My father’s other house, in my other village, stands erect like a big pimple across a smooth face. The iron-sheets used to shine brightly but now, they are dimmed and rusty. You cannot even fetch rain water anymore. Your intestines will rust. And you will die. Your body will turn brown and your coffin’s hinges will erode too. So we don’t fetch water anymore when it rains. The fence used to be very strong. Our neighbor’s chicken would never pass through and would look at the healthy beans’ leaves with such longing. But now, the fence has wasted away and lies lazily on the ground. Everything now enters my father’s compound; even poverty and spite now reside with us. Those chickens now laugh all the way to our beans farm and eat all the leaves without any conscience.
Christmas started on date 20s. My father would be away in Nairobi for the better part of December. There were no cell phones and Posta took forever. We would start expecting him on 20th. At that time, there were specific vehicles that passed through that road. Three precisely. One belonged to the wealthiest man in the village; the other one was a police patrol car used to carry women who brew busaa and the last one was a public matatu, whose body was covered with nylon paper. It would pass after intervals of two hours. It was easy to tell if it was THE matatu or the nine-nine. This matatu would struggle up the hill, coughing mountains of thick smoke, its exhaust behaving like a horn blower, the engine would heat, complain, threaten to burst. Eventually, it would halt when someone alighted, but the rest would be forced to push it for quite a distance, irrespective of gender.
Anyhow, most passengers were women wearing head-scarfs, hiding money in their huge breasts and carried sacks bigger than my ambitions. These women would talk in low tones about funerals, about their husbands who disturbed them at night, about pregnancies, about the word of God. They talked a lot. My mother would cast a sharp eye on them, and then look at us, hoping we understood nothing, since they spoke in mother-tongue. But Gladwell is a sharp girl and understood word by word.
Back to my story, we would sit at home, but all ears on the road, waiting for the roaring matatu to halt, on that diversion leading home. We waited for daddy. 20th, it did not halt. 21st, it didn’t. 22nd, nothing. On 23rd, we would grow impatient and decide to sit by the roadside, greeting every person who passed by and asking if they had seen our father. They would nod with amusement, until we saw a blue sweater downhill and sprint, as if any second wasted would cost our lives. It would be my handsome father with sideburns and dimples, holding his brief case. He would have decided to use a bicycle instead of the matatu. Tied on one of the bicycles, would be a heavy bag with our future in it. He would carry us on his shoulders and asked us if we had been good children.
Upon reaching home, my beautiful mother would pray, detailing all her thanksgiving. She would thank God for bringing daddy back home safely to us, she would thank him for sending his son, so that Christmas was celebrated to mark his birth, then she would ask God to make us obedient children and say uwapatie uwezo wa kukumbuka kila kitu kama kompyuta, then she’d end the prayer by asking the holy ghost to remind us that Christmas is a period of rebirth and thanksgiving, not just celebrating to fulfill our human desires. I would open my eyes and find my sister’s eyes open too, staring at mum in horror. What do you mean Christmas is not for celebrating? Are they broke? Don’t they have money to buy good stuff for us? No… nobody was going to avoid buying things for us.
After the prayer, my father would open the bag, slowly as anxiety escalated beyond measure. My father would have given us heart attacks surely, don’t you think? He would then say, what was the name of the man who betrayed Jesus? My sister would shout Judas. My father would clap and hand over something to my sister. She would break into a dance and disappear into the bedroom. Now, what is the name of the president of Malawi? He would ask. Bakili Muluzi… I would scream, jumping up and down. That was too easy, he would tease as I almost broke down in tears, thinking he had nothing for me. He would hand over something to me and just like my sister, I would disappear into the bedroom. Then my quiet brother would remain with dad, man to man. Tell me, what is your full name? He would smile. He had no clue. We just call him Stano, but his full name is quite a mouthful. His charming smile deceived daddy into handing him his package. He would smile shyly again and open right there.
On Christmas day, we would see chapatti after months of waiting patiently. We would wake up before any cocks crowed for the last time. We would bath cold water and emerge looking ravishing, afraid to sit on anything lest it got dirty. We would not play or chase each other. The dresses were too white and the ngoma rubber shoes too clean to joke with. We would eat mandazi and swim in them, eat chicken like groundnuts and drink tea, different from all the rest we had ever taken during the whole year. It was generous with milk. Later during the day, dad would take us to the market to drink soda madiaba. You cannot be this smart and stay at home. Of course our dresses stood out and other children looked at us with admiration. We even had white hats. We loved Christmas and daddy too.
But in our glorious childhood, there are children who did not have the privilege to celebrate Christmas like us. It passes like any other day. Maybe it is even worse because many people eat better and dress better, reminding them of their anguish. Children deserve to be loved, made to feel special and yes, Christmas is a big deal. We might not know, but showing a little love and affection should be a lifestyle. We can start with celebrating with the underprivileged, and then as the days go, we can do it so frequently till it becomes part of us. Just like paying bills monthly. Let’s celebrate Christmas with those who don’t have the little privileges we have. When you get a chance to help a neighbor, a random stranger or visit a children’s home, home of the aged, prisoners etc, we do not want evidence. Don’t upload pictures with self-righteous hash tags. These people are not an attraction site that you go and watch and take pictures.