I remember them all now.
I remember ending the 1st term of school on a high note in 2001 with my spirit as alive as the day.
And for the end of year holidays, we gather together on the assembly ground and pray before we all march, nay, run away from the ground with shouts of that lovely song.
‘Holiday is Coming, Holiday is Coming, no more morning beds, no more teachers’ whip…’
With all our strength, we sing and run out of the school gates, everyone forgetting for a second what the end of term report cards say.
And then, when I reach my humble home, I give my card to my mom, who congratulates me on coming 1st yet again. I then change my school uniform and look forward to the arrival of the girls I was eyeing back then.
These girls attended boarding schools and only came home for holidays.
I gird my loins and stroll to the front of their houses, just to check if I would get a glimpse of them. My youthful spirit never considers they might want to rest after their journey.
I guess my emotion overruled my wisdom.
Then, soon, my mother who ran a kiosk back then would send me on errand to buy a sack of garri at the market. A sack so heavy I will only be able to carry it with my head.
And it was embarrassing for a boy to have loads on his head while thinking of impressing a girl.
And on the other hand, either for the love I had for my mom, or the fear of my father’s whip, I couldn’t ever refuse my mom, so I go on the errands despite knowing my rep is at risk.
I recall the memories now; when on my return journey from the garri industry, as soon as I get to the front of my crushee’s house, I would shift the sack from my head to my shoulders- looking like a muscular man and pretending to be a macho man.
But as it gets nearer to Dec 25, the spirit of Christmas makes me forget all about girls and feelings. They never noticed my labour of love anyways.
As soon as I drop the garri, and confident my mom will not be so inconsiderate as to send me on another message so quickly, I sneak into our neighbour’s room and sit on the bare floor as I try to get a glimpse of the carols being televised.
We never had a TV then, and it brought me great joy and wonder to see boys and girls my age on TV, singing and dancing, shifting their bodies to left and right, to the ever beautiful songs of Christmas.
Right after that, I am led into great ecstasy by the deep rich voice of Boney M as he sings ‘Felix Navidad’ with his beautiful singers.
I whistle ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ along with them as the joy of christmas meets me and leaves me with a happiness I can’t still explain.
And then, as the end of year draws near, my mother sends our request to dad for budget allocation and approval for money to buy our Clothes for the celebrations.
Soon, she takes me to the market, NEPA market, it was called, at the end of our street and I smile and offer prayers silently hoping she buys a good cloth.
After much bargaining, without much choice on my part, she chooses what she thinks is best and I care less for the material- whether nylon or wool.
My eyes go alight with gratitude at the thought of having my first and only new cloth for the year and I bounce behind her as she leads me back home.
She would have shopped for my sisters’ garments long before then; and then eventually create time for mine.
And when my friends begin to tell of their fine shirts and trousers, I am also proud to contribute and promise to look better that they do.
My mom then goes to the single wardrobe she shared with my dad and puts my cloth there, awaiting the New Year day.
The rest of us used a carton for our wardrobes and the risk of rats or cockroach eating the new clothes always made my mom use the more-secured personal closet.
Having settled the dressing, I run along with my friends to the next street in search of the loud and banned explosive ‘Banger’.
I watch as my friends, whose parents could afford to give them allowance, buy a pack of the Banger and strike it before throwing it to a nearby place.
The banger goes off and makes a big bang that sends an unaware kid running to her mother. We laugh and strike another one.
Though I never had money to buy, I had enough teeth to join in such laughter and mockery.
The courageous boys even holding the explosive with their and allow it blow up in their hands.
But as a rule, everyone knows you cannot allow the last sound come off with the banger still within your grip.
I never used a banger, as I never got enough money to buy one, and my mother never saw a reason to blow up money just for fun; even though she sold the explosive. And when the authority eventually announced its ban, it was easier for me to explain to my mates why I couldn’t get one.
Disco, with its sparkling light that falls out of the rod, was my forte. My mommy agreed to give a naira or two for me to get a pack but I never lit up the Disco until it was dark.
And the darkness of the Christmas time brings with it the such wonderful enjoyments.
Our house and the opposite house go into war of bangers, throwing the explosive plaything in the direction of the enemy house.
The ‘battle’ goes on and on until the house with the lesser number of bangers withdraw and close their entrance door to protect themselves from harm.
Even when friends offer to give me a stick of banger to use, fear never allowed me collect.
Days leading to the 1st day of the new year were always filled with love, carols and expectations. And the nights were always filled with the light of disco, the sound of bangers and the noises we make as we spread mats outside the house and play as we tell stories of escapades.
And on the last day of the year, my mom brings out her tray, as other sellers do, and sells the gums, discos, oranges, and sweets of divers kinds. Using the hurricane lamp or the candle as source of light.
We then wait till its about 10pm and then march to our church as a family for the end-of-year service.
At 12 o’clock, the Pastor shouts a loud ‘Happy New Year’ and as kids, we are the most excited. We shout, scream and jump around the church in the euphoria of the whole celebration.
Deep and loud bangs of ‘mature’ fireworks then ring out in the church environs to mark the birth of a new year.
And as we go home as a family, we try and stay close together for fear of being exposed to the mischief makers- those who go about throwing bangers at passing strangers.
When we get back to our street, I linger a little outside, taking in the peculiar smell of exploded bangers and fireworks.
I slowly drift off to sleep and I am carried by one of my many uncles into the house.
When we wake up the next day, we start our proper celebration as my sisters, friends and I launch our new clothes and go for the New Year service.
The church is often filled with such glorious faces as everyone appears beautiful and well-dressed.
And when we get back home, my mom brings out the cooked rice and the fried chicken and as I get the taste of the special food, I thank my God repeatedly.
I slowly savour every bite until I suck the marrow and crack the bones, knowing I wouldn’t get another chance to eat a chicken until the next 365 days.
My mom then sends me to deliver one or two plates of rice to our neighbours.
With a sad face and a grumbling throat, I walk to their houses and wish they were not around. But they always were.
I wonder why my parents would always insist on sharing these foods when it was evident we do not even have enough for me to get two plates of rice.
Since I saw a fat actor throw away a big chicken lap in one of the scenes of the Mortal Kombat movie, I had nursed the dream of eating a chicken lap.
But the dream was never fulfilled until I was older. It was only the wings and its thin but soft and sweet meat I always made do with.
But I soon forget about all the bitterness towards our neighbours when in the afternoon, we receive reciprocatory plates of pounded yam, fried rice and fat chickens from other tenants and a woman from the next street who maybe loved my mother’s meek spirit or whose child had been taught by my dad in the past.
By customers, since most of the older mouths and teeth were now tired, we, kids were the major stakeholders of such foods.
Towards the evening, putting our new, and very stained clothes back on, my sisters and I then go for visitation to families. It was actually a hunt for money but no one cared.
And as soon as we are handed the shiny 5 naira or very rarely, 10 naira, we greet the families again as we move to the next.
We had no problem storing the harvests as my sisters’ ready-made dresses always came with purses and my trousers never had fewer than five pockets.
But at the end of the day when we get back home, we always give these monies to our mother to keep it safe for us lest it gets lost.
Most times, that was the end of such money and when I eventually get the courage to ask my mom for part of the money I had saved with her, she would always refer to the last underwear she bought for me and tell me that was the investment.
In the second day of the new year and, still very much alive in the euphoria of the moment and knowing I had a very narrow window of opportunity, I work harder on making sure the girls I was ‘eyeing’ take notice of me.
Even the slightest of smiles towards my general direction would suffice as a great New year gift for me.
Imagine my transport to pure heaven when on one of such times a girl, Yetunde, who I had eyed for a long time shook hands with me and called me by my name.
I took the handshake with much alacrity and though I can’t quite remember, I think I went back home riding on the wings of an angel.
I also wrote down the date and never forgot her name till date.
And till the present day, the wonderful times associated with Christmas and New Year has left within me an hunger every year for a feeling I can’t explain. I feel my heart long for past joys and fading memories.
And it all starts with a carol.
Anytime I hear a carol, I am dragged down the path again and no matter how I close my eyes to touch the days I was younger and get those free spirit and feelings once again, I never could get them back.
They are so far away from me; like a different lifetime of mine.
And yet, I look forward to Christmas and New year celebrations and listen to carols, hoping to get back a memory of childhood and feel the love I always long for.
It is a wonderful time, Christmas, a time of giving, love and memories.
And as we enter the New Year, share the love, spread the happiness and make some wonderful memories.
It is such a BEAUTIFUL LIFE.
credit: victor James