I pulled the covers around me even as I curled tighter into a the foetal position, the cold seeping in through the walls and the floor had made it past the mattress and straight to my bones.
I could feel my body heat build up and spread, and was letting myself relax when the my alarm blared causing me to jump. “Shet!” I cursed under my breath as I rolled out of bed. I killed the alarm and peered at my blackberry monitor to confirm the time: 05:30. I looked through my messages and could not help wondering at Jazz’s seeming excitement.
“LOL! I looked outside my window and I saw Harmattan!!!” She had typed. That explained the cold but not her excitement. I walked to the window and looked outside.
The haze hung low as I walked out of the house my bag slung over my shoulder, the chill was kept at bay by the cardigan I wore over my white shirt, dust particles were disturbed by each step I took, and the steam (my pretend cigar smoke) at my nostrils and lips each time I breathed, all these made me excited and I quickened my steps.
It was the last day of term and other kids in school were already talking about what they were getting for Christmas.
That year my siblings and I put up decorations: Jigga stringed the lights – even at that age he was comfortable with how things worked; Flesh and Carol put up the other decorations. Big mama over saw everything.
We glued, we tacked, we nailed, we tied, we pulled then pressed, we scurried, we climbed, we fell off and climbed back on. When we were done, the parlour was transformed into the most magical place I had ever seen.
I use the pronoun we very loosely, because in truth my role was that of unofficial DJ. I played Christmas carols off the turntable. My favourite song was the Gunter Kallman Choir’s rendition of the Christmas Alphabets, and my favourite line, even back then was “M is for the mistletoe where everyone gets kissed…”
Mama took me to Lagos, the market. We traversed shop after shop after shop with mama spending more time haggling than buying items. I could not understand the time wasting, did she not realise that there was a table soccer tourney going on at home and I was missing it?
Then she took me to Lennards, the shoe shop with their ‘L’ and three lizards or geckos over the door, and I forgot about everything else. I looked in wide-eyed wonderment at the array of shoes displayed throughout the shop, and was making my way toward the sporting section when Mama pulled me back firmly by the arm. I followed her eyes to the section she was looking at and my stomach bottomed out. Row after row of boring black shoes. There were shoes with tassels, shoes with bows, shoes with laces and shoes with zips. There were Oxford Brogues and ankle length Chelsea boots. The boots excited me a little but Mama picked the boringest shoes available: a black slip on affair with a band running across the top and a ‘gold’ kite at the outer end of the band! Carrying the shoe box felt like carrying my shame about for the whole world to see. Mama just seemed set to humiliate me.
That was how the year before she made me two sets of Safari suits (the sky blue one for Christmas and the Navy blue one for New year) with short sleeves which I wore over brown shoes. I felt like papalolo walking next to my friends who were dressed in ‘proper suits’ who even had ties with elastic necks. Who knows what she was having the tailor make me this year?
On the 23rd evening, the sound of bleating had me flying downstairs. The Christmas goat had arrived! For the next twenty-four hours, my primary job was to feed it straw and water to keep it alive before the slaughter on the night before Christmas. I talked to the brown and black furred animal with brown eyes and wet nose. It seemed to have a cold and sneezed often. I would rub it down, enjoying the coarse feel of its dusty fur between my fingers. I formed a bond with this goat, same as with the goats from the previous years, but the bonds formed never kept me from eating the meat when the goat went from live to fried. Even at that age I had a working understanding of the Circle of Life.
Then there were the fireworks. Growing up in a compound with bachelors had its perks: the occasional biscuit and soft drinks, or even cooked food when their girlfriends visited. At Christmas, it paid dividends in the form of knockouts. There were rolls of Banger in their boxes of fives, other smaller firecrackers, rockets and bisco (sparklers). That was the year I learned to fear/respect the Banger when an exploding stick tore off the thumb of the guy holding it, I just did not know this at the time we were hopping and prancing about in excitement, waiting for dusk.
Earlier in the day my sisters had had their hair made. Christmas hair in my house was usually braids with attachment and I thought this was hilarious. I could never understand sitting still for all those hours while some woman laboured over your head, pulling your hair however and wherever she wanted, and then passing a candle flame around each single braid before handing you a mirror to admire her handiwork; their heads hurt and their hair smelled like burnt chicken feathers for days. Then they tried on their dresses, dresses Mama Mary our neighbour the seamstress/fashion designer had stayed up all night yester-night to finish.
For us boys, there was no such thing as Christmas hair. Mama gave you money and you went to the local barber who proceeded to work his manual clippers through your hair and then applying lather with a soft brush to your hairline before ‘carving’ the hairline with a switch blade. A blade he would work back and forth on a leather strop to sharpen. I can swear that barber enjoyed the wary look on my face each time we did this particular dance.
That Christmas we went to church and Mass could not end soon enough. We raced home soon after, had rice and goat meat, and offal peppersoup and drinks. Apart from birthdays, Christmas was the only other time we were allowed more than one bottle of soft drink, so not being used to it, you would find me sucking the upturned bottle, trying to wring out every last drop.
Then we watched ‘Never Ending Story’, all of us, sitting in front of the 32 inch Grundig colour tv set we got earlier that year. A welcome upgrade from the small black and white National tv we used to have.
My cousins from Satellite town visited briefly and in the evening, dressed in our Christmas clothes we went over to visit another uncle who lived at Maza Maza stopping at Larz photos, the area photo studio for our Christmas picture to be taken.
That was that Christmas. I looked at Jazz’s message again, “LOL! I looked outside my window and I saw Harmattan!!!” And, looking outside the window at the haze, I took a deep breath. I could taste it on the tip of my tongue, that unmistakeable taste of Christmas and I wondered what this Christmas held, how it would go.
PS: Merry Christmas one and all, God bless you everybody.