“The Baby Fence-mender” by Nii Moi Thompson.

On the eighth day after the birth while the moon was yet to evanesce, kinsmen thronged the now famed compound to witness the miracle baby. It was a replica of a shanty town; unplanned cluttered dwellings with very good asphalted roads flanked by open drains.

“Did you find it easy to get here. Here, taste this.” I was greeted at the wooden gate by my fiancée, Dede, offering a calabash of fresh, hot, dark corn wine she had fetched from the cauldron sitting on flaming logs, yet to boil fully.

“Oh yes,” I slurped a little. “I told the driver I was headed for Asere in Ga Mashi…Lante…”

“Lante Djan We”, we synchronized. “Yes, yes!”

By now kinsmen and friends, all clad in traditional white had carved a crescent seating formation, leaving the middle of the compound bare, where I noticed a ring of ash. I took a seat.

“That’s my Uncle Kwei Mensah and his wife, Nyɛkwɛ Kai”, Dede nodded. They were old and grey; I could say almost or a little past three-score.

“It’s indeed a marvel”, Dede explained. “She has been childless for decades, and my grandmother has given her no rest at all.”

“Your grandmother has patience the size of my baby finger”, one lady behind us interrupted our conversation, unwelcomed. I could detect an ample doze of tartness in her voice. She sounded salty.

“I know, Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor. Let’s not ruin today”, Dede, skinning her teeth, was not one to take offense at a first jab.

A towering old woman came hobbling across the compound clutching a baby wrapped in a piece of white calico safely to her bosom. The rite was set in motion. The moon was still blessing us with good light. She commanded much respect, for everybody either rose to bow or wave at her as she lurched into the ring of ash and rid the baby of its cloth.

She held the baby up towards the moon and chanted, “We present this infant to the Supreme Being”, then laid the baby down in the circle of ash, repeating the process twice.

“Oh it’s beautiful…it’s lovely. Our ears will rest henceforth”. Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor was still casting vengeful subliminals, this time echoing it across the entire compound.

A bowl of water, signifying rain was thrown unto the aluminium roofing sheet and allowed to dribble on the baby. Next, the aged woman gently tapped the back of the baby and repeated, “Never lie, steal or cheat. Take after me.”

I stared at Dede. “She is held widely as the eldest kinsman of good repute,” she explained. I nodded.

“This is water, and this is wine. Know the difference.” I saw the baby suckle on the old woman’s finger as both corn wine and water were put in her mouth. “Henceforth, you shall be called Lamile…Lamile Amoaben-ajaaku.”

The uproar which erupted was thundering.

I followed as the kinsman handed the baby over to her mother, slapped the cork of a bottle of schnapps and offered libation on behalf of the infant.

“Agoo Ataamei ke Awomei. Tswa Tswa Tswa omanye abla’o Tswa Tswa omanye abla’o. Tswa omanye aba, Osoro (Osu) Ahatiri, Obu Ahatiri, Oboro dutu wokpe, Wodsebu wodse nu, Wo ye wo nu wo kodsii adso wo, Gboni bale etse yi ana wala, Enye yi ana wala, Esee tuu, Ehee fann, Eyi aba gbodsen, Ese aba halaann, Wekumei wona faa ni wo fa le, Eba tsu eha wo ni woye, Eko atasi ni eko aba, Ganyo humile koyo tsua dani owieo, Tsua Tsua Tsua manye aba!”

“Hiao!”, the guests said Amen to that!

After the neighbours had chucked down enough meat and emptied the cauldron of its corn wine, and everybody was dancing to the E.T. Mensah’s “Abele”, I noticed Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor had locked Dede’s grandmother in a seemingly fond embrace, both swaying to good hi-life music.

“Look at them,” Dede sniggered. “This baby has made brothers of Nanumba and Konkomba.”

“Listen-” by Sedem Garr.

27th August 2011

2:03 am Hey.

2:03 am Are you awake?

2:06 am I’ve been thinking…

                                                                                                  Oh bestie. Sorry I was asleep. 8:17 am

8:17am No worries. How are you?

                                                  I’m okay. My mother and stepdad are finally talking. 10:56 am

                                                                                                                                               You? 10:56 am

10:57 am Terrible. I’m tired of this.

10:58 am It’s not worth it.

10:59 am I want to leave.

                                                                 Sigh. You really should talk to HER you know. 11:03 am

11:04 am I know, I know.

11:04 am But…

                                                                                                                                                 Brb. 11:04 am

11:04 am Would she even listen? She’ll think I’m crazy.

11:05 am Okay.

9:20 pm Hey. How was the rest of your day?

                                                                        Cool, cool. I went out with the bae. Yours? 9:23 pm

9:24 pm More of the same really.

                                                                                     You brood too much. Just be happy. 9:24 pm

9:25 pm This is all just rubbish.

                                                    Lol. You shouldn’t think like that. Cheer yourself up. 9:25 pm

                                                                                                              Go out with your guys. 9:26 pm

                                                                                                There’s a party this weekend. 9:26 pm

9:27 pm I can’t. I really can’t.

9:27 pm And crowds depress me by the way.

9:29 pm I just can’t help it. I think I’m losing my mind. Why won’t it end? I know you’re tired of hearing this and I wish I wasn’t insane. I know you’ll eventually grow tired of me. I know I cling but I try. I try really hard. It’s a never ending cycle. I just don’t get why I can’t pull everything together. I haven’t seen my dad for three years you know. And strangely, I don’t remember that last time I saw him. It’s strange. I have nothing. I wish I could find a way. It’s just so dark in my world. It all doesn’t mean anything you know. Why suffer through all this rubbish for nothing? The world, it eats us alive. I don’t think I can ever be normal like you guys. I love you so much you know. I really do. I wish I could stop all this and be the friend I should be. I owe you everything. I could lay my life down for you, you know. SHE doesn’t care about me. You’re the only thing I have. I don’t know if you understand what I’m saying.

9:31 pm I can’t even make sense.

                                                                                                                                              TL;DR 9:45 pm

                                                                                                                                                      😛 9:45 pm

9:46 pm 😦

                                                                                                                      Lol. You’re weird. 11:47 pm

                                                                                                                                                 Brb. 11:47 pm

11:48 pm Okay.

 

28th August 2011

2:03 am Hey. 

2:03 am Are you awake?

2:03 am I’ve been thinking.

                                                                                                                                                Hey. 11:24 am

                                                                                                Want to go to the mall today? 11:24 am

                                                                                                          Lol. You and your drama. 2:17 pm

                                                                                                                                       Pick up la! 2:51 pm

                                                                             Don’t tell me you’ve been cutting again. 3:15 pm

 

29th August 2011                                       

                                                                                                                                                       ?? 2:03 am

“The Beggar” by Jeff Cudjoe

The beggar put his bowl on the pavement, there weren’t any coins to shake and his throat was too parched for begging. He adjusted the rags that covered his unkempt hair from the raging sun and tried to make his shadow one with that of the traffic light indicator he leaned on. He had been here for four years, and knew every pavement on the street. He watched the people walk past him, smelling of sweat and whatever perfume they used to try to fight the consequences of the midday heat.

Business suits, jeans, calf-length sundresses. All of them seemed to quicken their pace oh so slightly when they neared him and their eyes just glanced at him flicked back forward, staying that way until they were well beyond him. It wasn’t yet time for people to close from work so the steady flow of cars down the road didn’t result in anything more than a few irritated blowing of car horns when a driver didn’t move quickly enough when the lights showed green.

He decided to try again.

“Obaahemaa me pawokyɛw kyɛ me twenty pesewas ma mentɔ nsuo wae

Said woman in her floral print sundress switched on her selective blindness and walked past him.

“Abrantie ma me sika tɔ nsuo na Nyame be hyira wo

“Obi ntɔ nsuo ma me na Nyame be hyira wo

After awhile he gave up. No one was paying attention to him. He decided to pass the time instead by trying to recall what he knew of his would have been deliverers from thirst. There was Fred who worked in some bank and was flirting with one of his co-workers. He hadn’t taken things too far, since he was actually content with his wife and kids. Maame Adwoa, Miss Sundress, didn’t have any such scruples. There were several sugar daddies who kept her very happy. The only reason she didn’t drive around in a car was so her actual fiancé who she’d lived with for three years wouldn’t be suspicious. He wondered when she’d find out she had contracted HIV. Not too long he surmised, she didn’t exactly live the healthiest lifestyle. There was also Joe, who used expensive perfume to hide his halitosis and the fact that he smoked several packs of cigarettes a day and got drunk on weekends. And Marie, and Esi, Boateng and so on.

Throughout the day the beggar amused himself by attaching a life to a face. It was when he heard the giggling that he picked up his battered ceramic bowl again.

Nkɔla boa me wae na me hia twenty pesewas de atɔ nsuo.

Most of the children on their way back from school ignored him too, some however looked at him with that mixture of scorn and fascination scorn children are wont to give people in his situation.

Ping! A one cedi coin fell into his tin cup. It was a little girl, a bit younger than the others. She had her hair in pigtails and her uniform looked like it belonged to a private school. Their uniforms were always more colourful, if not nicer.

“Thank you, may God bless you.”

The girl continued to stare at him until he became uncomfortable. He was about to push his luck and ask for more money when an older girl, probably a sister grabbed her away. The poor girl received a few spanks on the head for her generosity.

The man shook his solitary coin for a while and got a few notes from older children and adults. Grudgingly of course, the little girl had shamed some of them and so they gave. It was not much but he soon had about five cedis, which was one ball of kenkey and a fish. With water to drink. A good day. He stopped a hawker for the water he so desperately needed. He sat down again and begun to wait

The sun went down and the moon rose, the people on the street eventually trickled into nothing. It was exactly midnight when the person he was waiting for showed up.

He was in dressed in black from his hat to his shiny black shoes and double-breasted long-sleeved shirt. And he was dressed in black, in the sense that if you looked carefully, it was darker around him wherever he went. He sauntered over to the beggar and looked down his nose.

“Hello brother”, the man said. “Do you have the tally?”

He reached beneath his clothes and handed over the scroll he had been sent to fill. Every person, every suburb in Accra, for five years. He’d managed to test them all. It was amazing how many people you could ask for money if you kept long enough at it. The man in black tutted as he unrolled it and scanned it briefly.

“You barely made a hundred souls this time my brother and most of the names on this list are children. What happens when they grow up and get corrupted?”

“They are still a hundred names”  The beggar rose, unfurling his wings as he got to his feet.

“and that means you don’t get to have your little fun. Brother.”

The other man drew himself to his full height, and around him the darkness grew a little deeper.

“Just a hundred names out of the millions that could be here. A hundred!” He calmed down, but the darkness around him began to swirl even more.”They sin and commit offenses against our Father. They take advantage of His benevolence. They must be punished.”

“Rules are rules brother. And just as you are meant to punish, I am meant to find the hundred by which they should be spared. You have them in your hand. There’s nothing for you here”

The darkness settled, and the man in black rolled his shoulders his composure finally resurfacing. He gave a cocky grin and bowed dramatically before turning around. The words that came from his mouth as he walked away were faint, but the beggar heard them clearly

“I’ll see you at the next town. We’ll see if there are any souls worth saving, brother”

The beggar kept standing. He looked around, ingraining every last piece of the area into his mind then bent down to pick his battered tin cup. He started walking in the opposite direction from which the man had come. It was a long way to the next town and a worthy hundred names was not an easy thing to find.

 

“Morning Sickness” by Jesse Jojo Johnson.

Enam woke up in a different room.

The first thing she noticed was the panelling. The lines run perpendicular to the folds of the curtains covering the full length windows. They were mahogany, the finish so thick the glare of sunrise shimmered above her bed like a spirit, adding to the brilliant display of the morning.

The curtains were drawn open. Too much light. Not her room.

Her head was cradled in the pit of a pillow too soft, she was on her back, her legs spread out immodestly (she hastened to shut them just as she noticed) and both arms were spread out like wings. She had sank into a mattress too willing to take all her weight (?) and for a moment, she felt it give way just a little when she tried to stir, as if it meant to lull her back to sleep.

The bed was too large. Her hard lump of a pillow wasn’t under her feet. Not her bed.

As you can imagine, Enam panicked. She shot out of bed like a bolt, felt gravity force her down, and shot up one more time into a seating position. That crafty queen sized mattress spread itself like butter and immediately swallowed half her arse, making her lose some balance. But that wasn’t what made her scream. It is the bulge of her tummy when she saw it.

Her arms and thighs were too thick for the lithe sixteen year old who went to bed in her worn out Hello Kitty pajamas, a bit too drunk to care what Grandma was nagging about. Her bed was too regal for the spartan affair she loved to coil herself on to spend those sweet, sweet hours falling asleep while WhatsApping with the Expendables. This room did not reflect the hormonal tumult of late adolescence, nor did it smell of the gay rebel who called it her cave. This silvery grey sack shimmering on her tight, sweaty skin was not her nighty.

In a moment she had regained composure (outwardly, it should be noted) and instinctively leaned back into the embrace of her mattress. Of the mattress. First things first. What time is it? Text Margaret. I can’t come over this morning. She reached for her iPhone from under her pillow. Then she threshed the torrent of brightly coloured sheets until she was convinced her phone hadn’t made it here. Her arms ached from the effort.

Then she slid her arse out of the dell, to the left some more, until she felt the hard, wooden frame of the bed. Then she walked her fat arms, crab-like, to the same place, let her left leg reach out and probe until her toes found the floor.

You may have guessed already: her toes curled on an especially eager rug, thick as pudding and fuzzy. It should have made anyone smile, or glad for the way such a rug caresses each toe, but you may have also guessed this: Enam did not enjoy the opulent comfort. Her’s was the cold, hard tiled floor that hurt the under of her feet.

Unlike you and I, Enam hadn’t the presence of mind to evaluate such trivialities in the face of her overnight pregnancy. And life wouldn’t even give her the chance to worry about this. A more immediate inconvenience was approaching from downstairs, whistling as its footsteps grew less faint.

She shouldn’t have screamed. It was too late. She couldn’t help it. My husband is coming.

She was almost saying those words when the dissonance struck her. What a foul croaking voice she had! She reached her neck and massaged the folds with her fat, little fingers. What is this one too! She thought aloud, examining her long, purple painted nails.

Hajia! Hajia did you say something? The whistling was loudest now.

Jesus! Enam instinctively made the sign of the cross and reached for the crucifix usually lodged in her cleavage. Sweat and air, that was all her fingers found.

Sweetheart I heard you shout oo. Came the voice from the corridor. He sounded like a school boy. He turned the door handle and forced it open.

It did not budge.

She could breathe again. ThankyouLordJesusthankyouLordJesus awo Ewuradze woe is me! under breadth with her hands over her head, her eyes darting across the room, wondering what in the universe was happening to her.

She got up. Quietly. Mustafa’s breathing was audible behind the door. He must have climbed a good distance. Was their house that high?

He knocked.

She pretended not to hear, though she was sure he could sense her panic anyway. She cradled the thing in her womb and looked round. The dresser was at the far corner of the room, in front of her, the mirror tilted at an angle so it showed more of the ceiling and less of whoever was standing next to it. Behind her was a door that led to her bathroom. The door was left open.

Beside her were the two large windows that announced the day’s events. Those she approached, seeking some sense from the outside world. Or at least, some perspective. Nothing made sense inside her head, and inside her room.

Three storeys below, two boys, aged ten and eight, in matching jalabiyas, swung sticks at each other in some violent play near the red visitor’s gate. A short way off, to their left, a teenager squatted beside the right front tire of a 2010 Land Cruiser Prado, scrubbing it like his father would let him take it to town when he finally got his license. He splashed soapy water at the rascals whenever they came too close. A girl, no more than six, naked except for the hairline string of beads round her waist, sat on an empty flower pot picking her nose, watching the action, tracing circles on the pavement with the heel of her little left foot.

Hajia’s husband was still knocking when she drew the curtains shut and slid into a resigned heap on the soft, persian rug, without making a sound, in the darkness of their master bedroom. She rested her head on the cold white, oil painted walls, wrapped her hands round her unborn child and fixed a perplexed gaze on the fading display of lights on the ceiling panels.

Odo me di car ne be ma wo, Odo me di car ne be ma wo… the missing iPhone started to sing.

“Clarity” by Priscilla Adipa.

It happened unexpectedly. Eventually. Unlike his commitment to Augusta, the discovery took time. When he uncovered the reasons behind her phone calls and averted eyes, he saw that this point would have been reached sooner, if only he had not been overly confident in his ability to hold Augusta’s attention.

He stood in the rain, his temper rising as the raindrops on top of his head grew heavier and heavier. He opened his mouth and received the rain. The weight and saltiness of the water in his mouth brought on memories of tongues locked in passion, bodies pliant to the desires of the other. Hungry for more, he pushed out his whole tongue and held it still in space. When recalling became painful, he pulled his tongue back into his mouth.

 

Augusta returned home to find Kwasi’s drenched form stretched out on their doorstep. As soon as she saw him, she knew their journey together was over. She hesitated in the car. Somewhere deep inside her, a breath of relief and of regret came alive. Being in harmony with Kwasi had become tedious, so tedious that she had looked elsewhere for what he no longer provided. Yet Augusta wavered. She had to be sure she was ready to let go.

Slowly she turned off the engine. She opened the door and placed one foot onto the wet ground, and then the other. It had stopped raining. She walked towards Kwasi, her face filled with sorrow. She tried to read his thoughts, but this time it was impossible. The force that had connected them was broken, and his mind was shut from her probing eyes.

“Kwasi.” His name escaped quickly from her lips. She was breathless, as though she had run a marathon and was struggling to get her words out. “Kwasi,” she called again.

He said nothing. On his face was etched a hardness Augusta had never seen before.

“Say something.” She searched for absolution, a sign that all would be well between them.

In response, there was only the heavy sound of breathing and the cricket song that filled the air when the rain clouds receded.

He decided to help her out. “As long as you are happy,” he said, almost too softly for Augusta to hear.

She waited for him to say more. But these were the only words that revolved around them in the growing darkness.

They stood on the doorstep, framed by the arches of the veranda. They had stood there countless times on days they escaped outside when their small house became too hot inside. The doorstep was Augusta’s favourite spot. It was there they sat on Fridays after work to eat kelewele bought from the woman down the road. It was there they spent evenings with no power, and, with just a candle and a mosquito coil between them, cursed ECG and anyone else responsible for the unending dumsor.

Augusta walked past Kwasi towards their front door. He had anticipated what she would need. Four suitcases stood near the door. One of the suitcases was made from a synthetic beige material with red stripes. It had remained pristine over the years. It was the suitcase Kwasi’s family brought to her parents’ house the morning of their engagement. It was the one they had packed with kente and cloth she hadn’t yet taken to her seamstress. All these years she’d kept the suitcase covered with a large see-through plastic bag. Now, she had to drag the suitcase on the muddied cemented ground to her car.
Again, Kwasi thought ahead of her. He grabbed hold of the bags and packed them into the car.

“Goodbye,” he said, as he slammed the boot shut and made to walk back towards the house.

“I’m sorry,” she said, as she placed a hand on his arm. Then, encouraged by the softening in his eyes, she leaned over to trace the angry lines on his forehead. He flinched when her hand touched his face.

“Just leave,” he said, and Augusta quickly got into the car, realizing his patience would not last.

She pushed the gear into reverse when he entered the house. Her left leg shook as she lifted it off the clutch. She had all her belongings, but still it felt like she was leaving a part of herself behind. The car stalled. She put the gear again into reverse, and pulled out of their yard. She did not stop even when she looked back and thought she saw Kwasi step out onto the doorstep.

“Breaking the Silence” by Daniel Hanson Dzah.

After she had been buried, and the funeral over, and he had managed to evict all the relatives artfully ensconcing their way into permanent residency, he would sit in his wooden grandfather chair kept under the large mango tree in his compound, breathing in the tropical breeze and cooling off under the shade of the green thicket.

He would sit all day, silent. Sometimes he would daydream for hours, floating freely between patchy nostalgia and pitiful hallucination. Sometimes he would slide into a deep sleep and only be jolted awake by an unusual swoosh of air. Then his stomach would rumble for lunch and he would obediently go into the kitchen. But he would be back soon after lunch, a good deal before sunset, and resume his posture under the mango tree.

The neighbourhood children would return, heartily retailing anecdotes about school or most often, sharing mean jokes about their teachers and classmates.

They would notice him, but they would not greet him.

He wished to scold them for their lack of respect but he no longer had the strength or conviction. Sometimes, thoughts of how things had changed in the last few decades would float to his mind’s surface and spread themselves over its banks. But his body would soon wear out his mind and the two would walk hand in hand in resignation to the times. He would look up at the flower panicles. A tired wrinkly smile would plaster itself unto his face.  

 

************

 

They were late.

At first, he thought the sun was setting earlier than usual. It was nearing the cold season after all. He tried to lift himself upright but paused halfway. The laughter and chatter were not as loud as always, but they were familiar. It was the school children. He sank back into his chair.

They had just laughed off a quick round of jokes and inadvertently toned down their voices to near silence as they approached his compound. Then they heard him call.

A hoarse version of the same sukuu nkwadaa they often heard older people call them. School children, he called out to them again. They stopped, momentarily unsure of what to do. He called them over as any old man would – in a tone of cordial invitation with a tinge of authority. They bashfully moved their human caterpillar towards him.

It was nothing after all. Just old people talk as usual. What were their names? Where did they attend school? What classes were they in? Who did they want to be in future? He mentioned that he had been trying to get their attention every time they walked past his compound, but they never seemed to hear him above their racket. They respectfully apologized. He accepted their apologies and made them promise to greet him tomorrow. Then he dragged his left hand behind his chair and pulled out a black polythene bag.

As was evident on the tree, the mango season had started. He was gifting them the first ripe fruit he had plucked himself. He joked that he was an expert tree climber. They giggled, shy at his grey humour. He counted them. Four boys and two girls. There was a mango for each. They thanked him profusely as they would their own grandfather. He nodded his approval. He would see them tomorrow. His regards should be extended to their parents, he added with a wobbly wave.  

 

************   



Two of the children managed to speak before they, like the others, foamed at the mouth and danced for the last time.

When the wailing brought the entire neighbourhood together, when everybody learned what the children had said and where they had last been and what they had last done, a furious whirlwind of bewildered men and women swept towards the old man’s house. They stopped short at his compound. Silence fell on their numbers. They only gaped, the venom drying in their throats.

A street lamp shone brightly on the mango tree. Two feet like ripe fruit dangled low from its branches. Some young men straggled to the tree to bring down the body. A single loud wail pierced the dusk and broke the silence. A torrent of ululations followed.

“Grandpa’s Face” by Edwina Pessey.

There he lies. He could have been asleep. He really did look like it. Although slightly bloated. His chest area looked robust for an aged, dead man. Grandpa was almost smiling. He always managed to see the humour in any situation. That was something Aba had picked up. It was this face, now inanimate, that raised his granddaughter.

 

When Aba was six, Grandpa’s bespectacled face towered over her’s. He had just found her on his bedroom floor with his upended first aid box beside her. Her lips were chalk-white.

Aaaa,” Grandpa said. “Open your mouth. Aaaa”. Aba opened her mouth to reveal a white mash on her tongue. She unfurled her fists to reveal round tablets with a big ‘G’ embossed on them. Aba’s eyes began to water. He had caught her. Grandpa burst out laughing and offered her a hand so she could stand. Aba’s grandmother would later medicate her with the Bentua to ease Aba’s constipation.

 

Presently, Aba notices the neatly folded Kente at the foot of the coffin. Her cousin told her that beneath the Kente was money that Grandpa would use in the spirit world. She had rolled her eyes at this. “Really?”

 

She turned her eyes to the corner. Grandma sat surrounded by consolers all keeping wake. Her eyes returned to Grandpa…

 

When she was nine, Aba kneeled and faced Grandpa to watch him eat pawpaw. She had her elbows strategically placed on the table to support her chin. This was a tactic she and her cousins devised — silently willing Grandpa to give up his food so they could devour the rest. That day it was soft pawpaw with evaporated milk; the day before that it was Abiba’s Waakye. “Fine. Here you go,” Grandpa resigned and pushed the bowl towards his granddaughter. He chuckled to reassure her that he was not annoyed. Aba grabbed the bowl and dashed behind the longest couch. She would be hidden from the eyes of her cousins if they came prowling.

 

Mourners circled Grandpa’s body. Aba allowed little room between herself and the coffin so the slow march circled her too. It looked like a dance; the kind of dance which involved shuddering shoulders, dragging feet, and the occasional dab around the eyes and lips a handkerchief or the back of a hand.

Some mourner-dancers were more energetic than the rest; they loudly proclaimed their wish to go with Grandpa. Aba’s mother was one of them. “Ei! mini sane nε,” Aba thought, while struggling to smother an emotion that had started to well up in her. She returned to her late grandfather’s face.

 

Her childhood rushed like a flood in her mind as she stared. Aba screwed up her face as though to sneeze, or cry—possibly the latter. The sound that erupted was not of a sob. It was unmistakable laughter.