By: Thiyam Ningol, Dr. Nalini, Africa
Lilian had been thinking of inviting her mother to visit them in London for quite some time but never had she the time to do it so.
She and her husband Joseph had talked about it several times. Always one thing or the other came up and had to postpone the plan.
They came to London 10 years ago with their two children, Julie and David when they were 4yrs and 2 years old. In the beginning life was tough; they had to get accustomed to the strange environment and weather. Joseph was the only bread earner. Lilian had to stay back home and take care of the domestic needs. As the children grew up and were able to take care of themselves, Lilian had plenty of free time. By then she had gotten used to the London life; she had known where and when to get their requirements at cheaper and affordable yet reasonably good things. She could think of earning some income.
She did not have any specific professional skill. It was difficult to get a job.
She used to pleat her daughter’s hair in the typical African style, changing patterns.
That had attracted attention. In the beginning, Lilian volunteered to pleat the hairs of the neighbours’ daughters. Then the mothers followed. Later she opened a salon “Afro Hair” salon. Very unexpectedly, the salon business picked up popularity and she had to expand it within a short time. For the week ends, customers had to get appointments of weeks earlier. As her business became more and more demanding, her plan of calling her mother kept on postponing.
Lilian was born in a remote village. She was one of the lucky students who got the opportunity to study up to the university level with Government sponsorship. While she was in her final year she got her first child.
Joseph was coming to UK to study. He was given a short notice. So before he left they arranged for a simple civil marriage. Her mother could not attend the marriage. That was the only time she was hoping for coming to the capital city to witness the city life. But luck was not in her favour.
Lilian had to postpone her studies. She had come and stayed in the village for few months while waiting for the next academic year to start.
Before giving her final exams she got pregnant again but delivered the child after graduating. Again she had to come back to her mother. While she was contemplating of looking for a job, Joseph had asked her to come and join him at London. He got a job, 5years contract.
She really wanted to show her gratitude to her mother. She thought if she could come during the Christmas, she could see the snow and experience the cold weather of Europe and at the same time share the joy of celebrating Christmas together. She discussed with Joseph and they both agreed that it would be a pleasure to have her.
Joseph’s sister helped Anastasia, Lilian’s mother to get the passport and the British visa.
Finally Anastasia was on her way to London.
When she reached Heathrow airport, she felt very uncomfortable. The crowd was too much for her. She had never experienced the company of so many people under one roof. She was escorted by one of the fellow passengers to undergo all the immigration formalities. She did not understand why she had to undergo such a tormenting long procedure to see her daughter. The jet lag was disturbing her also. Then the chilling December weather made her worse. She felt sick.
When she first saw her daughter after the long formalities, she was relieved but the nausea refused to go away. She could not even greet her grand children properly and they did not understand her. On the way she was getting frozen. She was provided with warm cloths but her feet were getting numb. Through the car window she could see the Christmas atmosphere in the streets. That cheered her up. She had come to enjoy Christmas in Europe, with her daughter.
They had to drive a long way again to reach her daughter’s house. It was Sunday, so the traffic was thin. Lilia planned to take her mother for shopping on that day but seeing her condition, she decided to do it some other time.
Still 10 days more to Christmas day. Besides the TV ads there was nothing of Christmas atmosphere in the house. Nobody talked about it.
Back at home, they would have discussed how many families were going to celebrate together, who was coming for holiday, who would not be able to make it and so on. Ladies would have started looking for the right ingredients for the traditional food and liquor. They would visit each other and gossip about their plans of celebrating Christmas.
About a month or two before the holiday, the ladies would have gone for shopping, to buy materials for stitching childrens’ dresses, gowns and with whatever design they liked.
At the tailoring mart, friends and neighbours would discuss together, gossip about the latest designs to stitch for their children.
On the way back, they would announce to whomsoever they meet, that they were coming from the tailoring mart- a message that Christmas preparation was ongoing.
Readymade dresses were plenty, but tailored dresses were preferred, especially as all the siblings would be wearing in uniform.
Anastasia longed for sitting with her grand children and talked about plans of Christmas. But the children were always busy. The next week their holidays were to start and then perhaps they would be able to sit with her, she thought.
She had asked Lilian several times if there was anything which she could do. But was told just to sit and relax.
To Anastasia, even the meaning of relaxation was different. Sitting with neighbours and friends, talking about the welfare of their families and thinking aloud of their different plans were considered relaxation. In Lilian’s place it was called gossiping.
There was Nothing much to watch in the TV. It only yelled. Everything was violent. Twice she had accompanied Lilian to her hair dressing salon. She volunteered to help her in pleating. But the customers refused.
She could not go outside and walk around, it was freezing cold. She had slipped on the road once, it worsened her backache.
When there was nobody in the house, she spent half of the time weeping and another half-eating.
When the children started their holidays, they were not available. They used to wake up after 11 AM. If Anastasia woke them earlier, they also yelled at her like the TV. When they were awake, they watched TV or went outside with different friends. Nobody sat down to eat food in the proper manner. When asked if their parents had bought them new cloths-they answered “what for”.
The next day was Christmas. Still no sign of Christmas in the house. Late in the evening, Lilian phoned her saying that she was coming to pick her up and then they would go for shopping. She felt little guilty of her impatience.
They went for the shopping. The streets were decorated. From all sides, loud speakers were playing different Christmas carols. Children were running around with toys laughing, merry making. The shops were glittering, well decorated: in the windows miniature Santa Clause were displayed, in the shops some of the workers were dressed as Santa Clause and welcomed the customers-HO HO HO…HA HA HA…
This is it-thought Anastasia. Customers were hurrying, carrying their last minute shopping bags. She forgot about the cold. She told Lilian to slow down. She wanted to sit somewhere and watch the movements of people. So colourful, so beautiful, so happy…..
Lilian bought her a suit of her choice. They bought some gifts for the children and Joseph. They went to different shops to buy meat and grocery. Shopping was over and Anastasia was all smile.
When they arrived home, Anastasia wanted to tell the children what they had bought for them. Lilian stopped her in time, Anastasia felt offended but kept quite. They were back to the old atmosphere again-silent Christmas.
When Joseph came back, he brought along a tall Christmas tree. The children were waiting for it. They all joined together to decorate it. The whole night they spend decorating. Anastasia was again amused. She was told to get ready in the next day morning to be early for the Church. She went to bed early, with the Christmas spirit.
The next day morning only three of them went to the church, the children were still left sleeping. Hardly 20 people were there in the church. But the whole ritual of the mass was conducted solemnly. After the mass, people greeted each other and quickly dispersed.
The streets were deserted. No children playing outside. No living soul in the street. No vehicles. Even the trees appeared sleeping. No neighbours wishing marry Christmas. No sign of Christmas.
When they arrived home the children came running, kissed the parents, hugged them and thanked for the presents. They wished their grand mother a marry Christmas.
Anastasia and Lilian cooked together. At least they had a decent meal, African meal – Christmas pillau. They drank, talked and laughed.
At night they had roasted Turkey, pies and cake.
The next day they all sat at home watching TV, children and father arguing among themselves which channel to watch. While the children were watching the yelling channels, the grown ups spent talking about home and relatives, whom they could not remember well.
Christmas was over.
What a Christmas-Anastasia lamented.
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