Christmas With The Enemy

Merry Christmas, everyone! We shall be publishing our last entry in the “31 days of Christmas” series. This particular short story was written by the highly revered author, Kiru Taye. I had hoped we would be able to go all the way to the 31 days of December, but unfortunately, we have to draw the curtain at this juncture. Let me use this opportunity to appreciate every one who sent in their entries. You made my Christmas. Also, a big thank you to subscribers and readers of HaroldWrites. You are the reason I am here. Thank you for an amazing 2016. Here is cheers to a much more amazing 2017! Can’t wait to see

Once again, have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Don’t forget to thank God for His mercies and grace which brought you this far in 2016. If you are a Christian, I would implore you to not fail to go to church today. A Christmas miracle awaits you!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Commissioner for Health, James Ebie to the Godson’s Christmas Ball!

The announcer’s voice is loud and eloquent, his words travelling across the grand hall above the guests murmurings. Two of them echo in my head, the reverberations of my world crumbling like shattered glass.

My past is here to haunt me.

James Ebie. My enemy.

Thick bile clogs my throat. Loathing coats my tongue with bitterness. Instinct tells me to walk back to the kitchen. My empty tray needs refilling with drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

Still, I twist my neck to get a better view. The ballroom is full, every dignitary of note in Delta State present. The ladies’ glittering jewels compete with their glitzy evening dresses, their tresses of Brazilian hair extensions coifed to perfection, their hands and feet manicured to reflect every colour of the rainbow.

My clothes are much humbler. A white short-sleeved blouse and navy-blue fitted skirt, one size too big. A standard issue for domestic staff in the Inemi-Spiff household. My hair is a wash, twist and go style. Low maintenance. I can’t afford the cost of a weekly stylist or the chemicals to get it looking sleek. The payments for my lecturers’ handouts are higher on my list of needs.

As luck will have it, a gap appears providing a direct vista to my quarry, for at the moment he is the prey and I’m the hunter. The notion bolsters my courage, giving purpose to my actions.

I suck in a deep breath to quell the excited churning of my stomach, the scent of spiced apples and mulled wine mixed with more local spices fills my lungs. The hosts have spared no expense creating a traditional Christmas feast in this old British Consulate building.

Except, there are no log fires or snow. This is Africa after all, and though it hasn’t rained for a few weeks, outside, the air is humidly warm. The quiet hum of the hidden air-conditioners fills the space with cool air.

A rich sound of laughter draws me deeper into the room. There is something about it so vibrant and compelling that has me taking steps I know I shouldn’t. It’s as if the owner of the voice has corded my body with ropes and is pulling me closer to him. He calls to me in a way nothing else ever has.

Standing before Mr and Mrs Inemi-Spiff is a tall man in a black slim-fitting tuxedo. I don’t need to see his face to know that he is the new state commissioner for Health.

My breath snags in my throat as something unnameable unfurls in the depths of my belly.

Even from behind he is breathtaking—shoulder-length black locks brushed back and held together with a black band, square broad shoulders and torso that taper at the hips. The way his silk trousers cling to his backside makes me imagine tight, sinewy muscles beneath the fabric.

Despite the warmth, my body trembles. Lifting my empty hand, I rub my left upper arm covered in goose bumps.

Something makes him turn and he stares straight at me.

I swallow. Hard. The most captivating black eyes I’ve ever seen keep me enthralled, swirling in an abyss of black and gold desire. His gaze is intense as if he sees me, reads me. Knows me.

Never! Shaking my head, I lower my stare, although my cheeks heat with the fury of a gas burner.

I’m not the innocent little girl who adored him once. A long time ago. That was before everything changed. Before his family tore mine to shreds.

Angry, I swivel and walk back to the kitchen, where I should’ve been in the first place. I won’t think of him again.

For the rest of the event, I avoid any table or corner with James in it. The live band plays a mixture of jazz and highlife. The crystal chandeliers glitter immaculately, adding more sparkle to the atmosphere.

A lady in a glamorous black dress totters backwards in stilettos, crashing into me. My tray slips, sending glasses of champagne crashing onto the polished marble floor. For a moment all I can hear is the deafening crack of crystal against stone.

A rush of heat scalds my neck and face with embarrassment. Kneeling down, I pick broken shards onto the aluminium tray. The hem of my skirt is soaked with champagne but I don’t care. My job is on the line and I can’t afford to lose it.

Anyway, if I don’t look up, I won’t see the contemptuous expressions on the faces of the guests.

“Evelyn, are you okay?”

The kind female voice has me looking up. Christy, the new mistress of Godson Villa and my boss, leans over me in her sleeveless fitted ball gown—a green silk Basque top and ruffled Ankara skirt. Her beautiful heart-shaped face is very expressive. She is truly concerned.

“I’m sorry, madam.”

She dismisses my apologetic murmur with a wave.

“Colin, bring a mop and bucket,” she says to another servant before turning back to me. “You need to be careful so you don’t cut yourself.”

“Christy, there you are. Joshua sent me to find you. It’s time for your dance.”

That voice again!

“Hi, James. I’m just trying to sort out this spill so it doesn’t cause any further accidents.”

Colin arrives and starts cleaning up.

“I’m so glad you and Joshua worked things out,” James whispers.

But my ears are attuned to his voice and I strain to capture every word even though I’m eavesdropping.

“So am I.” Christy laughed. “I’m having the best Christmas ever. Now it’s your turn to find the woman of your dreams.”

James’s deep chuckle vibrates through me. At the same time he lowers his gaze to meet mine.

I’m caught again. James’ intense expression alarms me. It is as if he’s found the woman of his dreams.

And it’s me!

Agitated, I grip the wrong end of glass. Drops of crimson coat the tray as pain shoots up my arm.

A warm hand wraps my shoulder. Another reaches for my bloody fingers.

“Let me see that.”

James stoops beside me, his scent—a mixture of cologne and male spice—rumbas around me provocatively.

“Oh no! I told you to be careful.” Christy arms enfold me as she helps me stand.

“Go and dance with your husband before he comes looking for you,” James says, his words oozing with charm. “I’ll take care of her. I’m a doctor.”

He winks at me and grabs a clean napkin to bind the cut.

“Okay. Evelyn, take the rest of the day off.”

“Madam, I can’t. I need the job,” I protest.

“Don’t worry. You’ll get paid. Come and see me tomorrow and I’ll see about assigning you something less strenuous.”

Relieved, I nod and she walks away.

I tug out of James’ hold. “Thank you, but I can take care of this.”

Somehow, walking away from him requires a lot more will power than staying. Halfway to the exit, he catches up with me and blocks my path.

“I wasn’t joking. I’m a qualified surgeon and that cut looks bad. If you don’t treat it properly, you could lose your finger.”

Blood drains from my face, my jaw slackens.

The nightmare of trying to write or type without an index finger flashes through my mind. What will become of my degree programme? I couldn’t drop out so close to the finish line.

He notices my skin’s pallor and smiles with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“Maybe you won’t lose your finger.” He shrugs. “But it could get infected and God knows what will happen.”

“Okay. You win,” I snap. My hand throbs with acute pain. “You can treat it.”

It’ll be silly to refuse free treatment. If I went to hospital, I will have to pay even before a doctor sees me and I can’t afford such luxury.

Anyway, the cut is James’s fault. His attendance at the ball instigated my injury.

He leads me outside into the warm sunshine. The sweet scent of purple hibiscus mixes with the briny sea breeze. Pink bougainvillea hangs down white walls and trellises.

Anxious knots tighten in my stomach as we arrive at one of the holiday villas tucked in a secluded corner behind hibiscus hedges. I shouldn’t be alone with this man who elicits such jumbled emotions with his mere presence.

Inside is an open plan living area with kitchen units and a breakfast bar in the corner. The walls are off-white, the furniture brown earth tones. In another corner stands a decorated Christmas tree, tinsel and baubles glittering gold with boxes of presents underneath.

“Please, take a seat.” James waves in the direction of the sofas. “I’ll bring out the emergency kit.”

Not long after I sit down, he returns with a physician’s bag and bowl. He proceeds to clean and bandage the wound. His actions are clinical, his kindness evident from his gaze. I know then he’s an excellent doctor.

What I would’ve given to have someone like him treat my mother when she was ill? Tears prickle the back of my eyes and I shut them tight, drawing in a slow, calming breath.

“Here, have these.”

I lift my lashes and behold a welcome sachet of painkillers. Popping two in my mouth, I accept the glass of water he holds out.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He clears up and returns to sit beside me on the sofa. I shift as far away as I can.

“So what do you do?” he asks, his hands braced against his knees, his gaze fixed on me.

“I’m a final year law student.” Though there’s space between us, his warmth wraps me in an encompassing cocoon. I shrug off the intoxicating effect and stand. “Thank you for your help but I have to go.”

“Stay…please.”

The tendril of his gentle plea reaches within me, turning my hard resolve to liquid compliance.

“There’s something about you that reminds me of a girl I used to know long ago.”

My heart stops…and thuds away with the ferocity of jungle drums. I stare at him, mesmerised, the urge to leave dissipating. He isn’t looking at me, but someplace beyond the large windows.

“Your beautiful, intelligent, brown eyes remind me of someone whose mother used to take care of my family home. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just my imagination.”

His shoulders lift and the sigh that leaves his lips is one of resignation.

“You can go. You don’t have to listen to me live through my past.”

Something dark and tortured floats in his eyes. Instantly, I recognise the lost soul within, as tormented as mine.

Without thinking, I reach for him. “Tell me about this girl.”

His black gaze searches my face.

“Her name was Evelyn Dokubo. Her parents used to work for us, her dad as our gateman, her mother as the housekeeper. She was a lot younger than I was, much closer to my sister’s age. They played together sometimes.”

Memories flood back, overwhelming me with powerful emotions. Playing with Jemima, and helping my mother run errands in the large Ebie mansion. Good times, lost forever. I suck in a shuddering breath.

“Something terrible happened. There was a robbery at our house resulting in my sister getting shot.”

I squeeze my eyes shut as I know he’ll see my anguish otherwise. But I can still hear agony in his voice as he continues.

“Her father was implicated as an inside man and sent to jail. The rest of her family were sent away and I never heard from them again.”

He lets out a ragged sigh.

“Now my father is a sick man filled with regrets. He admits he was too harsh for letting a little girl and her mother pay for her father’s crimes. Now he wants to find her and pay restitution. I too have regrets for not changing my father’s mind before it was too late. Now I’ve lost the only woman I ever loved and I’m left half the man I could be. I just wish that wherever she is, she can forgive my family.”

Just hearing him speak the words of remorse is like someone turning on the faucet. I let go of all my bottled-up emotions. Tears flow unrestrained.

“My mother died not long after that. I guess the shame of what my father did and the destitution we faced broke her.” I force the words through a clogged throat.

He stands rock still, staring at me with expectation.

“I don’t want your father’s money but I’ll take your love.”

Kneeling before me, he palms my face. In his eyes, his love and desire burn bright. The young man I loved once stares at me. The man I love now.

“Joshua knew I was searching for you. So when he told me you worked for him, I had to come here.” His Adam’s apple bobs as he paused. “I need you.”

He seals our lips together. Passion erupts. Clothes fly. We’re flesh to flesh in his bed. Our loving is fervent, just the way I always imagined it.

Later, he recovers a box from beneath the tree, and kisses the back of my hand, sending tingles down my spine. “Marry me, my love. Make me whole again.”

“Yes,” I squeal with delight, even more awed as I stare at the sapphire engagement ring.

As we make love again ‘Locked Out Of Paradise’ by Bruno Mars plays on the radio.

Serendipity is an awesome thing. My past will frame my future.

My enemy is now my lover.

 

Copyright Kiru Taye 2012

***

Christmas with the Enemy is a short story spin off from Bound to Passion (Bound series #3) by Kiru Taye.

About Kiru Taye

Kiru Taye is the award-winning author of His Treasure and the 2015 Romance Writer of the Year at the Nigerian Writers Awards. She is a founding member of Romance Writers of West Africa and has written 20 romance books so far. Her stories are sensual and steamy. Born in Nigeria, she currently lives in the UK with husband and three children.

You connect with Kiru on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest

Sign up to receive Kiru’s newsletter and be among the first to find out about new releases and sneak previews via her website: http://www.kirutaye.com

If you’re in Africa, you can buy Kiru’s eBooks from okadabooks.com. Download the okadabooks app on your phone/tablet and search for ‘Kiru Taye’.

 

 

 

 

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4 days to Christmas 

Today is Christmas Eve and you know what that means? We are anticipating the D-Day where the world marks the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Whilst tomorrow would mark the entrance of a special life into this world,  this poem by Tope Olofin is on a dark note and it touches on the loss of a life. I pray for everyone hurting this period from the loss of a loved one that you will find solace in our Lord Jesus. 


Our ritual didn’t involve pecks

Just upkeep for my daily needs

Everyday I would knock

And expect a smile please

Out came a hand, that day

With a bulk load of cash

I didn’t see his face

That’s odd, I hear myself say

Or maybe it’s just a phase

As the day began to age

There was a body crash

No one will tell me why

Into silence door, we saw him dash

But we waited for him to turn the page

Are you scared they asked

For what? I lied

You’ll see him soon, they cried

Only he knew it was a lie

He was getting set to fly

Who is ever ready for the halt?

Even though we are warned to a fault

We miscount for our gain

And probably to foul our fate

Fate’s timing was Christmas 

Sound asleep on the mattress

Dada mustered all the strength

And took his final breath…


You made my hair

You were the only parent that brought fresh lunch at break time

Gosh that made me feel like a superstar

You washed my clothes

You cleaned my room

You spanked me silly, until my skin tore

You handle me like I was male

Yet in your closet you admitted you were a too hard on me

Child abuse some may say

But I was a handful

You called me baby

You called me Sally

You flaunted me

You were proud of me…or so I like to think

But you also embarrassed me

So many people took advantage of that

You taught me to save

You taught me to be a homemaker

You taught me to cook

You taught me to bake

You screamed at me a lot

Again so many people used that to their benefit

You put me in front of my first computer

Do you know that’s what feeds me today

You taught me the essence of hard work

You taught me to own up when wrong

By owning up anytime you were wrong

You taught me boldness in the face of fear

You taught me to speak my mind

You taught me to stand by my decision

You taught to write

You taught me to spell

You taught me to be eloquent

You left when I was timid, shy and a pushover

You should see me now

You may not agree with all that I am

But I can almost bet you will be damn proud

That day, my chi warned me

She said “this might be the last time you see him”

I ignored and ran out of the house 

I wasn’t ready for your signature pep talk.

And that was the last day I saw you

A few days back, I tried to figure out why I hardly sleep at night

Now I realize that a part of me still waits to hear you horn twice.

Because that was my indication that all is well.

I am in search of a fresh indication

That’s why you should leave me to mourn you for today

Leave to cry my heart out

Leave me to mourn like I know how to

I owe you that every December 21st

Because the nagging question still comes to me every night

Will I ever feel safe again?

***

“4 days to Christmas” is written by Tope Olofin,  a close and beloved friend of mine. 

The Girl With The Red Fan

31-days

I met her on a bus going out of Yaba. She looked a bit sad coming in but my mom’s advice stopped me from asking what was wrong.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” she used to tell me. Despite the fact that I was 21 and no longer a little child in danger of being kidnapped, I still held highly prized the memory of her dragging me to her side in the market and hushing me.

One hour passed. Then two. Silence reigned between us, unbroken only by the man with a tall stack of N100 books. She bought one and I bought none because I thought she’d paid N1000. Then when she opened her book, when her fingers began to caress the aged spine and the brown paper, my lips loosened and I asked my first question of her tremulously.

“Good morning. How much did you buy that book?”

“N100.”

“Really? I didn’t buy because I thought you paid N1000”

She laughed and the musical sound of someone much used to laughing came forth.

“He’s always sold his books for N100. I should know. I’ve been his customer for at least 7 years.”

Then she turned to go but for some reason, I suddenly became desperate to continue the conversation.

“I just wish there was one more person in this bus with us.”

“Are you in a hurry?”

“Yes. I have a modeling shoot by 11:30 and I hate being late.”

“Well, I know for a fact that people hardly go to Berger this time of day. Your best bet would be to get two buses. One going to either Ketu or Ikeja and you’ll get a bus going to Berger from there.”

“Can you show me, please?”

“You’re not familiar with Lagos?”

“No. No I’m not. This is my second visit here. I’m based in Abuja. And what about you, are you not in a hurry?”

“No. I’m actually not.”

“Oh. Can you show me the way, regardless?”

“Sure. I should probably leave with you too.”

The bus driver saw both of us leaving and questioned us.

“We no fit wait. We don wait almost 1 hour 30 minutes, nobody else don come.”

He nodded his head and we left.

I was reminded that we were in a market by the people thrusting their wares in my face and the boys grabbing at my arm, my shoulder, my hands. I also noticed that most of them never touched her. Just me. She noticed this as well and extended a hand to me. I took the hand and I was reminded of my mother holding me close to herself and leading me through the market.

Several people stopped to talk to her but she kept walking. She answered all of them politely with “Nos” and “thank-yous” and I was in awe at her politeness.

We had to run across the road to get a bus going to Ikeja and this time when she dropped my hand, I extended my hand for hers.

At the other side of the road, I noticed she was sliding her hand out of mine and I dropped it. Once we entered the bus, I realized that the bottle of soda I bought had made me short of N100 of the transport fare. She asked me what was wrong. I told her.

While I was frantically looking for an ATM nearby, her hand resting on my arm paused my search.

“I got you. Don’t worry. I’ll pay your fare.”

And so she did. And then, the painful silence of benefactor and unlikely recipient set in. I thought perhaps she was angry at the additional expense and regretting her decision already. And I resolved to reimburse her at the earliest opportunity.

On the way to Ikeja, it started raining – a torrential downpour that caused people to hurriedly close their windows. The bus quickly became stuffy and the unpleasant body odor of the person seated in front of me permeated the entire bus.

I closed my nose, cursing myself for not packing my scented handkerchief when she opened her red fan and handed it to me.

I did pay her back, short about N50 for the trip. But I always remember the girl with the red fan at Christmas time. She was the perfect illustration of Jesus’ teachings to me.

****

Author Bio: My name is Obianuju Ayalogu. Nickname: OBJ. Administrator of Tendrils, (website address: http://insearchofperfecthair.wordpress.com), trained legal practitioner, amateur pest, mischievous human being, God lover, aspiring entrepreneur, generally happy person. Nice to meet you.

***

Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story or poem on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

 

 

 

 

We teach our boys to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller

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We teach our strong black boys to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to boys, you can be a lover of women, but not too much. You should aim to be handsome, but not too handsome. Otherwise, you would threaten the woman. Because I am male, I am expected to aspire to be the head in a marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that being the head in a marriage is the most important.

Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach boys to aspire to be the head in a marriage and we don’t teach girls the same? We raise boys to see each other as competitors, to always be up and doing in bed, lest we lose our women to other boys. We teach boys that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that girls are.

**Photo credit: Google

The Christmas Tree and the Wedding

In furtherance of our “31 Days of Christmas” series, here is a weird, but very deep short story written in 1848 by revered Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It has such a deep theme which is prevalent even in modern time, particularly in northern Nigeria. Read and let me know your thoughts on this.

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The other day I saw a wedding… But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer. I don’t know why it is that the sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the way it happened:

Exactly five years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was invited to a children’s ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it seemed as though the children’s ball was merely a pretext for the parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to themselves, quite innocently and casually.

I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family. He was tall, rather thin, very serious, and well dressed. Apparently he had no heart for the family festivities. The instant he went off into a corner by himself the smile disappeared from his face, and his thick dark brows knitted into a frown. He knew no one except the host and showed every sign of being bored to death, though bravely sustaining the role of thorough enjoyment to the end. Later I learned that he was a provincial, had come to the capital on some important, brain-racking business, had brought a letter of recommendation to our host, and our host had taken him under his protection, not at all _con amore_ (sic). It was merely out of politeness that he had invited him to the children’s ball. Continue reading

Top 10 Places To Visit in Lagos This Yuletide

Hello everyone and Merry Christmas in advance. Are you in Lagos, Nigeria (there is a Lagos in Portugal) for the yuletide and you are in want of places to visit? I have compiled a list of 10 places you could visit in Lagos, Nigeria this yuletide. They are listed in no particular order. I have been to most of these places and I am looking forward to visiting and revisiting them. After all, all write and no play can be boring as hell.

 

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1.   Elegushi Beach

Elegushi is located off Lekki expressway (off the 3rd roundabout. I think). It is one of my favourite private beaches in Lagos. Not that it is the cleanest or clearest. Nope. But the night life on the beach is spuflix (I wish that was a real word). I would recommend you go in the evening, rather than when the sun is high in the sky.  There’s a N1,000 gate fee/person and N200 parking fee/car.

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  1. Lekki Conservation Centre (LCC)

The LCC has a huge tract of wetlands set aside for wildlife viewing, located at kilometer 19 along the Lagos-Epe Expressway. You get started by going through a long nature trial (you’d love this) which leads you into the thick of the forest, and then, to the canopy walkway, and then, to an open recreational spot. The canopy walkway is the longest in Africa. Access fee to the nature trail is N1,000, and another N1,000 to use the canopy walkway.  The last time I was here, I thought I was lost after walking through the forest for over 30 minutes without seeing an “exit route”. It was interestingly scary. I will definitely revisit this place. Continue reading

Journey of the Magi

Hi everyone. I know I haven’t been consistent with the “31 Days of Christmas” Series. I sincerely apologise. I have been pressed for time given the workload at this time of the year. I wish I had a blog manager (I’m looking forward to hiring one in 2017) who could help out. Anyway, for today, I have this dramatic Christmas poem by T.S Eliot written in 1927. One  fascinating thing about this poem is that, Eliot ends it with a ponders death, rather than life. Whose death is he referring to? Enjoy.

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A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

 

***

Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story or poem on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

A Home for Christmas

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His little beady eyes scanned the horizon as he watched people pass by. He was standing in the alleyway, pieces of paper and garbage strewn around him. The pile of cluttered papers where he had spent the night before now lay in a disordered clump as he had prowled through them earlier this morning looking for bits and scraps to eat. A distant noise soon brought him running on all four paws of his to a nearby building where he began sniffing about for pieces of bone. Luckily for him, he soon found a half eaten bar of chocolate discarded on the floor. No sooner had he taken a bite than he was kicked at and shooed by a disgruntled man dressed heavily in a wool jacket. He yelped in pain and scampered back to the alleyway from which he had come, tail in between his legs, the chocolate all forgotten. Safely hidden between two Dumpster cans, he began to lick his furry coat as if in consolation. He has had a difficult life, for crying out loud, he was just a puppy. A cool gust of wind blew past making him shudder a little, if the temperature drops by a degree again, he would be dead by midnight. He moaned unhappily at the thought of that. He tried again but to no avail to scout for food. Walking down to the front of the alleyway, he looked at the people going home with happiness written all over their faces. They were all heavily draped in their fur coats and leather boots to think about an abandoned scruffy puppy like him. He shook from the cold as he imagined the warmth provided them by the heavy coats and jackets, shielding them from the onslaught of the chilly wind. They seemed happy and even looked so, their faces registered joy and excitement. He couldn’t tell what it was but he could feel it. Maybe it was the delicious smell wafting from the bakery opposite him but no one ever offered him a bun or maybe it was the sound of happy laughter emanating from the kids as they played happily on the street but none of them ever glanced or smiled at him. No one thought about him, he was just a lost poor dog. Abandoned by his owners few weeks after birth, he had learnt to fend for himself, most times; he had been bullied by larger and stronger dogs. Their menacing faces and bulk always sent him running for safety. Another chilly wind blew across again, even colder than the former. He walked back sadly, thinking to himself that he had better find other pieces of paper to curl himself on, that was if he hadn’t frozen to death by then. Continue reading

Joy In Broken Places*

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As a college student I spent a year in Senegal, West Africa teaching English as a second language. After two months I was sure the worst of my homesickness had dissipated. But as the holidays drew near and I contemplated celebrating Christmas — Jesus’ birthday — in a Muslim country, the heaviness in the pit of my stomach returned. It was to be my first Christmas away from home.

My solitary celebration had a rocky start. Outside my window, a sad little string of white lights hung in a baobab. In the attic of the teacher’s quarters, I found a tired old plastic tree. It had a depressing layer of dust, which I cleaned off by putting the whole thing in the bathtub and stomping the branches like grapes in a wine vat. Someone had dropped the bag of ornaments and shattered them, so I strung up some popcorn and paper chains.

Once the tree was up, I went to the Supermarche to pick up ingredients for cookie baking: Someone had hung a plastic Father Christmas by the neck over the store’s entrance. Fa-la-la-la-la.

Wandering the aisles, I tried not to think about the holiday feast my mother was preparing. What am I going to make for Christmas this year? I spotted large sacks of oranges in one corner of the store, and grabbed one, not quite knowing what I was going to do with it. Christmas tree ornaments, maybe?

On the steps outside the store I found “Smiley Joe” one of the beggars I regularly encountered. Leprosy had deprived him of his feet and most of his fingers, but his smile radiated genuine warmth. We always greeted one another, though we were unable to communicate further. I had only recently started French lessons, and he spoke no English at all.

“Cadeau, Madame?” Joe’s greeting was always the same. (“Got a gift for me, lady?”)

As I reached into my handbag for some change, I noticed his gaze wander to the oranges, then back at me. “Would you like an orange, Joe” I asked him. Handing him a whole orange wouldn’t work — without fingers, he couldn’t peel the fruit. So I sat next to him on the steps, intending to peel the fruit and hand him segments one at a time.

Joe had other ideas. He pulled his arms up inside his sleeves, then pointed his chin at me. Me first.

“Okay.” I put a bit of orange in my mouth, smiled, and then handed him a piece. His eyes closed blissfully as the fruit hit his tongue. “Mmmmm.”

I was so focused with what I was doing that I hadn’t noticed the swarm of children gathering around us. On Saturdays the streets of Dakar are full of school-age children waiting for cars to stop at the lights to beg for small coins. Now a dozen street urchins had gathered around Joe and me, watching intently as each segment disappeared into Joe’s mouth.

Finally, one small boy worked up his nerve to approach me directly. “Cadeau, Madame?” he wheedled coaxingly, pointing to the oranges. “Cadeau por moi?” I reached inside the bag and handed the boy an orange.

Bingo. The other children pounced. “Cadeau?” “Cadeau?” “Cadeau?” Each child grabbed an orange out of my hand then ran up the street to yell about his good fortune, sending still more kids scurrying toward us for their own prize. In minutes the entire bag of oranges was gone, and a sea of little hands continued to reach toward me. “Cadeau? Cadeau?”

There were no more oranges, and I was a bit nervous that a riot might break out, so I pushed my way to the car, putting small coins in a few hands as I pulled out onto the street.

All the way home, I couldn’t get the image of Joe and the children out of my head. I had been feeling sorry for myself. Not anymore. Back at school, I got out a sheet of air mail stationary and wrote a Christmas letter home.

This Christmas has been nothing like Christmases past. No tinsel or lights on the tree. Mom’s gingerbread will have to wait ’til next year (they don’t sell shortening here). You can go for miles without hearing a single rendition of “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night.”

Even so, I am thankful. I had anticipated that this year was going to be about my working with kids and sharing music with other people. But I am taking away much more than I could possibly have given. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your love and support. This year I have been given the greatest gift imaginable — the chance to learn what’s really important.

I wish I could say that with each passing year, my African Christmas gave me an unshakable sense of gratitude for all the people in my life. Sadly, that wouldn’t be true. There are always one or two I find difficult to love (I have no doubt the feeling is mutual), people that quite frankly I’d be only too happy to send on a one-way trip to Senegal. It certainly would make my Christmas a whole lot brighter.

And yet, that encounter with Smiley Joe taught me that the secret to a happy life is in the ability to find joy, even despite our immediate circumstances, despite the individuals who seem determined to make us miserable. However, no one — no matter how difficult, rude, or broken — can steal our joy without our permission.

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“Joy In Broken Places” was written by Heidi Hess Saxton.

Credit: The Ann Arbor News

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God*

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Once upon a time a certain East African country had many mountains and valleys, rivers and plains. All the people lived in one big valley. The large extended families included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many children. These East African people were ordinary human beings with both good and bad qualities. They followed all the seasons of human life:

A time for giving birth … a time for dying.

A time for planting … a time for uprooting.

A time for knocking down … a time for building.

A time for tears … a time for laughter.

A time for mourning … a time for dancing.

A time for loving … a time for hating.

A time for war … a time for peace.

A man named John Shayo lived in this large valley. He was a faithful Christian who prayed every Sunday and regularly participated in his Amani Small Christian Community. He helped the poor and needy especially the lepers who lived on one slope. John tried to fulfill all his Christian responsibilities. From time to time he failed, but in general he was a very good Christian.

In this large valley there was jealousy, fighting, drunkenness and all kinds of discord. Thieves and tricksters walked about openly and regularly stole cows, goats and sheep. Families and villages lacked peace and harmony. Witchcraft and superstition were part of daily life. After patiently enduring this bad situation for a long time John Shayo decided to move somewhere else. He said, “Certainly God isn’t present here. He is the “All Peaceful One” who doesn’t like fighting and discord. He wants peace and harmonious relationships in his human family.”

John Shayo saw a very high mountain far in the distance. It rose majestically in the clear tropical air. John said, “Certainly God our “Great Ancestor” lives in peace and quiet on the top of that East African mountain. I will go there to find God who “Dwells on High With the Spirits of the Great.” So John set off on his long safari. At the end of the first day he reached the foot of this high mountain. The burning equatorial sun had drained his energy. He rested. Very early the next morning he started out again. After three hours of difficult climbing he was tired and sat by the side of the rough footpath.

After a few minutes John was startled to see a bearded man about 30-years-old making his way down the mountain. They greeted each other. “Jambo (‘Hello’). What is the news?” John told the traveler that he was climbing to the top of the mountain to find God our “Creator and Source.” The traveler said that his name was Emmanuel and that he was climbing down the mountain to live with the people in the large valley. After talking together for a few minutes they said good-bye to each other in the traditional African farewell: “Good-bye until we meet again.” As John continued his safari up the steep mountain he said to himself: “That man is a fine person. He is very intelligent and speaks well. I wonder why he wants to go down to my former valley?”

Soon John Shayo was engrossed in his arduous climb. The air grew thinner. He climbed more slowly. By late afternoon he reached the top of the mountain and said to himself: “There is peace and quiet here. Now I will surely find God.” He looked everywhere. No one was around. John was very disappointed and asked out loud, “Where is God?”

Suddenly a gaunt old man appeared and greeted John. “Welcome. Relax after your long, hard safari.” Shayo began to describe the arduous trip and his desire to meet God the “All Peaceful One.” The old man said, “I’m sorry, but God isn’t here on the top of this high mountain. I live alone here. Surely you met God on the mountain path. He was going down to the big valley to live with the people there and to help them with their problems and difficulties.” John was astonished and exclaimed out loud, “You mean the traveler I met on the path was God. I didn’t recognize him. I thought that I would find him here on the top of the mountain.”

The old man said, “I’m sorry. You see God doesn’t want to live here all by himself. He wants to join with the human beings he created. That’s the meaning of his name “Emmanuel. God is with us.” John Shayo exclaimed: “But in the valley there are arguments and fighting. Many of the people are thieves, tricksters, troublemakers and drunkards. Why does God want to live with them?”

Quietly the old man answered, “God knows the lives of his people and their problems and weaknesses. There is a myth about an East African hunter who disobeyed God’s command and shot an arrow into the clouds. The sky bled and God withdrew into the high heavens to get away from human beings. But God the “Great Elder” loved his human family and wanted to show his tender care. So God our “Great Chief” sent his Son to pitch his tent among us, to live with us, to share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses in order to save us. We celebrate this mystery of salvation on the feast of Christmas — the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ our “Eldest Brother.” For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John Shayo was deeply moved by these words and listened intently as the old man continued. “Jesus Christ — Emmanuel” was born and lived among us human beings as an ordinary person. He surrounded himself with simple, needy people just like the farmers and herders in the villages of your valley. He helped the people with their daily problems. This is the meaning and mystery of Christmas — we learn to live like Jesus, Emmanuel our God and a person for others.

“John, from time to time you can come to this mountain top to rest and pray, but know, my friend, that the heart of Christmas is to live with the people in the valley and share their daily problems and difficulties.”

John suddenly felt that he had learned much wisdom on this East African mountaintop. Deeply touched he said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to go back to the large valley and live with the people as Jesus Christ Himself does.” The wise old man put his hands on John’s head and gave him a blessing.

John Shayo turned slowly. Seeing the large valley stretched out below him, John began to walk down the mountain.”

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*”The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God” is a story by Rev. Joseph Healey, M.M., from Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit: Afriprov.org

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.