Hey everyone!! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance. There was a break in transmission last week, that was because I was trying to wrap up the year and head on vacation. Well we are back and this week you’;; get two post and I will be wrapping up the season. I am giving away a Christmas story for one lucky winner who share and comments on the post. Introducing to you…my sister scribe Abimbola Dare..I know her as Bims…enjoy.
A cock crows in the fields beyond my grandfather’s compound. Another follows, and soon a symphony of crows fill the air. The early morning wind carries the sound into my grandma’s bedroom; where I laugh and twirl in front of the mirror, as my yellow dotted Christmas dress swirls in response.
There is a white hat on my head. Its edges are like the blades of the dusty ceiling fan above Grandma’s bed. It is held in place by a white elastic band, knotted at the ends so that it secures the hat firmly. I tug the discomfort out of the elastic band; and curtsy. My smile is framed by lips glistened with Vaseline, my face a snowy color from too many dabs of dusting powder.
I look like the 7 year old Princess that I am.
I turn around, but Grandma’s eyes are still closed, her lips moving without sound. I tap my feet on the floor. How long will it take her to wish Jesus happy birthday?
A moment passes. I hear the shuffle of feet downstairs. My cousins are awake. There is a shout from someone. A bark of laughter. The house is filling up.
“Hurry and finish grandma,” I whisper. I dare not interrupt her conversations with Jesus.
My older cousins would soon bound upstairs to Grandma’s room to say good morning and Merry Christmas.
There is an undeclared competition between us.
The first to greet Grandma “Merry Christmas” would get the chunkiest chicken thigh from the specially cooked pot of stew, and an extra helping of Grandma’s jollof rice. I had crept out of my parent’s bed in the opposite room at the crack of dawn just so I could get here first.
Of course I couldn’t resist a stop at Grandma’s long standing mirror to take a peek at my reflection. The mirror doubles as a photo frame: there are pictures tucked in at odd angles into the edges, pictures of Grandma’s children, of my cousins and I, of Grandma without the grey hair and wrinkle encrusted face.
Finally, grandma throws her hands in the air and shouts Halleluyah seven times before she notices me.
“Abimbola.” Grandma calls my name and then she launches into my Oriki, a string of praise names in profound Yoruba that has never made sense to me.
“Merry Christmas Grandma!” I say, cutting her off and jumping into her lap. “I said it first oh!” I remind her in a warning tone. “When sister Titi and Deyo come up to greet you, let them know I said it first. Because that chicken is for me. Okay?”
She frowns, and I raise my voice and repeat myself. Grandma is partially deaf.
She pulls me into her ample bosom and replies me in Yoruba. “You said it first! Abimbola is first! No one can take that chicken from you. Not even—”
The door busts open and my cousins tumble in. Behind them, my older brother, Yemi, the tallest of the lot, on the cusp of teenage hood, strolls with a gait that makes me think a quarter of his left leg has been chopped off.
“Merry Christmas Grandma!” My cousins cry, running into grandma and pressing their faces into hers, kissing spots on her cheeks.
“Yeah Grandma,” Yemi says. “Merry Christmas.” His voice seems to have been soaked in beer overnight. It is deep, with a slur that doesn’t suit him. He bows slightly. He thinks it is uncool to hug anyone.
My mother would have stung him with a backhand slap and asked him to prostrate.
Grandma only beams at him. “Yemi handsome!” she teases and he ducks his head, embarrassed.
“Who said it first Grandma?” Sister Titi asks, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Who wished you merry Christmas first?” Sister Titi is the eldest of the lot and my favourite cousin. She always has a fistful of Buttermint and Choco Milo sweets for me.
“I did!” Sister Deyo says. She shouts too loudly, perhaps because of Grandma’s partial deafness.
“Abimbola did,” Grandma says and there is a collective groan and murmur of how it is unfair that I got to sleep in my parent’s room opposite Grandma’s.
In response, I wiggle my bum in a victory dance. I had beat them to it again this year. Just like I did last year.
After a round of prayers with Grandma, my cousins and I trudge downstairs, and settle into grandpa’s sofa. My father slots in a VHS cassette of The Sound of Music into the video player, which nobody watches. Uncles and aunties begin to trickle in, bearing wads of Naira in sealed envelopes and tucking them into our tiny palms. We squeal out our thanks, and promptly submit the money to our parents. Then we return to the table to eat like we’ve been starved for an era; and then dash outside to play with knockouts.
Night falls, and one of the aunties calls us back into the house. We sit at grandma’s feet as she begins to tell us a story of her life as a youth, of her experiences, of a time when sounds were clear and she didn’t have to ask people to repeat themselves. In a corner, the other adults engage in meaningless arguments about Nigeria’s bad administration, and the rising price of oil.
Grandma finishes her story with a yawn. That night, I sleep next to grandma, tuck my arms into the folds of her flesh and dream of a land filled with dolls and pretty things.
The next morning, I return home with my parents, teary eyed, but filled with hope that the next year would be a repeat performance.
And so it was until Grandma passed away. Then Christmas fizzled into drab afternoons watching muted TV shows, into forced visits to my father’s important and boring friends who did nothing but drink pepper soup all day and send me on errands to refill empty bottles of Stout. Christmas fizzled into just another day.
Many years have passed but these memories linger: recollections of a Christmas that tingled with laughter…. that carried the smell of home, of earth, of Lagos. Memories that decades abroad cannot erase or replicate…memories of Christmas with my beloved Grandma.
That is the Christmas I remember, the Christmas I cherish.
Hope you enjoyed Abimbola…please follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.