Join us at the Pagya Literary Festival as we launch the print version of our “Kenkey for Ewes and Other Very Short Stories” anthology.
Join us at the Pagya Literary Festival as we launch the print version of our “Kenkey for Ewes and Other Very Short Stories” anthology.
During the hour long lunch break between their Saturday classes, Esi and her friend ventured out to a nearby store at the junction to buy some snacks. The other kids had gotten into a taxi and gone off to God knows where. She envied those kids, but all she could afford was a pack of bonbon biscuits, the remnants of which she clutched in her hands.
What are you doing! One of her friends hissed at her, motioning frantically for Esi to move while standing her ground some meters away.
Esi remained frozen in place. She had unwittingly turned to the call of a stranger, and now he was making a beeline towards her. Matted hair, tattered clothes and a layer of dust had engulfed him, making him look as though he had been trekking through a desert. Esi’s eyes darted between her friend and the man. He was at an arm’s length now, and he looked even more terrible up close. His corneas were jaundiced and bloodshot. Esi could see his blackened teeth as he spoke.
Do you have any change to spare? I’d like to buy some food.
Esi’s eyes widened. His voice was strikingly different from his appearance. He spoke with a refined accent that sounded like the foreign actors in the British movies on TV Esi watched all the time.
Im-im sorry, i don’t have any money. Esi stuttered.
Oh, that’s okay…are your friends afraid of me?
Esi glanced back briefly and shook her head.
Our break is almost over, so we have to hurry back.
Do you go to school here? He motioned towards the building at the end of the road.
Study hard, he said encouragingly with a smile.
He turned to leave. Esi’s heart went out to him.
W-wait, Esi blurted. You can have some of my biscuits.
She stretched out her hand with the half empty wrapper. The man smiled again. This time, his face brightened up, and his eyes sparkled. He no longer seemed so scary.
Keep it. But thank you, you’re very kind.
Esi stared at him as he disappeared around the corner. She wondered what had happened to him, and what had gone wrong in his life. Her friend inched back to her side. A bell rang in the distance, and the duo ran back to the school.
Weeks later, Esi sat in the corner on the front verandah of the school, enjoying the shade with her classmates after yet another long day at school. There was a barred gate enclosing the open entry, to prevent passersby from slipping onto the premises. They were not a group she would usually hang around. Esi always felt awkward around them, but she didn’t want to go home just yet. She might as well have been invisible to them, but that didn’t matter to her because he was there too…The one who made her heart flutter whenever she was near him. After about an hour secretly fawning over him from her corner, he had to go home. Esi decided to do the same.
As she got ready to sneak off through the back exit, she heard frantic giggles. Esi turned to the gate to see what had caused the sudden commotion. A scruffy figure headed towards them. She recognized him immediately. Her classmates excitedly whispered and giggled as he drew closer. Some ran away, others drew back from the gate.
You guys should stop being so rude! Esi blurted.
Everyone stopped to stare at her.
Why are you afraid? The man, now at the gate, said to the startled group.
His voice and articulate speech ruptured through like a burst of fresh air.
I’m not here to ask you for money so tell your friends to come back. I saw you pointing and laughing at me, and your friends ran away because of how I look. Even if I asked you for money, am I not human? You shouldn’t treat people that way.
Her dumbfounded classmates, guiltily avoided eye contact with each other.
I know she wouldn’t do that, he continued, and pointed right at Esi. You should all be more respectful, like her.
Esi felt the blood rush to her face. Her ears burned as everyone eyes sear through her.
He gave Esi a small nod and with a sad smile, he walked away. There was a dead silence. If she was invisible to them a few minutes ago, she certainly wasn’t anymore.
To Esi’s surprise, no one brought up the incident the next day. Everyone avoided the topic, and Esi avoided everyone. Her parents made a rare appearance to pick her up from school that day. They were making a trip to the city center. Esi sat back, absentmindedly gazing out the window. Up in a distance, a figure stood still on the corner. Her heart froze before she knew why. A split second later, she was face to face with the disheveled man as the car slowed to a stop at the light. Her first instinct was to duck under the car seat, but she didn’t want to attract attention to herself – so she quickly placed a hand over her forehead in an attempt to cover her face. Slowly, she peeked between her fingers and found herself staring him right in the eyes.
That was when Esi’s heart sank. Her fears melted away, leaving behind a deep sorrow. His eyes, which were so bright and clever the day before, were glazed over. He looked right at her, but Esi knew he could no longer see her.
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.”
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.
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.
Arms forward stretch. Arms sideways stretch. One logologo line.
Inspection. Neat collar. Clean handkerchief. Let me smell your armpit. White singlet. White socks. Black shoe. Brown shoe. White socks. Black camboo. Brown camboo. White socks. Black sandals. Brown sandals. Where is your badge? Whip-whip-whip!
“God bless our Homeland Ghana.” “I promise on my honour.” “Our Father who art in Heaven.” “And can it be.” “Fairest Lord Jesus.” “We are marching to our classes.”
‘Good Morning Class.’
‘Good Morning Sir.’
‘How are you?’
‘We are fine, thank you. And yooouuu?’
‘Sit down. Where is your homework?’
‘It was too difficult, sir.’ ‘Father left my book in his car boot, sir.’ ‘Father did not sign, sir.’
Teacher banza. Driver banza. Father banza. Whip-whip-whip!
Students’ companion. Companion of teachers. Foe of students.
Homonyms. Bear. Bear. Bank. Bank. Homophones. Key. Quay. See. Sea. Antonyms. Arrive-Depart. Adore-Despise. Attack-Retreat.
Synonyms. Abandon-Leave-Desert. Astonished-Surprised-Perplexed. Flabbergasted? Whip-whip-whip!
Collections. A bunch of? Bananas! A troupe of? Monkeys! A bouquet of? Err…err. Whip-whip-whip! You monkey!
Mental. Square root of? LCM of? HCF of? 12 Squared plus 5 Squared minus 15 Squared plus 10 Squared minus 2 Squared times zero? Whip-whip-whip!
Break time please!
Auntie please one bread. One meat-pie. One rock buns. One bofroat. Tampico. FanYoghurt. FanChocolate. Fanpop. Fanice…so nice nice nice.
Green Green grasses. Kwaku Ananse Stories. Change your style. Change your style. Be like that. Be like that. Boys play football. Girls play Ampe. Mother jeega nobody!
Break over please!
School Prefect. Compound Prefect. Bell boy. Cupboard Monitor. Blackboard Cleaner. Class Prefect: Sweeping Rooster. Class Prefect: Names of talkatives. Kojo Mensah-DP. Adwoa Mansa-TP. Your head is hard. Your head is hard paa!
Midterm Break. Midterm Holidays. Midterm Homework. English Homework. Maths Homework. Social Studies Homework. Integrated Science Homework. Agricultural Science Homework. Technical Drawing Homework. Catering Homework. Graphic Design Homework. French Homework. Ga Homework. Twi Homework. No-break Midterm. No-holiday Midterm.
You like that paa. You too you like that paa! You are someway papa. You too you are someway papa! I won’t say anything. Me I won’t talk. I’m going to come. I’m coming. I’m coming right now okay? Go tear, it is sweet. Herh! Who spoke vernacular? Only English! Speak only English!
Who Fla-tu-lat-ed? Flatulence. Farts. Boys at the back. Maybe girls at the front. Do females fart? Does Queen Elizabeth fart? Who knows? We never know. Nobody ever knows.
Farts. Silent farts. Loud farts. Smelly farts. Korle Lagoon farts. Lavender Hill farts. Oblogo borla farts.
Mosquito romance. Tease the girls. Chase the boys. Chase him all around the classroom. Slap him in the back! Pinch his arm! Oh no! There is a teacher! Oh yes! There’s a teacher! Sir, he was teasing me. He was teasing me, Sir. I don’t like that. I do not like that-o. Yoo.
Digestive. Hob Nobs. Rich Tea. Shortbread. Coke. Fanta. Sprite. Oh, gimme some of your Malt ehh?
Speakers. Microphone. DJ. Dancing Floor. Dancing Competition. Jams. Who let the dogs out? Wo! Wo! Wo-wo-wo! Oh nananaana! It is our day.
Vacation classes. Vacation classwork. Vacation homework. Home-work. Go home and work.
Mama is in the box. She is wearing a white dress and a chain. They say she is sleeping but when you call her, she doesn’t wake up. She doesn’t even respond when you shake her.
Yaa doesn’t know how to do hair at all! She only knows how to do a ponytail. And she doesn’t even know how to do it properly. She doesn’t even know how to comb an Afro or tie three balls. She pulls my hair very hard and she says “Sorry, sorry. I won’t do it again.” But she does it again. Look, look at how loose and crooked she has made my hair. And she has hard palms too. When she touches my forehead, it is like she’s scratching it.
I like it better when Mama does my hair. Mama can do the afro and the ponytail far better. Sometimes, she plaits two big horns at the sides of my head and she ties colourful ribbons around them. When she combs my hair, it is painful but not as painful as when Yaa does it. All I have to do is to make a tight fist and the pain will go. As for Yaa, the more I tighten my fist, the more it hurts.
Yaa is our maid. She is tall and fair and very quiet. She doesn’t go to school and her English is very bad. She used to come to our house on weekends to clean the house and wash our clothes. But since Mama became sick, she has come to stay with us. She sleeps in the sitting room. She rolls out a mat in the evening when she wants to sleep and in the morning, she folds it and leans it in the corner under the bookshelf beside the small rubber bag. She keeps her clothes in the rubber bag. She cooks the food and boils Mama’s herbs. She doesn’t eat with us at the dining table; she eats in the kitchen. She sits on a small stool and sets her plate on the floor. Now she does my hair and sometimes, it is she who comes to pick me up from school. Daddy always takes me to school before he goes to work.
Mama doesn’t like Yaa anymore; I don’t know what she did or why Mama’s attitude towards her has changed. Now she calls her “Hɛh” or “Kwɛ”. Even when she screams her name from the bedroom, she says “Hɛh Yaa” or “Kwɛ Yaa”. Mama says not to call anyone aboa. She says Jesus doesn’t like us referring to other people as animals. But when she’s angry at Yaa, she eyes her and calls her aboa. When Yaa says good morning, Mama doesn’t respond, she only waves her left hand at her. Sometimes I watch her when she cries in the kitchen but she doesn’t know that I’m watching her. One day I asked her why she was crying and she said that she wasn’t crying. She wiped her face with the dirty wrapper she had on her waist and smiled.
But Daddy likes Yaa very much. He smiles and says good morning when Yaa greets. He also asks, “How are you doing?” When he returns, he asks her if she has eaten and sometimes he buys her gifts. You see the red blouse Yaa wears now to the market? It was Daddy who bought it for her. Her new sandals too, it was Daddy who bought them. When Daddy gives Yaa something new, she says, “Thank you Daddy. Thank you very much. May God bless you Daddy.” Daddy is not her father but she calls him Daddy. Her Mama and Daddy live in the village. Daddy said we might visit them this December. I can’t wait.
As soon as I get home from school, I run to the bedroom to greet Mama. Sometimes, she’s asleep but I shake her and she wakes up. I sing the songs Auntie Rhoda taught at school that day. She helps me with my homework. She says I’m clever and she wants me to become a lawyer. But I want to become a doctor.
I want to wear a white coat and inject people. I wanted to be a teacher before, like Auntie Rhoda. I wanted to lash all the bad boys who sit at the back and disturb and bully, like Attoh Graham and Quaye Michael. But the last time Daddy and I took Mama to the hospital and I saw a doctor wearing glasses and something around his neck, I just wanted to be a doctor.
Mama knows all the rhymes Auntie Rhoda teaches us so she sings along. Mama can sing oh, she can sing very well. Yaa too can sing, but she doesn’t know rhymes.
Do you know Auntie Fofo? She’s the best aunt in the world. She visits us often, especially since Mama’s sickness. She brings fruits and herbs for Mama and biscuits for me. Sometimes she brings biscuits for Yaa too. She has big eyes and big cheeks. She’s fat, but not obolo. I like her car very much. It’s a Benz. I’ll buy one when I grow up. I love her very much. She calls Daddy Ken and calls Mama Adoley.
On the day of the funeral Auntie Fofo asked me, “Where is Mama?” and I said, “Mama is in the box.” Then she was smiling but tears were flowing from her eyes. She pulled me to her chest and hugged me tightly. I asked her why she was crying and she said she was not crying. I also began to cry and she told me to stop crying but she was still crying.