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.
I have always liked the clever ones.
Mother said I pick the weirdest. The mad, mad girls – the wild and unrestrained. They are the most interesting, I should admit, though I’ve heard it whispered that they make an unwise pursuit. Things get complicated easily, they really do. But what I must correct is the wrong perception that I do this intentionally. On the contrary, I avoid them like a plague. Or I try to. I don’t know, whatever I do, I end up with one worse than the previous.
Take Serwaa. When I first met her, she was a scruffy toddler in the habit of deliberately sniffing out trouble. Every single time. I remember one episode: The Baiden’s had moved in a week ago and were familiarizing themselves with the neighbourhood. Their ambassadorial visiting rounds brought the small, affluent returnees to Serwaa’s. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, the sort that wears the life out of you for God knows what.
Serwaa’s parents hosted the lawyer, his civil engineer wife and their twenty-something year old medical student son in the living room. Mrs Dorothy Baiden left her handbag on the floor beside her seat. The Sunday family movie played muted as the lawyer dished out his favourite courtroom episodes, applying a London accent generously when he meant to imitate a client or an opponent, interjecting with Fante obscenities where appropriate.
The laughter and wine must have blinded them as Serwaa went through Dorothy’s bag unchecked. My little girl found a treasure, walked up to her mother (a newly trained nurse, I forgot to mention) with a strange contraption and demanded the truth “Mummy what is a pregnancy test?” She announced.
Daniel Baiden’s conception with a toothless smile and there, won my heart. I’ve spent more time with Serwaa Adomah than I thought I would. I usually get tired of playing with them. Girls grow up fast and they quickly learn what this and that means, and when to stay away and when to give in. But Serwaa was different. She was a good book that never ended – a story that will not grow old. Mother said I pick the weird ones.
I must have stumbled on the maddest, cleverest girl in Accra. I stuck with her through pre-school, kindergarten, Christ the King and Wesley Girls. I didn’t only have pleasure watching her sleep at night. No, I was good to her. I taught her music and how to sing. I helped her in every exam she sat. I gave her wit when she needed it to get by. I always told her what to do, when to do it, what not to do – and she always listened.
It was like she knew me, that I was there. Whatever she thought of me I can’t tell. Some parts of the mind are always hidden, if you must know, but we had an unspoken contract, and understanding each other was enough to get by for twenty seven years.
Until her twenty-eigth birthday, when that same Daniel, the one from earlier, had the nerve to walk up to her with much more than a birthday gift. Poor boy, I smiled, waiting for the sarcastic rejection that never came.
We had been through several crushes and five failed relationships. Daniel was different. The pair had a connection and, knowing Serwaa, I knew something was wrong. She was happy. With another guy.
Serwaa started seeing him. First it was once a week in his room. Then every Tuesday and Saturday. In two months, Friday nights were booked at Eddy’s Lounge. Now she was too busy to talk; absent minded during holiday-classes, slacking in her studies because lover-boy next door with his iPhone and hoodies was too much for her silly little heart.
Panicking as I never should, as Mother has explicitly warned me never to, I took matters into my own hands. Dramatic as I am (I do have a fine instinct for such) I waited for the eve of his birthday. They had been texting all night – he across the street in his dingy bedroom pretending not to realise it was only minutes till he reached twenty-six, she waiting to spring the birthday wishes on him – general lover’s play. As midnight drew, I sneaked back into her room and sung our favourite song in her ear. The trick never failed.
In a moment, Serwaa was with me in the little odd world we shared. She said she’d missed me. I said she lied. We had an argument. Then a long conversation filled with reflection on what we had been before all this. She woke up at eleven in the morning with a headache and thirty missed calls to worry about. Frantic (and mad at me, I swear) she rushed out in her nighty to his house.
Mr. Baiden greeted her. “Daniel left before breakfast. He said something about meeting his boys for a drink.”
She was stunned.
“I know. Something happened last night eh? Don’t worry. His temper will cool soon. Come inside.”
Serwaa slumped in the chair and browsed through channels, waiting for her phone to vibrate – calling and scolding herself for acting too desperate. “Maybe I will surprise him when he finds me home, with the family and all.” she thought to herself – or maybe said to me. She felt my deep regret and shuddered. Minutes later, her phone buzzed with Daniel’s number.
“Ermm…do you know the owner of this phone…” and Serwaa Adomah blacked out.
It’s been four years but Serwaa still cries every August 3rd. Our conversations have been infreqent and cold. Subjects seem harder to find, now that things are…complicated. She says she’ll never love again. I tell her she’s mad. She says it doesn’t matter anymore. I insist I was only jealous – I messed up but that’s just the way I am. And when I leave her alone, all she does is cry.
Aku jolted out of her bed, panting heavily. Her heart was racing, she slowly came to terms with her surroundings and sighed deeply, Not again. Oh God, not again. Maybe I should go and see Pastor Owusu like Frank suggested, she thought to herself, All my reading has gotten me nowhere. Aku had been suffering from what she assumed was sleep paralysis; sometimes, in her sleep, her eyes would open, she would be fully aware of what was going on around her.
… But she could not move a muscle in that state. It terrified her. The very first time it happened she thought she was dead. After several mental prayers to God about how she swore she would change and be a better person, she somehow sprung awake. Ever since then, she had been too scared to fall asleep comfortably.
After her morning cleansing rituals, Aku walked outside her house to join the waakye queue for breakfast.
I wonder if the pastor will think I am demon possessed… I feel fine though…, she argued internally. Had it not been for the new character that recently started appearing in her paralyzed sleeping state, she would have ignored the phenomenon. The curved, disfigured woman-like creature kept crawling into her room, her joints twisted in opposite directions. Arms grew out of her body; her face, her stomach, several random places as if they were reaching out to her. Her long dark hair hid her face, and that creepy sound it made. Its head was always cocked awkwardly to the side; it never looked anywhere straight.
“Aku eeeei!”, the waakye seller exclaimed, banging her ladle against the food pan. “What’s the matter? Your mind isn’t here today. How much are you buying today?”
“Sorry, auntie”, Aku excused herself, “I’m not hungry anymore”. Aku exited the front of the line promptly and walked hastily over to the bus stop by the road to get a taxi to her church.
If this doesn’t help, I don’t know what will, she thought.
“I’m sorry oh, pastor has gone to prayer camp!”, said Joyce, the church’s semi-literate administrator. Aku’s heart sunk. She was completely lost as to what she should do next.
“But, madam! I can help oh! What do you need? Is it prayers? You have no problem, I can pray paa. I am a prayer mama!”, Joyce boasted to no avail.
“Thank you Joyce, I’ll come back tomorrow” She set off back home, finally deciding she would spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the house.
Whew!, she exhaled while sitting back into her chair. That took a lot longer than I imagined, but at least I’m done. She looked out into the dark night sky, fighting her tiredness. She liked to keep her mind busy so that she could stay awake. She often counted to a billion in twos.
2… 4… 6… 8…
She breathed deeply.
… 124, 126, 127… Ei! No. 128, 130…
500, 555, 665, 66…….
Her eyes flew open. They searched the room frantically, but everything seemed quiet, still…
The distinct screech of nails against the tiled floor. Crawling feet and scratching hands like spiders. Guttural, barely human grunts echoed in the room. The creature came with its friends this time around, she wanted to get up and run, but her body wouldn’t budge. Her pulse immediately went up. Before she could even start ‘bargaining’ with God, they came close to her bed, slowly circling in on her. She knew she couldn’t go anywhere. Her eyes widened as one of the creatures reached for her, she tried to scream….
The cockroach run across the terrazzo-floored bathroom, its brown back shiny with moisture in the yellow bathroom light. Light was not good. Light was dangerous. Light was almost as dangerous as the rain that fell only on you, made it impossible to move then killed you. You were never safe in light. The insect fled to the absence of light that was the drain hole in the corner where it knew it would be safe. At the edge of the drain it paused, making sure the entrance was really safe. Just before it could plunge, a wave of hot water slammed and carried it away till it struck a white, smooth wall. Stunned, and with its legs motoring in the air it stood no chance against the worn chalewote that crushed it.
Kodzo ground his heel into the bug and stared at its smeared remains. He soon returned his attention to his bucket of water. The bathroom became silent again as he turned off the faucet and checked the temperature- Just right. He took off his faded towel, hung it on the shower and started lathering his sponge. Like every ten year old his age he started washing his round belly before his face. He took his time, not because he wanted to be clean as much as he wanted to enjoy his warm water. It felt so good. If he was lucky, Auntie (Auntie is actually his mother, but that is another story.) wouldn’t notice if he watched TV tonight. After all, tomorrow was Friday! Classes will only last till twelve o’clock at school! He grinned at the thought of coming home early and got a mouthful of soap lather which he spat out. He washed the rest of the lather from his face just as the lights suddenly went out. “They have done light off again”, he said to himself. He waited to be able to be able to see in the dark, but meanwhile he groped for the bathing pail to get rid of the soap suds on his body.
“My name is David Hooorrror!” a voice said softly in the darkness.
Kodzo started, and listened again to make sure he wasn’t hearing things. “Fui… Auntie… is that you?” Kodzo said.
“Who’s that?” he said shrilly, looking around wildly. His eyes still hadn’t adjusted. All he wanted to do was leave the room as quickly as possible. His heart started to beat loudly, he forgot about the lather and wrapped his towel around his soapy body. Just as he saw the door he moved towards it as fast as he could, much like the poor cockroach long forgotten on the floor. The exact moment he neared the bathroom door and stretched a hand to open, it flung wide open, and a huge white thing jumped at him. It felt like linen as it brushed against his wet skin, and the shape looked vaguely familiar, but Kodzo was beyond analysis.
“I AM THE GHOST OF DAVID HORRROOOORRRR!!!” it shouted.
Kodzo screamed and run out of the annexed bath house, and across the compound to the safety of the house. Somewhere along the way his towel fell off, but he was too busy screaming. If he hadn’t been, he would have heard the sound of his big brother Fui as he took of his white bed sheet, holding his sides in laughter.
When Papa Flex looked across the marble table at Araba, it was not with the soulless, dead stare he had on the previous night. It was a smile that reflected a warm professionalism. It was the same smile he had on when he first met her, promising stardom. It was a smile that hid a morbid secret, which almost made her visibly shudder. She did not, however, shaking off the negative thoughts on her mind. She knew exactly what she was getting. She tried to forget the unpleasant events of the previous night.
The smile did not betray itself, however. Jeanine Atkins, creative director for one of the largest advertising firms in Ghana, was smiling back with approval already. From all indications, Papa Flex had already won her over. The 6th floor conference room was filled with executives. When the MD finally walked in, Araba tried to focus on the way his dark suit swished against his body as he moved. Her gaze jumped across the room towards different objects -the young intern’s spectacles, staplers at the edge of the table, even the shiny, polished tile floor. She could not, would not, look at Papa Flex.
“Well, I think we can get started.” Jeanine cut through Araba’s thoughts as the MD sat down. “Mr. Flex, why don’t you tell us about what you have?”
“Yes, so my artiste, Araba Menson…”
Araba lay on the carpet writhing and convulsing. The studio, in her eyes had turned a glowing red, and it felt as though the embers of Hell itself had engulfed it. Engineers, backup vocalists, and everyone, led by Papa Flex, began to chant as they formed a circle around her. His pupils seemed to have completely dissolved and his eyes, glowing white, were fixed on her. The group closed in on her and the chanting grew louder. She felt a disgusting rumbling in the pit of her stomach. She doubled over and clutched her groin in agony. The feeling slithered along the walls of her abdomen. The chanting grew louder and louder. Her throat gave way from within, and she felt a disgusting rubbery creature wriggling out of her throat, ‘til the fat snake, bloodied and black, had been vomited out. Then, almost in a trance-like state, it glided into the recording booth, and she rose and followed. The chanting rose to shouting as the door slammed shut.
“Araba?” Jeanine, the MD and Papa Flex were looking directly at her. She did not realize how long she had been lost in her thoughts.
“I said, the company is very impressed with your new song, and we would like you to represent us.”
50,000 Ghana cedis, she thought to herself as Papa Flex led her out of the building.
She looked at him and laughed, knowing that it was all real. She had done it. She was in.
Innocence breathed deeply, then tugged his black jacket closer around his shoulders. It was a chilly night. There was a full moon, and it provided the only light along the tarred road. The street-lights had long been destroyed by the wayside robbers who prowled this route, and had not been replaced by whoever was supposed to be in charge. Once in a while a taxi would roar by, its headlights making it look like some amber-eyed monster. The bush on one side of the road was filled with the music of crickets, and the occasional sound of some creepy-crawly moving within the undergrowth. This was the scene for a perfect horror movie. Or a mugging.
“Hey you”, a voice said. “You know the directions to New Ejisu?”
Innocence looked towards the bush and had his view almost fully obstructed by a massive chest in a black and white stripped muscle shirt. Innocence wasn’t a shrimp, but this guy reminded him of WWE matches between Great Khali and Rey Mysterio. He could smell the heavy scent of weed in the air. The figure stepped into the moonlight and Innocence, much against his own will, gulped. The guy’s dark, hard face had a long scar from the right side of his forehead to his cheek. His red eyes quickly went over Innocence’s jacket and black knapsack, his Tag Heur gold watch and moved down to the black Levis and expensive Nikes he had on. A sly looking grin twisted his already dangerous looking features.
“You’d have to walk along the road till the get to the crossroad junction, then you turn right.” Innocence croaked.
“Since you seem to be going there I hope you don’t mind if I tag along?” the smile appeared again, the scariest attempt at affability he’d ever seen. Innocence couldn’t say no, so they set off together. The giant took his time walking, and Innocence had to shorten his stride to accommodate him. His name was Gideon, but everyone called him “Shotta”, he said. He inquired after Innocence’s name, and where he was staying. He also said he was from the nearby nightclub and had gotten lost on his way home, and that Innocence was the only one he’d seen that night. That last statement put him at rest somewhat, but he still didn’t let his eyes of the huge man. Was it a trick of the moonlight, or did he see a grin when he told Shotta he didn’t stay anywhere around here?
“Don’t move!” Shotta barked.
Innocence froze, just as he asked. The moon had chosen this time to hide her face in a cloud, as if terrified of what was to come. Even the crickets in the bush had gone silent. They were alone. The blow to his head wasn’t hard enough to knock him out, but he still saw stars as he fell to the ground.
“That’s so you don’t have any funny ideas. Give me your watch and other valuables before this becomes more painful. For you.” He added as an afterthought. A kick in the ribs made Innocence grunt in pain.
“Please I beg”, Innocence said weakly as huge hands grabbed him by his jacket and hauled him to his feet.
Innocence let the jack knife he’d palmed as he lay on the cold road slash across the man’s throat. Shotta stepped back as his blood started to trickle down his neck like a waterfall of wine, his eyes opened in shock. Innocence followed a step, plunging his knife into his chest over and over again, even as the man lay still on the road. He knelt by the thug, his arms shaking and breathing hard with exhaustion, but with a maniacal grin on his face. He ripped open the man’s shirt and placed the tip of the knife under his left breast, and pushed downwards…
By the time Innocence was done cutting out the heart and testicles from the dead man, he was covered in blood. He took out the spare clothes in his knapsack and changed into them, wiping the blood carefully of him. He wrapped the body parts the fetish priest required for the ritual which would make him rich with the soiled clothes into his bag. He dragged the body into the bush and continued walking along the road to New Ejisu. The moon was back out now, so he could see better. He tried to whistle an accompaniment to the crickets’ symphony, and there was a spring in his step as he walked, his sneakers crunching on the gravel.
Killing was intended to be swift, Abui felt. It was to be swift to leave the killer indifferent, for contemplation often resulted in hesitation. And hesitation in turn, bred foolish empathy and wasted precious working hours. Only experienced ones like Abui had this fact carved into their psyche.
Today would mark his hundredth killing. He had only begun to count after half a dozen or so untidy attempts. After those amateur days, he picked up the rare skill of breaking necks before cutting off the head in one stroke. His count then began after his first successful slaughter.
Once you have killed like Abui has, you learn to ignore many signs. You barely hear muffled whimpers as you wrap pitiless fingers around warm oesophaguses. You overlook blinking, sorrowful eyes as you break necks. And when the blood drains, all you calculate is how long it will take to clean the mess.
Abui clutched the neck, mechanically twisted it and ended the sounds of a life clinging to its last breath. But when he held the sharp edges of his knife to the throat, a few novel thoughts invaded his apathy.
Was this method really painless? Was there really no pain once the neck was broken and the vain struggles ceased? What did it mean for death to be painless?… In fact, what is pain?
He had no time to mull over these questions as new ones bombarded him simultaneously.
Was there something really special about this killing? It was of course his hundredth. That meant something, he thought. Maybe I should cut the throat very slowly in reverence. Perhaps I should lick a bit of the blood. No, that seemed too sinister and gross. For all the power the act of killing gave, he was a gentle man in his line of work. He never picked up the grisly part of the act.
His thoughts began to stray to strange mental territories and he ventured into speculations on souls, life after death and immortality. He thought of himself and wondered how he’d die. Would he face a similar fate or would he die an old man in some comfortable bed surrounded by people who respected him in spite of his chosen occupation.
He shook his head ferociously to drive away the thoughts that were above his level of reasoning. He lifted the knife and brought it down with deliberate force. The tiny head split from the neck and exposed veins spouted red blood in every direction. Abui smiled at his hundredth. Then, he picked up the dead bird and plucked its feathers with delight.