My birthday is on the 29th this month. Which means that my M-Pesa line and liquor cabinet are now open for gifts. I’ll accept invites for food too as long as there’s meat on the menu. I don’t do surprises though. Bills, rent, malnourished bank accounts and an empty wallet are enough surprises in my life already.
My mom thinks that I am too old to be eating in kibandas, government records indicate that I’m a less than a decade shy off declassification as a youth, and my workmates say “bado wewe ni kijana” and allocate me all the dirty work in the office. My age mates say we are in a quarter life crisis and my sisters think I am old enough to tag in wedding photos on Facebook. My old man, well, I doubt he even knows how old I am, but I know he’s glad that we are no longer housemates. And that I am old enough to afford him the occasional wine when the gods of fortune smile upon me. There are some quarters that want me to celebrate with a party.
I don’t organize parties for my birthday. I don’t remember having birthday parties as a kid even though there’s a photo of me in my dad’s arm while he does a raised fist with the free arm and some cut cake in the family album. I am in a green shirt with yellow pockets. Family lore has it that it was the last item of clothing he ever bought for any of us after my mum remarked, “kwani hawa watoto ni wakamba” upon seeing the matching shirts he had for my brother and I. There’s no other record of childhood birthday celebrations. Maybe he sulked at the damning critique of his fashion sense and banned photographs of birthday celebrations in his household. Or maybe he banned birthday parties altogether unless his boys were allowed to wear green and yellow shirts. I don’t know man.
In my pre-teen years, my mom and younger sister would bake cakes and the rest of us would just show up in the evening, cut a slice, and go about our business as usual. I liked it that way. Quiet. I wouldn’t change a thing.
As an adult capable of affording a party of wanton substance abuse and debauchery, I still don’t host birthday parties. And not that I have anything against birthday parties. In fact, I love birthday parties. Who turns down free booze anyway? I even organize birthday parties for friends. I just don’t want mine.
It may be because I don’t like being the center of attention; probably why I also write on this blog using pseudo names. Or it is that I don’t like any rendition of the birthday song. Or that I wouldn’t know what to do when everyone else is singing “Happy Birthday.” Do you say “Thank you,” or do you just ignore the off-key singing and go on taking your poisons unperturbed? Or do you lock eye contact with your girlfriend (if you have one) or the prettiest girl (who ought to be your girlfriend) in the party until the singing is over? Or do you dart your eyes around the room like a maniac and try to maintain eye contact with everyone as a show of your appreciation for their singing and showing up at your party.
Knowing myself, if I hosted a birthday party, I’d make people sing Happy Birthday every time I reached a new level of high. Which would be like every thirty minutes. Or I would lead them in songs that are totally unrelated to birthdays and we’d be mistaken for a cult or a circumcision ceremony.
Instead, I let my mum tell interesting but embarrassing stuff about my childhood, and I do small things for myself to celebrate my birthday. I got this domain last year for my birthday. In 2014, I got six packs. That they lasted for only three weeks and the reason for the relapse is irrelevant in this story.
I am a tad confused on what I want this year. But I am sure it not a tattoo though; branding myself like cattle is permanent, and I don’t want anything almost irreversible. Even then, what would I ink in on my skin? My mother’s name? Surname or first name? Or the pet name her sister calls her with? What if I do that and my old man also wants his name on my skin? Also, I don’t know how tattoos look like on wrinkled black skin. What if I don’t like it? You can’t just chop your arm off because you’ve suddenly realized that the barbed wire tattoo you drew on your triceps is stupid.
My confusion isn’t because I don’t know what I want per se. It’s just that I am at an age where I am not quite sure if the decisions I am making are the right ones and if they’ll still be the sound choices in five years to come or even a lifetime. I don’t even know if there’s “right decisions” in life. What if the choices I make today impact the life I’ll live in my 40s? There are decisions we make in our mid-20s that impact our 30s and 40s. You know, I see these 40-year-olds who wear toe shoes and who regale you with tales of how the previous night at the club was lit and wonder how their 20s were, or if it’s just the throes of midlife crisis agonizing them.
Stuff like, should I change jobs? Am I spending enough time with my parents? Or should I quit my job and then spend time and be housemates with my folks back home as I look for another job? Do I have a work-life balance? What is the right age to get married? Should I even get married in the first place? How do I know she’s the right woman? What if she’s the right woman, we get married, and then in our 40s, she gets tired of seeing my forehead, says I am suffocating her and leaves to be a stripper or something? What if it’s me who gets tired of her weave, or I blame her for not encouraging my latent belly dancing talents and I form a dance group with some neighbourhood kids? These are the stuff that I think about when I should be thinking nothing like other men.
My friends say this is quarter life crisis. It’s like a pre-midlife crisis only that you’re mostly broke and can’t afford almost all the fun activities you’d engage in to embarrass your family. It commonly occurs between the ages of 24 to 29 and comes with not being really sure if you are a proper adult or just a man-child. Quarter life crisis is showing the world you know your shit and have it covered while secretly praying that it’s not a massive screw up that will have you moving back home with your parents and asking for airtime money from them. Or worse, pinching their change to go drink chang’aa because you already paid in kind for your previous shindig with the toe shoes you bought while you had an income.
Man, adulthood is hard and confusing.