How birthdays lost their magic to me at age 10

An excerpt from the book: Ọmọ́tóyọ̀sí — the memoirs of an extra ordinary African child

L-R: Omotoyosi’s 3rd month and 10th year birthday

I seldom celebrate my birthdays. No, I am not one of those macho humans, who believe celebrating one’s life is a vain weakness. Birthdays are just a simple pleasure that life wrestled from me before I learnt to appreciate them.

My first five birthdays were horrible. Like it happened on the day I was named, it would rain on end and I would watch from my sickbed as the day rolled by. For some reason, I was always sick; typhoid fever, measles, acute bronchitis, malaria, chicken pox, piles. Yes, I had piles till I was 11. My grandmother had to help me with my business till I resumed high school. So, my birthdays were always weird.

My fifth birthday was memorably twisted. In the build-up, I kept waiting to fall ill, as usual. I expected my first symptoms two weeks to my birthday, when they would normally come. But none came. One week, nothing. Three days to my birthday, I was feeling lucky and I convinced my mom to throw me a party. We seldom got opportunities like this. So, she bought a chicken and tethered its foot to a tree at the back of the house. My father bought two six-packs of the classic two-litre Coke and Fanta in plastic bottles, which he set on display in a corner of our sitting room.

By the time I turned 10, birthdays had lost their magic to me

I was bursting with delight. For the next two days, after school, I would go to the back of the house to talk to my chicken. We made a list of who to invite to my party. I invited all my friends from school and the neighbourhood. Then, I would sit in front of the packet of drinks with a piece of paper, noting which of my friends I would give Coke and which Fanta. Then, I would go back behind the house to play with the chicken.

The night before my birthday, my mother bought condiments for jollof rice and I went to bed with fantasies of my first official birthday party. I slept happy.

Then, I woke up with a fever. I ached all over, shuddering under the thin sheets. On the outside, I burned like I had swallowed a volcano. My mother gave me paracetamol and tried to hide her worry behind encouraging words, while she cooked rice for my birthday party. I got worse quickly and by 9.a.m, she had to put me in a cold bath, to prepare me for my trip to the hospital.

I would not celebrate another birthday till my teenage years and by the time I turned 10, birthdays had lost their magic to me.

While I wailed in pain, one of my father’s friends came visiting.

“Why is Toyosi wailing this loud?” he asked with arched brows.

“O ni malaria ni,” replied my mother.

“Ehen… Add chloroquine to Schweppes and give him to drink now.” He replied with the confidence of a chief medical officer.

As my mother prepared the ingredients for my malaria potion, he added.

“If there is any animal tied down in this house, set it loose now. And do not shed any blood today.”

Wait. Wait. Wait. Is he saying my chicken would not be slaughtered today? I appreciate this man trying to save my life, but does he have to kill my birthday too? He made the pronouncement with the kind of confidence that a mother would only ignore if she wanted her child to die. I would protest, but I was too weak. I watched my birthday slip away as my mother cupped her right hand before my mouth and funnelled the frothing chloroquine potion down my throat.

Still crying, more at the loss of my birthday party than at the ache of malaria in my bones, I fell into a deep sleep. After two hours, I woke up like a spring. I felt so alive that I could have sworn the morning drama had been a dream. Except when I stepped outside, my chicken was now roaming free at the back of the house. If the man was right about the potion, he was probably right about the chicken too. My mother wanted me to live. She also wanted me to be happy. While I slept, she had run to the market for some sobonde fish, which were now sizzling in hot oil by the steaming pot of jollof rice.

“Your friends would be arriving in the evening,” she said.

I would be celebrating my birthday after all, only that my chicken would not be joining us.

We downed our jollof rice with Coke and Fanta and my fifth birthday remains my best till date. The sicknesses continued. I would not celebrate another birthday till my teenage years and by the time I turned 10, birthdays had lost their magic to me.

This write up is an excerpt from the book, “Ọmọ́tóyọ̀sí — the child of delight”

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on September 11, 2018.