LEKE LEKE — A Christmas Tale

12 min readDec 25, 2021


You’re not a fan of Christmas. At all.

People call you a millennial Grinch, but you really don’t see what the fuss is all about. As far as you’re concerned, the season is just another period for our capitalistic society to make more money. That stretch of 40 days from mid November till New Year is probably the most busy period of the year.

And the stress that comes with the season — the incessant traffic in the name of ‘Detty December’, the forced conversations and rehearsed replies, the organised joy, the pressure to smile and be happy, the uncomfortable questions from elderly family members who don’t understand what boundaries mean -it just isn’t worth it.

But you understand it completely. After all, December is when most consumer brands make the most profit — from the Black Friday sales with so-called ‘reduced prices’, to the rush for obscenely expensive Christmas gifts, skyrocketing travel tickets, last minute bookings for holiday trips to warmer climes — it’s all about money.

You would know, you do this for a living after all. Even today, on Christmas morning, the work just never stops. As you sip on your morning coffee replying to a ‘top priority’ message on Slack, you wonder if they realise how invasive and unprofessional it is to have a work meeting today of all days. But hey, money must be made.

Just as you send over the requested work file, you hear a knock and excited giggling outside your pantry turned make-shift office. As you smile and close your laptop, you open the door and your daughter is right there hopping around excited, still in her PJs. She leaps into your outstretched arms, still laughing and wishing you Merry Christmas.

She makes everything make sense. You’d thought you could never love anyone as much as your wife, but 4 years ago, you had set your eyes on your baby in the delivery room and you knew no one would have your heart the way she does.

Later on, you watch her seated under the Christmas Tree, playing with her new toys excitedly. She’s so happy, so peaceful — without a worry in the world. You miss that — you really miss that, that unburdened feeling without any responsibility or care in the world besides eating, playing and sleeping. As she plays with her new toy, you get up to join her around the tree.

Then you hear an alert on your phone. It’s a message from your group chat, one of your boys just sent a hilarious meme. Distracted, you get up and head to the balcony, grabbing your pack of Newports as you step out. As you take the first drag with your eyes closed, filling your lungs with smoke, you make a mental note to quit smoking on New Year’s Eve. But moments later, you burst into laughter. Who are you deceiving? It has been your new year’s resolution for over half a decade now — even before your daughter was born. But somehow you have never been able to quit the habit.

You hope that Procrastination, like Cigarettes and Work, wouldn’t be the death of you. Even now as you smoke, you have a perfect view of the unkempt lawn and hedges in your backyard garden, a task that had been on your to-do list since Halloween. But hey, ain’t nobody got time for that. You work hard to take care of your family — money must be made.

Still staring at the garden hedge, you take another drag, scrolling and swiping through non-stop messages flooding your phone until you hear the balcony door slide open. Your daughter’s been looking for you, and has figured you’re here. She tugs on your jeans and asks you to come back indoors. You smile as you wave her away, telling her you’ll be right back in, that you’re working.

You don’t see the dejected look on her face as she heads back in, because you’re already back to aimlessly scrolling, skimming through memes and tweets. You take another drag, and the cigarette ash falls on your left thumb’s fingernails. As you blow it off, you notice that some ash is still on your nail — or is it ash?

You take a closer look, and see a white patch on your nail. A white patch that looked familiar, very familiar. In that moment, as if a lost memory in the crevices of your mind had been magically retrieved, you remember the melody of a song you used to sing a very long time ago.

A song called ‘Leke Leke’.

Growing up in Nigeria, it was a song sung by children as they played.

Leke Leke is a local term for ‘Cattle Egret’, a bird species that lives on and glides through farms, open fields, and playgrounds. Back then, it was said that if you saw Leke Leke flying and you sang the song while shaking both your hands vigorously, you’d get a white patch on your fingernail as a reward. Yea, it makes absolutely no sense now, but at the time, you, your sister and millions of Nigerian kids who grew up in the 90s/2000s truly believed it.

And the Leke Leke song was also very catchy — you realise that you still remember the song vividly, even if you’ve never thought about it for over two decades. It went like:

Leke Leke, Leke Leke, give me white finger

Leke Leke, Leke Leke, give me white finger

In reality, the white patch on fingernails is actually a pretty harmless condition called Leukonychia, but hey, 90s babies didn’t have google at the time. A notification sound snaps you back to reality, and you glance down at your phone, searching for the appropriate gif to reply to a random anon tweet.

You’re interrupted by the sound of singing. But it’s not even the singing that startles you — it’s the song and the vaguely familiar voices of the singers. You think your mind is playing tricks on you, but you listen closely, and you realise you’re not imagining things. Clear as day, you hear the song:

Leke Leke, Leke Leke, give me white finger

Leke Leke, Leke Leke, give me white finger

You turn towards the balcony door, assuming your daughter’s behind you singing the song. But she isn’t — she’s still fiddling with her new toys. What freaks you out even more is that even if she had been singing the song, there was no way she could possibly know it — not in 2021.

And you had clearly heard two voices singing. Two young voices. Voices you could swear you’ve heard before. As you shrug off the thought and unlock your phone, you hear it again. But this time, it’s louder…and happier?



That’s when you see it. Or them, rather. Right there in the garden, standing right in front of the weedy hedge, shaking their hands, singing and laughing.

You can’t believe your eyes. If this were a joint and not a cig, you’d assume you were high as a kite and seeing things. But no, you’re still totally sober — you haven’t even had a drink yet.

Then why are two children singing in your garden, staring at you? And why are they so familiar? Who is this girl, and why…why…

Just then, the girl laughs. It sends tingles down your spine. You know that laugh. It’s imprinted in your memory forever, you could be in the middle of a Michael Jackson concert with 200,000 people and still recognise that laugh. You don’t understand…

You realise that you had walked down the short flight of stairs leading to the garden from the balcony without realising. With every step you take, the singing gets louder and louder. You’re just a couple yards from the children, and all this while your eyes have been on the girl whose laugh had drawn you. That’s when you look at the boy next to her.

You know him.

And he seems to know you, because he stretches out his hands towards you, still singing the Leke Leke song in chorus.

You don’t why, but you realise you’re not breathing. Your heart feels like it’s on overdrive, beating the fastest it ever has. Your mind tells you not to, but you slowly stretch out your hands, taking tiny steps towards the boy.

Just as your fingers touch and everything turns black, you realise you recognise him.

The sound of the song brings you back.



Where am I, you think, as you look around the large field — or was it a farm? You can smell that fresh orchardy scent, of grass, leaves and overripe fallen fruits. You follow the sound of the song, and you see both kids with their hands stretched out, chanting the song in unison as they shake their hands. At every interval, they stop and look at their fingers, apparently for the white spot on their finger, before staring back up at the sky.

You follow their gaze and see a flock of egrets flying, some settling on the grass. The kids try to chase them, but the birds fly off before they’re touched. At this point you realise you have no idea where you are or what’s happening. You’re pretty sure you know that girl’s laugh, and you have an idea who the boy is, but still…what the hell is going on???

A gust of wind blows, and with it comes the unmistakable waft of freshly-burnt Jollof RiceParty Jollof Rice — just the right way it’s meant to be made. The nostalgic smell jogs a memory, and that’s when you realise what is going on. Because the very next moment, you hear another voice you’ve not heard in a very long time.

“Kidsss! Where are these children? FOOD IS READY!”

Teary eyed, you follow the sound of the voice to a small bungalow at the edge of the field, where you see a woman standing, holding on to her favourite cooking ladle — the one she would wave in your face threateningly when you and your sister refused to behave.

It’s your mum. Your late mum.

You can’t move, you can’t talk. You’re transfixed to the spot in fear. How could this be? What is going on? Am I dead?

Just then, the kids run past you towards the house. Like you, they had probably been drawn to the house by the delicious smell of the food before the all-too-familiar mum-yell.

But the boy stops, and beckons to you wordlessly. You walk up to him, and for a second you stare at each other. People say pictures never tell the full story, but even that is an understatement. You have pictures and memories of your childhood, but this is the first time ever that you’ve actually beheld yourself — your younger self, at least.

At this point, your erstwhile terror dissolves into wondrous curiousity, and you know that no matter what happens, you have to see this through — even if you had no idea what was going on. As if he (you?) could read your mind, he grins at you and gesticulates towards the house. You smile back at him and follow him in.

You walk through the gate of the house to see yet another familiar chaotic sight, one you’d obviously experienced but had forgotten about, until now. Your Mum and two Aunties are chasing a cock, and the cock chasing the girl. For a second, your Mum stops and stares directly at you, but you realize she’s actually staring through you — at the gate which she promptly locks before continuing the cock chase. It occurs to you that she can’t see you — in fact, no one can besides the boy — besides yourself.

You realise you actually do remember this happening, even though after years of embellishment, it had become a classic family tale of how a headless chicken escaped and chased you and your sister around this house. You see your younger self laugh, and you join him. It was even much more entertaining, experiencing this long lost memory.

Eventually, your mum catches the rebellious cock, and you follow the kids into the house, staring at the 90s decor, the VCRs and tape collections in the parlour, the Christmas Tree and recycled decorations from earlier years, the fluttering scores of Christmas Cards hanging above the sitting room below the ceiling fan, the loud noise of extended family members arriving and reuniting.

You follow the kids to their room, where you see an elderly woman you can’t remember squeeze some notes of cash into their hands while telling them not to tell their parents. This is one you can actually recall, because you had ‘kept’ the money as directed, but your sister snitched and told your Dad, getting you in serious trouble. You look at them, and see your sister excitedly burst into her distinct heart-filled infectious laughter.

You’ve missed her so much, even if she was a constant thorn in your flesh growing up. She’d cause trouble and feign ignorance when your parents asked. She’d provoke and throw the first blow in a fight, and cry for hours when it was reciprocated. She’d say she’s hungry, but would pick on her food for hours until you inevitably had to finish it for her. Even now, you watch it happen — your sister trying to convince Young You to finish up her nearly untouched Christmas Meal — after of course, she’s already eaten her chicken to the bone.

Later on at dusk, you watch your family members seated in the backyard, half-drunk Uncles arguing aimlessly about details of past sport events, Aunties dancing to Christmas Music and force-feeding everyone to stupor, you, your sister, distant cousins and other neighbouring kids playing with bisco lights and watching older kids shooting knock-outs, crackers and fireworks.

As you watch your sister, it hits you, probably for the first time ever, just how much she reminds you of your daughter, as she runs around with a nearly extinguished bisco lights, pinching other kids playfully and feigning ignorance, reaching out to family members arms outstretched, begging to be carried and thrown into the air — shrieking with glee everytime it happened.

And of course, you’re right there with her, playing in the moonlight without a care in the world. It’s Christmas, your favourite season of the year.

Or at least it used to be. What happened? What changed?

The arrival of ‘Father Christmas’ — Nigerian term for Santa Claus (thanks to Colonialism) — is greeted by the happy screams of all the children who storm him for presents and pictures. The clownish dressence of this particular Father Christmas scared a few kids — young you included. But your sister grabbed your hand when it was time to take the picture, and even though you could see the fear on your cherubic face, you knew you were with your sister, and your family who all genuinely love and care for you.

You still have that picture. You still remember this Christmas. It was your last Christmas together before she passed away in a ghastly accident some months later.

The tears come unannounced — within seconds you’re sobbing profusely, like you never have for years. You feel a tug on your jeans, and you look down at young you. He smiles at you, as if to say ‘You know what to do’.

You sniff and wipe your eyes.

When you look up, you’re back in your garden, standing in front of the unkempt hedge, crying your eyes out. Again, you feel the tug. You look down to see your daughter. For a split second, you’re SURE you see the visage of your sister in her face, but a second later it’s your daughter again, pulling on your trousers, asking why you’re crying.

You burst into laughter as you carry her up in the sky, her giggles filling you with pure joy. Carrying her with one arm, you walk up the garden stairs to the balcony and into the sitting room now full of family members and visitors who all exclaim happily, everyone exchanging hugs and greetings with you.

As you sit down and pour yourself a glass of wine, you hear a notification sound on your phone. You’re about to unlock your phone to check it, but you meet the gaze of your daughter.

You put your phone on silent, and put it away. It’s taken the better part of two decades to get to this point, but now you understand.

Maybe you need to spend less time with screens, and more time with those you love — especially those still around you. And if you’re still reading this — on Christmas day — maybe you’ve missed the point.

Real life is offline.