You unplug the whole weekend. That thing we all sometimes do, to recharge. You switch on your phone early Monday morning before you get a panic attack. How much have you missed? Your boyfriend could have gotten married to his cousin Stella, but you would not know. Because you unplugged. Or your country had been sold to the highest bidder and now the Chinese emissary were running the country. But it is totally healthy to unplug, to stay away from the urban paranoia. It is okay. You get back online, you have been added to the WhatsApp family group. ‘Auntie Caro added you.’ You scroll through, only to realize people had a whole convo, in fact an all-rounded one. A tone of baby pictures, HD vacay pics watermarked Bonfire Adventure, first and latest rides kind of stories. You help yourself to a glass of wine before you get an anxiety attack.
Family WhatsApp groups are hideous. Yeah, yeah. We do value family but still those groups are prison. Some of us are willing to deal with family only once year because we need twelve months to reinforce our mental, learn the art of staying calm and find fake boyfriends to pretend we are in a serious relationship with. Now, when you wind up in a group you have to give frequent updates. Auntie Caro keeps insisting she wants to see a pic of your place. Rolling your eyes you want to scream, ‘Move along, nothing to see here.’ It is just a bedsitter. After succumbing to pressure, you share one. Auntie Judy texts, ‘Why do you keep a dog in the house? I don’t understand. Just get a child instead.’ First of all, Auntie Judy, he is not a dog, his name is Claus. And as far as I am concerned, don’t discriminate against Claus. All children are children. Cousin Dela sends a pic. She is my favorite, such a free spirit. She has sent one of those, ‘I can’t keep calm it’s my birthday.’
Dela is the youngest among the cousins. She is a cool nerd with an overwhelming social media presence. She is one of the three people I follow on twitter besides Nasty C and J Cole. Her Instagram page pops with all the cool stuff you can think of. Her friends are cool, young folks who dress up in the latest trends and frequent cool places for shoots. Dela’s makeup is always fresh and sleek while my stupid self cannot stay with lipstick on for more than twenty minutes. Thanks to the mamas who came up with flavored lipsticks and gloss that taste like gum. By the way she has 100K followers on Instagram and she is neither a model nor a video vixen. I respect her. She must be powerful. Imagine 100K people get to follow you and double tap on everything, even the dumbest shit you share.
Auntie Caro and Judy gang up. They insist we must throw a birthday party for Dela. Everyone invites the idea. The planning begins. We the older folks push for something laid-back. A barbecue at the backyard of the richest uncle that is if he will not be in some business meeting in Dubai. Auntie Caro does not mind. She would never pass the chance to show off her gazebo and talk about her 1M gypsum. With or without Baba Marvin the party had to go down. It was finally agreed a barbecue at Auntie Caro. While at it, we had to part with a few coins to facilitate the bash. Auntie Judy had to come up with a budget. Two days later, she informs guys 2K from everyone would do us some good. Cousin Becca asks whether it included drinks. The group goes mute for a few minutes. Becca is the blackest sheep in the flock. Even in those family gatherings, she always has a wine glass in her hand and some whisky flask in her handbag. The rest of us never show our claws. No one wants a long tirade of Bible versus and endless lectures on how to live. No.
The party poopers who walk around as if they have a direct ticket to heaven start with their unsolicited advice. Be good role models and things like that. I make myself a hot cup of coffee. This is going to be a long night. I throw myself on the couch and turn on the TV which I was not planning to watch but Claus was mad at me for throwing out his biscuits. Just then, my phone rings. Cool Girl is calling. I saved Dela on my phone as Cool Girl because she rounds up as both a power woman and fashion icon after Michelle Obama.
‘I am good. And you?’
‘Awesome. I turn 21.’
‘Ah, happy birthday darling.’
‘What did you do for your 21st?’
Should I tell her what I really did or this is the part I choose to be a good role model? I do not know but this being an adult is really hectic.
‘We had a cookout with my pals. Then before 12a.m I sat on some rooftop alone looking at the stars.’
My twenty first was not all that boring. This Malawian dude who was eyeing me got me some Cuban cigars. He thought they would be perfect for chasing some sunset somewhere. We drove off campus to light the Cubans. In the evening, my crazy crew of friends decided to wash me with alcohol. That 12a.m I was dead asleep. Then I had a hangover that ran for three days and my hair smelt of some cheap whisky for a week. I could not tell her that. She would never respect me or ask my opinion on the grown-up stuff.
But her, she is really cool. At 21 she had this Rwandese boyfriend with big brown eyes and a smile of an angel. He made her breakfast in bed, took her for picnics and wrote her little notes. I am 26, living with Claus. Last time I dated, it ended badly. The guy just ghosted. No argument, he just vanished. He stopped picking my calls and replying to texts. I wish he had told me it was not me. It was him. It would be a better consolation knowing he was just an asshole.
The day comes. People start arriving at Auntie Caro’s residence as early as morning. Becca and I decide to start the day early at some Tavern. Dela the birthday girl is out for a picnic with her Rwandese sweetheart. We are to meet later and show up together for the party. A few hours later, we head to Auntie Caro’s. As soon as we walk in, they start singing for her. Becca and I disappear to find some drinks. I spot the Rwandese a few minutes later packing his scooter. The rest of the cousins are seated near the grill so I join them. Becca joins in too.
‘You came alone?’ Marvin asks with a stupid smile on his face.
‘What do you mean?’ irritably I ask.
‘We thought you would come with your son, Claus.’
Everyone bursts out laughing. I laugh too. The jibe was not so bad coming from Cousin Marvin. From Auntie Caro, it would have been death. This chap is the brightest in the family. He is an architect for some firm that is developing real estates all over the country. He smelt like paper mint. Because of his money, he would tease anyone and get away with it. He was Auntie Caro’s eldest son and an apple never falls far from the tree.
We were enjoying beers here and there. Catching up and downing shots just before the cake was cut. Dela decides the Rwandese should help her cut the cake.
I turn to Becca, ‘She shouldn’t.’
‘Why? She definitely should. He is her boyfriend, right?’
‘Would you want to look back at pics of her 21st and always see the Rwandese who broke her heart?’
‘Don’t be a salty bitch.’
Becca laughs. I was not being salty. She was only twenty-one. There was a whole life ahead of her and a lot of people she had not met.
Becca lightly digs her elbow into my tummy.
‘Let me ask you something. If you were 21 again, what would you undo in your life?’
‘See. That is the difference. Dela will look at her 21 and smile. She loved and she was loved.’
We walk to the gazebo with a bottle of Singleton. Auntie Caro’s home was designed by Marvin. Her front yard was landscaped with amazing hedges and flowers. Next to her gazebo, was a garden of red roses with a small water fountain in the middle. There were vintage lanterns lighting the compound. Her gazebo had liquor cabinets imbedded in it on one side and book shelves on the other.
Auntie Caro and Judy were free to start nosing around about who is married and who is not. Auntie Judy was always trying to fix up the single ones up with her friends’ children while Caro bragged about her architect Marvin, beautiful Melvin and brilliant Maryann. I had not had my twelve months to buff up my mental health. I was scared I would have an outburst.
Two family gatherings ago Becca went off on everyone. She had too much to drink and her helicopter mother locked her in one of the rooms at grandma’s. Marvin and his scheming mother let her out. She found her way to where the fam was seated. Oh Lord, did she go off on everyone. She started with her mother and her incessant need to control, then her father and his hypocrisy, Auntie Caro bigger than everyone… To cut the long story short, she had to go for psychiatric counseling twice a week. Now everybody just tiptoes around her.
Cool girl with her boyfriend finds us about an hour later. They sit with us. I offer them the drink. They politely turn it down. The Rwandese smiles, that smile of an angel.
‘I don’t drink.’
Becca and I exchange weird glances. Dela laughs it off.
‘We have something better.’
‘Coke?’ Becca whispers.
‘Noo. Not coke. Pills.’
I stood up and walked away. My last encounter with pills is a no man’s tale. Their laughter was fading in the background. I went up to the rooftop to look at the stars. Like I should have on my 21st. The breeze was soothing and befitting for the night.
Dela quips behind me, ’Hey Alligator, you ran away.’
‘Did I? I just have a habit of walking away from situations I don’t like. Try it sometime.’
It is silence for a while except for the trees gyrating and the water falling from the fountain below.
‘Is he the one?’
‘Ah. You are the one who should know. Is he?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘If he loves you enough to care for your heart.’
‘Heart or hurt?’
‘Both. He should care enough to care for your hurt.’
‘I am scared.’
‘Twenties are scary. But that is the beauty because life is unfolding.’
I laughed myself silly.
‘Advice? No advice will get you through the twenties. Becca and I are barely surviving. Twenty-one is the time to discover yourself and make silly mistakes. Twenty-two is double tragedy, the most confusing. You don’t know who or how to be. Then comes twenty-three, you will get your heart broken, kiss a stranger and probably wake up in a different country once or twice. By the time you are twenty-four you will watch This is Us a heart-rending series about the truths of life and family. And just before your turn twenty-five, a notification pops up on YouTube, Over Twenty-Five channel. Then you will start living- letting life unfold.’
‘That is a piece of advice. Isn’t it?’
‘No. That was me in my twenties. Maybe yours will be different. You and Rwanda…’
‘Rwanda, will grow together. Finish school, graduate, he goes on one knee and proposes. You are married by twenty-five…’
‘Without watching over twenty-five?’
‘Something like that. Have kids while building a career. In summary live happily ever after.’
‘Do those exist? Happily, ever after?’
‘I don’t know.’