“Wake up, Snowflake,” Besana said, storming into the bedroom. “It’s the one day a year you won’t melt.”

Awethu threw a pillow at his 16 Β½-year-old cousin, who was dripping water all over the tiles. “Sies man, you’re making a mess.”

Besana flexed, the neoprene of his wetsuit making his biceps look more impressive than they really were. “Dawn patrol,” he said. “Got to catch the waves when you can. By this afternoon, the water will be as flat as a pancake. Perfect for people who can swim, ne?”

Awethu tossed back the duvet and stood up. Standing toe to toe, he towered over his cousin, and his biceps didn’t need any neoprene to add definition. “Were you hoping to mix it up this morning, or were you just passing through?”

Besana sniffed the air. “Hayi, I’ll be leaving now. This air reeks. It’s like somebody who never showers slept here all night.”

Awethu grabbed the door, and slammed it in his cousin’s face. “Every! Damn! Year!”

Five minutes later, he was finishing his morning ablutions, courtesy of the chemical-smelling wipes, when he heard a knock. “Awe-thu! You open this door and give me greetings, hear me?”

He hastily pulled on a pair of shorts before answering, “Good morning, Mama.”

“Good morning, my handsome son,” she said, standing on tip toes to kiss his cheek. Even so, he had to duck down a bit, so she could reach. “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you.”

She gazed at him with damp eyes, “Every year I praise God for this day. Your tata and I prayed so very hard for a child, just like you, and every year, we give thanks. You are truly a gift.”

Awethu said nothing.

She sucked her teeth. “Have you forgotten how to speak?”

“No, Mama,” he said, shaking his head. Her eyes bored holes through his skull, despite her being nearly half his height. “I mean yes, Mama.”

“Yes, Mama, what?”

“I mean, yes, Mama, I am grateful to be here on my birthday. Thank you.”

She patted his chest. “Good, good, now put a shirt on. Your auntie has made us all a feast for breakfast.”

The table was indeed set up for a feast. Two tables, actually, to host all the uncles, aunties and cousins over 12, with the coffee table acting as a third setting, for the youngest cousins, little chairs set around for their tiny bottoms to sit in. Eggs, sausage, bacon, fried tomato, creamed spinach, cheeses, chakalaka, homemade rolls, beans and a variety of spreads and sauces were passed around. Glasses were filled with water, juice, coffee and tea.

“Happy birthday!” his 18-year-old cousin Inami said. “I suggest a toast.”

As everyone murmured their agreement, Inami reached for her glass. But before she could grab it, Besana set down the platter of bacon, knocking over the glass, spreading water across Awethu’s arm.

“Hayi!” His mother snatched her serviette, and rushed at him.

“I’m fine, Mama,” he said, already blotting his own arm. “You don’t need to worry.”

She patted his arm, anyway, not listening to anyone at the table, even her husband.

Besana clutched his chest. “Eish, Snowflake almost melted.”

Everyone broke into laughter, but Awethu couldn’t help but notice that much of it carried an edge of tension.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Get your laughs in.”

His mother ran her hand up and down his arm. “You sure you’re fine?”

“Of course,” he said, ignoring the strange tingling sensation now coursing up his veins. “It’s my birthday, the day I’m allowed to be wet.”

She frowned, but went back to her seat.

Β ***

Tell us: Do you have any brothers, sisters or cousins that give you a hard time, like Awethu’s do? If so, how do you deal with it?