Nii Afotey bent over the aluminium bucket with his shovel in hand. He diligently scrubbed the shovel with a metal gauze and soap. He was once a mason but that was a long time ago, when he still had youthful hair on his head and teeth that could bite bones. Now his only pastime was doing menial jobs around his compound and scrubbing his precious shovel weekly.
Mansa, Afotey’s wife and her sister Tawiah looked on, they still could not understand Afotey’s obsession with that particular shovel. It was so old and rusty; the handle was broken and one screw on the shaft was missing. Still Nii wouldn’t let go of the shovel. Tawiah often teased her sister that she had a shovel for a rival, and though Mansa laughed along her sister’s jokes, she occasionally caught herself giving it some thought; Today they had the same weekly conversation.
Afotey listened to the women’s chatter in the porch. He knew what they were thinking, they had asked him so many times but he never said a word in response. He continued scrubbing in silence. As he scrubbed he ran his hand over a small dent in the back of the blade. That dent was part of the reason the shovel had become a sacred object to him.
Afotey’s mind took him to the path that led to his farm, he had just finished work on his site and was heading home, but he decided to uproot some tubers of yam to give to Mansa his betrothed. She was a beautiful lady and of wealthy lineage, so he had to make sure her parents understood that he could take care of her. Already, Kojo from the big city had started making advances at her. Afotey could tell by the attitude of Mansa’s mother, that she preferred Kojo to him. Afterall, Kojo was rich, and from the same tribe.
He recalls meeting Kojo at the crossroads to his farm. No one knows about their encounter and Afotey had hidden the truth in his heart for so long he no longer remembers vividly. Now he’s unsure what really took place. Only snippets remain … the sound of a gun… The instinctive shielding with the shovel… The retaliatory smacking of the assailant… Moans of pain…blood…
Kojo was buried a week after Afotey and Mansa’s marriage ceremony. He and his wife moved to the big city soon after. He took his shovel along and though he worked as a carpenter he never disposed off the shovel. Each week he would bring it out and scrub it thoroughly. It was a form of penance ritual for him. But no matter how long or hard he scrubbed, he still couldn’t wipe those snippets of memory…especially the blood…out of his head.
Afotey rinsed the shovel and raised it against the sun. The shovel was so clean it glistened against the midday sun. Yet, he knew he would bring it out again next week and the week after for his weekly penance.