IT was a very busy day. Our compound was filled with people engaged in different activities. A group of men were setting up canopies at the front of the compound. Some women were at the back of the house, cooking. The youths were decorating the house with Christmas lights and setting up Christmas trees. Some children were playing in the compound while others made themselves useful by running errands for their parents who were working.
It was Christmas Eve and all preparations were being made for the Annual Christmas Feast that takes place on Christmas day, the 25th of December. The Annual Christmas Feast, is a ceremony that everyone in my community looks forward to. Indigenes of my community, that live abroad or in other parts of the country, would travel the long distance just to attend the ceremony. Families took turns in hosting the ceremony. This year, it was my family’s turn to host it and we were really prepared for it. We had renovated our house. It was a well structured and lavishly built, three bedroom flat. It stood out from other houses like a lump of glass amidst blunt stones.The rooms were spacious and beautiful. We had a store by the side of our house where we kept unused furniture and broken utensils. We had trimmed the flowers and grasses around the house and placed a banner outside our house to inform everyone, that we were the ones hosting the ACF (as it was usually called). We couldn’t afford to give the impression, that we were not capable of hosting the event. In my community, it was more like a competition, every host wanted to do better than the previous host.
As I walked through the compound that evening, greeting everyone, they all had smiles on their faces. I assumed it was the spirit of Christmas. I could hear the women chatting and laughing as they cooked. And I could see the smoke rising from the backyard. In no time, a truck arrived carrying crates of assorted drinks. And a group of young boys took the drinks to the store.
I walked straight to the front of the house where the youths were and joined them in decorating the house. My mother was cooking with the women at the backyard, my little brother was playing with other children in the compound and my father had gone to pick up the clothes we had ordered for the occasion. I was still working with the youths, when Mum called out to me. I left what I was doing and ran to the back yard to meet her.
“Your Dad has returned with the clothes. He’s in the living room,” she told me.
“Ok Mum,” I replied.
I went to the living room. I met my Dad and he handed me a dress. It was very beautiful. More beautiful than all the dresses I ever had. It was even more beautiful than the dresses my friends had. I ran to mother’s room changed into the new clothes, stared at my changed image in the mirror and stepped out coyly with a smile on my face. My dad couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw me. ” You are very beautiful, ” he said still looking at the dress on me. “Thank you daddy,” I coyly responded.
I admired the dress as I looked into the human size mirror . It was a foreign dress. A pink flare short gown. I didn’t want to take it off.
“Thank you very much Daddy. I really love this dress,” I said, excitedly as I knelt beside him.
“You’re welcome dear,” he said with a broad smile on his face.
“Take it off now. I think they still need your help, outside,” he replied, sternly.
“Alright Daddy. Thanks again,” I said. As I carefully pulled it off and took it to my room. I went outside to continue with the decoration. They were almost done with it when I arrived. I just helped to do the finishing. In a short while, we were through with it. And they left leaving behind only the women cooking at the backyard and their children were left in the compound. I could perceive the aroma of the numerous meals they had prepared and the ones still steaming on fire.
My thoughts strolled back to my dress. I smiled as I remembered it. I couldn’t wait to wear it. I imagined how the event would look like. My mother’s voice cut through my thoughts sharply like a dagger. I ran to the backyard to meet her.
“Please, lead the women to the store. So that they can keep the food there,” she said. As she walked to the front of the house and into the living room. I led the women to the store, where they carefully placed the pots of the different meals they had cooked. I could hear them chatting and laughing as they went back to the backyard to share the jollof rice that was left in the pot. Meanwhile, the children were still running and playing around the compound.
My Christmas dress was the only thing on my mind. I rushed to my room, took the dress and wore it. The mirror in my room was a small one. So I couldn’t see the dress completely. I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to have a full view of the dress. There was a large mirror in the living room but I couldn’t go there. Because my Mum was there and she would scold me for wearing the dress before time. Then I remembered that there was a mirror with a faulty frame in the store. I sneaked into the store, turned on the light, dusted the mirror and raised it up. Supporting it with my hand.
I looked into the mirror, admiring my dress and smiling to myself. Suddenly I heard a noise from the door. Someone was trying to open it. I got scared. Wondering who it was. Could it be my Mum? If she sees me in the store, she would really scold me. I could still hear my Mum discussing with my Dad, in the living room. It couldn’t be her. Who was it then?
Jumping over several obstacles, I tried to make my way through to back of the store, where unused furniture were kept. But before I could get there, the lights suddenly went out. Revealing the blinding darkness. I got confused. Really confused.I didn’t know whether to stand still or keep moving. I stood there, wondering what to do next. Suddenly the door opened wide. My heart pounded uncontrollably. I made up my mind, forcing my way through the direction of the unused furniture. My dress was caught by an old furniture. I tried to pull it off. But it was stuck. I pulled it with all my might. And I fell massively to the ground. Landing heavily on my hind end. For a while I felt paralyzed. I wanted to cry out as the pain spread throughout my system. But, attracted everyone in the compound. I heard several footsteps approaching the store. My senses were quickened. As I realized the big trouble I would be in, if my mother should find out that I was in the store.
Quickly, I tried to stand up to my feet. Holding the nearest object for support. Unfortunately I held the stew pot. Pulling it towards me. It lost balance spilling its hot and peppery contents on me and on my Christmas dress. I couldn’t bear the pain anymore. I screamed at the top of my voice. The footsteps quickened. This time I heard the voice of my parents, outside. My Dad asked the women, what was going on while my Mum was screaming my name. As they all rushed into the store with torch lights.
There I sat covered in stew. My dress, completely ruined. And there stood my Mum, my Dad, the women who had just finished cooking, their children and my little brother who had opened the door initially. Everyone, wearing a confused look on their faces. I raised my hand, to cover my face from the rays of light that came from the torchlight.
I had beaten the drums too loud. And I was definitely going to face the music. “It was a memorable Christmas Eve. One that I would never forget,” I concluded.
“Wow! This is the most interesting story I have heard about Christmas Eve,” Nelly, my six year old daughter, said.
“Well, that’s how I remember it my dear,” I replied.
“I’m sure you were really spanked,” she said, jokingly.
“You can’t begin to imagine. All right, go to bed now. We have a big day, tomorrow,” I said, patting her on the back.
“All right, Mum,” she said, settling into her bed.
“Merry Christmas in advance,” I said, with a big smile on my face.
“Merry Christmas, Mum,” she replied, smiling back at me. I stood up from the bed and walked out of the room.
It was exactly twenty years after the night of that unfortunate incident. It was Christmas Eve. The moon was in the sky like a giant diamond ball. In the distant I could hear the sound of explosives in the midnight air.