Overcome by the puzzling circumstance in which he now found himself, Amoateng sat at the edge of the leather couch, his hands supporting the sides of his head as though those two fattened pillars might keep his mind from falling apart.
His boxers were already tight with sweat. The ceiling fan had no soothing effect on the humid room, though he sat right beneath it. Its periodic tick gave some rhythm to his thoughts, and that provided a measure of comfort. His eyes seemed fixed on the half-empty bottle of beer in front of him, but in truth, he could see nothing. The confusion was blinding.
Priscilla walked in. Her ample thighs could not contain themselves in the tights she had forced them through, and layers of her belly spilled over the sides of her red tank top. Red. His fingers dug deeper into the sides of his head. He took in a sharp breath.
“Honey?” she asked, dabbing sweat from the back of her neck with a scented hanky. He forced a smile across his face and scanned the room. She was in the doorway, leaning on the threshold. Her lipstick was a dark red, her brows a little over-emphasized. She was chewing on something.
“I’ll be back late, yeah?”
“Okay.” It came out as a whimper, and with it, she walked across him to the front door. His eyes followed her feet as they carried her out of the sitting room and disappeared behind the gently closing door. He took in a sharp breath.
Another conversation began outside.
“Ma when will you be back?” rang Adjoa’s voice. Amoateng wasn’t sure about her, but for now, she seemed oblivious to the recent dramatic shift to the order of his household.
“Oh, it’s up to Jenine, dear. When she’s in her element, you don’t know what will happen.” The strain in his wife’s voice meant she was bending to dust her stiletto heels.
“Sweety, how do I look?” she must have turned round, offering the child the full scope of her horrors barely concealed. Now, this had become a grave concern for the man of the house: that his little girl’s notions of beauty and grace would, with this salvo of derangement, be permanently distorted by the passing fancies of this godless generation. Adjoa, as if to confirm his growing fears, sounded bubbly.
His wandering mind was called to attention when a car horn sounded: three sharp toots, and then the rumble of the V8 drifted into his consciousness. Then the clanging of the gate. Then the rev of the SUV. She was out.
Where to begin? His limbs filled with purpose the moment the gate was shut. Adjoa continued to play outside. He skipped upstairs, to their bedroom.
He felt like a stranger in the room whose walls had seen so much of their best years. The curtains had been drawn, the windows shut. The darkness itself seemed to accost him. He found himself staring. His eyes fell on their bed, neatly laid. The new pink bedsheet stood out – shimmering it seemed, or his eyes were merely adjusting to the dimness. On the dresser stood a portrait of the new couple: smiling under hard light. There seemed to be a lot of activity in the background. It was someplace in Osu, he was sure. She had rediscovered Accra this last week.
He stepped rather slowly inside, afflicted by the mischief this mingling of the familiar with the novel worked on his imagination. The room hadn’t changed much. But it had. Her wardrobe door was ajar. He went there first. Most of what she had bought over the last seven years had been replaced by a cohort of articles informed by her new found confidence.
He was overcome with pity. But only briefly.
Adjoa’s tricycle made the bend round the house, and was approaching the backdoor when it flung open. Daddy emerged, his face obstructed by the huge brown carton in his hands, overflowing with – stuff. He stopped the trap door from slamming shut with his foot, then let it close behind him, unaware that his daughter was near.
She watched him make his way to the car, then set the load on the bonnet with a grunt. “Daddy!” she startled him. “Are you going out too?”
He turned to her, barely containing his grin. He walked to the little girl, as if this was their first encounter. He took her head in his hand and felt her cheeks. “You’re beautiful!” he couldn’t contain his joy. Adjoa smiled. Perhaps she sensed something was wrong, but she didn’t communicate it. And so she smiled at him and asked, again: “Daddy, are you going out too?”.
“I think I will call you Nana Adjoa” was his reply, lifting the slightly perplexed child off the ground. He remarked to himself how much they resembled each other. He was glad he had chosen her.
“Daddy are we going out?” there was a quaver in her voice this time. No, he couldn’t leave the child alone in this house.
“Yes sweety, yes!” he dug his face into the girl’s chest and kissed her. “We’re going to have ice cream! Then we’ll go to the cinema tonight!” he was more joyful than she must have been. But whatever her true feelings, Nana Adjoa did not communicate them. She only laughed.
“But first, daddy has to take some things to the borla. The house was dirty. Daddy had to clean it all up so it can be fresh and clean again!” he was elated!
He backed out of the driveway and, like a happy child, jumped out of the car to close and lock the gate behind them. He returned with frenzied eagerness barely concealed, fastened his seatbelt and checked his rearview mirror. The sight of the smile in his eyes was the punchline.
He took nearly half a minute to recover, wheezing as he did and wiping a stray tear that crept along his cheek.
He took one more look at his daughter, his plastered grin mirrored on her face. Then, turning on the radio, he raised the volume and cruised off. He’d always loved these drivetime shows.
Nana Adjoa, for her part, knew not to ask about Ma anymore.