Christmas day has always been a tiring day. It was a day we didn’t come up for air till late in the evening when we had ensured that the last dish had been washed clean. Nobody went out on Christmas day except to church early in the morning; from dawn to dusk we cooked several meals till everything became a blur. The only people who were free from this task were my two brothers, my dad and my mum; their job was to – especially my mum – ensure that we did everything just right.
The 26th has always been a yam pounding day, an occasion on which we looked for several reasons not to pound the yam. I don’t know why my mother thought that it was necessary to go through another stress on the 26th and so we looked for ways to ditch the task. We all gave several reasons ranging from ‘But I don’t even like pounded yam!’ ‘I will cook the white soup’ or even better ‘Mummy, only you and daddy eat this, I might not be able to pound it without getting lumps and you know you and daddy can’t stand it’ and so on and my mum would shake her head, call us lazy and then tease us on what we would do if our husbands turned out to be pounded yam lovers. We would first point to our brothers who didn’t like pounded yam too and tell her that in this modern era, there was already prepared pounded yam flour which was easier to prepare. She would reply that some men didn’t like ‘poundo yam’ and preferred the one pounded in the mortar; we would banter back and forth for a while till one of us sat on the stool and pretended to pound. Needless to say, my mum always ended up pounding the yam since she didn’t like lumps in the pounded yam, something we always managed to do. This was one of the few times in the whole year my mum entered the kitchen and this was to ensure that there were no lumps in the pounded yam. Sometimes though we had no choice especially if mum had to be on duty, my mum worked in the Air force as a midwife/nurse. Whenever it happened that mum was on duty, we would bully our youngest cousin to do the task and make her pound till there were few or no lumps.
It was from the 27th we reclaimed back our lives. On this day, we were free to go out, visit friends and basically see what the world had been up to while we were in-house slaving away. That was how Christmas had always been except for one Christmas; perhaps I should call it the Christmas where my world changed.
It was the Christmas of the year 2008. December that year was bad for me generally; I had barely managed to write my final papers, coming home in-between my papers for check-up. I was very ill and had taken up to four intravenous drips before my mother could even allow me to go back and write my final papers. I had been back home and under my mother’s watch had been gradually regaining my strength but I still could not participate in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. My sister and two female cousins were just going to lack another pair of hands.
We had an aunt staying with us – my mother’s cousin actually – but in another wing of the house. She was a bit of a snob and very rude, hardly interested in any house activity. She always went against my mum’s advice about spending the night outside and reminded my mum every time she was cautioned that she was not a kid and could do as she pleased.
My dad, a very strict person was always never aware. My dad had two rules for all the females in his house, no pregnancy before marriage and no sleeping out. Contravention of these rules would lead to ‘ex-communication’ and ‘deportation’ to the village. And so since my aunt was an orphan my mum always tried to keep it from my dad.
This Christmas wasn’t a good one generally; my maternal grandmother had been ill and was requesting to see my mum. Mum couldn’t go because I was just recovering. I was tired of lying in bed and wanted to use my legs a little; I moved to our food store and saw my mother with three half-filled sack bags, tin tomatoes, vegetable oil and some onions.
“Who are those for?” I asked.
The first two names didn’t come as a surprise but the last one was.
“Why her? She has used every opportunity to be rude to you.”
“Well right now, she is of no trouble and she needs a little help and encouragement.”
“But…why? Won’t that make you look weak?”
“I am not worried about that. I just want her to have a merry Christmas. Look, it doesn’t matter how you feel sometimes when you have been let down by people who shouldn’t have. In giving I gain more than I could ever could than if I just kept it all to myself, besides what joy would I receive if she has nothing and I have everything. She is my cousin and family also.”
We sat and talked some more and I felt closer to my mum than I had been in a long while, I was awed by her deeds and I learnt a little of what it meant to give even when you don’t feel like it. That Christmas has been a nostalgic Christmas for me ever since because the lesson I learnt that giving left you open but not necessarily vulnerable, surpassed all the gifts I had ever received.