It was my thirtieth birthday and my sister was throwing a party for me. Left to me I wouldn’t bother. I would just skulk in my room reading a book or messing about on my laptop. Birthdays don’t really interest me. Waste of time and money. I have better things to do with my time.
We’re an odd family. My sister’s the party animal who is friends with everybody and arranges our entire social calendars – whether we want them or not. Mum always has her head buried in the Bible; she definitely wants to be first in line for Heaven. I’m too introverted to bother about most things and Dad would be a bit more social if he had the get-up-and-go and was less of a Man-child.
We had cleared out the living room of all unnecessary furniture and the chairs, left, were set against the wall. This left a clear wide space in the middle for those who wished to dance.
Dad’s old ghetto blaster was on a table nearest the air-conditioning unit. It had wires coming out of its exposed rear linked to three external speakers and a Sony laptop. My genius of a sister had rigged it up to resemble a DJ-music station – and she was doing the DJ-ing herself. This invariable meant we would have to listen to her taste of music all night long.Yukk! We had just finished listening to the cringe worthy ABBA song ‘A Dancing Queen’ which she followed up with one of her all-time Diana Ross’ favourites – ‘I’m Coming Out’- but nevertheless people danced to it.
Mum had gone to stay at aunt Kate’s for the weekend. The idea of seeing her two overgrown-still-at-home-kids getting drunk and frolicking about the place, with their friends, didn’t appeal to her: it would surely clash with her bible-bashing beliefs. Dad had stayed behind, mostly to keep the peace and see what we got up to when his back was turned. Yes I’m thirty and I’m still at home. It’s called poverty in the twenty-first century when kids can’t afford to fly the nest because of the high cost of independent living. I was still housed in the room I’ve occupied since I was a kid. I still have the same old faded posters, from my childhood, on the walls. My Superman themed bedspread has long gone and my same old desk now has engineering books on it and a laptop replacing my old time bedtime story books. Under my bed are magazines of a more adult nature rather than comics.
My sister had decided we dine informally. A buffet had been spread out on the kitchen table. It had delicacies that would appeal to all culinary tastes be they vegetarian, meat eaters or plain pigs that’ll eat anything put in front of them. A stack of paper plates and plastic cutlery ensured that mum’ prized china dinning set was safe. Knowing our lot after a few drinks they’ll probably turn Greek and smash half of them! Paper was safe. You can pick it up off the floor after a mishap without fear of pricking your finger on a splinter or mum going ballistic at her broken crockery.. Likewise we had translucent plastic cups for drinking even though the aforementioned manner- less lot had resorted to swigging from bottles.
It was supposed to be my party but a majority of the crowd were my sisters’ friends –professional gate crashers. I only have a handful of friends so hers gratefully made up the numbers.
Dad was leaning against the doorway, bottle of beer in his hand trying to look cool, talking animatedly to a pretty young girl old enough to be his grand-daughter. They were all giggles and smiles and I hope he wasn’t hitting on her or I’m going to tell mum. At least he was trying to fit in. He had made an effort with his dressing: he looked the part with his rarely worn jeans with an over-size T-shirt on top to hide his bulging spare tire. My sister wore a blue floral jumpsuit; hair tied in a bun and she was balanced precariously on her pair of fake Jimmy Choos’. She was gyrating, wildly, arms flying everywhere, to the music from behind her improvised DJ stand. I on the other hand, not being a fussy dresser, made an effort of wearing a pink silk shirt on top of my usual pair of jeans and trainers.
I sat in a corner nearest the window. In my lap was a plate of uneaten food and on the stool beside me was a bottle of beer I had hardly touched.
Looking at me one wouldn’t imagine I was the celebrant – even though the birthday cake on a low table in front of me would be a dead giveaway – as I looked lost, dejected, fed-up, bored and out of place like I wanted to be anywhere but here.
Dad saw me looking like a lost soul prevented from entering the Pearly Gates to Heaven and came over.
‘Enjoying yourself?’ he asked, sarcastically, sitting down.
I gave him my best what-do-you-think look.
Time was creeping towards the midnight hour and the impromptu dance floor was packed with everyone. The food and copious amounts of alcohol had been consumed and a lot of smooching and cuddling was going on, especially now Elton Johns ‘Candle in the Wind’ was playing. A few of the girls tried to get me up on my feet, to dance, but I bluntly refused. Rumour has it that I have two left feet. Booze can do incredible things to a person; one party goer was spread-eagled on the floor, comatose, drunk. Another, a girl, was perched on the lap of her boyfriend whilst at the same time snogging the face off a boy knelt down beside her. I had better go upstairs and see if any of them have crept upstairs, to the bedrooms, for a spot of after booze get-physical-together. I’m not much of a drinker. Three drinks and I’m out for the count. I’m on my second drink so I haven’t got far to go.
He took a swig of his beer and cleared his throat. ‘There’s been talk’, he began.
‘About what?’ I asked. We were in the alcove by the window and didn’t need to raise our voices.
He must have noticed the sudden change in my composure, like I was a cat backed into a corner ready to leap out and fight and quickly changed the topic.
‘So where’s this mysterious girlfriend of yours?’, he asked jokingly,’…is she here?’.
‘Don’t have a girlfriend!’ I fired back, irritated at this sudden intrusion into my private life.
‘Hmm.. .’ he muttered to himself. His little ‘girlfriend’ materialized from nowhere, plonked herself down beside him and they were soon lost in their own little world, flirting and laughing. Mum is surely going to hear about this! I tried to eavesdrop on their gibberish but couldn’t pick up anything. They were on a wavelength of their own.
Alone, I wondered off.
After wending my way through the dancing couples, rejecting invitations to dance and engaging in small talk with those sober enough to congratulate me I made it to the solace of the now deserted kitchen.
It was quiet here and at the same time messy like a pack of juvenile delinquents had had a food fight – not a big one! There were scraps of food everywhere – on the table, and on the floor and walls. Mum will have a fit if we don’t have this all cleaned up by the time she gets back.
I put the kettle on and made myself a cup of strong black coffee, sat down and waited.
He came in about five minutes after me still clutching the same bottle of beer.
I smiled. We’ve been having this little rendezvous for as long as I can remember. When there was something to be said or we just fancied a little bit of father-son time together we always met up in the kitchen when everyone was safely out of the way. With mum, our mother-son chats takes place late at night when everybody else is safely tucked up in bed. She would normally start off by reeling off quotations from the Bible before we start our chat proper. And our chat is normally about the same thing – when am I getting married or moving out.
‘Everyone’s out there enjoying themselves at your party and you’re cooped up in here like a leper. What’s going on?
Now how do you answer that one?
‘I just needed a break from the madhouse’.
‘Humph’, he muttered taking a swig of his beer,’…there’s been talk’, he began slowly.
I rolled my eyes. Here we go again. ‘What kind of talk?’, I asked.
‘About you’, he took another swig from his beer: he clearly wasn’t comfortable about what he was about to say.’ Is there something you’re not telling us about yourself?’.
‘Like what?’ I was clearly bemused at his question. I hadn’t the faintest idea about what he was going on about.
He stood up and started pacing around the kitchen. He was always like this when he couldn’t get the right words out.
‘You’re like thirty today still living at home, have no friends and no girlfriend. What’s going on?’
I sighed. We’ve had this lecture before.
I shrugged my shoulders and waited for him to go on. Yes I didn’t have a girlfriend and I only had a smattering of friends. So what?’
He moved closer to the window and peered out. ‘Your mother’s not here…you can tell me anything and it’ll stay between us’. Outside, a car coming into park, backfired causing some of the feral kids to scatter, in all directions, thinking a gun had gone off. Two of them collided with a bread seller causing her tray of wares to fall to the ground. Thankfully there were only a few loaves left on her tray which she quickly picked up, swearing at the two urchins who had now disappeared down a side alley.
I stood up and walked over to stand beside him. ‘I really don’t know what you’re getting at dad’.
He turned away from the window to face me. There was sadness in his eyes.
‘ I don’t know how to say this’, he was struggling with his words, ‘ I mean…you’re withdrawn…like you’re hiding something…I mean you’re not one of them are you? Can I expect grandkids from you or you’re not capable?’
The penny drops……
I smiled. It was a smile of relief. Now I knew where he was headed. It’s strange that in this day and age if you’re not on the social calendar scene and you’re withdrawn people automatically assume you’re gay; I thought gay-men displayed feminine traits in their mannerism and speech? Surely I’m not like that or am I?
I took his hands into mine and looked deep into his eyes.’ I know what you’re thinking dad and the answer is ‘no’. I’m not gay if that’s what you’re thinking. And ‘yes’ you can expect grandkids from me one day’.
Now it was his turn to be surprised. ‘So you’re not gay? So what’s the matter with you then?’ Relief was written all over his face.’ So you’re not a cross-dresser, transgender or any of that stuff?’
I shook my head.
‘I’m autistic that’s all’. I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism a couple of years back and had kept it to myself – which would explain my odd behaviour.
Nigerian fathers are not well versed in the art of child psychology and my father was none the wiser. But nevertheless he had certainly heard the word ‘autism’ before if only that meant from the film ‘Rainman’. But the good news was that I wasn’t gay. He wouldn’t have to invent stories to explain my weird behaviour, why I don’t have a girlfriend and have to explain why I’m always withdrawn.
He reached into the cooler, pulled out a bottle of beer, opening the cap with his teeth and handed it to me.’ I can live with that’.
We clinked bottles and drank.