Though I was almost seven and felt too old for the Father Christmas party at NTA, I still pestered our help to take me there so I could experience it in person, if only once.
It wasn’t really a religious occasion as it was a week long party for children to simply be children and the Network to boost its ratings with hours long footage of hysterical toddlers who were excited yet terrified of Nigerian Santa, but never forgot to snatch their gifts from his silver gloved palms in a deserving sulk, before tottering away.
Christmas season in Jos wasn’t about Santa climbing down the chimney, not many cared for the South-Pole monologue, all that was reserved for holiday movies on Saturday mornings when you tuned to PRTVC. In real life, what excited us was getting to receive gifts at the Father Christmas Party, all the while basking in our minute long stint on the live broadcast.
I had never been lost in the fantasy of Santa’s existence. For one thing, Jos Santa was brown skinned and came across with an exaggerated nasal Italian-like accent in his committed effort to sound American. Secondly, one could usually see how the strings that held his synthetic white beard went about his ears. Also, there was another Santa down at PRTVC.
At NTA, Santa’s abode was a pretty green tent with glittering lights and ornaments hung around it. The tent had been placed on a little slope-top in the distant end of the compound. It was all very beautiful. With my palm in Aunty Uche’s hand, I trotted up the slope in excitement. I wasn’t the least afraid when I saw him but I found I was at once shy. I froze when I noticed the Camera focused on me.
Some people in the queue behind were already mumbling. Aunty Uche chuckled nudging me further in. I had barely spent a moment with him when he brought out my gift from his giant red sack then sent me on my way.
It happened all so fast that I didn’t get to wave to the camera and say hello to my family at home. Bereft of satisfaction, I continued to plead with Aunty Uche to take me back, but it wasn’t until we were done with other party activities that she agreed. By this time, the festivities were already closing for the day.
I had burst in to find Father Christmas chatting in fluent Hausa with the camera man who was packing up his equipments. It was a second after I appeared that a startled Santa adjusted his bread and reverted to that nasal Italian accent.
He asked my name and I answered somewhat disappointed at finding him in such a human state even though I had come to NTA fully aware of the charade. He began to laugh, this Santa, and said with a chuckle to the camera man how in his land my name was the word for tree bark.
What sort of Father Christmas is this? I winced at his banter at my expense, then I felt it equally fair to tell him at this point that I knew he was not the real Father Christmas to which he insisted he was!
“But you’re not,” I said beginning to enjoy our argument.
“I am Father Chris-”
“It’s a lie! Your beard is fake and I saw you pull it up, and the real Father Christmas is white even though there is even nothing like Father Christmas.” I giggled wagging my legs all the while seated on his lap.
“You do not talk to elders like that.” He scolded in his true accent, nudging me off his thigh. And it was then I noticed he was quite upset. I felt sorry, but I decided I deserved to also be upset. Hadn’t he just called me tree bark after all?
Aunty Uche moved closer apologizing on my behalf. Then she scolded me all the way to the bus stop. It took a long time waiting for a bus that I grew sleepy by twilight. There came a loud horn at last. I felt her lift me up and stroke my head.
On our way home, in the quite congested bus tucked mostly with the children, parents and traders that had also left NTA, I noticed a chubby man with sulky eyes and a petite bulge for a belly staring at me. I often wonder now if he was Father Christmas.