A bleak Christmas
-By Abdul Mahmud
It is that time of year of jingling bells, the festival of nine lessons and carols, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep and cows pleading collective innocence to glistening knives and machetes, hearts filled with joy and excitement, amid shouts of “Merry Christmas”, draw special attention to the birth of the special child, Christ. Ninety four million poor live here, says the World Poverty Clock, a tool that provides real-time data on poverty across the globe.
Amid the ravages of hunger and poverty, do the poor know it is Christmas?
This Christmas, the economy is showing what it takes for inflation to peak, eroding the real value of naira as goods and services surge in prices. Inflation is running away with prices, making household income meaningless. Don’t talk about personal savings- they are useless in the face of the “mugger, armed robber and deadly hitman”, as Ronald Reagan famously described inflation. The deadly hitman has long taken over every home, with homes of the poor being the hardest hit. Nobody in this government seems to have an idea of how to WIN – “whip inflation now” – to borrow Gerald Ford’s slogan, amid the petrodollar crisis of the mid-1970’s when global oil prices spiked to record levels. Everyone, from the General Buhari, Governor of Central Bank, to the Minister of Finance, and members of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council in-between, is rooted between pillar and post like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.
There is a sense in which learning to live within one’s means becomes the rational. The poor don’t need to be told to spend money only on what they can afford. After all, they live in extreme poverty, while condemned to life’s dead ends, confronted daily by hitman and death. This Christmas, goats, sheep, turkeys and chickens will be more excited than excitement. Pardon the alliteration. They know the economy has been kind to them, having issued a moratoriom on yuletide’s death penalty; they know they won’t have to frown at fate as they are led to the slaughter, as is so often the case, pleading innocence to glistening knives and machetes; they know that many, including the poor of the poorest, who cannot afford to buy a bag of rice – not even the touted Kano rice – have chosen not lose their arms and legs because they ache for belonging; they know that this Christmas death will not unite them in the stew-pots of the country.
Back to the question. Do the poor know it is Christmas? Yes, I dare say.
The poor know, only to the extent of knowing, like Christians everywhere, that Christmas marks the birth of Christ and rekindles hope in the promises his birth brings to mankind. They know that the essence of Christmas is to give and share love, and show compassion and mercy for their neighbours, so they can become talebearers of the good news. Unlike that lawyer who asked Christ, “who is my neighbour?”, they know who their neigbhours are, the same way they know that they are neighbours to Christ. But, amid dwindling growth and opportunities in a tanking economy, with its gear stuck in reverse, can the poor play Father Christmas this Christmas? They are not Ebenezer Scrooge, the blankly inscrutable character in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, who treated his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, to a delicious Christmas dinner because the four ghosts who visited him on Christmas eve offered him the chance to redeem himself from his egregious ways.
Not a chance will the poor who cannot feed daily treat the Bob Cratchits of their world to sumptuous Christmas meals, even if a legion of ghosts visits them with the offer to redeem themselves – from what you may ask? Hunger and poverty? The poor already have the ghosts of poverty and hunger stalking them. They discern the eerie existence around them; and know when they are stalked by ghosts. Like Leventhal, who confronted his stalker, Allbee, in Saul Bellow’s novel, ‘The victim’, our poor are helpless and cannot contront, not least call the bluff of ghosts. Someone needs to feed the poor this Christmas, even if they don’t accept the offer of being redeemed by you guess right – ghosts.
If you are poor and you expect the rich to invite you to their palatial homes for Christmas dinners; banish the thought, you are on your own -OYO – as the street lingo goes. The Ebenezer Scrooges of our country are dealing with their own ghosts. Those who are forced to ghost on their haunted beings only care about themselves, while they stay invisible to the poor. For the rest, blown kisses are enough as gifts of the yuletide season. You can as well mimic the onomatopoeic word, ‘mwah’, as if they care. Perhaps, like Broda Shaggi, pretend you have been transported by Cuppy’s kisses to cloud cuckoo land. If the pretense is near real, be assured that your fantasies will be captured as emoji and meme. There are also those suffering from afluenza who are forced by law to ghost on themselves and come to life’s final disgrace like Charles Foster Kane in Orson’s Welles’ film, Citizen Cane. Picture Orji Kalu in your mind’s eye.
This Christmas there won’t be goats bleating to the tethers, nor will there be cows and sheep kicking to their death. They have pleaded innocence enough, for the economy to force a moratorium of death penalty on those who have chosen to forgo meats at Christmas, so they can save up for their wards’ term’s fees. The poor are shepherd, though they do not have lambs to present as gifts at Christmas. O Lord, Father in Heaven, here are their hearts, please, receive them as gifts!
It is a bleak Christmas; do have an un-merry Christmas!