SHIFT, LET HER FAINT
by Joseph Olamide Babalola
She is in a taxi, almost reaching home, fingers caressing her old Android with screen cracks the semblance of the world map. Normally, other things being equal, this is Nigeria, SMS wishes should have started dinging since midnight yesterday. But now the D-day is almost spent, it is nine in the night, the moon has not surfaced, and only Access Bank ever remembered to say a Happy Birthday. Great, isn’t it? Ridiculously great.
She is not on Instagram, doesn’t do Twitter or Snapchat either, but she has two-thousand-plus Facebook friends who amassed over the years, who almost never said anything to her. She knows how things should roll on a day like this, has the full fantasy of how birthdays feel nowadays. She could visit a studio to do some solo photoshoot with the little money she earned from the salon and share it online with a scintillating caption. But she didn’t. Even though she knew the right noise to make to command multiple likes, reactions, and dope comments, still she didn’t. Today doesn’t mean much anyway—all that fun stuff that swells your head and catapults you to cloud nine are meant for her Facebook friends with the time and the means, not her.
Since heaven didn’t fall, she didn’t get today off. She hates today better. Mama G. refused to unhook her from the salon stress. It even seemed Mama G. blindly allotted her some extra work to celebrate her. She did many hairs and hers remain rough, partly combed, packed off-sight in a tight scarf—it was best not to scare customers away.
Someone would ask of her parents, ask what is their job sleeping and snoring under the public cemetery ground while she is here struggling to feed herself. And her only living relative, her Lagos sister, leaves her and returns twice in a year, thrice in a leap year.
Now she reaches home, alights, unlocks the door, switches on the bulbs, drops her bag on the table as though dumping refuse, and hits the sofa.
Who would time-travel her back to 1999? The music blasts, the set dining table, the arrival of august guests, the awesome gifts, the photo snaps, her precious red-and-white gown, the merry. But time rockets past and dumps her in the future, here. Now… no shopping, no outing, no cards, no ice cream, no candle to blow air-plus-saliva into, no cake to cut into sweet slices. Now none seems to care. It is a solo world, a strange one at that. Today lost its meaning years back, now just like any other Thursday in any other month of any other damn year.
She changes her posture and lies back down, trying hard to wade through, to take a nap if possible. But she hears a strange sound. It comes once, then stops. Whatever that is, she knows it can’t be that good. She hates cats but the sound isn’t cat’s. It is something else.
Everywhere remains clothed in deep silence—a silence so calm you can feel it. Now she listens, hears a faint breathing. She listens again and hears again. What?!
She springs up from the sofa as though performing a stunt. Breathing heavily, she mutters, “Who’s there?” and all the bulbs go off immediately. Startled, she takes two steps closer to the table, tries her hand blindly to reach her bag. But heck, it’s not there. Second attempt, the bag is missing still. Wait… is something toying with her sanity? She is sure she put it here the other time. She keeps turning and turning around and around, seeing only black and black and black darkness and nothing more. And worse, it’s hard to trace her way out without finding the bag housing her torch and phone. She stands stock-still, frozen to the heavens.
A gentle footstep creeps in from the dark. It sounds closer by the seconds. Her heart jumps, racing off-beat. No action no words, a concrete pillar is better than her. Things aren’t foreboding well. What if it’s a ghost or something worse? Her bones soften up like a biscuit dipped in a pool of milk. She develops a sharp headache, her stomach threatens to give way, and before she does anything, the footstep stops right in front of her.
J-J-J-Jesus! She screams and shivers, her hands grabbing her chest hard. One second, two seconds, the bulbs come on.
“Happy birthday, Titi!” echoes many voices. Damn! Her eyes fail, but in front of her is her Lagos sister, Mary, holding a birthday present. Kola, the cool guy with a dark acne-ridden face emerges from behind the curtains. Junior, her neighbor’s fifteen-year-old crawls out from under the sofa, holding an iPod. From the kitchen, Lizzy, Toyin, and Emma enter the living room with doughnuts and rolls. Tunde surfaces from under the dining table, pulling out a crate of Coke.
She stands on the same spot, mouth open wide, too stiff to fall. Tofunmi, the semi-friend from her workplace enters with a cake bearing her name and +1 written on it. Mr. Sam, the electrician living next door, enters with a package on his right and a kit box on his left.
Even if she wants to hug Mary tight and cry her shoulders wet till her eyes no longer produces more drops, she can’t. She is way too drained. She slumps backward like a sawn tree and Mary receives her and lays her well on the sofa.
As everyone comes around to check if she fainted, to know whether to pour water on her or not, or to just fan her up, she signals with her weak hand for the party to continue while she tries hard to digest the ongoing.
A soft music starts playing in the background. When Titi regains her strength, Mary would explain why she masterminded the whole scene, the heart-attack surprise—it is simply her creative attempt at making up for the lost days.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Olamide Babalola is a writer and poet whose heartfelt love for literary creativity is unending. He loves to weld words to create beautiful masterpieces. He was shortlisted for 2018 PIN Food Poetry Contest and 2018 African Writers Award. His pieces have appeared in 101words, BNAP Anthology and Poetica Magazine. He lives in South-Western Nigeria.