“I am dreaming of a white Christmas..
Just like the ones I used to know…
Where the treetops glisten and children listen..
To hear sleigh bells in the snow…”
“Which white Christmas are you dreaming of?” My cousin, Lotachukwu teased me as I sang along to Irving Berlin’s popular song blasting from my phone. It was one of my favorite Christmas songs and it kept me sane as I decorated our grandparents living room with Christmas decorations.
“You just want me to talk, Lota,” I answered her, hanging the Christmas lights above the portraits of my grandparents on the wall.
“Neche, you just have to answer, because we don’t have white Christmas here in Udi.” Lota put up the other decorations at the other end of the living room.
“We have white Christmas na, harmattan. Your skin will be white,” I joked.
She burst out laughing, “aunty, biko, that’s not the white Christmas I want. I want snow. Lots of snow and the sleigh bells. With a lot of Christmas cookies and cakes and—”
“Snap out of it, Lota. We are in Udi local government area of Enugu State. In Nigeria. No snow. Just harmattan. No Christmas cookies either, just abacha na okpa.” She sighed as I reminded her of her origin. “Plus a lot of work too.”
“Nna ehn, if I could avoid the work and just enjoy the feast, I would.” She took some Christmas lights and decorated the Christmas tree my parents had bought from Enugu town the day before.
I got down from the stool I stood on and helped hang some of the other decorations on the tree. “We can’t avoid the work, even if we tried. We’re the grandchildren.” At least the tree tops would glisten, I thought as I worked on the tree.
“Oh well, at least we won’t be doing everything. Cooking for so many people isn’t my thing, Neche.”
“No one said you’re the one cooking the food. We’ll do other stuff like plate washing, serving, clearing, helping out in the kitchen and so on. I know we’ll have help from the rest of the kindred.”
“Of course. Who doesn’t like free food?” Lota said as we completed our decorations. I laughed at that and stepped back a bit to admire our job. The Christmas tree stood beside the plasma flat screen TV. The other colorful decorations, I like to call ‘shine shine’, hung on portraits and curtains. The burgundy colored walls made the decorations sparkle. This was amazing. I turned on the switch the lights were connected to and the living room glowed.
“Lota! We did good!” I praised my cousin and myself.
“Sure we did. We’re the best at this. Chimaobi and Nonso would flop at this.” She mentioned our brothers and I laughed.
“Just wait till it’s night, it’ll be magical.” I said, as ‘Silent Night’ filled the atmosphere from the speakers of my phone.
“Yeah, yeah.” Lota smiled. She made her voice sound like she was in an Opera as she sang along, dancing like she was in a ball too. I decided to enjoy the view just a bit. We still had to decorate the façade of the house.
I know you’re wondering who I am and all that. Not to worry, I’m about to give you a proper introduction. My name is Chinecherem Edeh. I’m the second child of Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Edeh. I have an older brother, Ifeanyi and a younger brother, Chimaobi. Lota is my cousin from my dad’s side as you might have guessed. Her father and my father are brothers. Mine is older. She’s the first child. She has a younger brother, Nonso. He’s about 16, while Chimaobi is 15. Lota and I are both 20, which has made us inseparable since we were born. With only one month difference between us (I’m older), we have stuck together like glue. She’s like the sister I never had. We do almost everything together. We grew up in Lagos, the Western part of Nigeria. You’d think we enjoy a zephyr cos we live in the west. Maybe we do, maybe not. Anyway, it’s all fun whenever my cousins, my brothers and I hang out.
Since I can remember, my family and Lota’s family always spend the Christmas holidays in the village with our grandparents. It was the 23rd already. I know you’re wondering why we’re just decorating two days before Christmas. Well, we arrived just two days ago. Lota, Ifeanyi and I from the University. We all attend the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It’s located in our state too, so it was easy to come here. My parents, Lota’s parents and our younger brothers came later than us, the same day, from Lagos.
This year, we’re having two feasts. We’re not only celebrating Christmas, we’re marking the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents. I know right, a really big deal. My grandparents decided, half a century ago to get married two days after Christmas. I find it awesome. When there’s a feast, there must be laboring behind the scenes to make sure everything goes extremely well. That’s what Lota and I were hoping we’d avoid. No such luck, I thought, as I heard my mom call out to us.
We both stepped outside the house to help unload the boot of the car. Ifeanyi had driven my mom and Lota’s mom to the market early in the morning. Lota’s mom, Aunty Nkem commended us on the work we did in the living room as they stepped in. We took it all with happiness and went back outside to continue with the decorations. Ifeanyi decided to help us out a bit, since he was tall enough to reach some heights. Now, my grandfather built this house sometime in the 90s’. It was a bungalow in the center of a really large compound. It was painted cream and white, which complemented the red roof.
Behind the house, different trees and crops sprouted from the earth. My grandfather loved tilling the ground. Orange, tangerine, mango, guava, soursop, cherry, coconut, ukwa trees grew in number. We also had a small farm, where cassava, yam, maize and so on grew too. It was from the farm that my grandmother harvested the cassava she uses to process garri and abacha for us. The ground was very fertile, with the ever red sand and hilly topography. One of the reasons I loved coming home was to enjoy the beautiful scenery of green hills. Enugu had a lot of them.
We finished the decorations shortly before sunset, and went in to find our younger brothers watching TV in the living room. I wondered where they were when we were all busy. Ifeanyi joined them, while Lota and I went to the kitchen to help our mothers and grandmother finish preparing dinner. Somewhere at the back, I could hear the voices of the men. They spoke fluently in our dialect. I wished I was that good in speaking Igbo.
As I stepped into the kitchen, the sweet aroma of egusi filled my nostrils.
“Onye na’esi ihe a?” I asked, practicing my Igbo.
“Okwa nne gi,” my grandma answered. She was sitting on a small wooden bench, holding ugwu for Aunty Nkem, who was cutting it. My mom stood at the gas, stirring the contents of the large pot. I winked at her and she smiled at me.
“Grandma, let me hold the ugwu, go to your room,” Lota offered.
My grandmother is very stubborn and hardworking. It took a lot of convincing to get her up and into her room. Let her go rest. I also took over the cutting of the ugwu from Aunty Nkem. Aunty Nkem decided to boil water for garri. I finished cutting the ugwu. Aunty Nkem and my mom were having a conversation in Igbo.
“Ehen, Jacinta, do you know Uwakwe and his wife are around? Aunty Nkem asked my mom.
“Mba oh. I didn’t know. That’s nice. It’s been a while they came home.” My mom replied. Uwakwe is someone in the kindred. He’s a cousin to my father. We and his children usually played when we were still kids. Then we hung out as teenagers, till they stopped coming home at some point. They’d be all grown like us now, I thought.
“Their children are around too. All grown up and looking fine.” Aunty Nkem confirmed my thoughts.
“Mummy,” Lota said, coming to stand beside me as I took out a bottle of water from the fridge, “how do you know so much. Was it not the day before yesterday we came back. You went to market today.”
“Hian,” Aunty Nkem turned the garri she had put in the bowl of hot water, “thank God you said, the day before yesterday. Was I not around yesterday?”
“And you saw Nnenna and Ijeoma?” Lota asked about our second cousins.
“Yes I did. I even saw that their cousin, from their mom’s side that comes back with them sometimes. What’s that his name again? Ehen, Obumneme.”
I choked on the water I was drinking at the mention of Obumneme’s name.
“Neche, o gini?” My mom asked as I coughed.
“Lota rub her back, biko,” Aunty Nkem told her daughter, who was laughing at my predicament.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Lota whispered to me.
“Get out,” I managed to whisper back, while she laughed harder.
Let me explain Lota’s amusement. It’s because of Obum. I have had a huge crush on Obum since I was 14. That was the last time he was here with his cousins. He should be Ifeanyi’s age or maybe a few years older. Ifeanyi usually hung out with him a lot, while Lota and I hung out with Nnenna and Ijeoma. I’ve tried to shake off the crush. I believed I had, but I found myself wanting to see him every other Christmas. I never saw him or his cousins. I tried asking my father about uncle Uwakwe. He’d just say they were fine but couldn’t come home. I didn’t have a phone then, so there was no way to contact him, or my second cousins. Lota always teased me about him. I always felt like wringing her neck whenever she did. Like now.
“You girls should set the table, while we dish the food,” my mom ordered us.
“When are we going to their house?” Lota asked as we approached the dining table.
“Whose house?” I feigned ignorance.
“Isi ji. We both know you want to see Obum.” Lota smirked at me.
I set the table mats for my parents and grandparents, ignoring Lota. We the grandchildren could eat in our rooms or the living room.
“Lota, what do you want me to say?” I finally responded.
“When we’re going over to see them.”
“We’re busy. Christmas and the anniversary preparations. There’s no time for frolicking.” I answered.
“Ok oh,” was all Lota could say.
I didn’t have time for romance. I didn’t want to rekindle whatever flame I had for Obum. This Christmas was for my family. I acted like Obum being around didn’t matter during dinner and afterwards when the Christmas lights went on and my grandpa almost cried. I pretended he didn’t exist when we said our night prayers and went to bed. I tried not to imagine how he’d look like now that he was no longer a boy. I didn’t tell Lota that my dreams were filled with a certain young man when woke up, the morning of Christmas Eve. We did our morning chores and had breakfast. I helped my grandfather grind the tobacco for his snuff. Something my grandma really detested.
After breakfast, my brothers and cousins talked about what we’d do that day. Nonso and Chimaobi wanted us to visit the stream and swim. Ifeanyi bought into the idea. I was surprised they didn’t want to sit at home and play games. We agreed that we’d go to the stream. As Lota and I went in to prepare, I heard a knock on the gate. I wore a blue jean trouser and a polo, same with Lota. We heard voices outside but couldn’t make out the voices. As I put in shorts and singlet into my bag, for the swimming, there was a knock on the door.
“We’re coming na,” Lota yelled. Thinking it was our brothers.
“Lota, it’s Nnenna.” The voice at the door said.
“Nnenna!” Lota shrieked, bolting for the door. Nnenna and Ijeoma stepped in. Lota smothered them with hugs and kisses. I in turn, hugged them.
“So this is you girls?” I said, admiring them. Nnenna was 19, a year older than Ijeoma. They were both tall and fair in complexion. Nnenna wore a simple flowered gown that stopped at her knees, while Ijeoma wore shorts and a big polo. Oh, I didn’t tell you. I’m about 5’8 and chocolate in complexion. Lota is fair and just about an inch taller than I am.
“It is us oh. I’ve missed you guys, maka Chukwu,” Ijeoma said, hugging me again.
“You guys just disappeared. What brings you home this Christmas?” Lota asked, putting a bikini inside my bag. She was definitely going to carry that bag.
“You guys think we’d miss your grandparents anniversary?” Nnenna raised an eyebrow in inquiry.
“Are you serious?” I laughed. “I didn’t think that was the reason.”
“That, and we missed spending Christmas here,” Ijay said. “Ifeanyi said you guys were going to the stream.”
“Yes oh. Let’s feel the cold there, small,” Lota hung my bag on her shoulder. Thank God I didn’t have to convince her. We walked out of the room.
“Obum is outside with them sef. We’re going with you guys.” Nnenna giggled. We agreed they’d stop by at home to get clothes for the swim.
Nnenna’s announcement of Obum’s presence wasn’t enough to prepare me for what I saw when I stepped out. It felt like a lump magically appeared in my throat as I swallowed. I noticed Lota’s mischievous grin at me. There, standing at the gate with my brothers and Nonso, was Obum. He had a goatee now. His face was still very beautiful. His hair was perfectly trimmed. He wore a long sleeved shirt that he folded to his elbows. His hands were in his pockets. He turned just as we stepped out of the house and our eyes met. It felt like Zeus sent a jolt of lightning through my body. Then he smiled at me and butterflies danced in my belly. So much for not wanting romance. My old flame had just been rekindled.
Obum hugged Lota and I and exchanged pleasantries before we started for their house, then the stream. The others ahead of us, for some reason, Obum decided to walk with me behind.
“How’s school?” he asked me.
“School’s fine,” I answered. “How’s school too?”
He laughed, “I’m done with school. I’m awaiting service.”
“Wow! That’s great.” I was really impressed. “What did you study?”
“Civil Engineering,” he said. “What about you? What are you studying?”
“Electronics Engineering,” I said, grinning as he I saw his face fill with surprise.
“A lady studying Engineering is so cool.” Obum said. “We should catch up.” He took out his phone. “Can I have your number, please?”
“Of course.” I put in my number in his phone, smiling inside. Well, looks like my crush might have a thing for me after all. I guess I’d see how things went from here. We talked about other stuff and joined the rest of the crew. I thanked Nonso and Chimaobi for coming up with the swimming idea. It was refreshing.
We all decided to attend the Midnight Mass that day. At about 10pm, Lota, Ifeanyi, Nonso Chimaobi and I met up with Nnenna, Ijeoma and Obum and we all walked to St. Gregory’s Catholic Church, while our parents and grandparents snored. I tried not to doze off during the readings and listened attentively to the priest’s sermon. I sang along to the hymns, like ‘Joy to the world’ and ‘God rest ye gentlemen’, during offertory, ‘Silent Night’ during communion and so on. My heart was filled with Joy. I had a lot to be thankful for. My family was healthy and well. I was healthy and well. God had blessed us abundantly. I was reconnecting with my second cousins and Obum. My grandparents were celebrating so many years of being together. And most importantly, I was grateful for the gift of Jesus Christ in my life. At 00:00am, I screamed, “Merry Christmas!” and hugged my family and friends.This could be recorded as my best Christmas ever.
When Mass ended, were bundled ourselves to the crib set up with little statues that depicted that night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. In this part of my country, it was customary to rub powder on your face when you see a newly born. Jesus was the newly born, we applied the powder that was at the crib. We all had white faces. I laughed and thought, White Christmas. As we walked home, I thought of my bed and sleep. I also thought of cooking later that day. Most importantly, I thought of the feast we’d have later and on the 27th. My stomach had to be ready for all I would eat and drink. Like I said earlier, best Christmas ever!
Translations for the Igbo Words
- Abacha- an Igbo delicacy
- Okpa- an Igbo delicacy
- Biko- please
- Nna ehn- an Igbo slang
- Ukwa- bird fruit
- Onye na’esi ihe a- who’s cooking this delicacy?
- Okwa nne gi- it’s your mother
- Ugwu- pumpkin leaves
- Mba- no
- O gini- what is it
- Isi ji- an Igbo jest
- Maka Chukwu- an Igbo slang
- Na- a Nigerian slang
- Harmattan- the season that results from the North East trade wind.
- Ehen- slang
- Hian- slang
Ebubechukwu Anochili is from the Eastern part of Nigeria. She is a 24 year old Christian. A graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. At her leisure, she loves to listen to music, to write and read. She resides in Lagos, Nigeria.