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SWEET SIXTEEN JAMB 5

In actual fact, I only managed to sit through the class. F could not even recall a word of what was taught that morning; even though on a good day the Geography class could be terribly boring. I ran all the way to the principal’s office and was still panting when I got there. To my pleasant surprise, the principal’s face dissolved in a big smile the moment he saw me. He asked why I was panting. “Did you run all the way here?” I said yes. “Well, happy birthday,” he said. “I guess your boyfriend has a special present for you this year,”he said as he brought out a gift box with a pinkish wrap and a bright red ribbon that had a full multi-coloured bow on top of it.

When he said my boyfriend, I knew he meant my dad.The two of them had forged some kind of friendship that I could not understand, especially as they had little in common, or so I thought. My dad was much younger than the principal, even though I didn’t know the principal’s exact age.The principal was Christian, my dad was Muslim.

My dad was Yoruba, the principal was Tiv. “Oh, my God!”I exclaimed as I collected the box. But it was not the gift that excited me so much, but the utter relief in realizing that all my fears were unfounded after all. “Why don’t you wait until you see what is in the box before you get all excited,”the principal said. “No. Not that sir. I was so scared before I got here.” “Scared of what?” “It was just unusual sir, me having to come to your office to pick up the card.

So, I was kind of afraid that something terrible might have happened.” “To whom?  Your father? No. Nothing’s happened. I still saw him yesterday. “The principal chuckled.  “Thank you sir. Thank God.” “You are welcome and happy birthday!” he shouted after me as I practically hopped out of his office.

The relief that I felt at knowing that my father was okay was quickly overtaken by curiosity. I couldn’t wait to see what was in the beautiful box. I ran back to the hostel and tore the parcel open. I almost felt bad with the way I ripped off the ribbon. Someone must have taken the trouble to tie it so beautifully, I thought.

Oh well, gifts are meant to be opened no matter how beautiful the wrapping, right? In the box was a portable digital camera, a birthday card that said “Happy Sweet Sixteen”, and a spiral bound document. But it was the camera that got me. “Oh my God… oh my God,” I muttered breathlessly as I fiddled with the camera.

I loved photography and had always wanted to own a camera. My dad had promised some months before that he would buy me one. I thought he had forgotten, but I also knew that it would be a mistake to remind him.

He did not like being hassled like that. Now, I had my camera. He didn’t forget his promise after all. I did not even bother to take a second look at the card. It used to be the main thing on previous birthdays.

But this year, it had been relegated to a mere add on. The camera had all my attention. It was a compact digital camera with an LCD monitor. I loved it. I was tempted to try it immediately, but I decided it was better to wait until I had the time to read the manual. But what about the spiral bound document? I wondered what it was. It had a blue cover that bore the bold inscription, “Letter to My Daughter”.

I once read a book with that same title, written by Maya Angelou. I was not sure I understood everything that the author was saying. But I wondered why my father would now make a photocopy to send to me when he could have sent the book itself if he thought I needed to read it again. I soon found, when I opened the document, that my father had only copied Maya Angelou’s title.

It was his own letter to me, his daughter. He started by congratulating me on my 16- birthday. “How time flies,”he began. He wrote of the joy he felt when I was born. He also recalled how my birth meant he had to take life more seriously and live up to the task of being responsible for another human being. “For every day of the last 16 years, you have been a major reason for me to work hard so that I would be able to give you those things I never had as a child, and make it possible for you to have those things I never enjoyed.

I have also tried to teach you those core values and the essential character that I have inherited from my humble parents; my parents who had neither gold nor silver to give me, but taught me to be a real human being, an Omoluabi,”he wrote. It was a 16-page letter. A page for each year of my life. Trust my daddy to do a thing like that.

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