PARALLAX: Christmas in Onitsha by J. Barook

parallaxPARALLAX: Seeing the same thing from two different points of view renders three dimensions.

According to Wikipedia, parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight. The essays contained in PARALLAX reflect the same displacement. While the shift can be uncomfortable or jarring or even unrecognizable, a new reality is created from the old.



The harmattan is heavy around Christmas time, Sahara haze blowing as far south as the Niger Delta.

I told him I’d explain everything when I get back from Nigeria.  He agreed that that was okay, sobbing on the phone. I have a week now, to think about what I’m going to say.  The thing is, he’s eight and is just now realizing that we’ve been tricking him this whole time about Santa Claus.  When he was five or six I tried to tell him the truth but he came away from that conversation thinking that I myself, his own daddy, was secretly Santa Claus with a double life in the North Pole, spreading joy and happiness all around the world.  He was so proud of me.

A few days ago I was in the back seat of a pickup truck, driving through the town of Kaiama, where the militancy began so many years ago.

The woman next to me slumped over, trying not to be sick.

“Was that a body?” I asked.  We drove past.  I wondered if anybody would move it from the middle of the road.  Eventually they would, I was told.  Sometimes gangs dump bodies in the road to send a message.  Eventually somebody moves the body.

“It just took me by surprise,” she said.  “I’m okay.”  After a while she sat back up.

One time after a bomb went off in Abuja, I wrote a ditty about the harmattan moon and put it up on YouTube.

This morning we were driving through Onitsha on our way back to Port Harcourt.

“Wetin be dese people?” I asked.

“Which people?”

I meant the crowd of people with their hands in the air.

“You don’t know?” my colleague asked.  He was surprised I didn’t know because I’m supposed to be the conflict early warning guy.  He pointed to the military on the left and the burned-out truck on the right.  About a dozen people were killed here two days ago when Biafran separatists protested and the military cracked down.  Now everybody has to hold their hands up in the air when they walk by on their way to work to show that they’re not armed.

I think I’ll try to tell my son that I hope he doesn’t doubt, now, that I’ll always tell him the truth.  The thing is that Santa Claus is more for adults than for kids.  Because kids know intuitively that birth and rebirth and forgiveness are magic.  It’s adults who need the reminder.

I hope he understands.  Maybe I’ll get him a puppy.

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