Elombah
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The morning after Christmas – by Reuben Abati

201

“How was your Christmas Day?”

“Comme ci, comme ca”

“What’s that?”

“I am speaking French. You mean you don’t even understand elementary French?”

“No, I don’t. Speak English. How was Christmas?”

“Low-key. Like this, like that”.

“For me, it was a dead-end Christmas”

“God forbid. May we never have a dead-end Christmas. I reject it in Jesus name.”

“If you like, summon the Holy Ghost. We have never had a Christmas like this one. On Christmas eve in Lagos, come and see people just going about, many of them aimlessly. The kind of shopping that heralds Christmas was absent. For the first time, I could see the real colour of sadness, frustration and regret on the people’s faces.”

“It depends on what part of Lagos you are talking about.  If you had been in Lekki or Victoria Island, you would have seen a different colour.”

“I know. There are two countries in one: the real Nigeria and the other Nigeria, where people live in a bubble. But the bubble is beginning to burst everywhere. With the Naira now N500 to the dollar, and businesses failing everyday, the pain is spreading. It was an unusual Christmas.”

“Everywhere jus’ dry. I know some people who used to hold Christmas parties every December 25.  They just decided to postpone it till next year. But did you at least manage to eat rice and chicken?”

“Anybody that eats rice these days is very lucky indeed, with a bag of rice now N20, 000. And you can’t even be sure it is real rice. I learnt the market was flooded with plastic rice.”

“Plastic rice? What does that taste like?”

“I guess like plastic. “

“Never heard of that. Plastic rice?”

“To be on the safe side, these days, I only eat Ofada rice. Local rice.”

“All kinds of things happen during recession. Plastic rice.  Empty pockets.”

“I know something about empty pockets, my brother. Imagine what I went through trying to get money from the ATM, two days to Christmas.  I went to about five banks, you’d think people were queuing for fuel, with everyone looking anxious.”

“I know.”

“One queue covered an entire street. When I eventually found an ATM and it was my turn, the machine just started blinking. I didn’t know when I started shouting Blood of Jesus, Blood of Jesus.”

“You should have planned ahead. I don’t know why people have to wait till the last minute before withdrawing money. Nigerians should learn to plan ahead.”

“I did. The ATMs misbehave a lot these days and they are always crowded.”

“There is no money in circulation. I hear the Central Bank is broke. The banks are just managing.”

“You have started, hen? How can the Central Bank of Nigeria be broke? For the past three weeks now, the spot price of crude oil has been over $50 per barrel. That’s some good revenue.”

“May be it is the banks that are broke then.  I just hope nobody has taken depositors’ funds to go and invest in the MMM.”

“What nonsense!”

“MMM was giving people better returns on their investments. Even bankers invested in the scheme. And now that the scheme has been frozen till January ending, there is panic everywhere. You would be surprised the kind of revelations that would come up if the profile of investors in the scheme is investigated.”

“Nigerians are always looking for quick profit, but I don’t believe that a bank will invest in MMM”

“Dey there. Look at the way special prayers, night vigils and deliverance sessions are being held over this MMM thing. Some churches are holding get-your-MMM-money-back prayer sessions, and when you attend those sessions, come and see crowd!  If that Ponzi scheme should crash eh, a lot of people will commit suicide.”

“One man sold his only car and invested the money in MMM.”

“I know. Some people sold their houses too.”

“The MMM scheme is a comment on the Nigerian banking system. Obviously, Nigerians don’t trust the banks and their miserable deposit interest rates.”

“Tell me, did you invest in the MMM?”

“No. But I almost did. I know some people who made huge profits from it. I was still contemplating putting some money down to test the waters when the alarm blew.”

“You are lucky, then.”

“I guess every investment is a risk.”

“I tried to make fun of some of my friends who invested in the MMM the other day. January 2017 has suddenly become the most important month in their lives.  The way they reacted, hen. I was accused of being insensitive and sadistic. I quickly shut up”.

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