12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, TNC GAVE TO ME…
Christmas Eve, 2014.
The first sound jolted me as I struggled out of sleep. I rubbed my eyes intensely and looked around.
I clutched my duvet tighter round my neck as the tears flowed, each sound sending a fresh stab of pain to my heart. I heard more sounds and felt dizzy. My room twirled and everything became a distorted vision in white like I was viewing a show through a fuzzy TV screen. An overwhelming urge to escape seized my entire being as sobs racked my body. My legs shook continuously almost as though torrents of electricity were injected into them. I felt trapped. I wanted to die. Suddenly, the sounds stopped and were replaced by screams of children being scolded and slap-slap sounds of slippers scampering. I felt incredibly weak and light headed as I took in sharp breaths and got out of bed. The chilling bursts of air emanating from the air conditioning unit did not abate my glistening skin.
Daddy was home. He was usually away working sometimes not coming home for months. He had missed my 7th birthday the month before and I was silently praying he came home for Christmas so I could tell him the new words I had learnt that were so dumb. He was a writer for a magazine and he hoped I became one too because of my obsession with words. That morning, I ran to my parents’ room and jumped on their bed giggling and tugging at their sleeves.
‘Daddy, why do you spell pneumonia starting with the letter p but don’t pronounce the p? How stupid is that?’ why then is Pretoria not Retoria?
He laughed out loud and tickled me deftly with his fingers. We went downstairs and I went to watch TV. Daddy joined me and we watched a Christmas themed movie singing along to the Christmas songs playing in the movie. It was our thing. The sweet smell of eggs and bacon that seeped into my nostrils was the only force I needed to propel me out of dad’s laps. Dad always sat at one end of the table with mom and I on his left and right side. It was the norm. But today, mum went to the opposite end of the table to eat as she was on the phone, talking to my aunt and I sat close to her. As I was about to stab my eggs with my fork, I heard the buzz of the bell. Daddy was reading his paper; mum was talking animatedly on the phone and Clarus, our help was nowhere to be found. I ignored it but the buzzer went off again. I reluctantly got up and went to the gate, folding my arms tightly to myself as I got exposed to a gust of wind. A man, who was as tall as the gate with untidy beards and eyes hidden behind dark shades smiled at me as I opened the gate exposing unevenly spaced yellow dentition. He gave me a bulky parcel and left. I raced inside, gave daddy and went back to my meal. He tried to open it and said with a smirk
‘This must be from the Residency with a P’
His last smirk…His last words…
I got out of the car and looked around. Lagos had really changed since I was last here. I walked to the tall black gate nestled between well manicured lawns filled with purple bougainvillea. I was ushered in to a neat living room that would have been described as tastefully furnished twenty years ago. The annoying clicking sound from the heels of my shoe was lost in the textile floor covering. I sat down on a single sitter couch, upholstered with damask material that had dried ink stains. Pictures of the former general with former dignitaries from all over the world filled the entire room. The children in the room turned around and greeted me and I mumbled a reply with a small smile. A girl picked up a DVD with the inscription ‘Best Man Holiday’ on the stool next to me and slotted it into the player. I looked away when the soundtrack filled the room because Christmas themed movies evoke memories that I would rather not remember. A woman with a face interspersed with fine lines walked into the room. She was beautiful with kind and watery eyes. ‘Good morning my daughter” she said
“Good morning’ I replied conjuring every form of coldness in my heart into my tone.
She smiled and offered me lunch. I politely declined. She told me the former general would see me in 30minutes and repeated her offer, this time in a more soothing and kind way. I looked away so she won’t see the tears that had started to form in the corner of my eyes. She reminded me of mum and the way she coerced me into eating. Mum had not spoken another word since the bomb went off. Some relatives said it was a medical condition but I knew it was much more. She was broken. She died a year after dad.
I was finally led into his room. I had imagined this scenario a thousand times in my head and when it became a reality, I was rooted to a spot. With a hand gesture, he offered me a seat. He looked dreary, bony thin and old; a shadow of his former self. That person that invoked tears, fear and terror in the hearts of people, that person that had caused me to move from one home to another, suffering untold maltreatment had faded into nothingness. Just like termite infested wooden furniture, Cancer had withered his imposing six foot frame. He coughed violently and spat into a tissue paper before looking at me.
‘You look so much like your father’ he said
I continued staring like he had said nothing.
‘Your name is Eno?’
Yes, like twenty years ago, now I go by cold bitch and ice queen.
‘Yes’ I replied
‘Your father was a good man, extremely brilliant but he didn’t know where to stop. He stepped on toes. ‘
I looked on as he got up and opened his ward rope removing a huge envelope. I shifted uncomfortably and narrowed my eyes. He must have read my thoughts because he opened it
‘You have to keep a back up if you are working in the Government’ He said. He coughed again and gave me the envelope.
‘I wish my conscience then was as huge as the tumor in my brain. All I ask for is forgiveness’
I didn’t stop running till I got out of the house. I should be ecstatic but I felt empty. I had followed every news paper headlines detailing investigations on the murder, I had snuck out of school to talk to the police and ask them multiple questions. I had read through daddy’s notes, looking for clues and answers. Ten years after dad’s passing, I had waited patiently in court, at the Okpala panel; the committee set up to investigate his death. The perpetrators never showed up. The panel had dismissed the case citing interest of national reconciliation as its reason. I had packed the rest of my defeated self and moved to the States.
I drove into the street of my childhood home and parked in front of the house. My vision became blurry as my eyes were flooded with pent up grief and painful memories. My body shook like someone had taken control of it. I should have ignored the buzz of the bell just like daddy and mummy. I should not have accepted the parcel. I shouldn’t have given it to Daddy.
I turned around and saw him. It was hazy but his afro stood out. I ran towards him and tried to touch him. She appeared next to him and smiled at me. He asked me a question ‘what would you advise your best friend if she was going through what happened to you?’
‘I would just tell her to let go and move on. It wasn’t her fault.’ I replied
‘Why can’t you take your advice?’
‘Because I don’t deserve to be forgiven, I was stupid’
‘Don’t be hard on yourself. It is not your fault. Move on with your life, let go of the hurt and make me proud’
I woke up startled; the salt from my dried tears stung my eyelids. I drove back to the hotel and destroyed every piece of evidence in the envelope while ignoring calls from the human rights lawyer. I was done. I felt free. I left my room and just as I stepped out of the lobby, into the street, I felt a drop of water on my skin and another, until they came down in fast pelts and finally showers. It never rained on Christmas. God definitely approved of my decision. I continued walking in the direction of the Christmas melody I heard and for the first time since dad passed, I entered a church…
Christmas is the season to forgive. It can be hard, I know but it’s not impossible. You have to forgive the guilty and most importantly, yourself. If anyone or anything has to live in you and cause heartache, rent must be paid. If not, evict!!! To the next writer, I gift Vintage Silk Scarves.
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