“Edore, are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Chizara asked her cousin, whose entire body was frozen, apart from her teeth which were working furiously at grinding her nails. It was odd to see Edore nervous and wordless. But it wasn’t odd for her to get them into a mess, then carry the responsibility of getting them out of it—as she should.
Chizara thought back to the beginning of the day.
She filled her lungs with the fresh harmattan morning breeze and smiled at the twinkling Christmas lights she and Edore put on her walls on November 30th. Even though most of her night was spent slapping Edore’s thigh off her body, it didn’t bother her. The hot chin-chin searing her tongue when she threw it in her mouth didn’t faze Chizara either. It was Christmas. There was no room for sadness. She thought of three things only: excess food, excess malt, and money.
Every year, Edore, her older brother, Kefe, and their mother spent the 24th through 26th in Chizara’s house even though they lived ten minutes away. Their mothers were raised in a home that valued Christmas so they always went all out, making a delicious feast that could put any cooking show to shame. And in the spirit of giving, they picked 12 people in the neighbourhood they would present with food. Every year, Kefe made the deliveries and came back with fists filled with cash. People always dipped their hands in their pockets for money for Kefe to ‘manage’. Kefe never shared the money he made so Chizara and Edore begged their mothers to let them deliver the food. “When you’re 12”, was always the response even though Kefe wasn’t 12 when he started.
Nevertheless, Chizara and her cousin waited patiently for 12 to hit and this year was it. So, fully equipped with a handwritten list of 12 people, two huge tote bags and small trolleys filled with rice, chicken, homemade zobo and chin-chin, Chizara and Edore set out more concerned about the getting than the giving.
In the middle of their journey, not even halfway into the list, they stumbled upon the Oladeji compound, venue of the annual Oladeji Christmas party. The Oladejis were an elderly couple whose children lived abroad. They had lots of time, space, and money.
For reasons unknown to Chizara, their parents never allowed them to go to the party. But they always heard about it in school and that was enough to spark their curiosity. When they passed the house, Chizara wasn’t surprised when Edore stopped by the open gate to peek inside.
“Let’s go in for a while,” Edore had said, anticipation dancing in her eyes.
“Are you mad?” Chizara asked, her index finger to her temple, emphasising the question of whether Edore had lost it up there. “You and who?”
“Zaraaa,” Edore called her name as if Chizara was a stubborn child who never listened. “We won’t stay long. Nobody will see us. Don’t you want to say you went for the legendary Oladeji Christmas party?”
After constant murmurings, Chizara gave in. They dropped the bags next to the security post shaded by a mango tree and gravitated towards the dessert table. They stuffed their faces with chocolate and red velvet cakes that melted on their tongues instantly. Edore found a cooler of beer and slyly dipped her hand into it, pouring a little into two cups. Tapping their cups together, Chizara had never felt more grown in her life.
They sipped it together and their faces contorted in the same way.
“Eugh,” Edore wiped her mouth. “Why does it taste bitter?”
“I don’t know. I expected it to taste like malt.”
“Maybe it’s spoiled.” Edore spat into the nearby shrubs as they abandoned their drinks on a nearby table.
Chizara nodded, swallowing her saliva to get the sour aftertaste out. She grabbed two big pieces of red velvet cake wrapped in butter icing and gave one to Edore. “Maybe it will help.”
They were licking the icing off when Edore stopped suddenly. “Wait, can’t spoiled alcohol kill you?”
“What?” Chizara asked, heart rate picking up. Their mothers would bring them back from the dead and kill them again.
“I’m serious. One boy in my class told us his uncle died of alcohol poisoning.”
“Jesus Christ, Edore!” Chizara shouted, both hands on her head. “We’re going to die.”
At that moment, Chizara felt queasy and wasn’t sure if it was the cakes or the poison. They ran to a bathroom and tried to make themselves vomit but just spat as much saliva as they could into the sink and drank water to neutralise whatever poison was in their system.
When they came back outside, Burna Boy’s Killing Dem was playing and the thought of death by alcohol flew out of their minds. Edore pulled Chizara to the dance floor, and they showed off their gbese skills. Some people sprayed them with crisp naira notes and every bad thought flew from Chizara’s mind as she danced with her cousin.
Satisfied with their earnings and grateful that they hadn’t dropped dead, they went to collect their bags, but there was nothing there. At this moment, the unshakeable joy Chizara had been feeling drowned.
Panic rose in her throat. She didn’t know if it was fear or the poison coming to claim her life. “Edore,” she repeated. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
Edore bit her nails but didn’t reply. “This doesn’t even make sense. Who would steal food here?” Chizara asked, looking around wildly.
Edore perked up. “We can get food from the buffet.”
“And put it where? Jesus,” Chizara murmured, resting her hands on her head. Their mothers already told them if they messed up, there wouldn’t be a second chance.
Edore went back to biting her nails, “I’ll figure something out.” She looked around the compound as if she could find an answer lying around.
Chizara flicked through ideas in her mind. Go home crying that they had been robbed? No. Say the food fell in a gutter?
Edore abandoned her nails again. “Let’s call Kefe,” she said like it was the most rational idea. Chizara knew Kefe wouldn’t stop making fun of them for this, but she didn’t have a better idea, so she nodded.
As Edore explained the situation to Kefe over the phone, he laughed at them for nearly a minute before he said, “give me half of the money you made, and I’ll help.”
“Ehn?” Edore said, staring at the phone as if it were Kefe and it had lost its mind. “Do you ever share your own with us?”
Kefe chuckled. “Oya now.” He ended the call.
Several bad ideas later, Edore picked her phone to redial Kefe’s number but before she could call, he was in front of them, hands in his pockets and a big, mocking smile on his face.
“I can’t believe how stupid you guys were,” he laughed and Edore rolled her eyes.
“Can you just help us, abeg?” Chizara asked.
He looked at the noticeable bulge of their pockets. “How much money did you make?”
Chizara looked at Edore. “2500.”
Kefe laughed. “2500?” He pointed at their pockets as if he could see the 500 naira notes in them. “Is it ten ten naira notes they gave you?
“Fashi, we’ll figure that one out later. How many people are remaining?”
“Eight,” Chizara said, her voice quiet from embarrassment.
Kefe snorted. “You guys didn’t even go halfway.”
Edore rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time.”
“There’s a car just outside filled with food in takeaway packs. We can carry some.”
Chizara stared at Kefe confused. Thievery. That was his plan? “You want us to steal?”
He shrugged. “Didn’t someone steal from you? Ojoro cancel ojoro.”
“So, we’ll just give them rice?” Edore asked, seeming unfazed by the idea her brother proposed.
“It’s better than nothing,” Kefe said and pointed to a short man wearing a white shirt. “That’s the driver. Edore, if he’s coming, shout or, I don’t know, do something. I saw a bag in the car we can use. We won’t take long.”
He motioned for Chizara to come with him, and she tried to shake off the shock of what she was about to do. For some reason, there wasn’t anyone outside, as if the party lured everyone in. They got to the car and Kefe grabbed an empty paco bag from the driver’s seat and handed it to Chizara to hold open while he stuffed in 8 takeaways.
They heard Edore make a strange noise. She ran out screaming, “Alert!,” hands flapping wildly like a falling bird. Kefe and Chizara held onto different sides of the bag and ran behind Edore who was laughing loudly. The shock Chizara was feeling was blown away by the wind in her face and the excitement. “Ojoro cancel ojoro!” she screamed as they ran with a bag full of stolen food.