2023 GOVERNORSHIP AND
STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
The Songs of new Leaf (Ekeresimesi)
Christmas seems to come with different feelings for different people, and these feelings change at each stage of life. I hated Christmas and anything that reminded me of it.
“Felix navidad, Felix navidad 🎶🎶”, Onwudinjo sang, but kept mute and shrank at the sight of me. I had warned him about singing of Christmas rhymes in the house or attending Christmas parties. Its Fifteen years now, yet the trauma never left me. I had once beaten Onwudinjo severely for leading a troop of children around on Christmas carols.
“I wouldn’t work all day long to get you mess up on ephemeral joys of Christmas, you should be studying “ , I would rant and rant, basing my anger on the need for him to study ahead during Christmas breaks, rather than accepting that I don’t like the idea of Christmas.
At childhood, Christmas was a source of extravagant joy, but things have changed in recent times, and now Christmas became for me, the harbinger of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (that was what Dr. Ifee said I should call it). I still remember what childhood felt like those days in the little yet populated suburbs of Onitsha, in Anambra. The large long compound, highly fenced as though there were reasonable valuables buried therein, with reddish sands, referred in Igbo as “Aja upa”, which held the foundation of the old faintly painted eight rooms that housed the big eight families that migrated from different Biafran states. The circumstantial communal sharing of things was both hilarious and annoying. Hilarious, when it came to the absence of boredom, of exchanging the biggest gist of a tenant’s public secret, or of extending littlest but meaningful kindness: like the borrowing of certain cooking utensils or condiments. Annoyance only came, richly dressed, where issues of the failure of a particular tenant to clean the toilet arose, or where he or she cleaned without so much attention, or where the toilet was not properly flushed, or where a particular tenant had refused to pay light bills, or had beaten another’s child for an alleged disrespect. These and lots more became a source of joy and distraction.
Unfortunately, my sweet beautiful ideas of Christmas changed in 2007. It was a revered ritual for the male head of each of the eight families that lived in our red earthed compound to break kola two days before the eve of Christmas. This kola breaking was followed by a party which lasted through the night.
The breaking of the kola was always done at the center of the compound. Miss Olaedo, a single lady who occupied the first room was excluded from the kola activity.
During this morning ritual of breaking kola, Papa Udenya, the tall, full-haired Enugwu Ukwu man, who wore black dye to hide his aging grey hair, always arrived first. His room smelled of different things at different days: sometimes, it smelled of old dusty newspapers which had not been opened for years, or of a rusty old radio placed on top of a TV set that had not been played for years, or of snuff or his hair dye. A great comedian who would always tease Mr. Enyi of his timidity.
Mr. Enyi, a brief happy man from Ebonyi State, who stayed with his son, Anene, at the fourth room, had never sat on a chair during such gathering, for he rather preferred folding his legs and balancing his body weight on his legs, as the Muslims would do. Rumors had it that he was converted to Islam during his stay at the North but had denounced his faith during the war, when Sabon Gari massacre in Kano claimed the lives of his wife and other four children leaving only Anene.
There was Mr Igwe who stayed in the last room, who always arrived from the village to spend the last six months with his second family in Onitsha, making it a cycle for the year, having spent the other six months with the first wife in the Village.
Then, Ikeokwu, the occupier of third room had this air of impatience, even in showing his emotions. He was very huge and carried sarcasm everywhere he went, and always in search of whom to spit it on. His Ihiala dialect was very significantly different from those of other Anambrarians I know. A normal Njikoka or Dunukofia man would translate “I don’t know” as “Amaro m”, this however, is different from what Ikeokwu would say. He would always argue that “Amania m” sounds better than “Amaro m”. Everyone feared his spoken words because it came out always well garnished with sarcasm.
There was also the Imo state man, nicknamed “Super Dede”, who enjoyed playing the tracks of Osita Osadebe and Emeka Morocco Nwammaduka in the wee hours of Sunday mornings. His room was the most decorated with a lot of old and new date calendars that hung on every corner. There were also calendars of boxing men and footballers with their names and achievement written below each picture. It was where everyone went to check which day was Eke, Orie, Afo or Nkwo.
The man who occupied the fifth room was an Issele-Uku man, an Igbo tribe whose geographical location had placed them with the Deltans, whose name I know not but who was referred by all as “Oga Delta”. Aloof he was from the others probably because he was disabled and couldn’t walk well, but this disability never limited his generosity to myself and Udoka. There was this certain kind of likeness he had towards us. He had always expressed his happy emotions during the Kola ceremony. He would drink and talk and laugh to the amusement of all.
So that year’s Christmas was just like every other that had come before it. The kola ceremony which initiated the end of the year’s party had started. I could remember it was Osita Osadebe’s song that was been played by Okezie, a boy whom had been invited from Delta by “Oga Delta” to give us the latest jams.
People danced and jubilated. There were numerous foods and drinks. I had gone to lay my younger brother, Udoka, who had fallen asleep near Mama who was at that time pregnant with her last child and the Doctor had given her an expectancy date of 18th December, which had passed by.
I remembered coming out and joining my age mates to dance and dance and dance. We danced and jubilated till it got darker. As soon as the elders began to move into their rooms, Okezie changed the genre of the song from those traditional classicals to hip hop. I had removed my foot wears to give my dance steps an energetic turnaround when the fierce sound came. Much people didn’t notice the sound because of the volume of the music. I touched Odira, the boy who stayed at the next compound, to confirm if he heard the sound.
“It’s just a banger”, he assured me, as we continued in our mini night party.
A faint voice was shouting from what seemed to be a distant place, it was the voice of a woman, the words were incoherent and fear gripped me. Maybe my mom had gone into labour, I thought. I ran inside and saw Udoka playing with Papa inside the room, while Mama lay on the bed enjoying their drama. Satisfied, I ran back to continue with the other children in the party.
The voice came again, it was no longer faint, but this time, it was not the voice of a woman, it was the voice of a legion, their feet matching fast like those of foot soldiers, a battalion of them. They seemed to be running away from danger, the kind of sound I heard while watching American movies of zombies taking over a city and people running as fast as possible, trying to save their lives.
“Chim ohhh” Okezie shouted, pulling the speaker to make way as he ran out of the compound. The voices shouted “Fire, fire, fire”. I could now feel the smokes. The fire was near already. Everybody was running out of the compound. I stood still, unsure of what to do. We had heard stories about fire explosions in certain other places but never in the suburbs. Papa was the first to come out carrying Udoka, then followed by my mom. The whole compound was already deserted. As we were about to leave, the fire had blocked the gate and the only option was to jump through the fence to the backyard. The fence was very high; I still can’t fathom where Papa got his strength that day. Papa helped me climb through. It was difficult to carry mum over but we tried till it worked, Udoka came last as I helped him down. I looked through the opening of the fence, the fire had taken down the first room and ours, it was heading for the third. The harmattan helped it grow faster and faster. Dad was about to jump when he heard a noise coming from the fifth room. I already knew it was Oga Delta, oh poor soul, he can’t even walk. He had crawled out of his room and was shouting my Dad’s name to help him.
Dad had ran back immediately and carried Oga Delta, placed him on the fence so I could help him down. I was about to extend my hands to him when mother shouted “The baby, the baby is here”.
Confusion and fear gripped me. Why now? I cried. I perceived something like fuel and a certain kind of heat from a burning furnace ripping off my shirt and the voice of Oga Delta in agony. Someone pulled me into the huge gutter and I hit my head on a metal. That was the last thing I remembered.
Six months after, I had woken up from a coma only to learn that Papa and Udoka were dead, Oga Delta and many others didn’t survive the explosion; God bless their souls.
Mama had some life in her and in her pain, she saved all her energy to give life to her new child but passed away after giving birth and naming her new son “Onwudinjo”, she would always be my hero.
Now, I feel bad that I had stopped Onwudinjo from having a beautiful taste of Christmas. I know I shouldn’t do this, for God had kept us flourishing these years and our story need not follow the traditional ark. I would make this Christmas an amazing one.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imaginations” – Mary Oliver.
Merry Christmas, my gorgeous audience.
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A very powerful story… Powerful enough that I imagined myself present in the scenarios.
A nice read.
Just like Oliver Twist, I want some more…