Last Christmas – With my Inlaws
Jennifer and I had been dating for 2 years, and last Christmas her family asked me to come spend the holidays at their country home with them. Of course I was both excited and scared. I was going to be in the same house with my ‘in-laws’ …my father in-law especially. He was a Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army, and his name inspired fear in many hearts.
When I told my mom about the invitation, she at first asked me not to go, but after I told her how important it was for me to, she insisted I go with my older cousin, Samson. His Anambra wife and son were in Awka for the Yuletide and he was going to join them sometime before the New Year. Mom’s reason for saying he should go with me was that he was older, married – hence had experience, and would ensure nothing happened to me. I told Jennifer and she said it was okay to come with him. The house was big, and … the more the merrier.
So, on the 23rd, while the world still slept and shivered from the harmattan winds, we left Ibadan for Rivers State. Samson and I took turns driving my fairly used Honda Civic, while he gave me advice on how to relate with the in-laws. He was spilling the dos and don’ts as if he had once authored a ‘Meeting the In-laws’ textbook.
“Don’t shake the general with both hands. Look him in the eyes and shake him firmly. He will know you’re a real man and can stand up for his daughter.”
“Don’t talk too much. Speak when it is very necessary to. He will know you are wise, because wise people talk less and listen more.”
“If they ask you a question you’d rather not answer, don’t hesitate to decline. He will know you are not a pushover.”
I kept nodding and grunting my okays while he schooled me. While I had this look of bored disinterest on my face, I knew I was going to follow most of the advice he was giving. I was not going to embarrass myself at Jennifer’s family home, and if his methods were going to ensure I didn’t, then following them would not be a problem.
“And one last thing,” he said as we passed the “Welcome to Portharcourt” sign. I glanced at him with the corner of my eye, exasperated, and re-focused on the road. “This one is very very important bro …” he continued. “Don’t eat too much. DO NOT. A man’s character is measured by how much he eats in his inlaw’s house.”
“Who is measuring character with food again?” I sighed. “Which book is it in?”
“Guy, I have been there. I know what I’m saying,” he chided. “A man who eats too much is a glutton. Gluttony is one of the seven vices. I know you like food very much, but for once, control your appetite and eat responsibly,” he finished.
I sighed again. “Okay,” I muttered. “I will not eat too much. But, how much do you think is too much? Four wraps of fufu as opposed to the five I normally eat?”
“My God!” he exclaimed, letting out his normal ribald laughter. “What are you? A GP tank?”
“Okay, two wraps then?” I asked, slightly embarrassed.
Tears were rolling down his eyes as he tried to stop laughing. “No …don’t worry,” he breathed. “This is what we’ll do. We’ll sit together on the dining table and when I think you’ve had enough I’ll tap your leg.”
“Okay then,” I sighed. “I’ll stop eating when you tap my leg.”
We got to the house and we were heartily received. The general was a tough and cold man when he had his uniform on, but at home, he was totally merry and warm. Jennifer’s mom welcomed us like we were her sons. Her sons gave us bear hugs like we were long lost brothers and her daughters gave us hugs and pecks on our cheeks. The joy in my heart was boundless. This was home. This was HOME.
After we freshened up and chit-chatted a bit, it was time for dinner. The huge dining table sat all 10 of us with two seats to spare. (Oh, I didn’t mention that Jenny had 5 siblings. 3 guys and 2 girls). On the menu was jollof rice, fried plantain, roasted chicken and salad. We had stopped only once to eat and we were both very hungry. I was salivating as Jennifer’s immediate younger sister went round serving everyone. She got to me, and, remembering Samson’s advice, I asked her to stop after three scoops. That was the same amount of scoops she had put for the general and I didn’t want to eat more than him. She got to Samson and my jaw almost dropped when he asked her to stop at the sixth scoop. “Bastard” I cursed in my mind. When she went round with the other servings, I copied the general again and took two slices of plantain, one scoop of salad and one piece of chicken. Samson took 5 slices of plantain, two scoops of salad and 3 pieces of chicken. His plate was a mountain. The kind of mountain I loved. I wanted to cry.
If every family had dinner as cheerful as this, the world would be a better place. We were talking about football while eating, and surprisingly even mom and the girls were very current. The general was an Arsenal fan while mom was a Manchester United fan. Two of the boys and Jennifer were United fans too while the rest were Gunners. Samson, a die hard Chelsea fan was having a ball arguing football with everyone, while I – a passive Manchester United fan – quietly ate my food, laughed when I should and nodded when I could.
Then he tapped me. Samson tapped me. I had eaten like 8 forks of rice, and one slice of plantain when the bastard tapped me. I wanted to cry. The food in my plate was small already and I had not even gone a quarter when he gave the sign. The meal had just started hitting home, and I was still hungry, but he had experience in ‘these things’ and I was determined not to embarrass myself. I ate the chicken and dropped my cutleries. Jennifer noticed and mouthed “are you okay?” She knew I loved food and had a very healthy appetite. I smiled and mouthed “I’m good”. Mom noticed the exchange and asked why I had stopped eating. All heads turned towards me. For a moment I was tempted to pick up my fork and continue eating, but I smiled and said I was full. The food was very delicious, but I naturally did not eat much. They shrugged and went back to their meals and football bants, except Jennifer, and Samson. The look of bewilderment on her face was only matched by the one on Samson’s. Then it dawned on me that he had totally forgotten about the plan. Lost in the euphoria of such a wonderful family, magnificent meal and passionate discourse about his favourite game, he had mistakenly tapped me. He had mistakenly tapped me and I had stopped eating. I wanted to cry. I was still very hungry and the Satan beside me was filling his stomach with gusto.
Dessert came – a variety of fruits. I took a little more than everyone, but it still did nothing to assuage the worms in my tummy. After the meal, we went to the sitting room and saw a very hilarious movie. I only remember it was hilarious because everyone was laughing except me. I was reserving my energy for the long night ahead.
After the movie, we said our goodnights and went to bed. Samson and I were sharing a room and as soon as we got in, I confronted him. He looked lost for a moment, then when he remembered, he burst into uncontrollable laughter. I wanted to strangle him. When he saw how mad I was, he controlled himself and apologised. He said he had totally forgotten about the sign and if he indeed tapped me, it wasn’t done on purpose. I’m sure a tear dropped from my eye. It was barely 10pm and if breakfast would be served by 8am the next day, I was wondering how I’d survive the next 10 hours. The only meal I’d eaten that day had been by 11am, at a restaurant along Benin-Ore road.
I went to bed with a rumbling stomach. For the next 2 hours I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t. The fact that Samson was snoring peacefully beside me made matters a whole lot worse. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I started pacing. Then I decided to make the biggest mistake of my life.
I gently opened the door. Thankfully it didn’t creak. I stuck my head out; nobody was sleep walking along the passage. I knew the kitchen was beside the dining room, just down the corridor, so I tiptoed down, entered and shut the door. I turned on the light on my Nokia torch and scanned my environs. I finally saw the pot on the gas cooker. I gently opened it and, I almost wept …for joy. Rice. Beautiful jollof rice. I gently dropped the cover, picked a plate from the rack on the sink and heaped it with food. I covered the pot, settled down and ate. When I finished, I wanted to wash the plate and go back to bed when I noticed the pot that had all the chicken that was served earlier. One mind asked me to wash the plate and leave, but my hand lifted the lid and, behold, delicious finger-licking chicken. I took two pieces (the plan was to equal Samson), put them on my plate and settled down to devour.
Then it happened.
I was about to take the first bite out of the second chicken when a big rat from nowhere ran across my leg. I jumped and the plate fell out of my hand, shattering into tiny smithereens. The sound was like thunder. Startled even further, I fell back and hit the pot of rice. It hit the floor, and the explosion was nuclear. For a few moments I was too stunned to move. When I regained my senses, my first impulse was to run to the room and creep back into the bed. Then I heard doors opening and footsteps running towards the kitchen.
I was looking for where to hide when the kitchen door swung open and the lights came on. The general, mom, Jennifer, her siblings, and the barrel of a deathly black shot gun were all staring at me. I raised my hand in surrender – a lap of chicken in my right hand, my Nokia torchlight phone in my left.
To cut the long story short, Jennifer is getting married this Christmas and I am still single.
Merry Christmas Guys. Prosper.