It must have been my 14th birthday and I felt extremely jumpy about it. I think one reason I felt that excited was because I was ‘celebrating’ it with my father. And that to me must have been a great deal. Before then I was staying with my mom (the two separated eons ago). You see, I was turning into a man. I was just circumcised a year before. My voice that was a mild soprano was breaking and I was starting to harbor naughty ideas about that girl ‘next door’.
See, when you are a boy at that precarious age, all you want is to spend more time at the feet of your father. You want to act like him, talk like him, walk like him. All your actions are bent on getting an endorsement nod from him. You hold the old man in high regard and I think this is the time that a boy will lay a strong foundation to his masculinity. I believe this is the time that a man plays such a significant role in shaping their son’s macho perspectives about life. I think what a young man learns from his dad at this period strongly rubs on them in so many ways in future.
Now let’s go back to this interesting 14th birthday. This is the tuber of this story.
It was a bright country Sunday. I was from church where I was among the ‘holy’ boys helping the priest with church rituals at the altar. With all the religious beliefs of the day, I might as well have lit a candle at the altar while mumbling a silent ‘thank you God for yet another birthday’.
I rushed home. I was holding the special day close to my chest and I was thinking it was going to be ‘da bomb’ news to my entire clan and how chicken (who knows maybe even goats!) would meet their untimely demise at the end of the day.
I found the old man smoking his cigarettes under a shade and I thought I could tease him, maybe see if he remembers his son’s special day?
“Dad what do you remember about a day like this?”
I evidently didn’t know my old man that well. Brought up in a truly ‘African’ fashion you don’t daunt them with stupid childish questions. I saw him throwing me a curious look, maybe even shocked at his son’s apparent lack of manners to question his superiors. He could have sent reprimands but he instead smiled vaguely and said:
“ Eric we sema tu.”
“It’s my birthday!” I announced proudly, excitedly with so much ceremony.
The sky must have come down.
The way the old man looked at me when I exclaimed the damn birthday still makes me green around the gills. It’s not what he said; it’s how he said it. My old man has the most expressive face and is one of those guys you can read a thousand words closely knitted between his creased brow. His face gives away his emotions readily. He could never have made those shrewd detectives we watch in the movies; the kind that makes impassive, masked inscrutable faces; deadpans. It was something- that expression; half a smile, quarter a pity, another quarter potent dose sarcastic. It was an expression that chilled my belly, making my gut feel like a cold lump of soil. That kind of expression that makes you want to flog yourself for being so idiotic. You want the ground to open up and ‘swallow you alive’. It makes you feel so ‘unmanly’. Makes you feel- what is the word? – Embarrassed.
Yes. I felt embarrassed for asking such a mundane question. That of all his offspring, I was the dumbest one.
“Eric hizi vitu achia wazungu…..mtu ni ashukuru kua hai hii dunia.and again we ni mwanaume bwana. Hizi tuwaachiae wasichana wadogo. “
Again, the way he said it; the amused ridicule on his face. Oh man.
Turns out I was a sensitive boy and the old man’s little sting had severely ruffled my cool. I felt the little manly confidence I was slowly struggling to build sucked out of me like air from a balloon. I felt deflated. Felt like a little girl. Felt like a little sissy. And all along I had been struggling to score highly on his ‘manliness’ chart. I felt devastated; a complete flop and an embarrassment to masculinity. I should have just rushed to mama for a hug, to assure me that despite every hurdle thrown my way I was still a man.
For starters I don’t think such mundane dates ever signaled in his head. He works on his farm even through Christmas and New Year; and he is not a Jehovah’s Witness. These dates, to him, are a mere inconvenience to the natural order of things.
I wonder where my head was that day. Nakuwaga na kimbelembele ingine mbaya sana. Coz, if I had done a little asking around maybe from my mother or my siblings or even neighbors, I would have known such nonsensical dates don’t register in Njoroge’s household.
I still don’t understand what demons entered me that day because we have never celebrated a birthday in our home. That means also the idea of cutting cakes and blowing candles is as alien as rain in the Sahara. Growing up these dates came and passed without much noise. We only knew that such days are celebrated from some neighbors.
Since that day I trashed the 15th of August to pits of memories that should not be remembered. Before Facebook came with its silly birthday reminders, I only used to remember the damn day way past it. Or I could be in class writing the day’s date and notice it’s the freaking 15th of August and there, bingo! It’s my fucking birthday! Ha ha.
The next time I thought critically about birthdays was my days in campus. Too much peer pressure man. What with all the cool kids trying to show you how these things are done? And girls are the worst when it comes to this. The whole campus would know so and so is celebrating their ‘big day’ and we are all drowned in the frenzy of partying coz you don’t want to be left out.
Little wonder why one day yours truly found himself trotting downtown with his equally excited campus musketeers to buy cakes and popcorns and booze to celebrate his birthday. Just to feel normal. I had invited a couple of classmates and I swear had it not been for the help of booze I would have gone through the whole sordid party with a lot of awkwardness. I just couldn’t imagine cutting cakes and blowing damn candles. I instinctively felt these things were for girls.
I had been reminded of that birthday by Facebook, so to avoid future awkwardness I went ahead and deleted my birth date from my Facebook account. That’s why you won’t see that entire pretense on my timeline on 15th of every August.
Now that we are here on Facebook birthdays let me just get this off my chest. We have these criteria of birthday performers; a certain cult of birthday enthusiasts. I have a strong feeling we share a common history of little or no love during their young birthday days. I have issues with these folks who start it this way;
“On a day like this many years ago, in a small village of Keroka, Bosibori was going down the river when labor pains attacked….”
Then there is this equally love sicks that after going carefully through their timeline at the end of their big day, and liking the wishes, noting who and who among their ‘friends’ didn’t wish them well, will go ahead and announce their ‘poll results’ in the morning;
“I want to take this early opportunity to thank you all for your warm birthday wishes! You so made my day aki, gagagaga! I don’t know what I can do without you friends. You rock! (dozen blush,happy, dancing, laughing, farting emojis/emoticons)
Well, now that that’s off my chest, I thought for once this birthday should be different; even special. You know it’s not every day that people turn a new decade. I wanted to, just for once this time, blow myself a candle and cut a cake somewhere privately without prying and judging eyes; Somewhere where definitely my old man could never get the wind of. I don’t know exactly what caused the change of heart. But a girl must have been involved. With birthdays, trust me; always blame it on a girl. I however could not just get the courage to go through with it. Instead I went hard on the whiskeys at my local until I lost all my 30 senses. I definitely need to grow up. That is not how people ‘celebrate’ their thirtieth birthdays. But what do I know of celebrating birthdays anyway? These things I will learn slowly.
Then I thought what difference does it make anyway? Why not just write something about my ‘vast’ experience in this world I have been for this last thirty (jeez! It’s that much!) years. So this is what I have come up with. Few things I have learnt. And it might happen I have learnt weird things, or even wrong things. But itsoryt. These are the vagaries that come with old age. Come baby come!
1.It’s okay to celebrate a birthday and still be a man. This was to be my first real birthday but as it happened I was a complete butthole I couldn’t get over the excitement and the fears of hitting the big three oh. But I am reconciling with my sorry history and I want one of this days to give my old man (who is sixty one) a giant cake on his birthday just to stare at the reaction on his face. I bet it would be priceless.
2 As a man I am allowed to enjoy eating ice cream with my eyes closed. In my previous article I remember telling you how disturbed my ‘manhood’ felt last time I ate ice cream and really enjoyed it to an extent of closing my eyes. Now fuck that. I wrote that in my mere twenties, and what does a twenty something know about life? Eric Ndungu, enjoy the damn thing and close your eyes while at it.
3. Women are not to be understood. Give that up. The wisdom I have gathered tells women are only to be understood by their maker. They should continue to confuse.
4.Truth be told, I have been cutting corners with my daddy duties that I am even scared next time I visit Sean my son he will look up from his toys definitely annoyed from the intrusion and ask;
“And who are you?”
5.Ties are still unnecessary.
Unless one is bent on hanging themselves with it I don’t understand all the fuss that men should have a tie in their closets. I still find a tie the most useless piece of clothing ever invented. No, seriously I am not hating but don’t you folks find that thing a little ridiculous? Brian my boy you are excused. You and the fellow regimen of bankers. A tie can choke and it increases your probability of unnecessary death in many ways. In advancing age we take seriously such threats on life.
6. A man must have at least one decent blazer.
7. One Girl is enough for a gentleman.
High time a man sticks to one woman. Chasing after every Tiffany and Nancy (my favorite naughty girls’ names) should be left to small boys. Well, I know it gets stale sometimes and a man may need some action (wink!) but hey, just don’t break hearts while at it.
Marriage is still a game of poker and should be left to gamblers.
Need I say more? Well I know a ‘proper’ 30 old man should be seriously considering settling down. But who wrote such rules? I see you shaking your head and thinking ‘The boy still needs a little growing, evidently. ‘ Perhaps you are right.
On this one I need special prayers from the Lord himself. At my age proper folks have a car and a kashamba in Mlolongo accruing all sorts of appreciation. I remember the good old days, just as young man out of high school and full of dreams and ambition, I had set a definite trajectory; Buy a car at 27, a house at 30. See how furiously I drove my horses to owning only a blog at 30?
10. How is your first book coming?
That’s a question every ‘young’ writer gets every now and then. It is in my bucket list. I wanted to have written a 500 page novel by my 30th birthday but it seems we are going to push things a little to……. let’s say before 31? Yes. That should work. Thank you.
11. Quiet serene neighborhood
At thirty it’s high time you move from that noisy neighborhood crowded with dingy apartments and small boys who are still excited by big noisy stereos and Subarus. Move to some quiet house, even if it’s a hut but you can listen to birds and crickets in those small hours.
12. Get that perfect body.
If you have not yet enrolled in a local gymnasium where you train at least three days a week and every weekend we meet at Mwaura’s for binging and nyama choma, then we all know what is coming. And it’s not pretty.
13. Get a hobby. Play some sport. This advice I need more than anyone reading this. Lol.
14. Travel. Have fun. For long my idea of having fun has been grabbing one or two at the local. How sorry.
15. Connect with God. I want to feel like those spiritual men and women who think they are in armchair-armchair terms with God, tossing cherry and smoking cigars at twilight.
16. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You will just turn out fine. Again, I need this advice more than any other reading this.
P/s. Somebody help me blow a candle!
Comments: Comment with Facebook