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You Have to Read This Beautiful Birthday Ode By Somto Okereke to His Friend, Roy



rhoiy-1477006073309My friend, Roy is turns twenty-three today. He is becoming on one hand, one of those Nigerian men who like to talk about politics –  because of the sad realisation that it is a defining factor in how their lives play out.

On the other hand, he is becoming the unconcerned Nigerian Man who is bothered about his writing. This version of Roy that I have to live with, would have been startlingly enough. This version of him that calls me “Bobo” and nothing else  – on days when no other words could suffice would be adequate enough to last me a lifetime.

These are not the only things he is becoming.

He is becoming a satisfactory friend; well versed in playing this game of camaraderie –  knowing when to stoke the fires with twigs and when to simply watch them die.

Yet somehow, I think that he has always been a satisfactory friend, and that wakefulness to a certain trait does not necessarily mean it has been absent.

Because of this… because I know that Roy is  like a story an author writes that flows endlessly –beautiful from beginning to the end. He is a story whose first line is as stunning and meaningful as the last full stop.

Because I know that it is he, alone who recognizes when I need silence, recognizes how it is sometimes a lot more powerful than actual words and he who listens to me chatter about things as trivial as my new hairstyle, I am thankful for him.

I am thankful for the graceful way he talks about books, the vivaciousness in his voice when he says, “Bobo, I have too many tabs open in my browser, too many things to read” or that he has, like every other time, gotten a book he will not read.

This vivaciousness which I have come to learn that is not alone present when he is excited – as with everyone else – the vivaciousness that is at hand even on the darkest days, days when he says “I am not sure why I am sad” or “I’ll be fine” because there is never a time Roy isn’t alive.

I have become accustomed to waking up to his morning messages popping as a chat head, a “Bobo, Awayu?” or “Nna, Good Morning!” on jollier days, and to hearing his silky voice asking an excited “How are you?” over the phone, devoid of splendour or finery, but bestowed with the choicest of all loveliness, the beauty of little things

And with Roy, everything is bestowed with this beauty. There are days when we are wheeling shopping carts along the aisles in Circle Mall that would matter to no one else, deliberating what to buy and what to not. And other days when we are lazying about instead, looking at a movie. but not necessarily watching it. We’re taking brief walks and talking about Adichie , and yet somehow these days have managed to matter in equal measure, so that there are no better days. With Roy, every day is a better day.

About things like this, about friends who eulogize their friends in blog posts, Roy would “Awww” and then send me a link. He would talk about it with me on the phone later, I know – about how I do nothing nice for him and I would tell him it is because he is an idiot, a stupid twenty-three year old – I always remind him of this – struggling with writer’s block because with Roy, charming words do not do.

They are perhaps too regular to explain how I really feel, and so we become like the Nigerian Mother who teaches her daughter to call her vagina “that thing”. We mask the things we want to say, the things we do not have words for in comfortable clothes.

But we are fluent with words too, maybe too fluent with words. I like how, he, in a world dedicated to choking our existence somehow manages to squeeze out compliments; how he says, “You’re an amazing writer” or “I am reading you” at the oddest of times. I like that, with him, life is a complete model, overflowing with details, verdant and lavish. We are spectators to this model, passing pop corn in paper bags to each other and simply enjoying the show. I like the calm about him, the uncanny stillness that teaches me that apathy is sometimes a virtue.

Even though I am terrible and self-differing, and the moving parts of my soul are sometimes worn out from grinding against each other and are at loggerheads. Even though one day I am the nice friend who wants to talk, and on the other, I am the reserved one who has curled himself up, unprepared for the grind that is life and who finds fault with everything, there is a soothing comfort in knowing that someone has come properly suited for each of these days.

To laugh about a friend who uses old English expressions and who says ‘she is writing an “Obituary” when she means a tribute’, to listen when you say, “Deadlines are creeping in on me”; to not impose solutions, but to offer them, on shiny silverwares designed with love, to serve you choice and solution in one meal.

And the last time we are together, when he says “Come with me to the airport tomorrow” and I turn down for peculiar reasons He alone understand.  I realise how a friend who understands, is quite frankly the best gift one could ever have.

I realise too that I have this gift and I know, in that moment, that I never want to let it go.

I would tend to its little garden and prune its leaves. I would offer a pat on the back when it’s choking on a meal and still feed it in large chunks. And when it shivers from a cold, or jerks from a chronic cough, and threatens to leave, I will remind it of how it came to be in the first instance.

Because Roy is like a parcel given to one by their dying parent; a package that comes only on special delivery. He is something one should never lose.

So, Happy Birthday, Bobo. You are a man comfortable in his definition of himself; a man who has learned to tether life to his rules. You are a man clutching to his fickle resolves, unpredictable, but clutching anyway. You are crossing above them to the greener side haltingly, with the hesitance of one stepping over a faulty plank, but you are moving nonetheless.

So, I am grateful that you move; that the man you are, can weather these storms and somehow dance in the rain. I am grateful that he can survive the burns and make art for his scars. I am grateful that the man you are is tough, in an amazing way I think only I know. You are tough.

I hope you know that there is enough room in the world to stuff your dreams, enough room to contain them and that they never need to be marginalized, I hope you know most importantly that you are a beautiful thing, an amazingly beautiful thing.

Happy Birthday, Nna!

PS: It took me a lot to not call you stupid in all of what I’ve written above, please don’t make me regret it.