special prayer, she gave me #200 to spend on myself. Some days, she would give me #50, when she had it of course, and most times, I had to go to school cashless. And so, the #200 she gave me was relatively as huge as it could get. As I walked across the school corridor heading towards the snacks shed, I saw our head girl and two other seniors bending to whisper at each other’s ears. And then one of the girls pointed in my direction. Were they talking about me? I squeezed my pocket to ascertain that my “birthday money” was still there. Stealing a glance at the trio, I realised that they were egging our head girl on to come towards my direction.
“Go naaoow!” they chorused at her.
And when she took a deep breath in. Her first foot came forward, then the second, until she came running towards me. Oh My God! It was a big honour to have our head girl remember my birthday.
Her arms spread forward as the breeze resisted her sky blue pinafore as she came forward. I was so expectant of the hug. I imagined many things: the warmth, the fact I was remembered and the projectile motion my teacher had taught earlier coming to me in a woman form. I also thought I’d fall on the ground with her — it would be like in the cartoons. The only difference would be that there was a soft grass landing on the TV screen but here, in reality, it was gravel and clay soil. I didn’t usually hug girls, yet, I couldn’t miss this. I spread out my arms, slowly but thoughtfully. And she was near; I could feel the breeze and the sweet scent from her perfume! My eyes shut and my arms wrapped around a body as expected. But… it wasn’t her body; it was mine! Paralysed by what had just happened, I looked around only to discover she had bent under my arms and made her way towards my rear — she was going for someone so much taller and more handsome. The hug was for Charles, the Social prefect. It was as if I saw the scene played before my very eye. But when I realised that my arm still wrapped around my body, I knew I was the protagonist of the film I was visualising.
Every soul that saw what happened yukked. People who did not witness it, upon hearing the laughter came whispering to witnesses to know the news of the day, the Amebo they loved to hear. And I stood there. Heartbroken, mind broken and emotionally destabilised. I ran back to my class – my wrongly-assumed fortress. The laughter was even worse. At that moment, all I wanted was to fade away. Suddenly, our class teacher came in. And in another second, there was a quiet. Inquisitively, she queried the uproar.
“Mrs. Jane, na hugger boy cause am.” Emmanuel, my sit partner, pointed over my head.
The laughter of the class was resurrected. I didn’t care whether it was because of the way Emmanuel spoke the pidgin language which was prohibited by the school, nor the new name he tagged me with. All I knew was that my feelings were hurt to the core when he said that. At the moment, I only wished to go home — even if it was on the condition that I would wash the dishes again.
I have had many March 19s before and after this one. But clearly, this one stands out. I got a gift parcel of concentrated pain, disgust and embarrassment. Indeed, my birthday was a sour sixteen!
Ebube Ezeadum, a lover of creative writing wrote in via email@example.com