I woke up for the third time that afternoon. Okyerewaa no longer troubled my sleep: this time I did not dream.
When I opened my eyes, the motor of the ceiling fan had just gone off: the comforting hum was gone as the blades spun to a halt. The heat must have roused me, I thought, shaking off my covers, pulling the shirt off my back.
I was too lazy to actually get out of bed. My pillow was damp, the old mattress too depressed to provide any more comfort. I lay there adjusting to the dim room. I was thinking of Okyerewaa.
My next action was mechanical. I picked up my phone pretending to check the time. That goddamned icon. My heart beat faster anytime I saw a notification. After six months I’d pavloved myself into a mild frenzy anytime I got a message from her.
No new message from Okyerewaa this time. It was the nuisance of those groups I was too worried to leave, lest I draw needless attention to myself. I let the phone slide out of my hand. My eyes clouded and I wandered on the threshold of sleep.
We moved to North Legon nearly a year ago. Our house is a story building at the edge of the Madina Zongo. In front of my house is Malam Issaka’s signboard, complete with two phone numbers (MTN and Airtel), an email address (Yahoo!) and a crudely drawn image of him draped in a white jalabiya dancing in front of a snake-infested pot.
A red arrow on the signboard points toward my house. Malam Issaka doesn’t live with us, no. His enterprise is actually behind our wall. You skirt the razor-wired fence till you meet a footpath. It’ll lead you to a large gutter that has three wooden planks across it. Crossing that bridge takes you behind my house and into my favourite attraction.
Anytime the lights are off, I sit by my window and look across the gutter. There’s a forest of TV antennae sticking from the roughest housing I know. There’s a dusty, fenced park with two wooden, faltering goal posts that displays talent better than our premier league. There’re the loose girls who sit on the boys at Fuseina’s and cackle loudly at jokes I cannot hear from the distance. When I don’t want to think of Okyerewaa, I sit there and distract myself.
Today was a slow evening: the sun had beat us all to submission. Two old men drank quietly at the notorious spot. A pretty girl bathed her little sister in a basin in front of their house. I panned to the left. The park. Six boys sat on benches near the imaginary touchline, bored as I was. Perhaps the blackout had driven them out too.
A dog strayed into the park. A seventh boy, barely ten from his height and manner, closed the park’s gate. He stayed outside.
The boys inside the park stirred to life. It was then I noticed two of the oldest playing with two large sticks. What conversation they were having grew more animated.
One boy broke from the group and walked toward the nearer goal post. I did not notice when he picked up the stone. He had already broken into a light run. Then he stopped and turned to his friends, like he was about to say something. He spun and flung the rock hard as he could. It struck the dog dead on its thigh. The creature howled – I heard it – and broke into a run. The hunter chased after it. He had another stone in hand.
The dog crossed the center line and made for the farther half of the field, edging closer to the touch line. It might have noticed the fence was too high. It made a large arc near the right of the penalty box. The hunter cut across the arc and stopped the hound in its tracks.
The dog barked and bared its teeth. The hunter teased attack, brandished his missile, faked another run to confuse his target. He feigned a run to his right, then threw the second stone with his left. The dog, more agile, sprung toward the missile, which only grazed its back.
The hunter slipped and fell in the sand. His cohorts were roused. Five strong men broke out in two flanks. The eldest held the center. The dog ran down the touch line toward the nearer goal post, howling all the time. The hunters chanted back a vicious chorus as the two youngest ran to meet it head on. They had no sticks, no stones, only intimidating faces and savage grunts.
The two older boys meant to intercept the dog as it tried to get away from the younger boys. The oldest, trotting along with an aura of experience brandished his staff with haughty flair. He was meant to clean up operations when both his flanks failed.
Our fallen hunter meanwhile was busy looking for stones to direct their victim’s run if it didn’t favour the pursuit. The youngest boys charged without care at the dog. It stopped in a cloud of dust, danced this way and that in a moment of confusion, and dashed in the opposite direction, right into the other flank.
Or so I thought.
In a moment of instinctive brilliance our dog made for the gap between both flanks. The nonchalant leader of the gang broke into a run and swung his club once, twice. There was a howl. A human cry. He was floored. His stick flew from his hand and landed worthless a distance from him.
The dog bolted free from the attackers and made for the left corner of the field, towards the farther goal post. There the fence was lower. A few leaps to the end of the run the dog collapsed in a tangle of its own legs, in dust, and with a cry that caught my breath. The fallen hunter spun another stone at an angle. It must have hit the beast right on the spine: after another cry, it stopped moving entirely.
The ten year old who had closed the gate was reaching over the fence, stick in hand. The hunter with the stones gestured to him to get back. Instead, he rushed to the dying dog. He smashed its head in with his stick. I counted all six blows without flinching.
The five boys, dusty from the hunt, walked towards their prize.
My phone vibrated the frame of my bed and pulled me out from the surreal tragedy. I reached for the lit screen like a jewel in the dark, my thoughts alive again with Okyerewaa’s name.