Here’s to a year of love, safety, honesty and self-acceptance. Enjoy your rabbit.
On the night before Christmas, consider Odun, the youngest daughter of the Keresimesis, who is accused of robbery by a Christmas tree.
It was near midnight on the eve of Christmas and she had been rifling through the boxes that sat at the foot of the tree, shiny curls disrupting the tree’s plastic needles, searching for the Gameboy that Daddy had promised. The tree was big, and its fake green skirt hid her very well. One particularly heavy box refused to move and she wondered if Mummy had finally gotten her Portable Grill. She crawled around the trunk, bathed in splashes of light; red, blue, green and yellow. The 8-bit music was tinny with the familiar song of dying batteries, and its occasional drift into static and jargon unnerved Odun enough to want to escape back to her room. She had to do that soon anyway. Daddy and Mommy were out, buying more food and drink for the Annual Keresimesi Christmas Yard Party; one of the neighborhood’s favorite events of the year and the family’s prestige outing. Kola and Uncle Yinka were up in their rooms sleeping, playing video games or being role-played by pillows, and poor Aunty Bolaji was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of jollof rice with eyes nearly blind from no sleep.
A Gameboy-sized box lay two inches from her knee, wrapped in shiny paper that crinkled and reflected light like a jewel. She moved to pick it up in her fingers and feel its existence, perhaps watch it catch the soup of dappled multicolored lights for a few moments, then she could return to bed and sleep peacefully with a small content smile on her lips. Her fingers barely grazed one of the gift’s slick edges before a voice whispered rather harshly,
She froze nanometers from touching the gift, in that subtle way of one who believes they are hallucinating.
“Touch nothing. Leave!”
Realization poured down Odun’s back like a trail of ants, and for one second, she was still as her mind gears turned. Then she scampered out from beneath the tree, screaming one of her trademark siren tones as she fled into the kitchen to hide beneath her elder sister’s wings.
How about Bolaji, the eldest daughter and resident workhorse who sees an angel at her window.
The rice wouldn’t cook. Or maybe it had cooked to near-perfection and her mind was just running a marathon to catch up with the fact. She placed the lid on the pot and slurped on her watermelon punch (extra vodka). Outside, fireworks and crackers owned the night in celebratory anarchy. The kitchen was a mess in the purest definition of the word. She ignored it and drank even more deeply from her cup.
Sweet warmth poured into her chest and soon she was babbling to herself, thought and speech melding.
“Get car fixed. Sleep through Christmas – what a celebration! Run away forever. Get laid, after getting job in wherever I run away to. Get car back whole from Kola first, hopefully not stinking of almost sex. Tell Mum and Dad I hate them. They named me Bolaji and made me cook for over two-hundred people because they wouldn’t just tell everyone they were too broke to party this year. Tell Kola I hate him, he’s keeping too many secrets from me and we used to be so cool. Hug Odun, who should also hate our parents because they named her Odun, like our surname wasn’t enough of a burden. Take a really long hot –Rice! Rice!”
The smell of burning grains snapped her out of her drunken mediation. (Shit! It had been cooked all the while?), she flipped the dial and the fire went out. The rice sizzled, grateful to be saved from blackened death. She wiped her face and saw the thing in the window.
White cloth billowed in wind that wasn’t blowing through their backyard, and from its back, six wings erupted. They beat white and ambient against the night. If it had a face, she couldn’t see it. It was a swirling mass of pale cloth and grand feathers. A larger than life palm — alabaster and lineless — was slapped against the window to reveal one single word tattooed in elaborate cursive.
Bolaji, who on spotting the angel at her window began to move backwards, gradually, sure she was in a dream, or finally going mad from too much work, couldn’t smile because Odun appeared, screamed her name with eyes wide from fear and latched onto her knees.
When she turned back to the window, it was gone and she was still not smiling.
Or you’d prefer to see what happened to Kola, the middle child who hears his dead grandmother’s voice while atop his neighbor, who he is pretty sure he is in love with.
Bolaji’s car always smelled of apples and vodka, but it never mattered because Ugo never complained.
Sweet, fair Ugo. He hated being called sweet or fair, since he was over six feet tall, went boxing every weekend and killed chickens with his bare hands. He still blushed when Kola said it though. Ugo’s voice was a whispered husk in the near darkness of the backseat as Kola wrestled his leanness, nipped his neck and kissed his mouth (tasting cigarettes and orange juice.)
Ugo came up for a breath. Kola, ferocious and studied was at his lips again. Soon, they broke off.
“It’s almost midnight.”
They came together. Bodies touching, skin hot through their shirts, eyes closed in a stolen moment. Kola’s hungry hands snuck up Ugo’s sweating back, grabbing at pliant muscle. Ugo pushed him away softly.
“You need to go home before Mr. and Mrs. Keresimesi get back and I need to go Christmas drinking.” Ugo never missed a chance to call out his surname. Kola stole one final kiss. It tasted faintly of his own last meal – a bottle of Coke he had stolen from the almost-empty fridge no one at home was talking about.
“Take me Christmas drinking!”
“Not happening. You’re too young. I will see you tomorrow. And I will wear nothing but a Christmas hat.”
Kola was both dizzy at the thought of Ugo naked in a Christmas hat and about to protest that seventeen-and-a-half wasn’t too young to drink when it happened.
Kolawole, what are you doing out in the dark, so late, so close to Christmas?! And kissing a BOY? My goodness! You have always had an affinity for scandal since birth, but this is just unbelievable!
Grandma Idunnu’s voice poured out of Bolaji’s ridiculously great surround sound system, even though the car was dead as a doornail.
“What’s going on?” Ugo’s bedroom whisper crumbled at the sight of Kola’s face, he looked like he had suddenly realized the car was full of snakes.
You need to get home immediately. Your poor parents prayed to us and we are kind. You all need to be within the four walls of your home before midnight. Very Cinderella and all, but it is the way it is. Move your behind and try not to look like you’re about to vomit all over your lover!
Kola hopped off Ugo and slid into the driver’s seat. The voice pouring out of the speakers definitely belonged to his grandmother. He could almost hear her mischievous eyes twinkle.
“You should probably leave. I need to get home.”
A large red firework exploded in the black sky of the windshield, showering rubies. Ugo rose from the backseat and placed a kiss on Kola’s freshly shaved head.
“Okay. You know you’re safe when you’re with me…we’re each other’s safe.” He flashed his lopsided smile and vanished into the cold harmattan night screaming a “Later!!” behind his back.
“Grandma, I thought you were dead. In fact, I am sure you are dead. I cried at your burial.”
Death is a mere rite of passage for us Keresimesis. We remain alive and intangible where prayers fill the sky. Explanations can wait. You need to get home quick, now, step on the gas!
Kola drove out of the deserted close and a few turns within the estate later, he was parked across from their tiny house.
In the air above it, angels circled.
Or Mr. and Mrs. Keresimesi, who two days earlier, after realizing that Mrs. Keresimesi’s new lack of a job had basically cancelled Christmas, knelt in white gowns at midnight and called out to the dead elder Keresimesis to send spirits of cheer. The chocolate, cream and cherry layer cake they had left in the center of the chalk circle had vanished in the morning.
“Do you think we did the thing right?”
“The cake vanished right? I think we did. The children must be terrified though. Remember the last time, when Bolaji was just a baby and your parents did it? Those things just flew around without courtesy or acknowledgement”
“They’re spirits of cheer. I doubt they need any.”
The car turned and they saw the white shrouds circling the house at the end of the drive.
“Drive faster, Kunle. The doors need to be open and everyone should be in bed.”
“Well, they aren’t open, and I don’t think anyone of our children is in bed, but they’re still here. I think we’ll be fine.”
The Keresimesis drove into their car-wide yard and opened the doors. The spirits of cheer swarmed into the house. They delivered actual gifts to replace the rock-filled boxes beneath the Christmas tree, and filled the refrigerator with condiments to enrich the pale meals Bolaji had spent the day cooking, they filled the small hallways with warmth, waves of white cloth and the sound of beating wings. They filled the hearts of their descendants with awe and gladness.
When they fled through the windows, everyone fell into a deep white sleep.
Come morning, with slate-clean minds, the children wowed at gifts and hugged their parents, who looked at each other with knowing eyes.
Odun locked herself in her room and tapped away at her Gameboy till her fingers developed cramps. Bolaji lay in bed with a pillow hugged to her chest as she smiled in her sleep, filled with dreams of blissful exile. Yinka, the second child and first son, turned Kola’s bed into a trampoline and woke him from a nightmare where his grandmother’s voice had been commentator as he and Ugo did things on the brightly-lit football field of a stadium filled to capacity.
At high noon, the best Keresimesi Christmas Yard Party of the decade began.