Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How I survived Christmas and other stories

Leye - Every other Wednesday

Photo: Ask Joanne

So, being born on the 29th of December should make Christmas extra special for me, right? Well, yeah, it did. Growing up. But now that I'm all grown, Christmas just reminds me of the relentless passing of time and my ever-expanding waistline. This Christmas was especially brutal. My partner had ended it with me in the last week of November. She did not want to continue wasting my time, she said. A clever variation on 'It's not you, it's me,' and I give her credit for the effort.

I'd had the greatest year of my life. From skiing in Bulgaria, to discovering the real taste of Tandoori chicken in Bangalore, to winning the Prix Marianne in Pau, to having authentic suya in Lagos. My debut crime thriller was doing well, winning prizes and getting great reviews. I had a great job that I loved and I was in a relationship with the most amazing woman in the world. It had been great year. So great in fact that I was already composing my end of year Facebook post about the amazing year I'd had. Then she ended it with me. Weeks to Christmas and weeks to my Birthday, and just as I returned from the amazing Ake arts and book festival in Nigeria that I was eager to tell her all about.

So, it looked set to be the worst Christmas ever. My perfect year was at risk. Something had to be done. I had to find a way to get through the month of my (and Jesus's pretend) birthday. I had to recover the best year of my life.

The first challenge was going to be my mum. You see, mum had met her and fallen in love with her as well. Mum would call me and ask after her princess. If I was heartbroken, she was bound to be as well, so I did what any loving son would do: I lied. I told her that her princess had flown home for the holidays. Sorted. Next was me. What could I do to lessen the pain?

I swung into action. I bought a Christmas tree. Something I've never done. A real tree, nonetheless. I decorated it. The branches were weighed down with adornments. I wound lights around it. I felt I was chocking it. I sat on the sofa with a glass of wine and considered my handiwork. It was beautiful. But it was not enough. It's jingle bells and twinkling lights were not enough to salvage the year. More had to be done. 

The first real hurdle was Christmas day itself. I spent it at my brother's place with his family. My other brother was there as well with his wife. I got the kids money – that made me feel like cool uncle. I always preferred money growing up. Everyone asked after princess, and loving them as much as I do, I lied. She's away to see her parents, I repeated over and over.

But I was with family. People I love who love me too, unconditionally. And the food was awesome. In the end, I survived Christmas. But I was not out of the cold yet. Even more had to be done especially if I was to survive my birthday. So, I decided to have a party.

I cooked Jollof rice. My guests ate it all. I filled my home with friends and their friends. The invitation said ‘Bring a friend and a bottle. The friend is optional; the bottle is not.’ They took it seriously. We had more booze than an alcoholic’s shopping list.

We ate, we drank, we danced, we made merry. My last guest left in the wee hours. I had survived my birthday. But then came the next day, and this is where it got tricky. The year was coming to an end. A double whammy awaited me: New Year’s Eve and New Year day.

While everyone else was counting down to the brand new, New Year, for me it felt like time was running out. I desperately longed for a Christmas miracle that would recover my amazing year from the tragedy that had marred it at the tail end. I didn't have a plan this time. I couldn't have another party and I didn't want to go to my brother's and continue lying, so I stayed home alone with Netflix and Syrah, and the intermittent explosions of premature fireworks spreading bright colours across the window, and I bore the horrible agony of time running out. I did not do well that night.

I curled into my bed, pulled the duvet up to my neck, and watched episodes of The Big Bang Theory on my laptop while jarring big bangs went off outside where happy people celebrated the New Year. I wept. Then came morning.

How was I going to survive this day? A very, very good person reached out. A friend. She invited me to her home to have lunch with her family. I jumped at it. I’d always secretly admired her family. I took a shower. I got dressed. I even combed my wayward beard. And oh, what a great evening it was. I felt the warmth of family around me; it didn't matter that it wasn't my family. I met lovely, interesting people. We had amazing conversations. I discovered that a woman I was sitting next to at some point was also a writer. I bought her book. A great dude bought my book. My friend served the best white wine I've ever had. (I never drink white wine.) I could not think of a better way to have spent New Year’s Day. I survived. 

But I could not go on like this. I needed a more long-term plan. For one, I had to come clean to my family. So, on the second day of the New Year I met up with my brother at Harrods where we had lunch at a lovely Thai restaurant and I confessed to the heartbreak I'd been hiding from the entire family.

I needed that: coming clean. He needed to know that I was ok. We talked. He knows I'm ok. Broken, but ok. He offered to help break the news to mum. I was tempted but I declined. It's my cross to bear. I will tell her. But more importantly, I had survived the second day of 2017. Only 363 days left to go.

I asked Google how long it takes a broken heart to heal. Half the time you were together, apparently. That did not bode well for me. But then again, princess did end it ever so frequently, so maybe it’s only half the time we were together again since the last break up before the final break up. I can commit to that much healing. It’s probably wishful thinking. I know.

Anyway, that is how I survived Christmas and New Year, and my birthday in between. And now I have a plan for the rest of the year. I will write new stories.

I still haven’t told mum.


  1. I think you just did, Leye.

    And Mum will understand.

    What you went through is perhaps the most shared universal human experience. That's what you need to keep in mind. This too shall pass. And if it doesn't, that in and of itself will be one hell of a story.

    Just keep putting on foot in front of the other...or one word after another...and life will take care of the rest.

    Trust me on that. Happy New will be a great one.

  2. Painful or not, that was beautiful blog, Leye. Very much a "short story" fit for publication anywhere. (Unlike the typical snow-drift fluff that usually shows up around here on Saturdays...) Adversity makes us... um... uh... adverse. (How's that for a homily?) I wish you well and a steadily improving year. Unlike The Game of Thrones, spring is coming...

  3. Leye, your response to your year end is a model of sanity. Taking our love and companionship with those who love us back is our best revenge against life's slings and arrows. Tell your mum! Mums always want to know.

  4. Really tough, Leye. The year end holidays is a very bad time to be alone. I think you did better than survive. You've started to move on. Congratulations. Have a great year!

  5. Thanks Leye. That reminded me of the Christmas I spent alone, under a duvet with (what turned out to be) pneumonia. Everybody thought everybody else was 'popping' in to see I was OK (in two feet of snow). The faithful hound, Emily lay on the end of the bed with her legs crossed when I couldn't let her out, then we crawled along the floor together to the door when I had the strength. But we had the remote for the TV and a big bag of doritos. So all was well. Simple things. Everybody visited on boxing day to tell me how awful their Christmas dinner had been. I think I could the better deal.

  6. It is a universal story, Leye, that you told beautifully. I can relate as my relationship is coming apart, just not so abruptly. Friends can be a great help whether or not they know what's going. Telling mum will be difficult, but it will have to be done. Just take a deep breath and do it.

  7. An old story, newly told, Leye. You have both my sympathy and empathy. Be gentle with yourself. It will take time -- probably more time than you hope. But you will survive. After all, you already have. Good luck for 2017.

  8. It is a very sad story, especially to have taken place around the holidays. But everyone is right. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. The sun still rises, the birds sing, the flowers bloom, friends are there, as are books, music, art, etc.

    It's a universal story and somehow we humans forge ahead.