December 25, 1996. Abeokuta.
Christmas, to me, is like a mystical book whose chapters are lived out, or better put, walked into, one at a time, year after year. There have been years when I walked into certain strange discoveries; some brought me weird toys; a few brought me lifelong friends; while I walked into a deeper understanding of nature, her seasons, and climates, in one or two.
But, Monday, December 25, 1996, with the horizon obscured by fierce, dusty winds, which my Geography teacher later told me were spat out yearly by the awesome Sahara desert, brought upon me the first divorce of my life. Divorce is associated usually with nuptials, yet I was only a child. And child marriage is unheard of in my culture. This notwithstanding, I remember vividly that I did vow to put asunder a sacred, perhaps God-ordained union that very day.
Christmas in those days was all about fireworks, gifts, late-night movies, endless playing hours, carols, and above all, rice and chicken. Don’t get me wrong, we never relegated Christ. We sang great tunes in memory of his glorious birth in Sunday school. I found Cantata such as Keresimesi de, and wundia kan bimo titun, were far more melodious than Once in royal David’s city and O come all ye faithful. I used to wonder if Christ was not Yoruba after all. Time would tell.
I mentioned that above all, it was all about rice and chicken. I am not a glutton; I am only trying to be truthful. I think it was more of chicken than rice though. The blood of fowls were spilled almost ritualistically by most celebrants in those days (and even till these days). A good number of Christian families could not afford one because the times were hard. Children of such families were usually forlorn. Some luckier ones, like me, only had a bite of chicken flesh on Christmas.
It happened that in the days leading to the 1996 celebration, my friends and I, exhausted from a session of football, began to glib on how that year’s episode was going to be.
‘Oh, this Christmas, I would eat… ehm. Ehm. I would eat three full coolers of jollof rice’, boasted one of us.
Another replied, ‘look at you. Mere jollof rice! My mummy would serve me four coolers of fried rice, five trays of fruit salad, and two full bowls f chicken.’ Like a chain reaction, on and on went the debate of whose Christmas was going to be merriest. It ended in a bet amongst us.
So, when the d-day came, and the ritual of prayers, church service and exchange of pleasantries with neighbours had been done, and the time for the feast came, the challenge of my friends was my motivation. I devoured with the voraciousness of an Argentine horned frog.
My mother cautioned, ‘hey, are you sure you have not have enough for a day?’
‘Mummy, a day? Today is not a day. Today is Christmas.’
She shrugged and served yet another plate of rice. I was full but the challenge of my friends was great.
Revolutions are known to be spontaneous, the one that erupted from (perhaps my duodenum) was no less so, because I was still cocksure of having more when my alimentary canal mutinied. It reversed the natural cause of peristalsis, and with the soft bang of a low-calibre explosive, I jerked forward and threw up a cluster of saliva-tenderized grains.
But that was just the beginning. Like most revolutions, things began to go awry. About five grains marched out of my right nostril. I began to panic like a threatened tyrant. Rice from my nose? As if they heard, another two sauntered out. Has death come to visit me on Christmas? My mother began to resuscitate and stabilise. Another jerk, and her body was covered with my puke. Her face became suffused with anger, mine with shame. Was there a slap? I can’t remember.
I had been betrayed by the very food that pleased my gut the most, one whose form – jollof, fried, coconut, ofada, white – never mattered to me. Unconditional love had been fouled. A sacred troth had been broken. My shame was akin to that of a cuckolded groom. I felt let down. I muttered, ‘how could rice do this to me?’
My friends came around to have a good laugh. They were my witness when I made my statement of disengagement from my erstwhile love, ‘I would never eat rice again in my life.’
Alas, my estranged love, in its most sparkling form, with a head gear of well seasoned stew, and two breast-like pieces of beef on it, did lure me into its bosom again. I fell. Or rather, I forgave. Don’t blame me, I do not know how to keep a grudge. Interestingly, it was just the morning after our divorce.