Zawadi was exasperated. This was her sixth attempt, and she still could not find it. She was almost fighting tears as she turned her yellow-painted room upside down and ransacked every corner. She went back to her wardrobe by the wall with a lot more determination. Zawadi picked her neatly arranged clothes from the purple hangers and threw them on the floor. She bent over and opened the first drawer on the left hitting her leg. She ignored the pain as she emptied it then moved to the one on the right. All her clothes were scattered on the floor. If her clothes would talk, they’d ask their master what wrong they’d done to deserve this, especially that green dress her mum bought her last month. Her t-shirts, blouses, dresses, panties, pants, nothing was spared from her fury. She had one more place to check, her last hope after which, it would be a wrap for this torturous search.
Two weeks prior, Zawadi had resolved to beat her siblings to it. It did not help that she was seventeen yet her nine-year-old sister, Amani beat her last year. This family tradition would soon be forgotten as they grew older, hence, she left nothing to chance. She wanted to make a name for herself. How could a nine-year-old, be so brilliant?
“This is not going to be a fiasco like last year. They will know my name”, she had chest-thumped herself as she looked for the perfect gift.
Each year, Zawadi and her sibling’s got Christmas gifts for their parents. The best gift was gifted in return. Christmas seemed to be the best time for her family. Their parents would be home. Their dad would not be on his unending business trips. Their mum though present was not quite present. She would be home cooking them recipes she learned from her mother. Like their dad, she was always caught up with her floral shop. She attended to customers each day of the week, say for Sundays.
Zawadi’s sisters were her solace. She adored their five-year-old, Furaha. She brought sunshine to their home with her squeaky laugh. She smiled at everyone. She loved colours, she did not have a favourite. Any colour was beautiful to her. She would go to their garden in the backyard, pick flowers and ask Zawadi to put them in a vase. She would then wait for their mother to come home in the evening, ran to her, and show her what she had selected for the week. The flower vase would sit on the dining table until the following week and await a replacement. The proud mother would then sweep her off the ground, place her on her bosom, and wet her forehead and cheeks with kisses. She was proud that one of her children had shown signs of taking up after her.
Zawadi stood up and walked towards her bed. Her only hope now. Her bedsheets were on the floor as well. She knelt down and peeked under the bed. Nothing. A bead of sweat was on her forehead. She fret at the thought of losing the gift she devoted her little money and time to find.
She got up and walked out of her messy room and slammed the door behind her. She could not believe this was what her efforts had come to. As she took a turn to go to the sitting room, she heard a voice from her sister’s room. The door was slightly opened enough for her to see who was in there. She took a step back to look inside. She saw Furaha holding one of her gifts, a green sweater with a red inscription, ‘You are the best mum’ while the other sweater lay on the floor next to Furaha. She was engulfed with fury. As she stood there just about to launch an attack on her baby sister, she heard her talk to herself oblivious of her presence.
“Hi Jesus, it’s me Furaha. Your birthday is around the corner, and I am not sure what to gift You. I see my sisters trying so hard to please mum and pa, but they hardly put You on their budget. If it is Your birthday, then they should get You a gift as well.
Hey Jesus, I wonder how You celebrate Your birthday up there. Mum says You lived down here before going up there. Do the angels sing You happy birthday? And did you know that Your birthday is the most celebrated day in the world? Wait… You already knew that. I hear pa call you omni… I cannot pronounce that word, but he says You know all things.
If there is a time, we eat so much it must be on Your birthday. Did You see how my neighbours drink alcohol and act all crazy on Your birthday? You must have seen that too as pa says You are omni… By the way, why are You omni… Let us just talk about Your birthday. Pa read me a story about You from the Bible last year. I loved it. I would have loved to be there, and see how the wise men made their grand entrance to see You.
Jesus, I am not sure how You would want us to celebrate this day. If You were to come to visit us down here, I think You’d be disappointed. I heard Kamau say the other day, they were going to make ‘muratina’ (traditional beer for the Agikuyu), invite the boys over, and drink themselves silly. I do not know what he meant by that. My friend Atieno told me her dad was going to take her to Disney land. Is up there as beautiful as Disney? Wambua and his family are going to the village for a family get together. I am sure the chickens will be in trouble because he says they must prepare some.
Jesus, do You remember the girl I told you about? I saw her crying yesterday. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me she had not eaten anything the previous day. I gave her my snacks and some flowers from the garden. Sorry I did not ask mum first. She looked like she needed some food. I think I should take her some food this afternoon. I hope I find her at the same place I saw her.
Jesus, I need to go. It is almost noon and I need to take these back to Zawadi’s room before she sees me with them. I also need to pack some food for the little girl. Please wait for me. I will not be long”, she stood up ready to open the door and leave when she saw Zawadi stealing a glance at her.
“Zawadi, I am sorry, I was taking them back to your room. I saw them on your bed this morning and I…”, the little one put up a defense before she got scolded.
“It is OK. I heard you talk to yourself in there”
“No, I was talking to Jesus. His birthday is coming up, remember?”
“Is that how you talk to Him?”
“How else are we supposed to talk to Him?”
“Well, I think we all got this wrong. It is His birthday, but we make it about us and leave Him out of the picture. This girl you were telling Jesus about, tell me about her”
“I do not know her. I only saw her once or twice. And she looked like she could use some food and clothes. She was crying. I was going to give her my lunch and some snacks too”.
Zawadi came down to her sister’s level, took her in her arms and embraced her.
They both went to the kitchen, packed some food, and requested Amani to join them. They left the house in search of the little girl only to find her in one of their neighbour’s litter bins. As soon as their eyes locked together, she wanted to take off when she saw Furaha.
They approached the girl and asked her not to be afraid. “What is your name”, Zawadi asked. “My name is Pendo”.
Zawadi gave her the packed food which she devoured in minutes. She took her by the hand and walked with her back to their house. Pendo was too scared to walk in. Furaha took her hand, “it’s OK. Let us go in” and led her in the house.
Zawadi and her sisters listened to Pendo as she told them where she lived. Her mother had died while giving birth to her. Her grandmother took her and lived with her. The granny was not able to do much for her due to her stricken years. Pendo cried. Furaha went to her room, got her favourite doll, and gave it to Pendo, “you can have this”.
Zawadi figured that Pendo and her grandmother would need food that evening. She went to the kitchen and packed some more food. She asked her two sisters to remain behind as she accompanied the girl to her home. They lived on the other side of their estate, an informal settlement with a road separating their two worlds.
They walked through the narrow paths as Zawadi tried to find balance lest she stepped on garbage almost everywhere they walked. If she had never thanked God for the roof over her head, this was the time.
Pendo’s grandmother saw them from a distance and wondered if her granddaughter was in trouble. Zawadi greeted her and explained to her how she met the little girl and gave her the food. She received it with a ‘thank you’ as Zawadi turned around and went back home.
Zawadi knew it was time to change their Christmas tradition. That evening when her mum got home, she told her everything that happened. Her mother was very proud that they went out of their way to help Pendo.
The following day, their father came back from his business trip and told the girls he was ready for his surprise. The girls shook their heads as they narrated the story to their bewildered father.
On Christmas eve, the family went shopping before making their way to Pendo’s house. They found her playing outside their home. Her granny sat and watched as she played, a bowl of porridge in her right hand and an empty one on the ground. She remembered Zawadi.
“I wish I could welcome you all inside but am afraid there won’t be enough room hahaha”, the granny said laughing at her own joke.
Zawadi introduced her family to her. Furaha hailed Pendo who came running when she saw her.
Pendo’s granny could not hide her joy when Zawadi’s family presented what they had bought them, food and clothes. Her mouth hang open as she received the gifts. Pendo wept for joy as she cuddled Zawadi’s parents. She then turned to Furaha, embraced her and asked if they could be friends.
Pendo and her granny could not have asked for a better Christmas gift than the love and compassion they received from strangers who turned to be friends, but more like family.
Furaha and Pendo became great friends. A friendship that saw Pendo and her granny relocate from the informal settlement months later thanks to Furaha.
This Christmas season spread the love to the less fortunate around you.