“What was the point washing this car in the first place”?
He is right. Well, Fathers usually are. The season and the dust that accompanies it makes the task of washing automobiles a total waste of time, and the rural dwellings, dust battles for supremacy with the air you breathe. What are you doing in a rural area anyway? Well your family has (against your wish, of course) decided that this year’s Yuletide will be happening in your hometown. It’s your first visit in five years, never mind the fact that the distance between your village and your city of residence is just about 45 minutes. As the years pass, the exotic feel and the excitement of spending Christmas in the old country have waned. Maybe you would be a lot more enthusiastic if the distance was over six hours, like West and East. As a matter of fact, you no longer get it anymore, as to why people risk their lives each year traversing regions for an event that would barely last a week. But Father has spoken, and you have no choice.
Your nuclear family arrives at the village church just in time for the year’s Christmas service. The front seats are reserved for the big shots who have “done the town proud”, never mind how they got the money. Everyone is putting on their flashiest attire, and the divide between the various sizes of purses is on display in the house of God. The priest fine-tunes the day’s sermon, knowing that his collection box could use some generosity in the latter minutes of service.
You spot some hometown girls, seated three rows in front of you. They look particularly good on this day, even though one is wearing a gown which could pass for an ex-boyfriend’s vest. It’s that time of the year again for self-advertisement. Who knows, they just might find love (and luck) like Nnenna who got hitched earlier in the year after a London-based guy had spotted her this time the previous year. It soon gets to offering time, where you notice the difference between clenched fists and envelopes in the offering box. Miss Pretty Home Girl is in front of you, moving slowly, but as soon as she notices that there’s a man behind her, she begins to wriggle her waist provocatively to the praise songs. You barely manage to conceal your amusement, but you can’t fault her effort.
Service ends, and you get spotted by three daughters of a much older cousin. They all rally round you, singing “Uncle carry me! Carry me!” You oblige them, carrying them in turns as they sting your ears with a murdered version of “Feliz Navidad”. You feel like Santa at that moment, besides, you already have the natural round pouch; all you need is the big red coat. By the time you’re done, your arms feel like you’ve been lifting dumbbells at the gyms. They begin to say “Uncle we’re leaving” and you know what that means. You don’t have much to throw around, but you won’t be The Grinch, so you squeeze out a few hundred naira notes for each of them. After all, you used to be at the other end of the paper two decades ago.
You get to the family house, and you get mobbed by older relatives. The catch-up sessions begin, and when two uncles and three cousins ask why you don’t have their phone numbers, you begin to lie about how you have changed your phone many times, even when you have used the same phone for nearly two years. They seem appeased, and then you start taking digits that you’ll never dial. You are invited to lunch by the (relatively) favourite uncle, and though the village atmosphere has a way of bringing out the paranoia in you, you don’t want to be rude, so you join in, saying a word of prayer with every spoon. The plate of jollof rice eventually turns out really nice. There is something about Christmas rice in the village, something you cannot quite explain. Maybe it’s because the diet on other days is mostly comprised of akpu, so on this rare occasion the rice is prepared with a great deal of precision.
You feel like taking a nap, but Father says it’s time for an outing. He wants you to meet his maternal cousin who came in from Canada.
“You are not a teenager anymore. You will soon start organizing family meetings. You need to start knowing people”, he says.
You, Father and Big Brother all head to Uncle Canada’s village mansion. You meet him and his wife, who gives the three of you “the in-law face” (that face the wife makes when she doesn’t want to see her husband’s relatives, but just has to please the man whose last name she bears.) The visit is brief, but you notice how beautiful she is. You can’t just say it out, but you can’t stop thinking of her either, so as you all drive out of the house, you start a conversation with your Father.
“Uncle’s wife is not from here”, you say, trying hard to keep your voice free from any undertones.
“Yes, she’s from the East”, your Father replies, and that opens up a new topic. He begins to tell you about the “worrying trend” of your contemporaries going to the East to find life partners. He tells you about how Eastern ladies equally love young men from your part of the state, and how they usually fight their way to get posted to your state for their service year, so they can gain access to the heart of a politician or a young guy like you. He treats the topic with so much passion, and you can’t help but feel that beneath it all, he’s saying “please my sons, don’t travel too far, set your sights here, we still have good girls”.
In a matter of minutes, you find yourself at a bar belonging to one of Father’s old friends. He gives you a bottle of Orijin, asks about your education, and he is excited when he finds that you are now a lawyer. He then brings out his teenage daughters and introduces them to you, exchanging knowing glances with Father. Bar owner and Father begin to talk about politics, and in the midst of the boredom, you receive a call. It’s Collins, an old friend. He has come home and wants you to hang out with him in the evening, but you politely decline. You tell him that you have to be at a family function, but the truth is that you are a little jealous because he is more successful, than you are, and you don’t want him shoving his money in your face, while watching him try to impress the village belles.
Your phone beeps again; it’s Arnold, chatting you up about how he’s having a good time in the city, and how he got treated to a lap dance at the cost of two hundred naira. You type a ‘lol’ which you don’t mean, and you are not quite sure that a lap dance is the best way Jesus Christ would have loved His birthday to be celebrated (the accuracy of the date is an issue for another day), but you would give anything to swap places with Arnold at that moment. Father begins to say the goodbye courtesies to Diokpa Bar Owner, and you set out again to another round of catch-ups, drinks, show-off and pretence. After all, that’s pretty much what Christmas in the village is all about.
P.S: Happy Boxing Day Everyone. I know I’ve been away for so long, but we all get to have personal stuff to deal with, not to mention the Plagiarism Scourge which has affected many writers lately. Thank you all for logging on here, and from me, this is a day-old late Yuletide gift. Enjoy the rest of the season, and a blissful 2015 ahead to you!