I looked past the roses and sunflowers bursting out of an enormous black and white striped, geometrically-shaped vase set in the center of my dining room table. It’s an odd combination for a bouquet, but I’ve always liked “odd”, even given my older age. The rich ebony-color of the table was a stark contrast to the white place mats placed in front of each seat along its length; nine chairs along the length of the table and one chair at each end of the width. I was seated at the farthest end of the table in front of a the four-panel window I love so much. The shadows of the swaying palms tree danced around the room as the Jamaican sun set in the horizon behind me.
“Happy birthday to you,” the crowd sang joyfully, “happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear, NneNne, Mommy, Livy, Olivia.” I laughed as each person belted out a clash of different names, “Happy birthday to you!
As the song ended, my son Malachi, walked into the room with a beautifully draped, black fondant cake, lined with white baroque piping, and deep-red rose petals sprinkled all around it. Illuminating the path in front of him were two burning candles; a “6” and a “0”. He carefully placed the cake on the table in front of me, keeping his eyes on the flames. After he set it down, he moved behind me, and I felt both of his hands gently cup my shoulders as he leaned down to kiss me on the cheek.
“Love you, Mom,” he whispered to me.
“Make a wish, Granny!” I heard a small voice shout.
I closed my eyes, and for a moment, everything went muddled, as if I had plunged into a boundless body of water. Perfect tranquility set upon my entire being, the most unbelievable stillness I had experienced in a while. I slowly opened my eyes to watch the two small flames flickering in front of me. I blew out both candles as everyone clapped and cheered and, immediately, my hand flew to the middle of my chest, full with gratitude. I gazed across the room taking in all the familiar faces of Love.
At the other end of the table was my oldest child and only daughter, Judah, my second son Malachi, who had moved to her right, and my twins, Joseph and Arthur standing on her left. Judah’s husband was behind her, holding her tight. Ngozi, Malachai’s finance was standing as the middle point on the length of the table to my left holding their nine-month old son. Chinyere, Judah’s youngest child, and Ejike, her oldest, were standing in front of Ngozi, staring a hole in the cake. Joseph’s fiance, Alana, was on the other table length to my right with a camera around her neck, peeking up from behind the lens every now and then to smile. Toni and her husband were there by Alana, along with their two kids. Taiwo was beside Toni, cracking jokes the same way she did in our 20’s. I felt so blessed to have my two best friends of fifty-three years there with me. Erika and Mickey, my sister-in-laws, stood at the corner to my right, with my nephews, Ian, Hakim, and Berhanu, and my niece Malina. Chinedu and Chika, my two older brothers, stood at the corner to my left. Chika’s secret service men stood off in the corner of the wall behind him, but no matter how much success they had both achieved over all these years, he and Chinudu were still like my bodyguards. A ton of my cousins were there: Eboni, Dera, Jennifer, Obinna, Max, Olachi and Uchenna, Ezinne and Silas, Amarachi, Nono, Stephanie, Lynda, Judy, Vanessa and Ikenna all flew out to spend my 60th birthday with me. My cozy home was booming with laughter and movement that night, as busy as the Kingston streets outside.
I jumped from a soft tap on my shoulders. My granddaughter, Chinyere, was peering at me through those big, light-brown eyes of hers.
“NneNne, what are you thinking about?” she asked.
I let out a big sigh of relief. “Oh, honey, Grandma’s just really content right now.”
She poked out her lip, with a puzzled look on her face. “What does content mean?” she questioned.
I patted my knee twice. “Oya, come.” I let out an audible grunt, as I helped her climb into my lap. “Content, means that I am satisfied. I am happy, sweetie.”
“Oh!” Chinyere said, rubbing the smooth, burgundy polish on my nails. “Do you always feel happy on your birthday, NneNne?”
I had to think about the question for a bit. “You know, there was a time when I was not happy on my birthday.”
Chinyere’s mouth fell open. She leaned her head sideways and let out a small gasp.
“Yeah, I know,” I chuckled. “All the way back in 2016– when NneNne lived in California– the morning I turned 25-years-old,” I said, very matter-of-fact, “I was miserable. I had to go to school that day and I had no plans and I just wanted to be by myself.”
Chinyere curled her lip and fidgeted in my lap. “But that’s not fun, NneNne.”
“No, it wasn’t, sweetie,” I replied staring off into the crowd of my loved ones. “Granny was lonely that day. Granny had been lonely, for a long time. But you know what?” I looked down at her. “That day, your uncle Chinedu called me and told me that being by myself on my birthday was not a good idea. And so, I decided to go be with my friend, Miss Toni, and her family. And I saw how they all laughed and danced and had fun with each other.” I held her tight and rocked her from side to side in a quick motion as she laughed in a high-pitched squeal, “and on that day, I figured out why I was not happy.”
Chinyere’s gaze was fixed.
“You see my dear,” I continued, huffing as I pulled her higher onto my lap, “sometimes people make things hard in their life when most things are really supposed to be… simple. Granny was making her life hard, and that day, I decided I wanted to change that. You overstand?”
Chinyere shook her head. “What do you mean by simple, Nne Nne?”
“Well,” I replied, “simple to me meant I wanted lots of laughter,” I said, tickling Chinyere until she squirmed. I wanted a happy home. I wanted to do what I loved” I uttered as I pointed at my paintings on the wall, “and travel all over the world. I wanted give your mother the life I never had, so she could give you a happy life, too. And I wanted to be surrounded by the love of my family and friends,” I smiled, pointing across the room at everyone.
Chinyere put her finger on her chin and wriggled about, the way a typical five-year-old does. “Ohhhh!” She exclaimed. “NneNne,” she asked, pulling her long, tightly-coiled hair straight.
“Yes, sweetie?” I answered.
“Did you get everything you wanted?” Chinyere’s eyes were big and bright, and the lighting in the room was just enough for me to see my reflection in them.
I paused for a while. Looking around the room one last time at each and every person lost in conversation, each having played a vital part in my sixty years of existence.
“Sweetie,” I said smirking and shaking my head in wonder, “I got more than I had ever imagined.
Thank you to everyone who’s been rockin’ with me as I explore my journey . Here’s to more adventure for year 2 of Southern Fried Ambitious, more laughter, and lots and lots of love for my 26th year of life and forevermore.