Now we all know that Christmas takes place on the same day every year. But my story takes place in East Africa where Christmas happens at the hottest and driest time of the year! It's the story of a young boy and a young girl. Even though it was Christmas Eve, and the sky was a brilliant blue with birds and butterflies flying here and there, the children were actually quite miserable.
Their beloved Grandmother ‘Nyanya’, who they loved more than anyone else, had been sick for a long time and had only just passed away and their dad had been called to work far away and so things felt a little upside down. Their mum did try to keep them happy, but they had a little baby sister who took up a lot of her time, so they were mostly left to themselves. Money was very tight, so they ate what they grew and once a month, they would jump into their old rattling pickup truck, bounce on the rough road to the nearby town where they would pick up things like soap and oil, but absolutely no toys, no stickers, definitely no sweets or goodies so sometimes they did feel a little bit down.
Now the little girl was one of those children who loved bugs. She loved stick insects, she loved cicadas who rubbed their legs together creating this incredible humming sound at night. But the insect that fascinated her most of all, was the dung beetle.
They lived on a farm and there were thousands of these beautiful, shiny black beetles. The little girl would watch them for hours as they walked around, pushing their perfectly round balls of cow poop with their little back legs. She thought how wonderfully clever it was, and gross, that they laid their precious eggs inside these little, soft spheres, happy that when the eggs hatched they would be surrounded by a lovely warm meal of … you know what.
But back to our story! As I said it was Christmas Eve and the children knew that their lovely Christmas dinner would probably be porridge with sugar instead of plain porridge. They’d had porridge for 10 days in a row and they were absolutely sick of it. I would be too! But there was just nothing else. Their mum hated seeing them upset so she closed her eyes and began to imagine something wonderful.
‘Hmmmm. Tomorrow, I wish I could have a magnificent feast with some roast meat, some grilled fish , and my favourite treat, some juicy sugar cane. Yes. That’s what I would wish for.’ The little girl giggled. She closed her eyes and imagined too, ‘For my Christmas, I wish I could have the craziest adventure in the entire world’. The little boy yelled. ‘I wish I could have the power of flight and go everywhere.’ Baby sat and gurgled ‘dada’. They all laughed and went to bed a little bit happier.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a shooting star exploded and dazzled its way across the sky. (gasp) The little girl did feel better. They were about to go back to sleep when a strange glow appeared outside the window. They thought it was a giant firefly and headed straight for the door. The glow was so large, so beautiful. It seemed to dance, swaying from side to side. Hypnotic, magical even.
The children drew closer and saw a tiny pinprick of light at the centre of the glow. It became bigger and bigger and then suddenly an old woman appeared. She was wearing a bright, colourful skirt and whirling round and round. (throw arms up in the air!)
She crushed the children up against her enormous frame, the familiar smell of cardamom and fried bread filling their nostrils.
‘Oh I have missed you!’
‘But you’re, you’re…’
‘It’s not possible!’
‘What? Ahhh, you mean because I’m (indicates death) … Ach! I told you that if you needed me all you had to do was ask. You have asked and HERE I AM. (rubs hands) Now what can I do for you?’
It took them a few minutes to get used to seeing Nyanya again, but soon the words were pouring from their lips. They told her everything. How it was all miserable, boring, ugly, useless. How much they missed their dad how much they missed Nyanya. The old woman listened intently.
‘Hmmm. Children. If life is miserable, YOU have to make it interesting. If all you see is ugly, then it is up to YOU to find the beauty. If it’s boring, then how are YOU going to make it fun? I see that you have forgotten many things!
Nyanya stomped off towards the house at great speed, her enormous skirts billowing around her. She spied the old pick up truck (throws arms up in the air). ‘Aha! What do we have here?’
‘It’s the pick up truck.’
‘No children!!!! It is a mountain of possibility! The places we could go! The things we could do!’
‘I've always wanted to go everywhere’ said the little girl.
‘Perfect’, cried Nyanya. ‘Now how are we going to get to everywhere?’
‘We could fly, if the pickup had wings.’ said the little boy
‘A marvellous idea, shouted Nyanya excitedly. (thinking clutching her chin) ‘Where do we get wings?
Just then a dung beetle rolled its larger than normal ball of poop past the little girl. ‘I know! She raced into the house, grabbed a box of nails and asked the little boy to hammer the nails into the front of the old pickup truck. Nyanya was to attach strings, some long, some short, to each nail. Then the little girl started to scoop the beetles up from the ground and raced back to the pickup truck.
The shiny black bodies of the beetles sparkled in the moonlight. She started to tie the threads of string around each of the dung beetles until soon there were thousands of the creatures attached to the old pickup truck.
The three then dived into the rusty old banger and began to urge the beetles forward. There was a great buzz and a hum in the air. Dung beetles do not like to stand still, so they started to move. They began to pull and strain against the threads and slowly but surely the pickup truck began to creep forward.
Mara Menzies writes…
“When I was a child, one of the most exciting things at Christmas was receiving apples as gifts, as living in Kenya, they were possibly the most exotic fruit in the world. I thought it would be fun to explore Christmas from a completely different perspective, drawing inspiration from my old Nyanya who was always able to bring a sprinkling of magic, imagination and hope to any situation.”
*To sign up to receive The Lyceum's eight free Christmas tales, or to buy tickets for the four live streamed stories, please visit www.lyceum.org.uk or contact the box office for more information on [email protected] This production has been made possible by Creative Scotland's Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund.