“Ao! Here, suck my breast!” Maku made one last futile attempt to guide her nipple into her baby’s mouth, but he would just nibble on it briefly with his milk teeth, and then resume the ear-deafening tantrums over nothing, shrieking in its highest octave.
The old man observed intently. “Strap the baby up,” he resolved. “I think what it needs is a good nap.” She obeyed, as her husband, Kweikuma, paced their tiny living room, taking giant strides- heaving angry sighs.
“Numo’e, this lady has no shame.” Kweikuma knitted eye brows and gritted yellow teeth. He was a carpenter – nailing and sawing planks for a living. His friends and the mirror often told him his head was of no regular shape, and that his dental formula was incalculable. He possessed a plain face, however, paradoxically coupled with an impatient and haughty personality.
“Calm your nerves, young man,” Numo’e cautioned. “Hot temper is like a fierce forest fire. It destroys not only the woods, but also the game therein.”
“Anyway, old man,” Kweikuma snapped. “Maku, this woman here is an adulterer. I don’t want her as a wife anymore. Agbenaa!”
The old man’s eyes swept the narrow living room. It was quite well-furnished. Its soft, comfy sofa with handsome embroidery rested in a carapace of an Ivorian mahogany frame; legs tipped in golden stands. The ceiling fan was the latest Binatone, and the floor was turfed with a red carpet flaunting beautiful zig-zag patterns. The light-blue bulb illuminated the room, painting their silhouettes against the impeccable wall where their engagement picture hung uncertainly.
On the center-table were 6 pieces of GTP clothes, a box of jewelry, a ring, six pieces of head scarf, a Methodist hymn book, a Bible, Bottles of Gin and Whisky, some crate of assorted soft drinks and a 1986 Butterfly sewing machine. There was a bold inscription engraved on the sewing machine, reading: PROVERBS 5:15-20
“…And these items?” Numo’e queried.
Kweikuma shrugged, “Well, I’m returning her to her people. I cannot live with a promiscuous wife. Everybody eats from her bowl.”
Numo’e chuckled and glanced at Maku, who had cupped her chin in her right hand, shaking her head disbelievingly while her baby napped, strapped to her back.
“Tell me,” the old man probed further. “Who has eaten from her bowl?”
Kweikuma hesitated but summoned courage momentarily. He burst out: “She has been sleeping with Osabu the track driver, our neighbor who lives six houses down this street.”
“Oh, Kweikuma that’s a lie. Since you stopped handing me some transport money, Osabu has been helping me by packing my vegetables into his trailer, and then dropping me off at the market every morning. That’s all oo!” Maku explained, rubbing her palms in innocence, looking up to the heavens with pure, crystal eyes. “God bear me witness.”
“Shut up, Ashawo!”
“Silence!” the old man intervened. “Did you catch them sleeping together?”
Kweikuma assumed a sheepish demeanor. “Ah, b-b-but need I? Maku, if you don’t confess eh…” he dashed towards Maku, fists clenched.
“To scare a bird is not the best way to catch it, Kweikuma.” Numo’e advised. “Now rest your bottom.”
Kweikuma did so after seconds of hesitation.
Numo’e cleared his throat. “I know your beginning very well, Kweikuma. Even during your years of practice as an apprentice. You had one white shirt turned brown, and often wore an oversized pair of trousers which you held in check with tattered braces.”
Kweikuma pointed in humiliation…and discomfort.
“When you met Maku…” the old man continued. “…her vegetable business was doing well. She took care of you, fed you twice in a day, morning and evening…”
“But I was not starving to death. I had had enough of gari. I just needed some small soup to go with.” Kweikuma murmured.
Numo’e cut in. “My father often passed this axiom, that when poverty comes in at the door, love flies through the window. But Maku proved that my father did not know it all. Maku could have had any man she desired.” And indeed, it was true. Maku was a thing of beauty even after one grueling childbirth. She had features of a traditional high-life guitar, and her face had no flaws.
“Yet, I honestly do not understand why she chose to marry you. When I led you to her parents, you had just Proverbs 5:15-20 as her dowry.”
Kweikuma glared at Proverbs 5:15-20, the Butterfly sewing machine he had paid as Maku’s dowry.
“She shared your shack- that carpenter’s shop with just a window…and I remember its roof leaked badly whenever it rained. She bore you a son…in the dangerous face of your collapsed business. However, two years ago since you won that Chinese furniture contract, your colours changed. It is easy to glance covetously at the water in another man’s well. But is it wiser to cling to the well that quenched your thirst when you were thirsty. Remember, money is a visitor- he chooses to stay depending on how well you treat him. When the mouth swallows a knife, the anus must worry about how to expel it. My son, drink from your own well!”
The old man’s words sunk in deep. That night, Kweikuma, the carpenter, made love to Maku blithely on the sofa, near Proverbs 5:15-20, the memorable Butterfly sewing machine. He drank from his own well, deep and long, forgetting all about Adjoa Pee, the voluptuous, and distracting next door neighbor who had nearly marred their marriage, much to the ignorance of his dear wife and Numo’e, or so he thought.
It was February 14 when the clock struck midnight.