Author’s note: One of my favourite chapters, mainly because our heroine confronts her old enemy’s associate-in-evil. The idea was inspired by the UK TV soap EastEnders – nothing ever runs smoothly on December 25 in Albert Square! The conversation Doris has with Fred and Juliet on the way home after church was cut because the inappropriate movie talk added nothing to the story despite the humour. I also omitted most of the chaos which occured after Juliet caught Doris stealing ice cream – the latter’s behaviour after she locks herself up in her bedroom appears too childish for a medical doctor in her thirties, and at this stage the reader begins to notice a woman who finally gets it together. Telling her sister-in-law to “piss off” does nothing for Doris’ new grown-up image either.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Dee?” Juliet noticed my melancholy disposition in the sun visor mirror, and even Lucas couldn’t understand why his aunt refused to pull those funny faces at him on the way home. “Aunt Bernadette said you acted strangely towards the end, and you ran outside after our bishop wished us a merry Christmas. Even Lucas is cross with Auntie Doris, she won’t play with him. You told Aunt Bernadette you skipped breakfast, but didn’t you grab some toast and udala jam before leaving the house? It’s not like you to develop hunger pangs before church is over, that’s Fred’s job.”
“Oh, thanks for the reminder, wifey dear,” Fred pouted in mock disdain. “Jules does have a point though, sis. You’ve gone all quiet…”
“Guys…guys! I’m fine, really. Just hungry and tired.”
“If you say so, Dee. I’m looking forward to the meal too, and I’m glad Uncle Robin’s family is coming over to join us. He’s taking a break from cooking this Christmas, but he can repay the favour next year when he invites us over.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I love my uncle’s wife to death, but there’s a reason Uncle Robin and his boys are the only ones who cook in their house. Auntie Bernie is such a rubbish cook, she could burn a cookery book.”
“Doris, that’s harsh!” Juliet exclaimed, although I could tell she was glad I’d told a joke. “You know she didn’t grow up eating our cuisine, and not everyone is born a kitchen genius, have a heart. She has offered to do the washing up with Anna, though.”
“Anna isn’t much better either,” I continued. “All she knows is frying plantain, and making Indomie noodles. How on earth did she survive on all that junk during university, and still manage to maintain her figure? Eighth wonder of the world,” I sighed, staring down at Mum’s ankara dress. Such a shame I couldn’t wear that Collectibles gown due to an inability to keep fatty foods away from my own big fat mouth. “Pity Uncle Roland can’t join us this year, he’s spending Christmas in Akwa, his wife’s hometown, and neither is Alphie.” Anna’s younger brother Alphonsus had flown abroad to celebrate Christmas with Marie that year. “Aunt Rebecca isn’t coming either. I’m going to miss them all, it won’t be the same without them.”
“Now you know how we all felt when you didn’t join us last year, and the year after that, and the year after that,” Fred chuckled. “Doctor duties, eh? But you’re here now, and that’s what really matters. Christmas turkey, here we come! It’s Christopher’s turn to pick the movie we’ll watch this year after we’ve eaten, although I get the feeling visitor will pop in to see us every five minutes, that’s how it is when you’re in your hometown.”
“Which movie did Christopher select?” I asked.
“Miracle on 34th Street, the remake. Don’t worry, it’s a wholesome family movie.”
“Okay, but why should we be worried?” Juliet wondered.
“Remember when it was Dad’s turn five years ago, and he bought Bad Santa from a video store, Doris? All our Christmas visitors received the shock of our lives that day.”
“Oh my God!” Juliet held her hands to her cheeks, her mouth dropping open as she imagined our guests totally aghast at a drunken Father Christmas swearing at innocent kids and romping with random groupies. “That’s a huge scandal. Surely he must have seen the censorship rating?”
“Nope, it was missing from the video case, they’d done a horrible job during printing. That’s why you should never buy from pirates.”
“That’s nothing, there’s this girl whose pastor received the shock of the century when he slotted a Jesus of Nazareth tape into her player when he visited for a prayer meeting. Turned out the movie was actually a hardcore porno.”
“No way!” Juliet screeched. The jovial banter may have slightly lifted my sunken spirits, but no amount of laughter could shake off that dreaded encounter from earlier. I needed time alone with the perfect anecdote. And I needed it yesterday.
Fred parked the car, and I carried Lucas into the living room where we both laughed at Oscar the Grouch’s antics on Sesame Street. Mum, Dad, Uncle Robin, and Aunt Bernadette hadn’t returned from church—probably still exchanging pleasantries with old friends they hadn’t seen in months outside the cathedral, and Anna, her older brother Kevin, and their families still hadn’t arrived either. Juliet and I had gone into the kitchen to boil some white rice, heat the soups and stews, and transfer the marinated turkey into the oven before lunch started. My nephew appeared absorbed in the TV show, and I saw this as my cue. Like Cookie Monster, I craved my fix. Sneaking into the corridor, I looked around and heard Fred speaking to his parents-in-law on the phone, exchanging Christmas wishes and asking after our old friends in Shell Camp. Taking care not to make a sound, I opened the deep freezer, grabbed the Supreme vanilla I’d bought from the supermarket, reached for a glass in the kitchen cupboard, and poured Dazzle Malt over the ice cream. Jide had provided the voice-over years ago? No wonder I found the old commercial creepy. A few sprinkles of Bournvita crystals completed the mix, and I eagerly brought the glass to my lips, ready to savour the calorific goodness I’d craved all day.
“Aha, caught you!” Juliet startled me from behind, making me spill the improvised concoction over Mum’s dress. The steaming rice pot loudly rattled its lid, starchy liquid bubbling down the sides and spilling onto the stove. Juliet turned down the heat before turning back to me. “What do you think you’re doing?” she inquired. “Wait…wait, is that ice cream and malt and…chocolate?”
“Hey, ladies. What’s going on here?” Fred crept behind his wife, Lucas clinging to his hip. Both curiously eyed the frothy drink in my hand.
“Mummy, I’ll call you back.” Juliet had completely forgotten her conversation with Mrs. Anyanwu. She ended the phone call and shoved the cell into her pocket. “My folks wanted to say ‘hi’ to you, but this has to be addressed now. Lord have mercy, even looking at that stuff is making me want to puke. Why bother waiting for… Oh my God, Freddie, that’s disgusting!” Juliet twisted her face at Fred who only grinned at his wife.
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, Jules,” Fred replied, smacking his lips. “It’s not bad, actually.”
“Oh, come on! Ice cream, malt, and Bournvita… Really? Yuck!” Juliet snatched the drink from Fred and shook her head at her son who stretched his hand towards the glass, begging for a taste. “No, Mummy says you can’t have it!” she said firmly. Lucas burst into tears, kicking and screaming, but both his parents ignored his desperate yelling. “Doris, what’s going on with you? I know you’ve had a rough year with everything that’s gone on, but can’t you help yourself? Can you imagine your patients consuming this rubbish?”
“Juliet, that’s enough,” Fred interjected. “It’s Christmas day, and…”
“Sorry Fred, but I’m just saying it the way everyone sees it. I’ve been watching you, Dee, and this is not the Doris I know. What’s happening? Even the fridge in your Lagos flat has nothing but ice cream, your cupboards contain nothing but chocolate and sweets. Are you trying to find solace in sugar or something?”
“What!” I didn’t care if Juliet was my best friend, how could she say that? “You take that back, right now!”
“I will not.” What did I expect from an ex-lawyer with a reputation for speaking everyone’s mind? “You know a thing or two about nutrition, why doesn’t that apply to your own life? Andrew did you wrong, I get that, but he’s gone. Why can’t you get up on your feet and get on with your life instead of eating like a caterpillar on death row?” Juliet paused briefly, her eyes burning with frenzy combined with concern. “Have you seen yourself on TV lately? I wish you could have heard what people were saying about you at church today when they thought I wasn’t listening. I defended you, but they had a point. You’re fat.”
“What!” Did my friend just call me the f-word? The dreaded one?
“You heard me. Why don’t you just snap out of it and move on…”
“That’s it, I’ve heard enough. Excuse me.” I walked out of the kitchen and into my bedroom, locking the door behind me, but I could no longer avoid the truth. I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror and sighed. No wonder Aunt Bernadette still called me ‘pudding’, I now resembled a plump, greasy, walking, breathing Christmas pudding, extra stodge. I placed Mum’s gown in my laundry bag, wore a stretchy multi-coloured top and black leggings, and lay in my bed until some heavy pounding shook me awake.
Who is it?”
“Doris, please open up. It’s me, Juliet.”
“Come on, don’t be like that,” pleaded Juliet. “I’m sorry about what I said, but I only said it because I care. Please, don’t be like this…”
“I’m already like this, thanks a million.”
“Stop being childish, Dee, it’s time for us to eat, come to the table.” Anna urged.
“What’s the point?” I stubbornly replied. “Aren’t you scared the fat girl will scoff down all the food?”
“Come on pudding, you know Juliet didn’t mean it like that,” said Aunt Bernadette. “Please?”
With a deep sigh, I scrambled out of bed, unbolted the door, and faced the Duru women. Aunt Bernadette, Anna, Juliet, and Kevin’s wife, Ogechi. And Queen Bee herself. You could always measure your mother’s anger by her calm demeanour in dire circumstances.
“We’ll talk about that ice cream malt later. Right now, we are all going to eat as a family, so pull yourself together, and give us a hand.”
I helped carry the rice dishes to the upper balcony overlooking our large compound where the men and kids sat at the table…