A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER….by Felix Abrahams Obi
(Based on a true-life story)
Tired and worn out from the day’s toils, four guys;Ikem,Nna,Ogene and I kept vigil and stretched our yarns till the clock chimed at 12 midnight to herald a new day and a new year for some one else, Nne, who quietly slept in her bedroom. It was the first few seconds of 17th July 2007 that we had all been waiting for...her birthday! We had all crammed into my bedroom and regaled each other with jokes and banters as we lay at awkward angles across my mattress which rested on the rugged interior of my bedroom at Wuye District of Abuja. The bed sheet was rumpled and the crease lines looked more like fancy but rough frills on a lady’s skirt. From my window, I could see the security lights that blazing forth from Wonderland, the newest amusement park in Abuja run by one Lebanese guy. The rays pierced the dark night eerily punctuated by the chirps of insects.
Then I pick my phone and dial Nne’s number...she picks, and a cacophony of husky and croaked voices began to sing the familiar song, “happy birthday to you….” To add more humour, Ikem, Nna, Ogene and I sang the chorus in any key that we liked. A choir of toad, frog and crickets might do better than we did, but Nne thoroughly enjoyed herself. What with the adlibs that garnished the hoary texture of our voices whose key I learnt are missing on the classical music scale.I did a special number using my acquired “mallam accent” of Hausa which I picked up as an undergrad in Kano in the 1990s. My solo stanza I took went like this:
“Kai nyarinya…hafi ‘bad-day’ too yuu
“hafi bad-day, hafi bad-day, hafi bad-day too yuuuu…
“me I don pinish am por mai song,
“ oba to mai buroda…to mudu alaaah!
Ikem,Nna and Ogene took their own solo using different accents: Igbo, Efik and Waffi versions of the birthday chorus. Nne’s laughed in great delight and it echoed from the phone’s loud speaker which I had turned on before we sang the special birthday song. It was a surprise that was not privy to hours before she retired to sleep. But we were not yet done with our plans to make Nne’s birthday memorable. The brain storming session lasted till 2.00 AM before Nna left my apartment to join his sister Nne at their own apartment, but he was barred from sharing any hints with her. Ikem,Ogene ( my guests) and I sprawled at different positions in the living room and the bedroom respectively to enjoy the abridged sleep.
At dawn Ikem, Ogene and I reluctantly left Wuye Estate for the day’s business. Brushing the staleness of the night was not without complaints as we had only slept for a few hours after the all-male choir’s rendition for Nne. Timed phone exchanges between the four of us were all we needed to fine-tune our plans. At 5.00 PM Nna chauffeured his sister, Nne from Wuye to Wuse 2 to meet me and the five-some crew sped off to get some hot and oven-fresh suya that will be washed down by the chilled fruit juice and soft drinks we picked from Sahad Stores at Area 11, Garki. In another ten minutes, we arrived the popular Millennium Park which was opened in 2003 during Queen Elizabeth’s last visit to Nigeria for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Abuja.
Though Nne has stayed in Abuja for about a decade, she has never visited the park before, and that was the beginning of the thrill. We had arrived at the option because we wanted to have a loud but private outing with Nne.We had thought of having a buffet at the Hilton with all its panache and class. The live-music band at the Capital Bar or the traditional beats that echo from Zuma Restaurant at the ground flour of the hotel had their own attraction. But we commuted all that for our own option. The four-some; Ikem, Ogene,Nna and I had become a quartet that no live-band can displace, not without a fight. We wanted a no-holds-barred outing which the polished milieu of Trascorp Hilton would obviously rob us from enjoying. We wanted to indulge in all our subdued youthful mischief and naughtiness of boyhood which age and adulthood had stripped us of. Millennium Park’s ambient nature was the perfect montage upon which our evening show was staged; all geared to give Nne a memorable birthday!
We rented some mats and laid them on the lush and well-shevelled lawn at one circumscribed corner of the park that had penetrable walls composed of small tress. We set the cake on the mat and surrounded it with the wrapped birthday gifts, fruit juice and soft drinks, while the quartet formed a concentric circle with Nne and the northern end of the circumference. A few poles away, a romantic couple reclined on a mat having some chit-chats and occasional laughter that love-birds are known for.Another guy stretched out his frame on another mat supposedly lost in his own thought without a care.
It was already past 6pm and from our vantage point, we could see the beautiful fountain that splashed the grasses at the Unity Garden which overlooks Transcorp Hilton Hotel, and the receding sun cast its golden hue over the Millennium Park. Without a well-rehearsed script, Ogene signaled on Ikem to commence proceedings .His opening remarks were enough to crack everyone’s rib, especially Nne’s for in his words, “We are not giving you this treat from the bottom of our hearts because, the Bible said that the heart of man is desperately wicked…”
I had picked a knife from the kitchenette in my office earlier for Nne to cut the cake. Our negotiation with a roving photographer in the park was staled by his insistence on printing a copy for N200 which was rather high. We had forgotten our digital cameras at home and had to resort to our mobile phones to be able to capture the smile of joy on her face.After the cake was cut, we unleashed our uninhibited foolery as we danced like drunken men to the beat of the songs of Sammy Okposo which blared from Ikem’s laptop. We pulled out our shoes and towed the line of the undignified as we wriggled our waistline and waved white handerchiefs as though we’re having a praise party. I regaled Nne with my ‘galala’ dance steps which AJ City guys had popularized in Naija while the Ikem,Ogene and Nna all did their solo performances.We didn’t care about any disapproving glances from other park visitors for silhouetted images of trees in the park would have shrouded such.Morever, “kolomental’ , that jive word popularized by the Naija hiphop star has become an acceptable word for anyone who’d dance uninhibitedly like King David of old.
But the outing was not all about sheer madness of youth for it was punctuated with an acoustic feel.An acoustic guitarist who plied his career as a freelance troubadour played and sang lovely birthday, romantic and gospel songs for the celebrant. The chords were smooth, and his voice crisp and soothing. In a matter of minutes he doled out a medley of sing-along songs that made the evening a remarkable one. He got a chunk of cake and some tip after Ikem( a multi-instrumentalist) did a special birthday song for Nne using the guitar.Nna himself could play the drums but majored in bass guitar though a practicing architect like Ikem. Ogene and I can hardly play any musical instrument but we loved music all the same, though we work as health professionals in the development sector.
Our rowdiness and noisy jokes and laughter came to a halt as dusk swallowed the fading rays of the sun. The park had no lights on the trees save a few a points were security lights beamed. For security reasons, we thought it wise to leave since security personnel did not patrol around to check for possible miscreants and hoodlums that love to hide under the cloak of darkness to unleash terror on innocent folks. Moreso, Ikem’s laptop had vital documents that had no back-up especially the last semester results of his undergraduate students at UNN.As we matched towards the entrance, some love-birds whispered to each other’s ears and it was obvious they made no haste like us. But who wouldn’t be lost in the loving embrace of his/her lover!
Not done with the evening and the birthday mood still high, we head straight to the popular Calabar Kitchen at Area 11, Garki .The lure of edikaikong soup, white soup ( ofe nsala), egusi and oha soup pulled us was irresistible.And we salivated as we waited for our meals to be served. I licked my soup with utter delight as the bolls of “semovita’ trudged down my guts.Still in the birthday mood, I tasted Nne’s ofensala but Ikem would not let me indulge in the pleasnt mischief of licking his edikaikong and the seasoned chunk of catfish that was an obstacle to his fingers.Selfishly, I licked my own egusi soup mixed with oha, and munched the goat meat that was served with it. The waiters wrapped the remaining pieces of goat meat,chicken and catfish in a foil and parcled them as take-away packs while we cracked more jokes in readiness to head back to Wuye for a deserved rest. The newscasters of popular television station, AIT read the 8pm news which we didn’t pay much attention to save for occasional glances at the TV set.
A guy walks in casually with his hand in his pocket and makes an announcement.
“Bring out all your money and handsets”
We brushed aside his words for we thought it looked like another comedy scene replete in here in Naija.Moreso, he looked rather unserious and fidgeted as he doled out his command. How could four heavy guys obey such a flail command? Hysterical shouts by girls from the main lounge made us wonder what the evening was turning into. We were in a dazed and confused state for a transient moment until the reality hit home in seconds.
Another guy steps in to join the feeble-minded fellow with a pistol in his hands. We then realized that the music has changed its tempo, ‘egwu adaghariala’! Now the threats were real and the commands dished out without a trace of unseriousness:
“Lie down or I blow up your head…
“Bring out your money and mobile phones now…”
“Oh, you’re looking at my face…?
“Where is that big man… where is the big man..?
An eerie quietness set in, save for the hushed breath sounds and mumbled cries from the customers and waiters who lay prostate in forced worship and obeisance to this expression of evil. The fidgety guy picked up as many phone sets as he could, and the money we had removed from our pockets.
“Search them very well” the other guy bellowed… the one that had a pistol
Not satisfied that we’ve been frisked thoroughly by his fidgety partner in crime, he stomps around, hitting us in a frenzy of anger and threatened to blow up anyone who looked up. Like obedient lamb, we lay prostrate in humiliation and subdued anger. Save for the gun, they would have become mince mint in our hands and it was wiser to have quenched that rush of adrenaline that sends men to unsolicited heroism. I could have landed some blows on them since I had broad shoulders and have watched not a few ‘wrestlemania’matches, or rather shows! I have also worked with Taekwando and Judo guys and could try some kicks and punches to save my pride. But common sense made me beat a retreat so I could swallow this dehumanization.This rape of my human dignity and affront on my right as a creation of God.
How my male ego was deflated as a fellow man, much like a weakling frisked my bulging pockets and took away my phone, hard earned cash, and wallet containing my Zenith Bank’s ATM card among other important items. He took all without a fight or flicker of opposition from all of us .Ikem’s phone and cash were taken under duress.Ogene’s expensive Nokia phone was gone, and his wallet containing some dollar bills, credit cards to his South African bank account were gone with the wind in addition to some thousands of Naira in his pocket.Nna’s phone and cash were gone, and the villains had landed some blows on him in addition. Nne was in utter shock as her phone was gone, and her cute dress was smeared with soup that appeared like sludge when the hoodlums broke plates and overturned tables in search of valuables.
The madness and confusion didn’t last long as the miscreants finished in a matter of minutes. When we heard no more threats, we quietly raised our heads. They had gone with the winds..! In silence we rise up from our humbled posture with our ego bruised. As we reached for the door, another stampede ensued…we run back into the restaurant and many got injured as they rammed into each other. Alas, it was a false alarm raised by a terrified girl who had a false apparition because she thought the robbers had come back upon sighting a guy that resembled one of them! We held Nne’s who was visibly shake as we walked back to the Mercedes 190 that ferried us to Calabar Kitchen. The patrol van of a team of mobile policemen had arrived, but long after the robbers were gone. Many recount their losses but we’re too beaten to talk to anyone. So we headed back to Wuye without the gaiety that normally marked our assembly and party time at Millennium Park.
When we got back home at about 9pm and Ikem’s jokes tour through our gloom. His only ‘regret’ was that we had left the juicy pack of catfish and pieces of goat meat at Calabar Kitchen.We had lost much but no one could take away the joy of living we’d shared. We lost a lot but not everything. Ikem’s laptop was left in the booth after a last minute change of mind for in our previous visit to Calabar Kitchen in May 2007, we took it in, fearing someone may burgle the booth and steal it. Not all was lost for the birthday gift we’d jointly bought for Nne safely reclined in the booth of the car as well.
How do we recover all the important contacts and business links in our phones? How do we prevent the hoodlums from not using the smart bank cards in our stolen wallets? How do we console Nne and numb the harrowing experience so it doesn’t get etched in her psyche. Would anyone be glad to have a perfectly splendid birthday evening marred by the whims and mischief of robbers who spoke good English? We’d better report early enough to the Wuye Police station since my official ID card was in my wallet and could become an un-defendable exhibit that could be found at some crime scene tomorrow. So making hay while the sun is blazing and shining forth, made sense.
But efore we left Nne’s apartment, Ikem sort of took the podium and urged me to offer a prayer of thanks despite my excuses. Without much struggle, five of us raised our voices to heaven as I led the prayer session after we sang;
Thanks, oh thanks, we give You thanks
For all You’v done on our lives
We’re so blessed, our souls have found rest
Oh Lord, we give you thanks…
We took our eyes off the things we had lost and focused them on God who had spared our lives. What if they had shot indiscriminately and killed anyone of us? The robbers could have fractured someone’s skull with butt of their gun? Moreover, they couldn’t take away the sweet taste of the ofe egusi, ofe oha, ofe nsala, and edikaikong that soothed our taste buds and throats!
At Wuye Police Station, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) had been radioed about the incident and offered kind and consoling words to us. He gives order to one of his subordinates to take us to Garki Police Station to make our statement which we arrived at about 11Pm. Life seemed normal in the Garki area as night life seemed unpunctuated by any threat whatsoever. Calls girls and sex workers in skimpy attires strolled leisurely along Lagos Crescent, while music blared from road side restaurants and bars that dot Abuja’s landscape.
The tables at the station were worn out from overuse. The entire office area lacked any aesthetic appeal.On the wall behind the Investigating Police Office (IPO) is a poster with the inscription, “We don’t accept Bribe in this Station’. IPO gestures to us to sit down while he continues to write the statement being given by the driver of a brand new Golf saloon car which was snatched at gun point by a group of robbers he had ostensibly chauffeur them to a convenient place before they blindfolded, beaten and dumped him, in a bush after collecting the car from him. They had ‘hired’ him from Lugbe Housing Estate on the pretence that they were going to Apo Legislative quarters.The IPO later gives each of a ruled paper upon which we’re to record our statements individually and then makes a demand;
“We no get file to put your statement, so make una bring N200”
We argue that our monies have all been stolen but he remained unruffled by our plight. We search our pockets to no avail until Nna luckily finds some Naira in his breast pocket which he handed over to the IPO. An empathic and friendly female officer later guided us as we scribbled dowm our statements urging us not to leave any spaces in between the sentences. While we made the statements, we joined the medley of popular Christian praise and worship songs that emanated from suspects under detention. Their husky voices added soul to the songs that they sang which made this police post take on the air of a Pentecostal church. But another Police Officer whom we exchanged banters with as we scribbled our statements warned us not to be misled by the songs from the cells.
“These boys who sing like angels are devils…
“They hate us so much that they easily target to kill us at any crime scene
“They should not be pitied…
We’re done by midnight. The IPO asked us to report the following morning to collect the police extract which we can use to obtain an affidavit to replace the stolen bank smart cards and Identity Cards….but not the lost cash and phones, that is! As we drove back to Wuye, the accompanying Police Officer regaled us with stories about the rising crime rate in Abuja. We dropped him off at the Wuye Police Station, thanking him effusively for his help, and sent our regards to his kind-hearted DPO.
We gathered again at Nne’s apartment to drink the remaining fruit juice that we had chilled.In my impatience I drank mine while we walked to Wuye Police Station. Now I had to sit back and watch as Ikem,Ogene ,Nna and Nne sipped the sweet juice. What an agonizing time for me which my ‘long-throat’ tendencies had elicited.But Nne was kind enough to let me have a sip againt Ikem’s remonstrations. He had wantd justice to fairness in that I drank mine earlier, and had shortened the chief celebrant’s portion. Nne tears through the birthday gifts we had bought her. With smile, she reveals the gifts we had given her: A cool wrist watch and a set of necklace and earrings to match; two novels from award-winning author, Francine Rivers to tease her feminine senses! The part that made her smile was the inscription:
“Happy birthday to our dearly beloved sister, Nne,
“From the “Committee of Bobos”…Ikem, Ogene, Nna and …”
P.S.The author is a Physiotherapist and freelance writer based in Abuja and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org