I have just alighted from a fairly forgettable Taxify trip, which has all the components of a future Twitter thread : taciturn Northern Nigerian driver, absence of niceties or any attempt(s) at making me feel comfortable, plastered frown, wrong turns, faulty air conditioner, abrupt halt in the middle of the country’s longest bridge, and an apparent lack of concern about my safety. In truth, his airs and demeanour would earn him full marks if he ever auditioned for the role of a “killer driver” in an action movie reminiscent of those thrillers from the 1990s, but a safe (albeit delayed) arrival at my destination affords me little room to complain : I am Nigerian afterall, and all I have to do to find out how lucky I am is to flip through the ‘Crime Watch’ section of the national dailies.
“It doesn’t matter where you roam/when no one’s left to call you home/I might have strayed a bit too far/I’m counting all the moonlit stars…
I’m a little lost at sea/I’m a little birdie in a big old tree/Ain’t nobody looking for me, here out on the highway…
but I will be found, I will be found/when my time comes down/I will be found…. ”
It’s the lyrics of John Mayer’s 2013 track “I Will Be Found” seeping through my headphones. It would probably be classified as a folk rock song whenever it’s goggled up, but I strangely view it as a gospel tune of sorts. I know a lot about being prodigal, feeling like I’ve been away from flocks too long, resigning myself to the assumption of perennial perdition. Away from doctrines of grace and calling out when drawn by certain spirits, I view my walk with God from the perspective of two friends who share a mutual fondness, but hardly reach out to each other. I am too broken and He’s too busy, but we exchange messages now and then, and in time, we will sit closely at table again.
“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying/
Brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying/you know we’ve got to find a way/to bring some loving here today…
Father, father, we don’t have to escalate / See, war is not the answer, only Love can conquer hate/ you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some loving here today…
Picket lines, and picket signs/ don’t punish me with brutality / talk to me, so you can see / what’s going on / what’s going on… ”
The playlist shuffle switches to Marvin Gaye ‘s 1970s classic, arguably one of the best R & B songs ever written, one whose vibe was adapted by Sam Dew in Wale’s “Love Hate Thing” (and later, by John Mayer in “Still Feel Like Your Man”), and one whose lyrics still pose a relevant question in today’s world: what’s going on? What do priests find attractive in little boys? What do Friday-worshipping and moon-observing extremists find pleasurable in beheading another who prefers to kneel on Sundays? Why would a man’s loins be stirred by the thoughts of his four-year-old daughter?
A middle-aged woman crosses the road, whistling incoherently, with a replica of Santa’s hat covering her hair. I find this rubbing off on me the wrong way, and for some reason I feel like yanking the red-and-white, not caring about her scalp, and asking her why she’s in such a hurry to mark baby(?) Jesus’ (supposed) birthday. Sure enough, it’s her head, her mood, and her money even, but it’s only the 7th day of November, and I can’t help but feel that chanting words in the lines of “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” and “Long time ago in Bethlehem” amount to a premature heralding of a holiday that is still forty-eight days away. No, I am not trying to be a Grinch (there’s no way anyone can interpret that role better than Jim Carrey), but the larger part of two decades has seen me develop a significant level of apathy towards the Yuletide, and not without good reason.
You see, my mother was pronounced dead after a very brief hypertensive episode at 4.35am, 25th December, 2000, and not even the comedic prowess of Basorge Tariah Jr. in the movie “My Guy” (which I was made to watch later that black day) could do anything to change my mood. My father wept his eyes sore, my aunt tore her hair, and my brother momentarily lost the ability to speak. Someone had put away the palm oil jollof rice that she had cooked two hours before an idiot threw the firecracker into the compound that got her gasping for breath, and in a way, my inability to taste of that meal meant that I would be unable to find closure to this day. No lover, no sister figure, no friendzoner or cougar has been able to replicate that flavour of jollof rice, and beyond the fact that I do not care about Christmas decorations at all, I kick against having jollof in our pots during the festivities. Fried rice maybe, beans would be forgiven as a matter of fact, but never the delicacy whose origin is fiercely debated by two neighbouring countries.
It happened in the early hours of a Monday morning (which, depending on your propensity to begin the day late, can be roughly classified as a Sunday night), and for many years I lived in fear of Sunday nights. Of course, the frequent nightmares and bouts of sleep paralysis made sure to occupy my imagination. The sixth anniversary of her demise fell on a Monday, and when my father was breathing too heavily that morning, my pulse rate experienced multiple surges.
I know that there are dishes unwashed from the night before she left, which I have made a mental note to apologize for when I finally meet her, but I don’t think that explains why she stopped visiting me in dreams, less than a year after her interment. There were no explanations, no assurances, she just stopped showing up. There was probably the assumption on her part that Stephen and I would turn out alright, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse for staying away from a ten-year old who knew little of the world. I took out my anger on the biggest holiday of the year, and Christmas after Christmas was spent with sizeable indifference.
Seventeen years and eleven months on, I see things a little clearly now. I am not so mad at her anymore (though I still think she could have fought harder to stay alive), and while I can’t change the reality of having not been at a carol night since 2012, at least I can say the men she left behind are getting around to attending midnight masses now. My sister born as a result of my father’s second attempt at loving is so adorable, she would have loved the way she clutches a pack of cheese balls and wobbles around the house. I’m still not sure of welcoming (non palm oil) jollof rice on the menu or even gracing one of those yawn-inducing cantatas, but I will definitely pay a lot more attention to the lighting and trees this year.
Victoria Island, Lagos.
The corner of Lagos known as “Eko Hotel” is largely populated by buildings belonging to one of the largest financial institutions in Africa, the one believed in previous years to only recruit light-complexioned ladies, the one rumoured to care more about corporate than retail customers. This financial institution is known to consciously glow up the Eko Hotel roundabout and adjoining structures with Christmas decorations at this time of the year. The intimidating fluorescence is yet to be seen, but the sprouting of a few “Season’s Greetings” banners cannot be ignored.
My ears are being treated to Hozier’s vocals now. I don’t know the title of the track because the audio file was sent via whatsapp by a buxom lady friend currently donning milk-coloured braids (and whom I secretly desire to break my nose by sitting on my face), but not much has changed from the voice pitch in “Take Me To Church” or “Work Song”, and you can’t mistake the haunting lyrics. I look out of the cab window, and when I spot the festive illumination, I feel no antipathy. The second week of November may be a tad early, but there are no penalties for being in “jingle bell” mood six weeks to the day.
Rock your Santa hat, mama!