The Christmases I Remember
By Betty Abah
I remember especially the rice, the stew-saturated and meat laced-rice that arrived our home shortly after dawn, as the special morning breaks into a toothless smile. They were borne on the bent heads of fellow kids or in the hands of beautiful maidens. We would suspend our work supervising the roasting goat. We would devour those as first course while awaiting our mothers’ which would come late, in spite of Baba’s scolding.
The good, old Christmas was indeed a day of suspensions. The rebukes, the spanks suspended, tied up to the rafters; the cold, early morning flight to Army Children’s School, Ojira also suspended till January when Mr. Fasako would await us, eyeing offenders, brandishing his trademark cane….. and gladly too, the painful routines of pushing Baba’s rickety station wagon which emitted smokes directly into our young lungs in the early morning breeze as we stomped the red, rising dusts, eight, ten tiny pairs of feet at a time…a routine from which we had no escape on ordinary days for to disobey Baba was tantamount to embarking gleefully on a suicide mission.
A Christmas in Otukpo, back home in Benue, North Central Nigeria was a day of immense goodwill. After the rice, topped with the usual brewed cereal drink (umu or kunu), we start pounding the roads to show off our new dresses, shoes, eye glasses etc (sometimes over-sized or undersized), and visit relatives, where, after boutfuls of yet more meals and a shout of ‘Api Klismas’, we were sure to return home happy, our petite made-in-China handbags sagging with coins or stuffed with wads of currency notes. Oh, even Mama who always ensured we minimised our meat intakes so we don’t turn out ‘bad children’ somehow forgot her principles and allow us the Christmas-day-spoiling…
Now, isn’t it amazing how the road-side masquerades and booming bangers broke through our sanctimonious walls and airs obtained at the Methodist Church, Jericho Road Section during the previous night’s carol? We would yell with abandon, and run after the masquerades, or they gave us hot chases, whip-in-hand, our shoes dangling in our hands. Sometime too, we would recognise a masquerade, especially if it/he had a limp!
One of our major destinations was Ogwonu-Igbalapa (‘stumble-seven-times’) area of town, named for its crooked, stony streets, some, sadly, still unchanged. But we didn’t mind the stones. Our minds were on the coins. We dare not go near the Babylon area of town which had the railway line, for why, the trains would magnetise and kill us if we dare!
Our ideal Christmases were borne to us on the breezy backs of the harmattan in the mid-eighties and early nineties in Otukpo a k.a ‘Texas’, the red-soil enclave of Benue.
Those were Christmases of immense goodwill. Christmases that smelt so good.
Christmases of sweet re-unions… Christmases where the rich from the cities returned, showing off their wealth without fright of mid-way stops, temporarily enriching the have-nots with their city-scented crumbs… when bachelors, after year-long labours in Lagos or in the textile mills of the north came home and had a rethink of their status at the sight of beautiful maidens… Christmases so sweet… Oh, for Christmases saturated with love!
There certainly was something spiritually elevating, something electrifying, even magnetizing about those Christmases, whose day we counted three months ahead – the happy Christmases of yesteryears… Christmases without crack-downs, Christmases without chaos, Christmases without fuel crisis…!
Oh! My by-gone Christmases of new clothes, bogus meals… Christmases without strife, where people attended carols without looking over their shoulders for fear of the unknown…
Oh, how I love, love the Christmases of my childhood! How I love to reincarnate the Christmases of unblemished years…
For some curious reasons the rice rarely arrived here in Lagos. Relatives here think I am too old now to be given a coin or two (that is if they are even still legal tenders and could still purchase the tingling goodie-goodie chocolate), and the traffic is in no mood to pamper Christmas revellers. I miss the special aromas of Christmases-made-in-Otukpo, an aroma arising from the sweet blend of roasted goat meat and the specially made rice stew.
Kai, I loath Christmases in Lagos…! Drab . . . drumless … goatless . . . coinless…
Oh, for Christmases back in Otukpo… The Christmases of my childhood… Christmases which were scented. Christmases which were serenading.
Christmases which were safe nation-wide…
Christmases of Christ-like innocence…When God became man that man may become God…!
Those are the Christmases I will always, very gladly REMEMBER…!
•Betty Abah is a Lagos-based journalist and founder of the child’s right and development NGO, CEE-HOPE.