It so happened that I slept by 10 p.m on Thursday, 27th of March 2002 and as it seems, woke up six months later, on the 4th of September.
I woke precisely by 1 a.m because my phone rang. Dede called to wish me a happy birthday and ended up laughing me to scorn for not remembering the day was my birthday. The call ended and I woke up again by 4p.m. to another happy birthday call. This was from grandmother. It was getting creepy. I checked the calendar on my Nokia 3310. It said 4th of September. Yes, the 4th was my birthday but how did this day arrive from yesterday? Hurriedly, I checked all the calendars in th
e house. They all were on the September page. The world had conspired to play a fast one on me.
Before six o’clock I had received fifteen phone calls and thirty messages. All wishing me a happy birthday. My younger siblings had all come with lovely wishes also.
Even Tony, my younger brother – the one that hadn’t resumed yet because he got a letter of suspension for two weeks from his school’s Principal- came jumping on my bed and asking for ‘birthday cake’.
I wondered how I had slept on the 27th ofMarch and woke up on the 4th of September. I couldn’t ask Tony. He could mock me for the next two decades. I acted with good faith that whatever sorcery was happening with my memory would fix itself.
As was family tradition, father prayed for me while I knelt in the middle of the circle of standing family members. I answered ‘Amen’. After the prayers, I checked mother’s phone. It said 4th of September also. I pounded my temple with my right fist as if it held a secret reset button. I willed myself to remember all that had happened between March and September.
“Remember.. Jeez… Philip, just remember… Philip..you’re done for… Philip… you’ve lost your memory… dementia… schizophrenia…” I whispered to myself.
So, as I drove out of the compound with Tony to get the cake, our aged neighbor shouted to ask what time it was.
“10a.m” I replied.
She wrote it down on what seemed to be a letter. “Wait, my son” she called again just as I moved the car’s gear from reverse to one. “Is today, 3rd or 4th?” she asked.
“4th”, I replied hurriedly and zoomed off. Through the car’s side mirror, I watched her write it down also. She didn’t think today was 27th. ‘3rd or 4th’ she had asked without mincing words. There was a pang in my chest. I wanted to tell somebody, anybody that would listen, that something very strange was happening.
At KFC where Tony and I went to buy the birthday cake, I glanced at their calendar at the far end of the restaurant. Yes. I wasn’t in a hurry to believe that I had been plagued with a memory illness or that I had been a subject of such evil sorcery. I looked at the calendar properly. It was too far off and I couldn’t clearly see what month it read. I walked to the calendar and subconsciously ran my hands over it, tracing each of the letters that spelt the month S.E.P.T.E.M.B… until I heard my brother shout my name.
I turned around and joined him at KFC’s exit. We returned home with the cake and I allowed myself have a jolly day. We cut the cake and took pictures. Tony and I went on to play FIFA on the PlayStation1, my other siblings played Chess, father busied himself in the library and mother spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking to stock up the fridge for a week.
Clock said 6:45pm and I was scared for my life. I couldn’t pretend to be alright any more. I couldn’t let Tony keep winning in the game because my mind kept wondering, trying to solve a mystery. I dropped the game-pad and joined my mother in the kitchen.
“Mum, there is a problem. But please don’t start with how I am a very special child and how I started speaking when I was just three weeks. This is serious…” I started.
Mum turned towards me and smiled warmly.
“Go check the time for me and then come and let’s talk” she replied.
“It’s 6:45pm, Mum”
“Ok, go get me my purple blouse from my room first.”
“I’m serious, mum. You have no purple blouse and I need to tell…” I was saying and then I stopped.
Mum was smiling. It was a different one. Too different. Just a tad too wide. Mischievous. Her eyes were fixed on my forehead. No. Just above my forehead. Someone. Something was behind me. My palm felt suddenly wet and my knees, weak. I turned around.
I was face to face with my father. He had the same mischievous grin as mum. I looked at him pryingly and his grin widened as if an invincible hand pulled the edges of his mouth apart. My siblings joined him where he stood, flanking him on both side like trained soldiers. Pokerfaced. Too Pokerfaced. Then Tony joined them and I was sure.
Looking at the smile on Tony’s face, I was sure. The world had indeed conspired against me and the devil was Tony.
My mouth stood ajar and my index finger pointed straight it at Tony, then at father and then mother. No, no, it couldn’t be. They couldn’t have fixed it all.
“The birthday calls- who arranged those?” I inquired. They understood. Tony pointed to himself, his right thumb proudly poking the middle of his chest.
“I sent the scam text to all your contacts yesterday evening asking them to cooperate. You’ve got wonderful contacts Philip.” He said, looking so proud of himself.
“So the morning prayers and all were a sham, father? Father, using the name of the lord in vain?” I said, looking straight into father’s eyes.
“I simply prayed for my son. I didn’t say anything about any birthday in the prayer, did I?” he replied.
Indeed, dad had been careful not to. But he had called me to kneel before him for prayers. One only knelt on one’s birthday. It was tradition. Our own little family ritual.
“What about Grandma’s call, and all the calendars in the house and on my phone saying September?”
“That was all me” Tony answered. “And our old neighbor asking if today was 3rd or 4th, and the calendar you ran your hands over at KFC. It was me. All me.” He said brazenly, palming his chest with delirious pride.
In one swift motion I moved past father and landed a punch on Tony’s jaw. I jabbed him on his side and sent another punch to his face. He blocked the latter off but wasn’t fast enough to escape. I pinned him to the kitchen floor. In a flash, he rolled me over and forced his way out of my pin. He ran to the sitting room and fell to the floor laughing hysterically. I caught up with him and after jumping up and down his back a couple of times, I joined him on the floor, in the laughter. Father, mother, and my other siblings joined in the laughter party. I was the joke but it was too funny I had to join in. I was having it and it was a good one. Way better than I imagined Tony capable of.
As we lay on the floor of the sitting room laughing, I wondered if it was perfect time to tell him that that the two weeks suspension letter he got from school was a prank. I arranged that letter scam. He had missed school for one week already. No, he deserved to complete his tenure. One more week. I was tempted to tell him but I rebuked that temptation and just laughed on with my family.
To my dismay, and as if Tony had read my thoughts, he turned towards me and cupping his hands around my ears, he whispered.
“I know about the letter. Thank you. But don’t you think two weeks is extra holiday too short?”