P wakes up and shuffles down the hall, eyes mostly closed, stumbles against the wall towards our homemade advent calendar. Her sisters gather close behind her, watch her tug the small square of white paper from the wooden clothespin, try to be patient. “Open the present in the piano bench.” The promise of a present wakes P up, she runs to the bench and holds the white package tied with green ribbon to her chest. Inside, she finds a box of Toffifee, Christmas memories from before she was born. We all eat one, though we haven’t eaten breakfast. It is Advent.

In the evening we sit in a circle on the floor around a terracotta dish holding beeswax candles. J is hyper, silly, makes her sisters laugh. I shush her, try to keep smiling, wish she’d be quite and reverent (I forget sometimes that she is seven, that silly and irreverent is of course what she should be). We draw straws to see who gets to light the candle, blow out the candle, choose the songs. Eventually the candle is lit and P chooses to sing Hark the Herald. We say prayers. J sneaks matches, tries to light them. Finally M blows out the candle and we sit in the colourful glow of our small wire Christmas tree, bought a decade ago on a downtown Nairobi street.

There is a loud tapping on the hallway ceiling. I pause to listen, think it’s an animal, realize it’s the sound of water dripping in too many places. I stand on Phil’s shoulders, push open the square panel in the ceiling, watch water stream from the tank. We call for the girls to grab buckets and towels, our bedtime plumbing emergency.

P climbs out the dining room window before she has finished her supper, stands on the outside ledge and hangs on to the bars. “Look at the birds!” Two bee eaters, greener than I knew they were, sit side by side on the railing outside the window. They swoop to catch their supper, then land again on the rail. We watch in silence. Soon they turn to face us, show us their colourful faces, throats, tilt their heads. P waves at them from the window.

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