This Time of the Year

You’d see me twirling a bauble as Mother hummed a song and chopped cassava leaves in the kitchen. I’d be perched on a stool passing whatever she needed while she stood, working by the countertop. Our house would be enveloped with the smell of fried fish balls, strong as the smell of dough in a bakery. Fish was my family’s favourite food, same as this time of the year.

Father would be out early in the morning, fishing with my elder brother, Wesseh, and some friends who had settled in from England. Wesseh told me of how though the air of freedom thrilled them all, Father and his friends still sometimes desired the Western life. At Christmastime in England, the streets covered with carpets of snow, would be decorated with fancy lights, socks and caps. Hymns would ring through orchestral buildings and hampers filled with chocolate and cookies would be exchanged as gifts.

While in Liverpool, I enjoyed the season because Mother and Father took us to our cousins at Scotland, and my parents, my pretend Santa Claus, always left Wesseh and I nice gifts under the Christmas tree. My perspective however swiveled as would a seat on a bumper ride, when we descended the ship that brought us home – Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Engrossed with the joy of the season, Father would whistle more loudly than he usually did as he walked about our semidetached house. Mother would sing hymns over and again, and Wesseh would find his place with the boys in Church. Only I seemed to have a struggle fitting into Sierra Leone – into enjoying Christmas like I would in England.

“What is on your mind?” Mother asked, frying cassava leaves in hot oil.

“England,” I passed her some seasoning cubes which she spread into the meal–palaver sauce. She stirred the sauce, tasted it, covered the pot, and left the gas on low heat.

“The Marsons…and Christmas here.” Mentioning Christmas in Freetown sounded childish so I parted my lips in a sheepish smile. I was fourteen, not the six-year-old who used to bubble over Christmas.

Mother listened, studying me so I continued. I told her how I still had a difficulty blending in even after five years of moving to Sierra Leone. I knew Mother understood my struggle. “I miss living in the West. I miss what Christmas was like over there.”

Turning off the gas, Mother told me she understood how I felt. “I experienced the same as a child-slave.”

Mother never spoke much about her early days in England–Father explained that she had sore experiences. But for the first time, today, Mother told me about how she’d been whisked off Bunce Island, reaching for her mother who had been kicked and forced to kneel. “My mother contracted an illness on the ship and died weeks after. Chained on both hands and feet, I witnessed her get wrapped in a white cloth, and thrown overboard.” Mother told me of how she’d been branded with red-hot iron, and had been stacked in the lower decks of a slave ship like sheer cargo. “I was abused in all ways–physically,” Mother paused, and a reflective smile came over her face before she added, “sexually too.”
I gasped. I placed a hand over my mouth in shock. And I struggled to understand how my mother had gone through all these, and now, had her lips pulled apart, revealing her diastema.

“I thought I’d never go past the hurt. For a long time, I struggled to feel good about myself, to mix with others–even after I got my freedom in England until I found Jesus.”

A knock on the door and I welcomed Father and Wesseh who had caught three big salmon fish. Mother returned to her room, saying we’d talk later.

I breezed through the day entertaining visitors, washing dishes, sleeping, and reading a book while reflecting on what Mother said. How did she find joy despite her experiences? I couldn’t imagine experiencing the same, let alone laugh when talking about them. I knew Jesus but didn’t know the joy He gave.

Night came as quickly as the morning had, and my brother and I sat with Mother in the parlour. Father sat by his organ at one end, playing chords from a song sheet and by heart.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” Mother led, and Wesseh and I joined in. The lyrics of the song struck deep within me, and I realized that Jesus was born to give joy–a joy that had no bearing on whether you were feasting over cheese and muttons, or sharing a chicken leg. I recalled my blessings, in prayer, as Father instructed, and after the devotion, Father and Wesseh left for their rooms leaving me and Mother.

“Jesus was born to give joy–joy to me and you, joy to the world!” I exclaimed with the excitement of a child receiving a new plaything.

“Very true. Joy is not found in a place but in a person.”

“Jesus!” I bounced like an inflated ball on my flip-flops and Mummy chuckled, adjusting the robe she wore.

“And this joy is available to everyone because, at this time of the year, we celebrate Jesus born not only in a manger but in our hearts too.”

5 thoughts on “This Time of the Year”

  1. ๐Ÿ”ฅ๐Ÿ”ฅ๐Ÿ”ฅ
    Jesus is come to give joy to everyone… beautiful piece Rume you are such an exceptional writer. we celebrate Jesus born not only in a manger, but in our hearts too.

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