Harmattan winds are greedy, they come and suck up moisture, so that when they are gone, the places they pass through are dry and parched, a testament to their unsolicited visit. They sweep tree branches, bring down dry leaves, create baby whirlwinds, coat faces with an extra layer of brown, make wooden doors and hinges quarrel, cause lips to crack and peel, leave throats in want. Before they come dew visits, as if to say, harmattan is coming soon, she doesn’t care, but I do, she will take me with her, so let’s have fun before she comes.
It is in the dew that Daddy Fege sits, on his recliner in the verandah, his cup of Lipton warming his palms. He is thinking of past Christmas, the one before that, the one to come. He raises the cup to his lips and sips. He looks down at the brown liquid and inhales deeply. The door beside him opens, a little girl with beads in her hair comes out and places her hands on his recliner.
“Papa Fege”, she calls, “ Mama says you should come inside. It’s too cold for you here”. “ Tell her I said one thing must kill a man”, he replies her, raising his hand to keep the cup on the table in front of him. The girl stands there, waiting. The door opens again, the wood creaking. A woman comes out, her head tie and wrapper bearing the came face and logo, Vote for Our Man, the owner of the face a bald man, his smile sinister and innocent both at once. Her face is rounded and smooth, fine lines at both sides of her eyes.
“Both of you should come inside. It’s time”. She re ties her wrapper and holds the door for them to go in. The girl goes in first, carrying the mug with the tray. The man struggles to stand, heaving at some point. As he wobbles past the woman, he says, his voice full of something the woman knows as anger, “ I have told you to stop wearing this wrapper. This man’s face reminds me of the devil”. She goes in after him and shuts the door, not replying his complaint.
They are all seated, on the couches, the side stools, chairs from the dining room, the rug. It is the family of Fege; Mother, Father, children, grandchildren, great grand child. The AC is switched off because of Daddy Fege, he has refused to put on his shirt, his Bible is on a small table in front of him, a leather bound souvenir from Isreal. Mommy Fege is seated next to him, carrying a sniffling grand child, who is now sucking her left thumb. The children on the floor are making faces at her. The Fege children, now adults, are seated on the gold rimmed chairs. There are two men, three women, one of them heavy with child.
The father clears his throat and says, “Let us pray”. Everyone bows their heads, the children stop stop rolling on the rug and look at the faces of the older people above them, imitating their actions, covering their faces with their fingers and peeking through them to see if the person next to them is doing the same.
The oldest one, the man with greying temples, says the opening prayer. The one after him, a woman, leads the choruses, her clapping louder than that of everyone in the house, her rich tenor bouncing off the walls, the high ceiling, the glass partitions, the wine cabinet. Her singing makes the children go into a frenzy, they yell and stomp around the round table, their Bibles on their heads, I am a radical for Jesus! Their parents look on bemused, clapping and singing alongside their sister. After a while the singing stops.
The man of the house gives a short sermon, about love, forgiveness, loss.
“It is God’s loss and our gain, the birth of Christ. It is love that propelled Christ to come down to Earth, it is for our forgiveness that our Father in Heaven let his only son come to a place where he was destined to die. We should learn to love, to forgive, and to handle loss well. Nothing is meant to last anyway”.
A slight pause. He continues, his voice heavy, “ We might lose, but The Father is merciful. He will surely soothe our aching hearts”. His wife takes his hand and squeezes tight.
He leads them to prayer. The children are sober now, tired of playing, quelled by hunger, bored with the silence. They pray, each one with his own style, about love, thanksgiving, forgiveness, sacrifice, protection, long life, good health, prosperity, loved ones, the country they lived in. At the end of it all, they share the Grace.
“Merry Christmas everyone”, Daddy Fege says, and the children come alive, carrying the refrain round the house, yelling and jumping. The women go to the dining to serve the midday meal, laying out platters of rice, soup, vegetables, turkey on the table. The men sit and discuss politics, the children watch TV. The man and his wife retreat to their bedroom, the wife shooing away the children who want to follow her.
He sits on the bed, Fege. The picture in his hands is that of a young man. His face is bubbly, full of vigour, of youth. There are other documents scattered on the bed. He picks up another, from a mortuary, it says that the body found does not match with the description sent to them. There are similar reports like that, from different hospitals and agencies. The one in his hands is the most recent, dating two days back.
“This is a sign”, he says to his wife. Her back is turned to him. “ Oriaku, did you hear me?” She hums her assent. She turns to him now, a glass of water and some pills in her hand. “ Take and drink, your pulse was high this morning”.
“ I’m fine”
“ No you’re not”, she insists, placing the pills in his left palm, enclosing the cup in the other. He obeys and swallows the pills.
“ Good boy”, she rubs his head, “ what were you saying about signs?” She takes the cup from him.
“ They can’t find his body anywhere. It is a sign. He is still alive. He will come home, won’t he?”.
She looks at the man she married, fierce and self willed in his youth, now waiting for her assent to fully believe that a son who got missing during the Lekki Massacre was on his way home. His voice is tired, like that of a man who wrestled demons daily. She blinks back the tears that threaten to pour. She hugs him instead.
“ Merry Christmas my love”, she murmurs into his ear.
The man is waiting for an answer. He wants to know if his son will come home for Christmas. So he asks again.
“ Chike will come home, won’t he?”
“ Yes. He will”. He has to.
They held each other for some time, listening to each other’s heart beat, the wind blowing the udara trees beside their window, the faint Christmas jingle from the living room.
There is a knock on the door.
“We are coming”, the woman said.
Isaac Rejoice is a writer of Igbo descent. She is a teenager who seeks to tell stories that pull heart strings. She resides in Aba, Nigeria.