The end of year was nearing. It would be another time for another family get-together where the rich relatives would gather and remind people how educated they were, where they were earning their huge incomes and where their children were attending school.
For Janet, she felt sorry for her own family. They would have to withstand a day long humiliation from the relatives who felt they had more right to live than her family.
“Do we have to be part of the gathering this Christmas?” Erika, Janet’s daughter asked her father. They lived in a small wooden house that seemed too small for the eight of them.
Janet looked on to her husband with a hopeful look that this time things would be different. But her husband shook his head.
“We cannot isolate ourselves from our own relatives. Where would we go?” He said.
Janet wanted to reply that they didn’t have to go. That they would stay in the house and let the day be. But she knew that wouldn’t be possible. He wouldn’t agree to that.
He was a man of the bottle and on that morning of Christmas, he would wake up, disappear to the local town centre then come back in the afternoon, drank like a skunk and then he would shamelessly steal the show with nonsensical blabber.
But the wealthy kin would dismiss him and if he continued with his disruptive obstinacy, he would be thrown out of grandmother’s house by one of them.
Erika would keep her eyes on the floor as her cousins watched her and her family’s reaction as their father made a mockery of himself.
Again, this Christmas, he still wanted to be embarrassed again. He did not want to lose the few coins that they gave him for washing their posh cars or for merely flattering them.
Janet wore a resigned look. She would have to wake up early on Christmas, clean her mother-in-law’s house and then start cooking several and huge meals for the whole extended family. Not forgetting she should have prepared three packets of chapati the previous day.
Nevertheless, she thought, it got better each year because her children would assist in the chores.
“Erika you will clean grandmother’s house. Asaph, you will chop the beef to pieces , Paul and Zack, your job is to slaughter and defeather the five chickens and after I cook them I will go give your grandmother a bath and dress her. Erika you will keep an eye on the baby becauseI will be very busy. ”
Janet’s mother-in-law had been sickly for years. She was in her eighties and it was Janet who always took care of her. It was her that ensured she was clean, took her pills in time and took her to bed every evening and out of bed every morning.
“Speaking of your grandmother, let me go and wake her for her 10 o’clock dosage of medicine.” She said as she left the house heading a few metres to her mother-in-law ‘s house. The rest were left to finish up cooking the remaining chapatis that should have been ready by the next day, the D-day.
Their father was snoring on the torn out couch, his saliva dripping in the visible dirty sponge of the couch.
As expected, on the next day, the guests came in, in the afternoon. They drove in an entourage. Erika commented that she couldn’t tell which aunt or uncle owned which car until they alighted. None of them had the same car they had last year.
The sickly grandmother, sitting on a wheelchair, couldn’t contain the excitement as her children and grandchildren came to greet her. They hugged her and each put a basket of goodies at her feet. The guests commented on her improved health.
“Mum, you look very well this time!” One would say.
“It’s a good thing Jonah’s family is here to take care of me.” She would reply weakly.
“Has Jonah added another child again. He always has a new kid every year.” An aunt said and they all burst into laughter.
“Where is he anyway? Is he drinking as usual?”
“Look at these two, have you taken a bath?” Another uncle asked referring to Paul and Zack who had just come from the bathroom and had worn their ‘Sunday best clothes.’
But the young boys did not notice the ridicule. They laughed with the rest and followed the guests dazed by the urban aura the visitors carried along.
As soon as the nephews and nieces took their seats, almost all of them pulled their phones from their pockets and focused on the gadgets.
The grandmother said a prayer and welcomed her family commenting on Janet’s great sacrifice to have the meals ready in time but that seemed to be ignored because the aunts and uncles dived quickly at the set table serving themselves excitedly as they engaged themselves in their own conversations.
It took a lot of shouting for each parent to order their child to queue for food. Meanwhile, Janet took a plate of food to her mother-in-law.
Erika and her family were last to serve themselves. As for their mother, (who had wittingly saved a plate for her husband) she managed to help herself to a few chicken necks and mashed potatoes and peas since that was all that was left.
Thirty minutes later Baba Sam, the second son of the home cleared his throat. The house went silent.
“Eeeeh…First I want to thank all of you for availing yourselves here to celebrate this Christmas with our elderly mother. We all owe what we have to her , she, having raised us single handedly from doing menial jobs until we were all able to stand on our own. We can start by each of us saying what we do for a living and where our children attend school. ” He said as he smiled proudly.
Erika looked at her mother quizically. Her mother whispered, “It’s a chance to brag to each other on their achievements.” Erika pulled her lips to a quick sneer. She watched now as her uncle blew his horn.
“And if I may start , nobody here doesn’t know my name but many of you don’t know that I am now the Regional Head of Operations of the leading mobile phone company. And for those who do not know my family. They are all here even though they have had to cut short their busy schedules to come here. Can you please stand?” He said , motioning his bored children to stand.
“The tall one there is Don, a university student pursuing Medicine. The one next to him is Essy, she is also in university, a lawyer-to-be. Then my last born Shalom, a form 4 student in one of the best national schools in the country. And of course, my lovely wife, a great entrepreneur who travels to Turkey evey two weeks for merchandise to sell from the biggest boutique in CBD.”
The family sat as the next sibling together with his family stood. It was the same tune for him and all the rest. Eveyone wanted to outdo the other on their so-called achievements. Then it was Jonah’s turn.
“Jonah’s wife can speak on behalf of her husband. You can briefly tell us what you do for a living and where your children attend school. Be brief please.” Baba Sam said to Erika’s mum.
Janet hesitated. She would have preferred to stay invisible but they insisted to shame her. They all knew she had no job and her children attended free public schools. Erika felt her hands sweating on her mother’s behalf. Her mother was not as conversant in English as the rest were so she would use her vernacular.
“Yayayayaa! You mean the sons and daughters of my mother have already arrived and they haven’t told me yet?” A drunk voice from outside boomed.
It was Jonah’s voice. He staggered in, grinning from ear to ear, his long brown uneven teeth peeping out.
“Faith my sister…aaah…shake my hand? You came? Is that you Desmond…the doctor. Where…is my little brother, the politician….Aah, here he is. We always see you on TV… I am very…happy to see all of you…Now where is the food, let us eat and make merry!” Jonah said, his eyes betraying the many numbers of bottles he had gobbled down his throat.
He also smelled of cheap alcohol and whenever he belched, the odour was unbearable. His last statement made some people chuckle in disdain.
“Jonah, do you have to drink today of all days when you know we will be coming? We have already eaten. We were having an important conversation here before you interrupted us. Eheee… Janet go on.” Baba Sam spoke ,visibly irritated by his elder brother’s prattle.
There was silence as everyone except a drunken and hungry Jonah turned his eyes on Erika’s mum. She stood and licked her lips nervously.
“I will start by greeting you all in the name of…” She started to say while one sister in law interrupted her.
“Mama Erika. We don’t have time for greetings. Just go ahead and say what you are supposed to.”
“Ok. I think all of you know that my name is Janet, but many of you address me as Mama Eri..” Then another interruption.
“Ok. Ok. So go ahead.” Baba Sam said as he waved his hand dismissively.
Janet threw a glance at her husband but he was busy tearing meat from a chicken bone , munching on hungrily, unaware of what was going on around him. Erika felt pain for her mother at the constant disrespectful interruption. She wanted to hold her mother’s hand and pull her away from the arrogant lot.
“As for a job, I haven’t got one that I earn a salary from but I believe what I do will be rewarded by the good Lord.” As she talked , there were chuckles from some women. Faith, Jonah’s sister and Mama Sam, a sister in law locked eyes and stifled a laughter. Then Faith, with a bemused tone, spoke.
“Janet, God doesn’t work like that. You cannot sit down in the house all day and expect that he will send manna from heaven. You have to work…” She addressed Janet contemptuously but her speech was suddenly discontinued.
“Shut up. Shut up Faith and do not speak again. I have been quiet for too long but not any more.”
Faith looked on in shock. Her brothers and sisters stared too perplexed. Even the phone addicts stopped what they were doing and looked at the angry eighty five year old. Jonah was also startled by the harsh tone of his mother. Then she continued.
“I am disappointed in all of you. You come here and boast of your achievements and you think that the one who has achieved highest gains my blessing. This woman here, Janet is the only woman who deserves my blessing.” She said and gasps of disbelief filled the air.
“I have heard you saying how I toiled for you when you were children. Tell me, what about now when all of you are grown ups and I am the one who needs care? Has any of you ever tucked me to bed? Has any of you ever taken a glass of water and told me, ‘Mum it’s time to take your pill’?
“You all think that the money you sent to me is all I want? Some of you call me and all they want to talk about is their pet dog …(she clicked shaking her head) Will that make me feel better? ”
As she talked, every person in the room was still. The octogenarian had never lost her cool to that extent.
“Mum, what do you want then?” Her youngest son, an aspiring politician and good friend of the vice president asked.
“Good question. First, If any of you comes here with that gibberish of ooo..I have this…ooo…I am now working as this and this…I will do something they will not like.
Second, respect this family of Jonah. If it were not for Janet, I would be dead right now. It is she that bathes me like a child. It is she who ensures I have eaten, and slept comfortably. Then here you are speaking to her like she is some piece of waste.
You all seem to forget that this Jonah you so much disregard dropped out of school when I became ill and started working odd jobs so that you would continue schooling. Here you are, scorning him instead of showing your gratitude to him by helping his family.
Finally, the next time you want to come over, you will not come as guests. I taught all of you to cook so you will all get in the kitchen and cook for yourselves. And don’t carry along these teenagers if all they will do is stare at those devices all day.”
She paused to cough. The teenagers hurriedly threw their phones in the pockets. Their parents bent their heads in shame. But grandma had not finished yet.
“If you cannot meet these terms, please drive off in your ritzy motor vehicles and leave me with this poor family and do not ever come back. I’d rather have this family here, than have proud arrogant children crowding my space.”
She let her words sink in as she coldly stared at each son/daughter one by one. Jonah’s tears were flowing. It seemed his mother’s speech had drained the alcohol out of his system. He sniffed loudly and left, his plate unfinished.
“Janet, please take me to bed my daughter.” She requested. So annoyed was she that she did not bid any of them goodbye.
But that was a wake-up call for all. There was a great change the next time.
When they came again, Jonah welcomed them all. He was as sober as pope having stayed in a rehab for six months, all expenses catered for by his siblings.
Erika and her siblings took her cousins to the nearby river for a swim. They kept exclaiming how better it felt to swim in a river than a swimming pool.
When they went back to their grandmother’s they were met by a great buffet. Food was in abundance since the cooks were also many.
There was song and dance after meals. No more boastful talk. No more superiority. Erika’s grandmother smiled as she watched every one in the room having a good time. Janet watched the old woman with great pride.
Her husband now had a good job. Her in laws were giving her a stipend for taking care of their mother. They were also paying school fees for her children and building a bigger house for them. She knew she was fortunate to have such a mil who had enabled all the recent developments. Her prayer was that God grant more years to her m-i-l.