A CHRISTMAS PRESENT
by Gordon Aywa Anjili
The piercing ring of the alarm awoke him. He forced himself on his back, raised his torso and rested on his elbows. He glanced at the clock. It was still dark and he could not read the time. He switched on the bed light and looked at the clock again. It was 5.30. Obviously, the alarm had gone off a little bit too early. He sat up. His beautiful wife stared at him dreamily.
“It’s too early to go jogging,” she said.
“I know, I think I set the alarm rather too early. But I have to go out and jog. I have not done so for more than a week and I can feel myself growing unfit,”
“I know better,” she said coquettishly. “You are fit and as your wife, I am better placed to know.”
He laughed, kissed her and, with youthful zeal, leapt out of bed. He shed off his pajamas and scrambled into his blue tracksuit. He searched about for his sneakers and found them under the bed. He wore them hurriedly and trotted out of the bedroom whistling a Christmas tune. Though a devout Muslim, he loved Christmas in a Dickensian way. He loved the food, the presents and the merriment that went with it. There were even times when he envied his Christian neighbours and wished he was a Christian only during December. He had gone to a catholic school where most teachers were devout Catholics and his strong conviction that theirs was a calling to ensure their youthful protégés were molded into strong Catholics. He had for years imbibed and ingested Catholic tenets. But he had remained a Muslim, for his parents were strict (almost radical) Muslims.
He lived in a modest two-bedroom house with a modest living room, kitchen, bathroom and water closet. On his way to the living room, he decided to open the door to the bedroom. He switched on the light. On the bed lay his two boys-twins who Allah had blessed him with ten years ago. He saw their innocent faces, serene and blissful in sleep and felt his heart skip with joy. He smiled. That day, on the eve of Christmas, he would buy each of them a bicycle. He promised them. That would be a perfect Christmas gift.
He left the house and jogged into Bakari, a street that fringed the housing estate and joined the main road to the city centre. Usually, there would be many joggers, but since Isa had risen earlier, he found himself the lone jogger. He began to run fast, enjoying the cool morning air. He heard some footsteps behind and instinctively looked back. Another jogger had joined him. He slowed down to let him catch up.
“Good morning,” called the jogger as he jogged in step with Isa.
“Good morning,” Isa replied, trying to accelerate.
“I like your tracksuit. Is it Adidas?”
“Yes, it’s a blue Adidas.”
“It’s a very good design.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I think you’re exhausted. You shouldn’t jog until the end of this year.”
“Is that so? Thought I could jog seriously tomorrow,”
“No, there are younger joggers who can run faster. You can reserve your strength for sometime early next year.”
Having said so, the jogger accelerated past Isa and went round a corner. Isa heaved a sigh of relief and jogged up to the main road. Then he turned and ran back to his house. He was greatly relieved. At least he would stay at home and enjoy Christmas with family. He pitied the unlucky young men who had been given the Christmas assignment. Maybe they did not have families. Maybe they did not have lovely boys like Karim and Jamal. Isa was a member of a local cell of an international terrorist group. “The Peace on Earth” (P.O.E). Its operations were so elaborate and intricate that one hardly knew another member. Communication was verbal. A cell member received a message from someone he had never seen before or one he was familiar with but never expected he was a member. Two days earlier, he had received a message that the new password was “blue Adidas” and that he would receive his instructions from a jogger. What the jogger had communicated to him was that no assignment had been given to him this Christmas. He would come at the beginning of the following year. And that was the cause of his relief. He had feared he would get an assignment like suicide bombing. So far, all his assignments had been “soft” — passing coded verbal messages to members within and out of the country. He travelled under three fake passports.
Isa opened his eyes and looked blankly at the face before him. He felt excruciating pain in the head, the limbs and back. He groaned in agony.
“Allah be praised! You’re alive.”
He looked at the face closely. He recognized Shafiya, his wife.
“Where is Karim… where is Jamal…?” he mumbled.
“They are at home and fine. They saw it on T.V. and cried. A father to their classmate did not survive. It appears he had also gone to buy bicycles.”
“Bicycles… where am I?
“In the hospital. There was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. Over seventy people died. It’s by Allah’s grace that you survived. I wonder what I would have done without you. At least Jamal and Karim have a father.”
“The Globe Hyper… bicycles… the cashier…”
“It was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. A terrorist group, the P.O.E., has claimed responsibility. Very evil People.”
“P.O.E…” he began to cry.
But it was not for the pain in his body he was crying.