“Silent night, holy night…”

This year, the residents’ association on my street had a very bright – read, dumb – idea to hold an inter-house Christmas carol competition on Christmas Eve, and my landlord is taking it really seriously. He must have been very competitive in his youth, and at 65, he still isn’t taking it slow. Holding daily rehearsals spanning hours with all 8 children living in this compound. They have been at it for days now, and I’m already at my wits’ end.

“Silent night, holy night…”

First of all, there is nothing silent about the very loud, tone-deaf brats interrupting my sleep with their unholy voices.

“…all is calm, all is bright…”

No, nothing is calm and there’s definitely nothing bright about the darkness NEPA has subjected us to this night.

I move away from my window, but their voices follow me to the other end of the room where I sit on a low stool and pray for rain to fall and disrupt their practice session. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. I guess their out-of-tune voices have finally deafened the angels. Either that or no one up there is listening to me anymore. I’m more inclined to believe the second option because if there really was someone up there, I wouldn’t have lost my job a month before Christmas.

The next day, my neighbour comes with her 7-year-old son, Toba, who doubles as the lead singer of our landlord’s carol band. He grins at me as his mum begs me to watch him for a few hours while she runs an errand. For some weird reason, his grin reminds me of my ex-boyfriend who scammed me of a large chunk of my savings three months ago. As they say, roses are red, violets are blue. Men will betray you, and my con artist of an ex is proof that this is true.

My neighbour has been nice to me since I lost my job, so I can hardly refuse her even though I want nothing more than to wallow alone in my misery right now. I leave Toba to his devices on the sofa and hum to myself as I get busy with my online job hunting. Somehow, I must have moved from humming to singing because the next thing I know, Toba is standing beside me and staring at my face with the most mesmerized eyes. It’s the exact same expression people have when they hear me sing for the first time. I stop, embarrassed. Toba looks disappointed.

“Aunty, you have a fine voice,” he says.

“Thank you, Toba. Now run along.” He starts to leave, then stops and turns. He asks if I will take their place in the carol competition.

“Isn’t that for children?” I ask. On social media, we joke about kids being jobless all the time, but my current situation doesn’t make me a child now.

Toba says the competition doesn’t have an age limit, and according to his mum, the only reason our landlord wants the children from our compound to compete is that the audience is more inclined to vote for children over adults.

Apart from being overly competitive, our landlord is also an emotional manipulator. Tell me something I don’t know. I tell Toba I am not interested, and he pouts. He gives me a look that says the discussion is far from over, but I can’t be bothered. I have more pressing things on my mind, like entering the new year with a new job.

Maybe I should have paid him more attention because it’s 5 pm and all the other children in the compound have gathered in front of my door to beg me. Sharon says I should use my powers for good and I wonder if voices can also be classified as a superpower. If so, can I sing myself into getting a new job or recovering my savings from my ex? Now wouldn’t that be nice?

I reiterate that I won’t be singing at the competition and shut my door in their disappointed faces. Then I return to my room to resume my evening shift on the job-hunting site.

“I know if she sings, our compound will win,” I hear Toba whine as they gather for today’s rehearsal at their usual spot underneath my window. The others agree with him, and I wonder if they have ever heard me sing. It’s amazing how children believe each other’s words without question. Toba says it, so it must be true.

I hear our landlord arrive and they tell him about what Toba says. He dismisses their statement, and in our native dialect, he says that even if I’m possessed by the angels singing Hallelujah in heaven, I still can’t get a win. It is at this moment that yet another regret mail lands in my inbox, and I’ve finally had it! With life, with the influx of regret mails, and with our landlord for looking down on me. I pull myself up and march downstairs to the rehearsal spot.

The children look excited at my presence, and I tell the landlord I will sing at the competition. I don’t care how, but I’m ending this year with at least one win. He doesn’t look so sure, but I insist. I tell him to raise my next rent if I don’t win and he agrees. As he leaves, I see traces of a smile on his face and realize I’ve been had. The emotional manipulator had done his magic on me. If I won, it was another feather to his cap, and if I lost, it was extra money for his account.

I turn to face the kids and they ask if they can leave now. Toba has cartoons to watch and Sharon wants to play football with the other girls. I realize I’ve been had here too. The only reason these brats wanted me to replace them in the competition was so they can skip compulsory rehearsals with the landlord and have time to play. Well, not so fast, suckers, we are all in this together now. And as for our landlord, I’m moving the rehearsal spot beneath his own window. There was me, so let there be pettiness too.

Rehearsals begin with me taking over coordination from our landlord and stealing his idea to use the children for votes. As they say, all is fair in love and war, and this carol competition is war. With my voice and the children as backup, there was no way in hell we were going to lose. I need my win, and I don’t have the money for a rent increase.

I started rehearsals with the children 12 days to the competition, and as the days go by, I realize though I began this pushed by my sheer determination to have a win, I’m sustained by the wonder that is these children. How can these little humans be so funny, naughty, playful, and earnest all in the same vein? Children are really the purest souls, untouched by the darkness and mess that is this world.

Spending time with them listening to their stories and viewing the world through the lenses of their childlike innocence, I am reminded about what this season is all about. Love, care, joy, and children are the perfect embodiment of this time. After all, wasn’t the origin of Christmas the birth of a child? As I embrace these children while rehearsing tirelessly with them, I embrace the spirit of the season. 12 days of Christmas with these children and being around them is enough of a gift for each day.

Finally, it’s our last rehearsal and the stage is set for the competition tonight. I’m headed downstairs for the final practice, and the children are waiting by the stairs. The light of determination in their eyes mirror that in mine. They hold my hands as we move to the rehearsal spot, the sound of their laughter and chatter being music to my ears.

A smile warms my face as I stare at theirs, and I know that win or lose today, everything will be all right. I still haven’t found a job and I’m fast running out of funds, but maybe, just maybe there’s someone up there listening to me. It may be God, it may be Santa, it may be whoever, but I believe in Christmas miracles again. In the meantime, if anyone asks me what I think about this season, I’ll still say it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Photos by Aaron Burden on Unsplash and RODNAE Productions from Pexels