It was Christmas day.
He knew that because he has been waiting for this day. He had been counting the days and the weeks and the months—and finally, it was Christmas day.
It was Christmas day. They had woken up early and then they had all dressed up and gone to church. Mama had brought out his new clothes and shoes and dressed him in them. She had put on a new dress too and so had Aunty Funke and Jojo. They’d all worn their new clothes and they’d all gone to church. After they’d returned, they’d had a huge breakfast. But they hadn’t opened the presents. Not yet. They were all waiting for him to come back.
Victor stared out the window into the decorated yard and beyond its wood fence into the street. He was not yet back; but he had said he would be back for Christmas. He had promised. His eyes pinched but he blinked and reminded himself that he wasn’t supposed to cry. He had promised him that he won’t cry. He had promised that he will be a brave boy for Mama. So, he wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t break his promise. He will be brave. He will wait. He will wait until he comes back; for he had no doubt that he will come back today.
Nene came into the living room and stopped as soon as she saw her five year old son gazing out the window. He was looking out for his father. The thought brought a smile to her lips and a yearning to her heart. And the yearning in her heart recognised the longing in the little frame that stoutly stood beside the window and looked out of it. She understood his longing. She understood the hope that kept his eyes locked beyond the wood fence. She understood his need to believe that a promise will not be broken. She hoped it will not be.
Brightening her smile, she walked to his side. “Would you like another piece of cake?” She asked slipping a hand around his small shoulders.
Victor turned, looked at Mama. “No. I will have my remaining cake with Papa when he comes back.” He said with a self-assured smile.
Nene smiled back. “That is good because we’re all having cakes and lots of other goodies when he comes back.”
“He will bring back lots of goodies. He always does.” The childlike voice brimmed with confidence.
But Nene heard his silent plea for reassurance. “He surely will. He will soon be back and then we will have a big lunch, bigger than the breakfast we had and even more fun.” She squeezed his shoulders. “Meanwhile, why don’t we go see what is showing on TV? They might be showing a Christmas cartoon. Let’s not miss it.” She gently turned him by the shoulder and led him away from the window.
Soon she was able to distract him with an animation movie and leaving him with Funke, she escaped to their bedroom. As soon as she entered the room, Nene exhaled and pressed a hand against her chest. She was worried. He should have been here by now. He’d said his flight would be taking off by eight-thirty am and he would be arriving home at eleven o’clock at the latest. It was past midday and his line had been switched off when last she’d tried it.
Nene inhaled and then slowly let out the breath as she told herself to stay calm. He would be here. He never missed Christmas day with his family. It had always been their family tradition—to spend Christmas day at home as a family. They never went out. Outing and visiting family and friends were left for other days of the festive season, for on Christmas day, they all stayed in as a family. She laid her hand on her tummy and allowed a smile to dispel her worry.
♣ ♣ ♣
It was Christmas day.
She had been waiting for this day. At the other part of the house, Jojo stood by the door of her closet and stared with longing at the knee-length blue dress. It was a beautiful dress. It was polyester dress with a lace overlay. It was chic and she planned on wearing it this evening to the dance.
Aunty Nene had gotten her the dress for her birthday two months ago. She’d worn it just that day and had quickly removed it, dry-cleaned it and then stored it back in its waterproof pack and hung it in the closet. She had a new dress for Christmas but it was flared-styled and too girly, Jojo didn’t want to look girly this evening. She wasn’t a girl, not anymore. She was now eighteen. She had just started university and she had just met him.
Her heartbeat quickened at the thought of him. Dami. She sighed and shut her eyes. Even his name spoken silently within her sent butterflies into her stomach. He would be there at the dance. That was why she’d saved the blue dress. So that when he saw her, he would see a woman—a beautiful woman in blue.
The door of her bedroom opened and startled out of her dreamy thoughts. Jojo turned and saw it was her mother.
“Staring at that dress long and hard won’t change it into Cinderella’s ball gown.” Funke teased as she entered the room and sat on the bed.
“I don’t want it to change into Cinderella’s ball gown. I just want it to still be here when I want to wear it for the party this evening.” With a touch of reluctance, Jojo closed the closet door and joined her mother on the bed. “I can’t believe I finally get to attend the yearly Christmas Youth Party. I am so excited. I’ve been practicing some dance steps just to make sure I don’t make a fool of myself there.” She took her mother’s hand as she let out a squeal. “It is so going to be fun. My first adult party ever… yay!”
Funke smiled indulgently at her youthful excitement. “I’m sure it will be fun. And if you can’t make it this year, there’s always next year.”
Jojo’s hand went limp in her mother’s. “Why won’t I be able to make it this year?” Her heart lurched and fear crept in. “Mammy, you said I could go. You said now I’ve gotten into the university, I could attend. Are you changing your mind?”
The sudden wounded look made Funke sigh. “I have not changed my mind. You are now matured enough to attend the party and celebrate with your mates and friends.” Again she sighed. It was always hard to make the young understand. “But as you can see, Papa has not come back.” That was what they all called him. Even she who was older than he was. It was only right when he was not only head of their home but father to them all. “We cannot leave Nene and Victor alone to be by themselves on Christmas day.”
“But you will be here.” Jojo wanted to understand but she’d been waiting all year for this day. “You are not going anywhere. You never do. We never all do—but this year, I want to. I want to attend the Youth party and dance. I’ve been longing to, Mammy, you know that.”
“I do. And I also know that there will be a party and a dance next year. An even bigger and better one.” Funke dragged her daughter close and cradled her against her bosom. “There will always be dances and parties, but there’s only one chance to make your family loved and appreciated on Christmas day.”
Her eyes instantly filled but Jojo did not allow the tears fall. There will be other dances and parties, but will there still be Dami? Oh Jesus, King of the entire universe, bring Papa home, she silently prayed.
♣ ♣ ♣
It was Christmas day.
And he was almost a thousand kilometres from his family. Ike felt the heaviness as the burden in his heart increased. He’d thought he could make it home yesterday but another late meeting had disrupted his flight plans and he’d had to reschedule it for this morning. But that flight had been cancelled. Aircraft problems. That was what the airline had announced and with apologies that did no good to the near hundred passengers now despondent and trolling the airport hallways.
Many were trying to scramble for seats on other airlines. There were only a very few available and he hadn’t been lucky in getting a chance at any of them. They would all be worried now. He would call them but his phone battery had gone dead. Maybe he should step outside and see if he could find a phone-booth. There wasn’t much he could do here anyway.
Ike firmed his hold on his suitcase and pulled it forward, skimming his way through the throng of desperate-to-get-home, or wherever their destination, travellers.
Tess was in a hurry. She was in a hurry to get out of the piled-to-the-brim airport and away from the suffocating presence of impatient and exceedingly irritated passengers. She was also in a hurry to get home. She had missed her flight yesterday—poor planning. Lucky for her though, she had a father who could make miracles happen. And he’d done just that.
Tess let out a low chuckle and raised her hand to push back several stray strands of hair and the next thing she felt something was slamming into her and sending her backward onto the cold, dusty… dirty airport floor.
“What the…” She managed to swallow the rest of the wild cuss. Today was Christmas day and she had promised God—no cussing and no getting angry. Dang! Sorry, Lord. She quickly prayed silently, struggling to rise.
“Sorry, madam.” The clumsy something—fellow—reached for her hand and helped her to her feet, repeating his effusive apologies. “Sorry, madam. I am sorry, ma.”
“Yeah… fine. Okay. Just let go off me.” Tess stepped back from the sweat-reeking body. “I’m okay. Everything is okay. I think you can go now. Thank you.” Imagine having to say thank you to your clumsy assailant—not that he was an assailant per se.
“Sorry, ma. Thank you, madam.” And dipping his head quickly, he started off.
“Hey! Stop right there!”
Startled at the deep authoritative voice, Tess quickly glanced up. But the brawny built man swept past her in quick strides and grabbed at her—well, assailant.
“Let me have the purse without fuss and I won’t be forced to make you sleep in a cell on Christmas day.” He ordered in a firm voice.
“Purse?” Tess yanked her handbag to her front and dug her hand inside. Indeed her purse was gone. “Good God!” She exclaimed, gaping at her assailant—for indeed he was an assailant and the man holding firmly onto him, her knight in shining armour obviously.
“What are you talking about, sir? What’s the meaning of this?” Her Assailant tried to act tough.
“Last chance. Hand over the purse quietly and I’ll let you go.” Ike hardened even more his voice. “Purse. Now!”
The young man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, stared stubbornly at him for a full minute and then letting out a hiss, slipped out the purse from the pocket of his jeans trousers and dropped it into Ike’s outstretched hand.
“Just Christmas hustle, bros, no big deal.” He grumbled.
“Hustle in a better way.” Ike said, letting him go.
He didn’t respond, just turned and hurried down the hall, shoving aside the few people who’d gathered to watch the scene.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe this!” Tess took back her purse from her knight in shining armour. “I didn’t even notice. I never felt him reach for my handbag. Jesus! He must have been fast.”
“And smooth.” Ike gave her a friendly smile. “It’s their season. One has to be extra careful. They are everywhere and they use all manner of tactics.”
“I can see that.” Tess couldn’t believe her luck. Two miracles in one day? She wasn’t cussing until the New Year, that was a promise she was making God right now. “Thank you so much. I am really, really grateful.”
“You’re welcome.” Ike jerked his suitcase. “Oh well, merry Christmas and keep an eye on all your stuff. You never know who’s beside you.”
“Yes, I will thanks.” He started to turn away but Tess stopped him. She had to. Surely there was a way she can reward him. “Did you just arrive the city? Looks like you are heading towards the exit.”
“I have been in the city for the last two weeks and was hoping to leave it today. Well, I most definitely will have to leave it today.” Ike asserted. “My flight just got cancelled though and I am heading out to find an alternative means home.”
“Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that.” Tess was instantly sympathetic. “Which way were you headed though? I missed my flight yesterday but was lucky enough to have my father send a helicopter to pick me up today. I was actually hurrying to board the chopper when I got rammed into by my Christmas hustling fella.” She let out a soft laugh. “Anyway, I’m flying to Lagos. You?”
“Lagos too.” Hope flickered to life inside Ike. “Actually, I am really desperate to get home. I need to be with my family today. It’s our family tradition—Christmas together as a family.”
“Great. Super.” Tess beamed, glad she can help him somehow. “Then you can travel with me. Come on, let’s head this way and get you home to your family in no time at all.”
“Thank you so much. You’re a lifesaver.” Ike followed her, sending up silent thanks to God for the miracle he just got.
♣ ♣ ♣
It was still Christmas day.
But he was not yet home. Victor was becoming afraid—and sad. He didn’t want to cry though. He wanted to remain a brave boy for Mama as he had promised but it was becoming hard to keep back the tears that pinched behind his eyeballs. He had tried to enjoy his cartoon but he couldn’t. Mama had begged him to eat his cake and drink his milk but he couldn’t eat. He’d tried but it had been hard. He always shared his cake with Papa. They always ate their cakes together and then they went outside and lit up their firecrackers.
But he was not home. Victor heaved out the breath that clogged his throat and blinked several times. Maybe he should pray. Papa said that whatever you asked God, He will give to you. He won’t close his eyes, but he will pray in his heart.
Nene watched her son stare out of the window. He had returned to the window after his cartoon and he has refused to leave there since. She had seen the tears he was struggling hard not to let fall and it broke her heart. She wanted to cry herself but how foolish would that be, to cry when a little boy was doing his best to be brave?
She raised her head as Jojo came in with the salad dish. She too looked forlorn, though she was trying to hide it. Nene knew she was sad because of the Youth party and dance which Funke had now forbidden her to attend. She’d begged Funke to allow her go. But the housekeeper had insisted that they would all remain home and celebrate together as one family—as they usually did. Nene had craved their companionship too much to argue further. She didn’t want to be alone with only Victor. A little fear lodged close to her heart and seeing other members of her family gave her the strength to not yield to that fear.
“Maybe he will come back before the party begins and then you can still go.” She whispered to Jojo when the young girl joined her at the dining table.
“It’s okay, Aunty. Like Mammy said there will be other parties and dances.” And even though Dami might never again be there, she will at least have her family with her, Jojo silently finished.
“Oh, thank you for your sacrifice, Jojo.” Nene reached out and hugged her. “Thank you both for staying with Vic and I.” She added as Funke came in with another dish.
“What’s with all these thank-yous? Aren’t we one family?” Funke didn’t believe she needed thanks from the people who had given her and her daughter a home. “We always celebrate Christmas together and this year won’t be any different. In fact, I believe that Papa will join us before this day is over.”
And as if that declaration of faith was what God was waiting for, they all jolted and turned as Victor yelled. “Papa! Papa! He is back!”
The entire household galvanised into action at once as they all rushed out the door. And there was Ike coming down from a chauffeur-driven posh car and waving to its occupant.
“Papa, you came back for Christmas!” Victor ran into his arms. “I knew you will come back today. I prayed and I believed. And Papa, I did not cry. I was a brave boy for Mama.”
“And I am so proud of you.” Ike let go of his suitcase and lifted his son into his arms, hugging him to his chest. “Merry Christmas, Vic. I’m so sorry I’m home late.”
“Better late than never.” Nene beamed, hugging him close.
“Welcome, Papa.” Funke and Jojo chorused.
“And merry Christmas.” Jojo added, his timely return enlivening the hope that she will wear her blue dress and go to the dance to see Dami.
“Merry Christmas to all of you, my dear family.” Ike felt unspeakable contentment at being home at last with the ones he loved most in the world. “Hey, and who is this I’m still seeing here?” He sent Jojo a questioning look. “I thought this year you get to attend the Youth party. Changed your mind?”
“I did with your absence but now you are here, I think I can still go. Yes, Mammy?” Jojo looked at her mother with pleading eyes.
“Of course you are going.” Ike said robustly. “And I’m sorry I nearly made you miss your first year of the party. But I am glad I met you still home because I saw this gorgeous red ball gown at a store and instantly knew it was what your evening as a debutante needed. Come on, let’s go inside and whilst we unpack, I’ll tell you all how I came to be home late.”
♣ ♣ ♣
Jojo pushed open the door of the neighbourhood town-hall and inhaled deeply before she walked inside. The moment she stepped inside, everywhere went hush as all eyes turned and fixated on her. She suddenly felt like Cinderella making her grand entrance at her Price Charming’s royal ball and a smile spread across her face.
But while everyone looked at her and murmured at her beauty, Jojo looked only on the one that was sending a-flight the butterflies in her stomach. He was walking towards her and he looked as handsome as a true Prince Charming.
“I have been waiting for you.” Dami said when he reached her side. He thought she was not only the most beautiful girl in the room but in the entire world. “You look so beautiful, Jo.”
Jojo felt her heart leap and then began to dance. She liked that he was the only one who called her Jo. It made her feel so special. “Thank you, Dami.” She beamed. “You are looking very handsome yourself.”
Dami dipped his head in a gallant bow. “Thank you.” He was the luckiest man alive, of that he was certain. “Want to dance? I’ve been waiting all evening to dance with you.”
Jojo glowed. “Yes, please.” She took the hand he held out. It felt soft and he held her tenderly as he led her to the dance floor. Her heart danced. Her body tingled and the bond of first love fluttered to life.
♣ ♣ ♣
Back in the family home, a now contented Victor was watching ardently a new animation movie with an equally contented Funke. And just a few feet away, husband and wife sat on the couch, locked in each other’s arms.
“It is so good to be home for Christmas.” Ike murmured.
“It is good to have you home.” Nene’s heart was at last settled inside of her.
“I’d have been miserable if I’d had to spend Christmas without you all. Especially without you and Victor. You two are the most important and best things in my life.” Ike lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.
“We will soon be three.” She took their joined hands and placed them on her tummy. “We’re expecting another.”
“Finally? Oh my God, what a wonderful Christmas gift!” Overwhelmed with unspeakable joy, he leaned forward and kissed her. “This is the best Christmas ever, my sweetest one.”
But in her heart, Nene knew the best was yet to come.