Lana reluctantly agreed to go with his friend to a christening which was being held at the Lasani Gardens in Lagos. At the event, it was not long before he launched into the complaining mode.
“Does she have to go through this ritual?”
“Well, that’s the way of the world,” Tijani responded curtly.
“Why can’t a child’s naming ceremony be a brief and quiet affair?”
“Look, Lana, our duty is to honour this baby and her parents with our presence. That’s why we’re here,” Tijani, sounding irritated, pointed out with impatience.
Lana, mouth slightly agape, threw up his hands in frustration. His incessant objections to societal traditions were well-known, yet Tijani was in no mood to entertain his complaints. Not today at least; he, too, had other thoughts bothering him.
There was a large crowd at the party but not everyone was formally invited. Some people came because they considered it an obligation to the celebrants. Others strayed in and stayed as no one was ever turned away from the happy event of child-naming.
While the excited adults danced, the little bundle of joy went through the distress of societal identification. In the process, she passed from one wrinkled family elder to the next, and also through a line of pious-looking clerics. In due course she was bestowed with thirteen names, each of which was syllabically so long it could be split into three or four separate names. At last, the baby snuggled into her mother’s bosom to endure the vicar.
As though cutting through a thicket in the heart of the baby, the preacher launched into an hour of solid theology on the importance of being born and the primary obligations of a child to its parents. Between sleeping and waking, occasionally shaking her head in mock acquiescence, the suckling internalized the sermon.
“What time wasting, these christenings!” Lana lamented to his friend, but got no response.
Although Tijani made no comment, he too was thinking how pointless the sermon seemed. The preacher’s words notwithstanding, the baby would probably prevent adults from having a goodnight’s rest whenever she was sore. She might commit such infant misdemeanours as gumming her mother’s nipple while suckling or weeing on strangers when her diapers were removed to minimize heat rash. What would the baby know to do or not do, preaching or no preaching?
The vicar, in closing his speech, blessed the celebrants. “This baby represents the bond of unity in this home; may her parents’ love for each other wax stronger,” he concluded to a thunderous “Amen” from the audience.
Tijani was privy to some grey areas which related to the sanctity of the couple’s wedlock. He and the baby’s mother were colleagues at the same commercial bank where the desperation to retain clients put much strain on workers. He was aware of how female marketers in particular resorted to extreme measures to meet financial targets.
As he dwelt on these thoughts and regarded his colleague’s husband up in front of the hall, he wondered whether the couple was really happy.
“Whoever wishes to receive this kind of blessing should shout the loudest hallelujah!” Tijani heard the MC saying. As the crowd bellowed its response, he thought the little chief celebrant and other babies in the audience would be startled by it.
The MC was warming up for collection of the offering and was not fully satisfied with the response. In order to guilt guests into action, he needed to aim the hook of religious sentimentalism at the precise spot in their hearts.
“That hallelujah was for me. I say, anyone who does not want the blessing of child-bearing to cease from their lineage should shout the loudest.…”
Lana quickly plugged his ears with his fingers to dull the deafening refrain that was bound to follow. Preoccupied with the terrorizing activities that characterized the naming ceremony, he would not relent in his criticism.
“The noise is oppressive; the names are too many and will promptly be forgotten by most people after today; the preaching was interminable. Still you tell me all this is essential?”
“Let’s just say the new-born is being integrated into society,” Tijani offered.
“Yeah, right,” Lana mocked.
Looking through the tag distributed at the event, he selected one name and noted, “To become part of civilized society, Oluwataramisore must begin by committing her ten-plus names to memory.”
“You worry about thirteen names, Lana? I was once at a naming party in which the baby bagged thirty-one.”
Lana’s eyes betrayed his incredulity.
“I perceive you don’t believe me,” Tijani discerned. Pulling out his wallet and sorting through ATM and business cards, he found a weathered piece of paper.
“Here, see for yourself; I’ve kept this for nearly two years now,” he said, handing him the paper. Lana scanned the list open-mouthed. He observed that almost a fifth of the names were each seven or eight syllables long. Three names were English while the rest evenly represented two tribes.
When he collected himself, Lana nagged, “Thirty-one names just because people have married across cultures? What will the certificate of birth look like?”
“And what’s wrong with marrying across cultures or having thirty-one names on a birth certificate?”
Ignoring his friend’s mocking remark, Lana reflected on the one name he had earlier selected from the list of thirteen. Among her friends, Oluwataramisore will probably be addressed as Tara. Many two-syllabic names in Lana’s culture derived from the whittling of longer names which were usually parts of wise sayings or good wishes.
Lana grew quiet, brooding over the relevance or otherwise of these social norms. His mind slipped back to when he was younger. It was customary for every man who got married in church to wear a suit. At the wedding reception, the groom was compelled to engage his newlywed in a vigorous dance contest. How shameful, he thought, that a man, in formal English attire, should dance wildly in competition with his spouse. What foolish aggression on one’s wedding day!
When he was older he longed for a departure from these repetitive public expectations. For one, he had planned to dress a little less formally for his own wedding—probably don a T-shirt with a decent blazer over it. Then, he dreamed of a wedding reception which would commence with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus so he could escape the long energetic processional dancing. Needless to say, he failed to achieve either.
Lana was jolted out of his reverie due to the agitation nearby. Frantically searching everywhere, two disquieted men quarrelled with the people around them over the loss of their phones. As they argued, Lana checked to reconfirm that he still had his phone, wallet and car key. Losses of personal items at parties had become commonplace these days.
He turned his attention again to the profusely ceremonious christening. Tara’s naming party had finally wound down to the popular item #7, a merrymaker’s expression synonymous with the serving of food and drinks. As refreshments made the rounds, Lana listened to the chatter of people talking and laughing all at once. The noise spiked as guests impatiently called out to be served.
“Heys, service! You never give us food for this side now!” one man yelled out, in pidgin, to a waiter.
“Don’t mind them; they’re just using face to serve people,” a woman who sat at an adjacent table whined. She sounded upset because she felt the waiters served only the people whom they knew.
As all of this was going on, Lana observed that some people unashamedly asked for more helpings which became inglorious takeaways in black polythene bags. Most absurdly, there were those who even took away extra drinks, pouring the bottles’ contents into doubly reinforced plastic bags.
Tara’s parents, dancing around the hall to greet people, stopped at Lana and Tijani’s table.
“We are so grateful that you could come,” Tara’s father said. “I hope you’ve had food to eat?” his wife asked.
“Oh, it was the least we could do,” Tijani responded, “And yes, we are stuffed tight, thank you.”
How marketers coped with ever increasing quarterly targets formed the theme of several discussions amongst Tijani’s colleagues at the bank. Some female staff always seemed to get the big clients while others, not so lucky, had lost their jobs because they couldn’t make the mark. A few of those who always seemed to meet the financial target had confessed to bartering what they had for what they wanted, out of desperation. It was a tactic that Tijani’s colleagues liked to call the Faustian bargain.
Watching them move from table to table, Tijani wondered how much Tara’s father knew about his wife. She was one of the most reckless marketers in the Ajah branch of their bank.
He turned to Lana and saw that his face was set in a frown. Clapping him gently on the left shoulder, Tijani quipped, waving into the crowd, “Cheer up, friend, cheer up; haven’t we all been christened in this manner?”
Lana was frustrated with the whole atmosphere. The noise grew unbearable as loud talking mingled with ear-splitting music playing in the background for no clear purpose, probably even forgotten by the DJ who had gone scrambling for food. The excessive vibrations in the environment, together with loud sharp shrieks let off without warning by the microphones, left Lana’s head chiming in resonance.
The child naming celebration did not officially close. Gradually, the crowd at the event thinned as people started to leave in twos and threes. Stragglers hung around in small bands, gyrating to music issuing from an unmanned bandstand.
Lana and Tijani left the party too. On the drive home, Lana wondered if, as a baby, he had also been subjected to a similar experience. How many names did he get? He was well used to Oluwalanafunmi, contracted to the two middle syllables as Lana. Not many people knew the second; it’s a middle name, typically reduced to a middle initial in documents, for official purposes only.