The chill of the cold day settled in his bones and caused them to ache as Olumide climbed the stairs to his room. His arms were wrapped around him despite the heavy jacket he wore, and his trademark smile was plastered on his face, saying hello to the other tenants in the four-storey building and high fiving the younger ones. The smile automatically slid off as he jingled the keys, found the one to unlock his door, and entered. Olumide let out a quiet sigh, his mind so used to this that it didn’t register he had done it. He shrugged off the jacket, his boots, and jumped into his bed.
Olumide disliked the days leading to Thanksgiving, the day itself, and the weekend after. It filled him with a sadness that did not make sense to him. He wasn’t American; he had just moved here two years ago for graduate school. Yet when he saw how the people prepared towards this day, the smell of cooking that seemed to be infused into the very air, he wished he was part of the celebrations.
He could imagine his mother right now. “Mide, you went there to study. When you come back, we have our own holidays.”
But he was here, and he wanted to be part of the celebration, not as an invited guest but part of a close-knit group of people. His family had told him moving into a different country would be alienating but he hadn’t expected it to feel so – ughhh.
“Ugh,” he let out another groan, frustrated about the workings of his mind and its ability to go down and down a rabbit hole unless he reined it in.
Presently, it was almost 4 pm and he had a mild headache he knew was due to overthinking. He reached for his phone in the jacket on the floor. He saw a missed call from his father and an invite from the owner of the building, Mrs. Wesley, to join her family that night for Thanksgiving. It was routine for her and the first time he had moved into the building two years ago, he had accepted. Whilst they ate that night, the Wesley kids had asked questions upon questions.
Was it true Africans had lions for pets and rode on elephants? How was his English so much like theirs and not like Wakanda?
Olumide had shrugged it off. Mrs. Wesley had tried shushing her two kids, who were almost Mide’s age, but they didn’t acknowledge her, focused on Mide like a prize artefact in the museum. Olumide had calmly told them he was from Nigeria, not Africa and the continent was developed enough. He stood and left the Wesleys’ apartment. Mrs. Wesley had come to see him later that night, apologising profusely and handing him packed containers of so much food. When Olumide told his mother, he’d expected her to be outraged but instead the fiery Mrs. Dayo took Mrs. Wesley’s phone number to thank her for thinking of her boy.
Olumide pushed the memories away lest they got out of control. He checked Twitter, smiled at the stark contrast of tweets on his timeline. His Nigerian mutuals were arguing about a popular movie actor turned politician who was supposed to be for the youth but had turned against, while American mutuals were sharing photos of the holidays and messages around the Thanksgiving theme. And there he was, in the intersection between the two identities.
He swiped the app away on his phone and called his father back, prepared to hear the booming voice of Mr. Dayo that was so much like his and his elder brother, Oluwale. When the voice came through, Olumide realised again how much he missed his father and even his constant complaining about everything in the house.
“Boy, are you dressed?”
“Good day to you too Da, I am o,” he replied, sitting up on the bed and passing a hand through his hair. It was becoming bushy and needed a trim.
“Good, your ma says she wants to video call,” Mr. Dayo stopped. “Yes, Omawumi, I’m telling him, don’t pressure me.”
Olumide smiled, picturing their back and forth. “Da, what dey go on?”
“Your mother says she wants to see you eating when we video call, so get a plate. We’ll call back in twenty minutes.”
The line was cut off as he heard his father shouting an instruction to his little sister.
25 minutes later, Olumide heard his doorbell ring and he rushed to the door. His KFC delivery had come and as he unpacked the large meal onto a plate, he saw his phone vibrating on the counter. He picked it just as he pushed the red KFC paper box unto the floor. In the video call, he could see his mother’s head pressed to the phone.
Mide laughed, “Ma, go back.”
“Don’t “go back” me,” she let out. “You’re eating the junk food again eh. Mide, your aunt says you didn’t come for the food she prepared.”
“Ma, she’s like 9 hours away from here!”
But his mother wasn’t listening. She had placed the phone on their dinner table back at home, probably on a stand, and Olumide’s jaw dropped. His whole family was sitting around the dinner table. His muscular brother, Oluwale, was grinning widely as their little sister Ayomide hit him to move out of her view. His parents sat at the head of the table. Each of the plates in front of them was packed with crispy fries and the unmistakable KFC crunchy chicken.
“We brought Thanksgiving to you!” Ayomide shouted as Oluwale leaned into his chair.
The tears that formed in Mide’s eyes wet his face. He felt a swell of warmth pass through his heart and in that moment, his heart had never been fuller. The smile on his face was so wide, it ran from chin to chin. A thousand leagues away and his family still knew how he felt on this day, knew precisely what he would be eating and had replicated it.
“Come on boy I’m hungry,” his father dipped a fry into ketchup sauce as his mother planted a light slap on his head.
The warmth he felt passed through his entire body. Ayomide pushed their brother aside whilst she sat closer to the phone. Olumide could see the tightness of the braids on the side of her head, the scar just beneath her ear she had gotten from a fight of theirs when they were younger. He laughed when she threw a fry at the screen to move Olumide out of his thoughts. Oluwale slid closer to Ayo, diving into his meal with his casual swagger as their sister regaled Olumide on the latest news in their neighbourhood.
Together as a family, they made merry although it was day in Iowa but night in Abuja. The physical barrier between Olumide and his family was invisible. He watched Ayomide steal the last piece of chicken from Oluwale’s plate and their brother chasing her out of the room. He listened to his father’s one hundred and one tales on the dangers he went through when he was in Olumide’s shoes twenty years ago. He endured his mother’s fussing over him whether everything was fine and that he needed to go to his aunt’s for some prepared meals.
Two hours later, after Olumide had taken screenshots of the video call with all his family present, they said their goodbyes. He watched the photos for a while, smiling so hard his facial muscles ached. In one of them, Oluwale had wrapped an arm around Ayomide, his mother had two fingers in the air in a peace sign, and his father had simply folded his arms. His phone’s battery percentage was at 5% and as he plugged the charger in, he wondered how his father’s phone hadn’t gone off the entire time they were on call. Olumide shrugged it off to perhaps his elder brother buying a newer model for their old boy.
He opened the twitter app and posted the photos with the caption, ‘physical barriers don’t exist btwn family ❤️’.
Olumide closed the app and laid on his side, sleep quickly coming for him and the smile never leaving his face. His day began with a fake smile and ended with a real one.