The Gathering

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There was laughter in the air, it hovered around everyone like a cloud mixed with nitrous oxide, the laughing gas. The smell of mother’s garlic and ginger, which bubbled in the cooking pots with fried rice and jollof rice in the kitchen, mingled with the Jasmin fragrance in the sitting room, overwhelming everyone’s nostrils.You see mother never missed a chance of adding those two special ingredients in all her meals, we remain grateful that she never added them to the native soups. The day she had experimented it in Egusi soup, she ate it alone, we couldn’t go pass the first ball of garri.

The sharp sound of some Christmas medley blared from the little speaker attached to the tiny lightening colourful bulbs which entwined the Christmas tree. Different colours of the shiny floppy-like rope, which up until now I have never thought of knowing it’s name, were hung from one vertex of the ceiling to another and then across. Though mother called them decoration ropes but that name has failed to cure my ignorance and maybe adhering to the advice of Mr Ahmed, my Intro-Tech teacher about searching Google for everything would yield a better result.

I gazed around the room from time to time, following every body movement, every unfamiliar sound, and silently paying attention to every conversation. Everyone seemed to be engrossed in their own little worlds.

Father always raised up issues especially about politics and the fuel scarcity. He repeatedly complained bitterly about the ever increasing rate of the price of fuel. “We were trying to manage N130 per litre only for them to increase it to N240. Everything about the economy is just becoming alarming as the months go by,” he said.

“I just heard it’s now N500, in town, as of today,” mother, from the kitchen, contributed. She did that often. “How can they be increasing fuel money and PHCN wouldn’t fulfil their half of supplying power? That one never pass wickedness?” She added, with her voice raised in an attempt to be audible enough for everyone to hear.

“That’s such an unbalanced equation. In the US, there’s never a blackout,” Uncle Tunde said shaking his head in dismay.

“How can you even compare Nigeria to America?” Father responded abruptly, I knew he would. He despised those who never made a single statement without referencing overseas, for he felt there was no basis for comparison. “Why would there be blackout after all the tax they finish you people with?”

“Honey, forget that thing o! It’s not just the tax they pay but the structures that are in place which are working as well. See even if they try all those tax thing in Nigeria, it would not work,” mother said firmly, this time she had to come out of the kitchen with the long cooking spoon in her hand. I wasn’t too embarrassed by this even though I felt Buchi’s eyes, my cousin, filled with shock, I was only thankful she didn’t carry the pot along, that would have been something!

“You have a point there because if they should try that serious tax payment of a thing; pay for water, pay for radio, pay for this and that, nobody in Nigeria will pay except for the super rich folks. After all, with all the electricity bills we pay, they still don’t perform well, how can we then trust them with other taxes?” Father said with a shrug.

“I totally agree with what Sister Folake said about structures that are functioning. In the US everything is organized. I mean I’m sickened by the slow rate of development and abandoned projects every year we return,” Uncle Tunde said. I could perceive father’s rising rage and secretly prayed he would not spew it like the lava of a volcano. Eventually, I knew he would, he always did because father and Uncle Tunde never got along.

Uncle Tunde, who was mother’s cousin and also Aunty Nne’s husband, always had something to say. His thick unmistakable Yoruba accent often times gave him away even though they lived in the US and only came home in December. He would chip in his opinion about everything even down to the food. “Nne, this food lacks the kind of pepper I like,” he would whisper to his wife but we all heard it.
Sometimes father would converse in Igbo so Uncle Tunde wouldn’t understand. Father would normally say, ” Nne, di gi n’ekwu ötutu okwu n’asusu Yoruba ya, ayi ga-emechi ya onu mgbe nadighi anya” {Nne, your husband talks too much with his Yoruba tongue, we will soon bandage his mouth}. Then everyone would burst into laughter, even Uncle Tunde would join in without knowing what was said. Mother, who understood Igbo even though she was Yoruba, would slightly disagree for she felt Uncle Tunde was a lively man and I agreed with her. To me, he was better than Uncle Uche.

Uncle Uche, father’s elder brother, didn’t just talk too much but was too loud as well. He spoke at the top of his voice like we were fifty kilometres away from him. One could barely tell the difference between his moods because he sounded the same, his tone never changed. Tolu, my cousin, often said Uncle Uche had an inbuilt megaphone in his oesophagus. I only got to align with Tolu’s thought after the day Uncle Uche screamed my name and I was almost startled to death. Though Uncle Uche was loud, he had a sense of dignity, unlike Aunty Nkem.

Aunty Nkem, father’s younger sister, laughed the loudest. Hers sounded like the shrinking sound the groundnut oil makes when poured into a hot pot, it sustained in the air longer than everybody’s. Even Tobechi, my sister, who was only two years could tell it was not authentic. Aunty Nkem’s laughter was a covering for her poor attitude. She had the habit of taking extra, “jara” she called it. Each year, she came with the same handbag that resembles a travelling bag. Mother would always tease her, “Nkem, you have come with this your Ghana must go again.”
In it, she would sneakily slip cans of Maltina, some chicken wrapped in serviettes, and a food flask which she reserved extra fried rice. She would also ask mother for some of my old clothes and shoes for her daughter, Nnoma. With these terrible attributes, I still preferred her to Aunty Ebube.

Aunty Ebube looked and acted more civilized than the rest of Father’s siblings. She and her family lived in the UK and only came back to Nigeria during Christmas and left two days after the new year. They always acted as though they were related to Her Majesty, the Queen of England. “Don’t you know they are swimming in money? Especially now, naira is losing its value, their pounds could buy a fortune” mother would say. I felt the money intoxicated them, just the way father’s red wine did to him, for they acted as though they owned the world.
In church today, during the second mass, she and her family had arrived late but still, they walked down the aisle majestically, like peacocks flaunting their beautiful feathers, with her right arm locked with her husband’s left arm while her two daughters followed behind. They seem to follow their mother’s body rhythm as they swayed their hips from side to side. Once her first daughter, who was only a year older than I, had asked me to refer to her as “Lady Ese.” I had sneered and reminded her that her village was in Warri and not England.

Aunty Ebube was sophisticated in every sense of the word, but in that ‘grace and poise’, I perceived deep unhappiness. She knew I didn’t like her much, still, she never failed to buy me dresses and matching shoes which saved my parents’ money they would have allocated to buy Christmas clothes for me.
She had even promised to take me to UK after secondary school for my first degree and for this, mother worshipped her. Despite the fact Aunty Ebube acted as one with the England royal blood, she never forced people to worship her, unlike Aunty Ebere.

Aunty Ebere, grand mother’s sister, father’s aunt and my grand aunt, never had anything nice to say about poor people. She had spent the better part of her life in UK, and for this expected people to not just worship her but also lick the ground she walked on. I felt Aunty Ebere had a bad aura, around her that exposed her grave insecurities, and no grandchild was comfortable around her, except Lady Ese. Mother said Aunty Ebere suffered from depression especially during this season since she had no children of her own and she had only grandmother to keep her company.
She hated my friend, Eno whose father was our driver. “Why do you like associating yourself with those miserable people?” She would say.
I always replied with a glare for I was certain only those who were in misery could tell what misery looked like.

As I watched everyone from the dining table where I sat, I noticed that this gathering, this laughter, and all these appearances and father’s long prayers before we ate the meals were all a repetition of the previous years. It always gave me the Deja vu feeling because we did this every single year.

Aunty Jumoke, mother’s younger sister, had said we had lost the essence of the gathering. It was too bad that she couldn’t make it this year due to the increase in the cost of transportation. I got to really understand Aunty Jumoke’s view, when i realized everyone was engrossed in their own affairs to the point the Priest’s beautifully crafted sermons about the birth of Jesus and reason for His coming, sounded like old news and only floated around their ears but never really sank into their hearts.

Although we never missed a church service and attended every church programme during festive seasons, that hasn’t changed much around, the nonchalant attitudes still remained. Today, being 31st of December, we’ll spend the night in church and father will make us all shout ‘the blood of Jesus’ 365 times, afterwards. He said it was to seal everyday of the year and stop the evils that may want to occur. I don’t know how that works but I’ve always believed it was grandmother’s prayers that kept us all.

Mother was finally done with cooking and dinner was served. Everyone took their seats and father began his prayers. We closed our eyes firmly because we knew he wouldn’t end anytime soon…

Written by: Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER”

20 comments

  1. My best Line:
    1.
    Uncle Uche, father’s elder brother, didn’t just talk too much but was too loud as well. He spoke at the top of his voice like we were fifty kilometres away from him. One could barely tell the difference between his moods because he sounded the same, his tone never changed.

    2.
    See even if they try all those tax thing in Nigeria, it would not work,” mother said firmly, this time she had to come out of the kitchen with the long cooking spoon in her hand.

    I can relate

    Very interesting Jennifer

  2. Jennymaranma so on point. Beautiful, captivating. The touch of a writer, weaving words like braids,it turned out beautiful. More grace dear. It can only get better.

    1. Laughter they say is the best medicine, glad you had some dosage. Thank you, Chinenye for reading. Hope you travel home soon.

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