Where’s Santa? Lord!
I was about 5 years of age when I first saw Santa Claus. It was at my school’s end-of-year party. Children were clustered in the gravel and sand-filled open field that was our playground. It was right in the middle of three-storey buildings built in such a way that they formed a U. There, on the field were swings, slides, climbers, and chairs for relaxation. I wormed my way through the gathering to see what the excitement and screams were about and I saw a big-bellied man sitting on one of the chairs, clad in red, his white beard way below his chin, children jumping into his laps excitedly. He looked rich as he gave the children gifts. I wouldn’t go close to him, so I stayed in one of the classes on the top floor, flipping my beaded hair, and watching him. Watching the children. Watching the entire event.
Christmas started way before I saw Santa Claus in school that year; Santa was the climax to what was days-long celebration of the season for the students. When I was little, Christmas started in September –it felt like it. By the end of November, everyone would be busy with one activity or another. My heavily shoulder-padded dress and black glossy shoes would be ready. My mother would have bought coloured beads she would later string into each plaited hair on my head. Houses would have been painted white and those who could afford Christmas trees would have them up already. I heard “On the first day of Christmas” long before it was Christmas, courtesy of John, the cassette seller, who played jingles weeks before December 25. When my father put on the TV, Boney M rent the air. Christmas songs were played back-to-back on stations until FCMB’s advert interrupted them.
Christmas was different. Something about the air being clean and full of anticipation. Children ran shirtless, holding pangolo and asking for Christmas stipends to buy bangers and balloons. Aged women tucked their curses beneath their tongues and prayed for better years to come. Down the street, Mama Pam Pam arranged stainless trays of balloons, Christmas hats and caps, and fireworks in her stall and Sule pasted Christmas party fliers, full of Fuji singers and naked girls, on fences. I could taste it all on my tongue – the ecstasy, the hope, the carefreeness that came with this season. And sometimes, as I walked down the street, I’d spread my arms apart, inhale the harmattan air so deeply, and think ‘Wow, Christmas is here.’
Christmas is different now; the taste is rancid and in place of this ecstasy is an incessant longing, a nostalgia I cannot shake off. I only have memories to keep this season alive.
I went to the marketplace last year on Christmas day. It wasn’t entirely a market, it also doubled as a major road. Now, I cannot remember what I went to purchase or where I was headed but I remember how stunned I was by the ordinariness of that day. No one sold balloons or bangers, there was no cassette seller to play jingles. The hustle and bustle went on like the day didn’t matter. Like Christmas wasn’t a big deal. Its significance had been drowned by the cacophony of sellers’ voices calling out to buyers.
My (ex)neighbour said it was because there was no money. She waved her hand nonchalantly as she said “na who get money dey do Christmas.” I heard this too often, and it is true. The economy was tough last year, people complained. A bag of rice hit 40,000 Naira o. Even tomato and pepper and onions nko? Sotey people added colouring to jollof rice; the goal was to have it red. Do you know how much chicken feed was sold for? So who was going to buy the chicken now? *Sucks teeth* let’s just thank God for life. And I understood them, after all, I am also an adult.
I know this year won’t be any different. How much is a litre of fuel again? Or rice. Or a keg of oil. Is onion not gold now? Maybe I shouldn’t even buy Christmas clothes for my little cousin, because… where’s the money? The festivity of this season has paled in the face of privation and economic hardships. But if I don’t buy my cousin Christmas clothes, or fireworks, or chicken and rice, he would have nothing to keep him nostalgic when he’s all grown. There’d be no memories he could mull over at home or school. His school Santas are not rich. The red jacket was falling over the last one’s shoulder, he told me as he broke into a fit of laughter, and he later saw him fighting over a plate of hot rice.
Maybe Santa will come for us all next year. Maybe the economy will be better and we can buy a chicken or two. Maybe a basket of tomatoes will be cheaper so we don’t add red colouring to our rice. Maybe fuel will be 100 naira per litre. Maybe flights will be cheaper so we can travel to our hometowns. Maybe there’ll be harmattan or the air will hold many promises. Maybe. Just maybe.