By Bunmi Sofola
In a few weeks’ time, it will be Christmas. Most Christian homes know exactly what that means—endless preparations and juggling your budget to cover all the items you just must have come Christmas Day.
Let’s face it, majority of us are Christmas freaks. We relish the endless nuts for bargain—presents for loved ones and the diplomacy of hiding such presents from relatives and children—who somehow track down the presets like mice, before the D-day.
Three Christmases ago, a relation came to find out if I could pay him in advance for some carpentry work I wanted to do. I was instantly on alert. “But I haven’t commissioned you to do it yet!” I protested. “If you could pay for the materials now,” he pleaded. “You would get labour for free.” He then explained how every Christmas, his club in the village always organised big get-together for members’ families. There would be aso ebi for husbands and wives, and each member’s levy towards entertainment.
“But what happened to the expensive clothes you used for last year’s Christmas?” I asked him. Not only were they still mint new at home, some of the ones they’d used the previous years were still as good as new. “I will tell you what I would do. I would skip having this year’s Christmas in the village, wear last year’s clothes to the church here in Lagos and use the money I would have spent pleasing people who wouldn’t give a toss where I borrowed money from, on more urgent things,” I advised him a bit annoyed at his gullibility.
I then reminded him of the plot of land he said he bought years back and hadn’t done anything about. If I were him, I went on, I would use the aso-ebi money to buy cement blocks and start building towards when the landlord would want to increase his rent.
He looked at me with incredulous wonder on his face, stood up and left. This year, he came to tell me he is now a landlord, with a banker as a tenant. “You really shocked me that night you told me to use my money on my piece of land,” he told me. “You know, my wife readily bought the idea. We all along thought you would encourage us to borrow money towards things like having a rollicking festive period. As you predicted, the landlord wanted to increase the rent yet again. He was shocked when I said we would be moving soon—to our own home. Never mind that all I had ready then were two rooms and a makeshift toilet.”
This year, there will be hundreds of people with more money to burn on the festive period than a lot of us put together. Yet, there will be thousands who are having nightmares wondering where the Christmas chicken would come from. But I’ve always believed that as long as one is healthy, there will always be reasons to celebrate life itself.
Last year’s Christmas, Mope was getting ready for another Christmas with her family when her phone rang in the office that she should come home right-away. Her husband was in hospital with a stroke. “It was a horrible nightmare,” she recalled. “My husband was a very hardworking businessman and very carefree. He was not overweight or anything. How could a man like him have a stroke—and towards Christmas? When I got to the hospital, half of his body was already paralysed and his speech slurred. As I rushed towards his bed, alarmed, I saw the fear in his eyes, I had to pull myself together for his sake.
“It’s another Christmas now, and I wish I could say there is a marked improvement in his health—but there is not. Overnight, I became the breadwinner of the family and his nurse. Luckily for us, he has a lot of investments and money will never be a problem. The heart-wrenching reality is watching a vibrant and virile husband turn into a virtual vegetable.
“A proud man who would now forever be dependent on others. The frustrated look in his eyes and the shame he feels for his helpless situation tug at my heart. On top of which we had to watch the muscles in his limbs shrink to make his right arm and leg look really crippled. Still we thank God. Things could have been worse. Because of his investments, we are able to get a male nurse to help from time to time. I don’t socialize as before because I’ve heard snide remarks that I lived it up whilst my husband wasted away. People can be really cruel and insensitive.”
Angela will always remember Christmas with a lot of heart-ache and sadness. A few years ago, her 35 year old brother vanished never to be seem again. It was his night-guard who came to tell us that he hadn’t been home for a few days which was very unusual of him. He had last been seen driving off to work in his car. He actually got to the office and spent the full working day there. That was all we knew. He didn’t give anybody a lift home from office on that fateful day. He didn’t tell anybody he was going anywhere special. We reported the incident to the police but when we heard the number of missing persons they were investigating, our hope dimmed.
“His wife came down from her school abroad immediately. Their two kids also schooled abroad. Then came a lot of sightings’ by charlatans, opportunists and bogus soothsayers. As soon as we were fed a fake lead, we quickly provided money until we realised that all these people were con-men and women. We cried buckets. How could an educated, able-bodied man just disappear without a trace? His car was never found, neither was anything that has to do with his clothing anywhere. We all lost a lot of weight and in the end, we had to ask his wife to go back—what else was there for her to do?”
Happily there are tales of joy too. So if you are hale and hearty with plenty of things to be thankful to God for and a lot of means to do it, by all means have a ball this Christmas. Life, after all is for the living. But if you are cash-strapped, then do a bit of cutting corners. We all know how to do that without looking like a tightwad and a skinflint. This is hoping that, in whatever situation you find yourself, you all have a wonderful Christmas and a wonderful year ahead.