Start from Chapter 1: December
t was the day after Christmas, everyone woke up long before dawn to prepare for our family boxing day tradition. One that hasn’t been broken since I can remember.
It was started by Dad’s desire to get our family and friends to celebrate the magic of Christmas.
Dad was grateful to have me born on Christmas Day, he considered it a precious gift from God and so insisted that we must always celebrate it. I told him the day before I’d rather not be in the get-together and have everyone chant stale birthday songs.
Dad was more understanding than Mum but in the end, she reluctantly agreed but insisted that we all help towards the preparation.
So, all night after the Night of Festivals, we got buried in work. Mum and Jideofor busied themselves in the kitchen. Father and Ariva helped put decorations in the garden at the backyard. They worked like a team; Mum and Jideofor, Dad and Ariva while I watched in delicate silence. Each time I tried joining one team, I’d be asked to join the other.
Finally, Dad and Ariva let me help arrange plant pots beside the hanging oval chandelier in the pergola. The plant pots were built to hold the flowers for as long as there was moisture in the soil. Doing this left us sweating and when we were exhausted, we collapsed into the turf, gazing into the open and bright heavens. The artificial grass was soft. Above, the stars lined the galaxy, the moon in their company fully shining with tiny patches of clouds scattered randomly.
My eyes met Ariva’s, we giggled, rolling unto our stomachs.
Dad looked at us suspiciously before asking, “What is making you both laugh so hard?” Oh! Daddy, how could he have forgotten so soon? “Daddy, remember how we used to come out here every night to watch the clouds travel?”
Recollection graced his face, “Yes, my angels. You both always wished you could ride on its back.”
“Yes, and you would tell us stories about seafarers who let the moon guide them to distant places,” Ariva said, joyfully.
“And that one Samson loved so much,” Dad added. “The one about the little lamb keeper and the fox. How could we forget?” Time passed before me, while Dad and Ariva kept counting all the stories we shared under the moon. I could see Samson there with us. He was always full of life, ruddy and easy to please.
As little as we were, we were happy to call him our bully slayer. If Ariva and Jideofor shared the beauty of heights, Samson and I shared the beauty of looks. We were always the most adorable kids everyone wanted to make friends with.
Samson was easy with everyone and had a cool clique but me, following right after him in the birth order, was withdrawn and rather kept a closed circle.
Ariva on the other hand was the imitation of Samson, she was always the cheerleader of the coolest girls.
Jideofor was like me but I didn’t realise how much we shared until Samson left the Christmas after I turned fourteen.
“Hey, dreamer,” Ariva snapped her fingers in my face. I recovered from my daze and got up.
“You know what, I need to check what the other team is up to. May I have your permission to leave?”
Dad smiled. “Sure, ma’am and kindly don’t return with empty hands.” It was Ariva. I eyed her. “Glutton,” I said. She sat up ready for a chase but Dad held her back. I jeered at her once more before bouncing into the house in an attempt to mock her walking style. She growled behind me. “Thanks, Dad,” I whispered to myself, for taming her.
It happened that Mum and Jideofor were doing a sort of magic in the kitchen. Everywhere was filled with the scent of deliciously baked foods. It filled my nostrils the moment I opened the back door into the house. My tummy rumbled. At the same time, Mum poked her head in the kitchen’s doorway, holding an almond spatula. “Someone hungry?”
“Not just someone, an army of them,” I replied, tilting my head towards the garden. “Oh! You mean your sister,” she cackled. She had never understood how we fought so easily and loved each other at the same time. I had never understood it too.
“Come, follow me. I knew someone was going to get in the mood, so we made something for you guys and since you’re the go-between girl, you’ll take it to them.” I nodded and followed her obediently into the kitchen.
I stopped halfway, seeing the transformation. “Mum, are we cooking for the whole town?” Jideofor looked up from the batter he was melting. Mum looked pleased.
Carefully arranged on the large centre table were two sets of oval-shaped cakes yet to be iced. On the other end was a tray of spices: turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and shredded mint, parsley and cabbage. Boiled potatoes were cut into a small bowl and in another larger bowl, a knoll of fresh fishes cut open in the middle.
This was Mum’s speciality, making stuffed savoury fishes.
First, she’d fix the spices and potatoes, then slit the fishes, stuff them with the mixture, wrap them in aluminium foil papers and let them sit overnight in the fridge. Then the next day, she’d put them in the grill and let them roast on low heat.
The result was sumptuous and pleasing to the eyes. Served with peppery veggies and a glass of lemon and honey juice, it was yummy, in spite of myself, I was excited about the party.
A cookbook laid on the countertop, it contained recipes for all the best native and foreign dishes we had. Mum pulled out a pan of cookies from the oven, their scent filling up the room.
I picked one in a rush and dropped it back. Mum gave me a “that’s good for you” stare. It was an old habit I never outgrew. I groaned, blowing air to my burnt fingers. She put them in a ceramic bowl, fixed a jug of ginger tea on a tray with three mugs and handed it to me.
“Now go feed the community.”
“Oh! Mummy, she’s your last child.”
“I know and that’s why you need to feed her.”
Mum was always ready to add a dash of play to liven up a tiring day. I wondered why Jideofor was dead quiet. Was he still angry about Ekeh or was it Francis? I was confused for my baby brother who grew so fast that it barely felt like we were only kids a few years ago.
Before Jideofor came, it was only me and adorable Samson but right from the day I held Jideofor’s little fingers in the hospital ward, we bonded like twins. He became my object of adoration and like that, Samson became an elder brother.
I sometimes wonder if he felt alienated and if that was what made him to never look back from the day he left the town to go study overseas. Did he feel left out?
I dropped the tray on the wooden table of the garden’s deck. Dad and Ariva sat opposite each other. Ariva quickly grabbed one before I could warn her.
“Hey, easy, Birdie. Those are freshly out of the oven, you could burn your tongue.”
She didn’t mind me, she barely looked up from the tray as she chewed nodding her head. Dad picked one piece and bit into it delicately.
“These are delicious.”
“Yes, Dad, they are. To think Jideofor cooks better than us.”
Ariva eyed me, “Hey, you’re the only one who doesn’t cook. I do.”
I scoffed. “And by cooking, you mean noodles and macaroni? Grow up, kid.”
She dropped the cookie. “What did you call me?”
“A kid. And that is it. It’s not open to debate,” I said in finality.
“I’m going back to the kitchen. I’ll be with Mum for a bit and you both better finish up and come in. We have more to do tomorrow before noon.”
Dad nodded and patted my back, “Go ahead, Princess, we’ll fix the rest of the pergola and come in. You should get some rest.”
I laid my head on his shoulder and let myself inhale his scent. It was freshwater mixed with jasmine. Dad brought his hands to my back.
I felt the moment last till eternity and in it, all my worries slipped away. I got up with the tray, ready to return them to the kitchen and hit my bed.
“I’m coming to get my hair done in the morning,” Ariva called behind me. I shook my head, smiled and walked into the house. She was such a kid.
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