The thought of home came rushing as the dry wind hit my face. We had gone a day’s journey. Maryam was just six months old, the last child in a long line of the children of Malam Abu Musa born from his first wife, Amina. I, the first son of both parents, was born with the responsibility of taking charge of my siblings, and mother alone in charge made my heart sink and heavy with guilt. I looked into the night sky as the vehicle sped down the lonely road.
The sky, I was taught, told us many things. When to wake up, time for prayers, when seasons change. For me, it meant the time for getting the herd out for morning grazing. Just the day before, as I took the herd out for grazing, I realised a calf was missing and how my father hates to hear the story after an animal did not make it back home. We saw a different father on those days, and I intended not to make it one of those days. Luck was on my side, for I found it and immediately made my way to school. My luck was short-lived, as I arrived late and was asked not to return until I had paid my tuition. Mother could not hold back her emotions as I narrated the episode at school.
“My son, it is time for you to move on,” mama said, fighting back the tears with Maryam in hand.
The shock at the sound of those words pierced my heart. “But Mum, I do not understand. What about you and Yusuf and Fatima and Mia and―” She placed her finger on my lips.
“I will take care of them and myself,” she said with a comforting smile to accompany her answer.
It was a cold morning as the harmattan breeze whistled through the air. I dressed up in many layers of clothing to keep warm. Mum got up early, as she always does for prayers. She walked me to the park, blessed me with both hands on my head, and handed me over to the driver. My transport was a truck loaded with tomato bags. I met Ahmed on this two-day journey, and we became friends after realising we were both 16-year-olds enroute to the big city. He sure seemed more excited than I was about the trip. Although we encountered a lot of interesting sites on our way, the constant growth in vegetation, mountains, the language, and a variety of fruits kept our stomachs silent most of the time. But the thought of home robbed me of maximum satisfaction. All mother told me was her brother lives in this big city, and I would have to stay with him. So, all I was to do was get to a place called Obalende and ask for Alhaji Tanko, the fruit seller. He would know once he sees me, mum assured me.
The engine stopped, and then I realised we had arrived. I took in my environment. The city was unlike the ones we had encountered on our way, there were lights everywhere. I saw cars, a rare occurrence in my village, and people of different shapes and sizes unlike I have ever seen. The air felt different. I couldn’t describe it as I didn’t have the right words. Everyone seemed to be rushing somewhere like their calf had wandered off, and they needed to find it. There was music coming from afar, I could hardly make out the words, but it sounded like a piece written in English and pleasing to my ear. I would have asked myself what the time was, but I had no wristwatch on. All I had was my praying mat. I looked to the sky for an answer, but in return, I got silence.
“My friend, why are you looking into the sky? We are here,” said Ahmed.
Little did I know that I had been standing in the way of a truck that had just entered the park with another set of boys. I could see what I felt inside on their faces as Ahmed and I walked past them. He seemed to know his way around because of his visit some two years ago. I passed by a pool of water made by a pothole by the roadside. It was then I noticed the colours. They came at me, green, red, blue and yellow surrounded my reflection. I hadn’t seen these lights before and wondered what they meant. As I walked out of the bus park following Ahmed, the same colours were all over buildings and shops. Coming off and on, in different patterns. Others in the shape of stars and animals I didn’t know. I stopped to take in the beauty of it all. “It is Christmas!” Ahmed said as he tapped my shoulders to wake me from my trance. Christmas.
“What is that?” Ahmed smiled at me and said, “Abu, welcome to Lagos”. With the help of Ahmed, we made our way walking a distance that would seem like miles to untrained legs. Then we arrived at a place that looked like home. The air was filled with a familiar sound. The pidgin English mixed with Yoruba, the one I heard when I got off the truck, was nowhere to be found. Then I knew we were in the Arewa kingdom of Obalende. Just the mention of Alhaji Tanko, the direction to his shop was shown to us. Ahmed and I parted ways, but he promised we would see again.
The expression on Alhaji Tanko’s face as I arrived at his shop was intense. He hadn’t seen me since I was five years old, but I felt at home in his house. He has a large family with children running around. His house was filled with lights and decorations as well. Although we still went for prayers five times a day, the season’s joy was present in the house. On Christmas morning, food didn’t stop coming from neighbours, all day till evening. The house was a beehive of activities, and I wondered why we celebrated. The atmosphere was contagious all around me, with everyone from everywhere sharing whatever they had. Alhaji Tanko opened his doors to all that came visiting. The fireworks were new to me and were fast becoming my main attraction. Amidst all these, I took off to look for a quiet place to look into the night sky. There weren’t many stars in the sky, but one shined so bright that it spoke to me this time. It was my first Christmas. Then I remembered home again.