The Christmas and New year break has always been my favorite time of the year. It is a time when all the positive feelings are palpable. Love, joy, peace and good will are all intact.
My family and I often spend the break at my maternal grandfather’s house in Akure and it’s always a grand time. Uncles, aunts and cousins of all levels come from all over the country for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our saviour and the atmosphere is always supercharged with happiness and festivity. Laughter is a constant sound at Grandpa’s house and in fact, anytime I walk along the hallway, I’d hear someone or everyone laughing in one or more of the eight rooms. Sometimes the laughter is simultaneous, sometimes they come in ripples and other times they are haphazard but however they come, they always combine into some sort of melodious tune, a tune I was used to and knew all too well.
There was however a Christmas season we didn’t travel to Akure. Mother and Father wanted a mellow Christmas with just our nuclear family. I was still very young then, I think my twin brother and I were in primary four while my younger sister was in primary one.
Christmas preparations and shopping went smoothly, you know how it goes, we bought our Christmas clothes and shoes, soft drinks and wine, rice and ingredients for Jollof and fried rice as well as four live chickens. It was the first time we’d ever have live chickens in the house and I was excited about them, I’d happily feed them in the morning and afternoons.
That fateful Christmas Eve night, mother called for me from the backyard to turn off the gas cooker and bring the water that was boiling. I did as she told me and when I got to the backyard I let out a horrified shriek. I had just witnessed a murder and the murderer was my own mother!. In her hands, the chicken she had just slaughtered took its last breath, its neck and the knife were stained red. It was my first time to witness the killing of a chicken and boy was I petrified!
“Kilosele? What happened?” My mother asked after noticing me standing dumbstruck. “You killed it!” I told her. “Ehn Ehn, and so? How else would we eat it?” It was then that the reality sunk in, I never gave it much thought before that those animals actually have to die for us to be able to eat them. Poor chicken, I remembered feeding it millet that morning, I particularly enjoyed chasing them with a stick. “Oya, bring the hot water and come and watch so that you can learn how to kill a chicken,” Mother said waving me over. “You have got to be kidding me”, I thought, “I got interrupted from watching courage the cowardly dog to be a murderer?”. Just as I walked over, she picked up the second chicken, it was already begging for its life in its own tongue. Too bad we didn’t understand and so with the knife to its neck, it was silenced with a slaughter.
Mother placed them both in a bowl and poured on the hot water. Soon after, she started to pluck their feathers while I watched silently. “What are you doing? Come on start plucking the feathers” she instructed. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” is what I kept saying as I plucked. Mother just kept laughing the whole time, telling me about how she single-handedly slaughtered sixty chickens when she was my age for the end of year party of grandma’s school. You’re probably thinking it too right, that she’s the kill monger of chickens.
Anyway, soon enough there were two headless and thoroughly naked chickens in the bowl and so she began to cut them into pieces, giving me anatomy lessons as she cut “This is the heart, see how small it is, that is why when they say someone is chicken-hearted they are implying that the person has a small heart and isn’t courageous”. “Is that why chickens are always running away?” I asked. “Probably”, she replied. It was quite the experience and after I was released, I declared I was never going to eat chicken again.
Christmas day came and the whole family gathered for lunch at the dining table. Everyone’s plate brimmed with jollof rice, fried rice, salad, fried plantain, moin-moin and of course, chicken. Dad noticed that my plate was chicken-less and asked why so I explained that I couldn’t eat the chicken because I saw it being killed. Everyone burst out in laughter and all through lunch they made jokes at my expense. My brother brought his chicken lap in front of me and started talking for it in a ghost voice. “Joy, why didn’t you save meee? I trusted youuuu”. My sister kept eating hers in slow motion with exaggerated biting and chewing while Dad just kept moaning and commenting on how good the chicken tasted just to spite me. I still didn’t give in despite the torture, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the chicken.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling hungry. I stood up from my bed and tiptoed into the kitchen, I opened the fridge and there it was, a plastic container with the remaining pieces of fried chicken. I began to think, “Will I really never eat chicken again?, is this how this season will go and I won’t eat chicken?” Screw it! I took a piece from the container and took a tiny bite, then a bigger bite “Hmmm, dead chicken, why do you taste so good?” Soon enough I was done with that piece but my hunger was not satiated. I took three more pieces and placed them in the microwave, but the microwave would make noise and I didn’t want to get caught so I went to my room, got my blanket and used it to cover the microwave, I then put it on but fearing that the blanket still won’t be enough to drown out the microwave sound, I hugged it tight. I guess it still wasn’t enough because all of a sudden my brother whispered in my ear “What are you doing? Why are you hugging the microwave?” I turned immediately and almost fell down. “Oh my God you scared me”, I whispered back and just then there was a ding, my chicken was ready.
“Is that chicken I smell?” He asked and then laughed. “I thought you said you were never going to eat chicken again, It’s not even up to a day and you are already stealing chicken, Nawa o”
“Shut up”, I quickly whispered as I brought the chicken out of the microwave.
“Ahn ahn Joy! You are greedy ooo, you didn’t even take one, you took three, only you!”
“Just say you want”
“Okay, I want, give me one” I gave him one piece, he then opened the fridge and brought out five alive. “Is that juice yours?” I asked. “No, but I can’t just eat the chicken like that, I need something chilled to wash it down”
“So it is another person’s juice you want to use to wash it down. Ever heard of water?”
“I need something chilled and sweet.”
“Who is the greedy one now?”
“So you don’t want?”
“I want o”
That was how I brought out Mother’s special glass wine cups from the cupboard and told him to pour mine in it. “Why are you using this cup? Just use normal plastic cup, Mommy said you shouldn’t touch these cups again.”
“What mommy doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Besides, if we’re going to drink juice and eat chicken, we should do it right. Have you seen them drinking juice with plastic cup on Africa magic before?” So he poured juice into two wine cups, one for him and one for me and we proceeded to the dining table.
“I wonder how bread and chicken would taste,” he said, ” Hmm, let’s try it” I replied, pulling the bread close but boy, that Agege bread nylon was noisy. “You’re making noise now”, my brother whispered. “It’s not me, it is this stupid bread nylon,” I told him, but this bread nylon would not be quiet no matter how carefully I tried to open it, as if it was calling for help: “Edakun ooo, eyin ara adugbo, Mommy and Daddy help oo, come and see your children o, they want to eat me and chicken at 2:30am in the morning!” We finally got the nylon open and thank God no one else woke up. We ate bread and chicken, it tasted wonderful. We clinked our glasses and sipped like we had seen in the movies. This was the life, this is how midnight snacking should be done.
We went back to the fridge and cut out huge slices of cake and once again topped off our cups with juice and while we devoured at the dining table my brother decided to hold the wine glass with just two fingers. Maybe it was the village people at work or the Eleda of the bread or maybe I jinxed it when I said, “Sha don’t let it break o” because just then the glass fell down and broke. Almost immediately, I heard Mommy and Daddy’s room door open. “Well, it’s been nice knowing you, we’re dead” I whispered to my brother and he just crawled under the dining table. I tried to join him but it was too late, Mom was already at the dining table asking what happened. I told her immediately that it was Kenny, my brother who broke the glass and then Kenny immediately crawled out from under the dining table to defend himself. “It was Joy that brought the glass out, I told her not to bring it out”. “Just clean this place up and go back to your rooms and sleep, I’ll deal with both of you tomorrow.” We did as she said and went back to our rooms but needless to say, sleep did not come because we were already dreading daybreak and the punishment.
After breakfast, Mom told us both to kneel down and raise our hands. After about thirty minutes, we began to beg her to please forgive us since it was Christmas and we would never do it again. She said she wouldn’t flog us silly since it was Christmas and that she had forgiven us. I was glad and stood up saying “Thank You Ma”. “Why are you standing up, I have not released you”, she scolded. “But you said you have forgiven us”, I told her. “That doesn’t mean that I will not punish you”, she said and so I went back on my knees and raised my hands once again. My sister just came to mock us occasionally by sticking out her tongue at us and giggling. We were released an hour later and enjoyed the rest of the day. Even with all the chicken fiasco, it is still one of my most memorable and best holidays and one we laugh about every other Christmas, “Remember that time Joy said she was never going to eat chicken again? “