Here's to 26!
It is a Sunday, two days two my birthday, and I am reading Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place. I am laughing at his inability to gulp water, just like his siblings. I am laughing at him dressing up like a woman, when a child, and going over to their fence to brag to the neighbours, pretending he has just come from abroad; he ‘wengs’ excellently, I almost forget he is just playing. Then when he skips school the next day because he feels ashamed of his acts, a ball of unknown sadness rolls down from my throat and settles at my chest.
I do not know what is happening, because I do not understand why I am sad. I can feel a somber cloud gathering its wings just above my head. I feel the soles of my feet beginning to itch, and my stomach develops a bloat.
There is an impending danger. I can feel it in the wind that gently caresses my skin at that 7 a.m. I can feel it deep in my stomach as it churns; not out of hunger. I can feel it in the shaking of my hands as I close the book on my laps and fish out my phone, struggling to find a distraction from my thoughts.
I can feel it, because this always happens just before or after my birthday.
Later, when I talk to one of my closest friends; one of the few I can trust with my life. One of the few who I can call up whenever I am lost or stranded. When I talk to them and they ask what I am doing for my birthday, I want to melt inside and disappear into myself. I want to let my guard down and just cry into their arms, because I can still feel the impending danger. I generously want to be held close, and be assured that it shall pass; whatever it is.
I do not cry. Instead, a wide smile flashes across my face. It is genuine; I think so. Because it pushes the sadness from my chest down to my stomach, making the bloating to instantly stop. I laugh a bit, shying away from the question. But when they ask again what I am doing on my birthday, I know they will not let me get away with this.
Nothing. I am doing nothing on my birthday. Why? Because there is nothing to be done. Why? Because it is just any other day; only that it was the day I was born. Why? Because I still have to be at work. Why? Because I still have clients waiting on my neck. Why? Because…
I am out of reasons, and my friend’s whys are still hitting. So, I swallow my pride and admit; I think something bad is going to happen, soon. So, there is no reason to do anything on my birthday, is there?
And then there is silence. Silence that could break the little hope left inside me. Silence that threatened to dry the rivers flowing gently beneath my skin. Silence that could, even worse, remind me of the past few birthdays, the tragedies that followed, and the traumas I am still struggling to heal, and the triggers that lie everywhere I turn to.
“Why are you not doing anything for your birthday?” They finally ask.
I want to be done with this so I can get back to reading Binyavanga. I tuck my feet beneath me, pull my hands inside my sweater and muster all the courage that is left within me:
“I keep thinking something bad will happen. No, I do not think; I am anticipating something bad will happen around my birthday.”
The keep silent. For a loooong time. A time I wish I didn’t give them the reason. A time I think they will never understand. A time I wish I kept my darkness to myself, and save the people closest to me from wallowing in my pain and trauma. A time I wished I could keep merely walk out on them, because the shame I am feeling is akin to Binyavanga’s when he skips school.
“Nothing bad is going to happen. Nothing at all. Do not think about it. Do not wish upon it. Do not anticipate it happening. Nothing is going to happen. And even if it does, it shall pass.”
I cry. A deep cry. It had been a long time since I last cried on my own. So, when I placed my phone under my pillow and cried my heart out, I felt the sadness in my stomach slowly melting away, replaced by anxiety, then by a happiness I cannot explain its origin.
It is the happiness that stays with me until Wednesday, when I wake up to beautiful messages and endless phone calls. It is the happiness that wakes me up at 6.30 a.m., because my body does not know how to sleep when it is happy. It is the happiness that stays with me when I get a new dress from my other best friend, and gives me the reason to step out looking out all glam.
It is the happiness that stays with me throughout the cab ride, because for the first time in my life, people are hosting a grand party for my birthday. In my twenty-six years on earth, for the first time, my closest of friends are sitting around a single table, just for me. For the first time in my life, I am looking at the people around me and wondering how our paths even crossed in the first place.
It is the happiness that stays with me, begging me not to cry, when my friends say the most beautiful things about me. When they sing. When they tease. When they laugh. When they shower my tiny self with words of affirmation. When they remind me that I am greatness, and made of so much more than I can imagine.
It is the happiness that stays with me long after we have parted ways; the memories if their words deep-seated in my heart. Long after I have thanked them for showing up. For being the reason, I breathe again. The reason I do more.
And even though my body is a whole village of broken bones and tear-stained canvases, I continue to wake up each day with a newness in my spirit. With a freshness from the rivers within my village. With a fragrance from the flowers blooming around my neck.
It is the happiness that begs to stay with me, a couple of days later, when the sadness and darkness comes crashing through my front door. When I cannot sleep because the ghosts of my wants and mistakes keep nagging at my soul. When I drain my tears in foreign pillows. It is the happiness that begs me to try; that it is what my heart wants.
And when the happiness tires and leaves in hushed steps, it is my friend’s words that keep me sane: Nothing bad is going to happen. And even if it does, it shall pass.
So, here is to 26:
Here is to listening to the beats of our hearts and accepting that there are things we are never going to change. We are going to live with them, as long as our spirits remain alive. There are wounds we are going to nurse as long as we are alive, and that is okay.
Here is to embracing newness. Embracing the happiness that comes laden with bouts of laughter and life. Embracing new ages. New places. New decisions. New happenings. And learning from the newness.
Here is to being patient with ourselves, and learning from the misfortunes that we may come across.
Here is to friends who drag us out of our mess. Who listen when our hearts speak. Who look into our eyes and see our deepest desires. Who walk hand in hand with us, even through the fire. Who continue to shower us with unconditional love, even when our minds have convinced us that we are undeserving of such kind of love.
Here is to deciding that someday, soon, we are going to write memoirs; with the rawness that even the hardest of hearts will break reading.
Here is to 26!