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.
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.
Hurry up, Kofi,” the girl said to her little brother. He was always doing this, but she had learnt to remain patient with him. He was still only eight years old. He trudged along behind her, stopping and swinging his foot at stones and watching his feet slip through them each time. They got to the T-Junction.
“C’mon Kofi” Naana called out to him yet again. The red car they had come to see was approaching from about 500 metres away. Kofi glided nonchalantly to her side, still trying to kick at stones.
“Why do we have to come here again?” he asked, after slipping his feet through another small mass of little stones.”You know why Kofi. We have to find out what happened.””I don’t like coming here,” shrieked little Kofi. Then he stared at his feet and pouted his tiny lips.
“I know Kofi … I know,” Naana replied in sympathy. She slid her palm into his and held on tight, “It will be over soon, I promise.”
She spoke the words with little confidence. It was simply to soothe him. She had absolutely no idea when it will all end. She hated living this nightmare over and over again each year. You have to find out what really happened, The Master had said. She didn’t understand it. They had been coming on the same day for the past five years. Still, there was nothing different to see. She had no new revelations and neither had Kofi. He had always shut his eyes at some point, yet she reasoned that if there was something to be seen they surely should’ve seen it by now. After returning nine times already, The Master’s insistence was becoming tiresome. Naana doubted if there was indeed anything that had escaped sight.
As they stood holding hands, the red Toyota Corolla was now within 200 metres of the T-Junction. On cue, the Tipper Truck poked its front bumper up the horizon of the Hill, from the right connecting road of the T-junction. The voices in the car soon became audible to Naana and Kofi now, and they could hear their mother singing from the front passengers’ seat.
They saw their father nodding in that eternally funny way- his head bobbing up and down just like the bobble-head dog toy stuck to the top of his dashboard. And in the back seats, flailing their short arms all over the place and chanting to their mother’s singing, sat Naana and Kofi from exactly ten years ago.
Kofi wore the same Ben 10 shirt he was wearing now. Naana, wore the same pink t-shirt with the big red love symbol embroidery on the front. Naana leaned forward from the side of the road and readied to peer carefully at the imminent scene. She felt Kofi try to slip his hand from her grip, but she held on tight and squeezed softly.The climax was staged in all of thirty seconds. Their father had spotted the Tipper Truck coming slowly from his left side and he judged accurately that he could move on ahead before the truck got to the intersection. Also, he expected the driver to slow down. But he had succeeded in getting to the midpoint of the crossroad before something punched the back side of his head above the head-rest of his seat. His head jerked forward and he lost control of the steering. The car suddenly spun to one side and lay directly in the path of the truck as the engine died. The shrill screams from within the car blocked any impulsive decision. The crash was as loud as Naana and Kofi remembered it, and the screams as piercing as ever. Naana turned away from the scene and dropped to her knees. She felt Kofi’s hand slip out of hers, but she didn’t try to hold on this time.
She covered her face and began to weep into her palms, but there were no tears, only sorrowful gasps.
Kofi stood with his mouth blank open. He had seen it. The scene had stayed the same for ten years, but he had finally seen it today. He had always shut his eyes just before the crash, but not today. Today, he had watched and finally seen it. Guilt enveloped him as he sunk to his knees by his sister. He wrapped his arms around her and sobbed out the tearless pain. “It was me, Naana. It was my fault!”
“Noooo. It’s okay Kofi. It’s okay. We’ll keep trying. We’ll come back again. Next year.” she tried to calm him, empathizing with his exhaustion.
“It was me. I d-d-didn’t know! It was me!”
She hugged him tighter, “It’s okay. It’s okay. We’ll be fine. We’ll-“. He gently pushed himself out her arms and stepped a couple of feet backwards. He covered his eyes as he spoke.
“No Naana! Listen! It was me, Naana! I looked! I saw it! IT WAS ME! I-I-I WAS THROWING MY HANDS AROUND. I HIT DADDY! I HIT DADDY! MY HAND HIT DADDY’S HEAD! OH GOD, PLEASE FORGIVE ME. IT WAS ME, NAANA!”
Tyres screeched all around them as cars broke into a halt around the scene of the crash. His little voice sobbed above the wailing voices. He dashed to her and she collected him in her arms. The world suddenly began to grow silent around them, and the air around them began to spiral into a ball of spinning wind. They were swept up in their lock-arm posture, soaring into the clouds and fading into the sky above.
I hated my school. I hated my teachers. I hated my classmates. I hated the boring Social Studies books. I hated the difficult Math lessons. Every day, I would count the hours till school was over. Then I would run to Boadu’s house. Boadu was always at home. He went to school at home. I wish I could go to school at home too.
Boadu’s house was big. It had a big compound and many trees. He brought his big Case-five football and we played Dribbling-to-goal. Boadu won all the time. It was because he was always at home. If I stayed at home, I would win too.
Once I played for too long in Boadu’s house. Boadu’s mother said to me, ‘Koku, its good you’re here today. Supper is ready. Come and eat.’ I said to Boadu’s mother, ‘Thank you Auntie Akos, but I’m not hungry.’ I lied, but Boadu’s mother said, ‘Silly boy’ and brought us a big bowl of Omo Tuo with groundnut soup. We ate it outside in the porch. The Omo Tuo was delicious.
Mother came to catch me eating Omo Tuo at Boadu’s house. She smiled and said ‘Hello Akos’ to Boadu’s mother. Then she pulled me by the ear to our house. Mother said to me, ‘Did I not tell you never to eat in people’s houses?’ Then she beat me with a stick. I cried and cried.
One day, Boadu and I got into trouble. We were throwing little pebbles at each other on our street. We did not see that Doctor Awuah’s car was parked close to us. Our pebbles cracked his windscreen. We tried to run away but it was too late. Doctor Awuah’s daughter saw us. She told her father and her father told our fathers.
Later in the evening, I could hear Boadu screaming as his father beat him. Then father called me to the hall. I was afraid. But father was smiling. He told me that I had been a bad boy. He told me that anytime I did something bad, I should feel sorry and never try to hide it. Father told me to close my eyes and pray for forgiveness from Jesus. I closed my eyes and prayed. Then, father beat me with his leather belt. I cried and cried.
My cousins came home for the Christmas holidays. I shared my room with Kojo. Awo and Adzo slept in the guestroom. It was the best Christmas ever. There was so much food. Mother killed many chickens and father brought home many cartons of Malta Guinness. On New Year’s Day, mother baked a dozen cakes. She put the cakes in three baskets and sent us to all the neighbouring houses on our street. The baskets were very heavy. At each house, the neighbours gave us something in return. We came home with the baskets full of Soft drink cans, bars of chocolate and tins of Danish cookies. Mother clasped hear hands together and said, “God bless them o!”
We had a big dinner that evening. Everyone was satisfied. Everyone was happy. Father kissed mother on the cheek and mother said, “Dee, the children!” Then father laughed with a deep voice, and said to us, “Go to bed! All of you!”
The following week after New Year’s, Awo, Adzo and Kojo had to leave. They did not want to go. I did not want them to go, but Uncle Ganyo came with his car. He said their school was reopening.
My school was reopening too. I did not want to go to school, so I stayed in bed and pretended to be sick. I could not fool mother. She opened my door and ordered me out of bed. I cried and cried and went to school.
I’m angry. I’ve been angry for close to 8 months. Nobody knows – of course – and no one ever has to know. “She was so happy and calm,” they’d say. “We can’t believe she did that.” A tiny giggle escapes my lips. Hiding my smile, I prepare to mingle like the best friend that I am. Working my way through the crowd, I make small talk and make sure everyone is having a great time. Smiling and shaking hands, I paint the perfect picture of warm and friendly. I’d been studying Devin’s mum and I had the act down pat.
Eventually I make eye-contact with the guest of honour, my best friend. He looks so worried. I quickly give him a reassuring smile that says all is forgotten and forgiven. Before I can cross over to join Devin, I’m waylaid by his vapid girlfriend. The last time we’d met I’d felt sorry for her and so I’d sat down to listen to her go on and on about her latest worry. She was slightly neurotic bordering on irritating. She was only Devin’s girlfriend because he felt the need to settle down. Devin’s parents -my god-parents- were the kind of Ghanaians who everyone aspired to be. They were still madly in love. They were down to earth. They were also insanely rich.
Devin was unfortunately the only who might know how angry I was. It had happened yesterday. I’d been testy the whole morning, I see now that I should have had lunch alone in my room. We had been sitting outside at a small table having lunch when he made a careless joke about my scars. I lost it. I turned over the table and slapped him.
Someone else might have thought it normal for me to react that way after what I’d been through. Someone who didn’t know how I’d acted after the incident. That’s what I called it. Right after it happened I’d been calm and collected, reassuring anyone who dared to cry about how bad my skin looked. I’d smiled and comforted them, letting them know that after my skin graft I’d look brand new. Not once had I yelled or cried. So it was perfectly normal for Devin to think he could make a joke. I was always making jokes about how for someone with such a name, he tended to make crass and very crude statements in the three local languages he and I spoke.
I fled to my room and locked the door. That’s when I cried for the first time since my death. That’s what I actually called it. Waking up in the hospital and realising what had happened to me had changed me; “Deadened” me. I cried, finally allowing myself to feel the pain I’d shut away for so long until I eventually fell asleep. When I woke up the first thing I did was to check my phone to see how long I’d slept. 2 hours. I had 17 missed calls from Devin. I called him back and we talked. I said what he needed to hear; insulted him to let him know we were cool, and lay back listening to him as he talked about the party he was throwing the next day.
Yesterday’s events would cause me to shift it to a further date. There really was no rush. Making my way across the room I wondered what people saw when they looked at me.
A dark woman wearing a spectacular gown that showed only a glimpse of her neck?
A phenomenal woman who could still socialise after a horrifying ordeal with her ex-boyfriend, who turned out to be a psychopath who liked to inflict multiple cuts on his victims, and watch them bleed to death?
Or a woman, struggling to appear placid, as she plotted how exactly to kill her ex-boyfriend, in the most dramatic way possible?
There is a scent that follows me anytime I have a cold. But I can’t explain why it is here now. I don’t have a cold. Maybe it is because I’m nervous. Yes, that has to be it. My colds make me nervous around people. This is because of how embarrassing my sneeze has always been. It’s a high pitched sneeze always followed by a loud, involuntary snort that has plagued me since childhood. I used to get laughed at when I was a child, yes. Even up till now, I still get smirks from people. It has to be the fact that I’m nervous.
But why am I nervous? Is this not what I wanted? I look around me. I’m in her house. That’s where the knocking ceremony always is. The girl’s father’s house. There are two canopies arranged to face each other. One for her family, one for mine. It isn’t a big ceremony. Just a small one for both families to get rid of their children. The canopies were a terrible idea I think, as I run my handkerchief repeatedly over my face. There was as much heat inside as out, and less room for wind. I’m sweating profusely. On a normal day I’d joke and say that it was because I was about to give up my bachelorhood for a woman. But then today I can’t joke. Jokes are meant to be either untrue or exaggerated. This was no exaggeration. This was the real deal.
She was sitting between her parents, looking less pretty than the day I first met her. Had I been tricked by false advertisement? It was too late to find out. I smiled at her. She smiled back. My smile was only dutiful. People were watching. I didn’t love her, but that was for only me to know. Yes, I didn’t love her. Of course not. She was older than me by four years, and more successful, and when we were children she used to laugh at me. I don’t forget easily. I cannot remember what she used to laugh at. Just that she used to laugh. Now I had to pretend to love her for the rest of our dying days.
This wasn’t supposed to happen—my marrying her. This was only a correctional measure. Two months ago, Cecilia had come to me pregnant, claiming that the baby was mine. Knowing Cecilia, that baby probably had about five different fathers. That girl, she’d open her legs for just about anybody who had a third leg and could smile. But then she threatened to go see my uncle, and I panicked. My uncle was no fool to believe any story, but these days he had been pressurizing me to get married and would probably have made Cecilia marry me. The choice was simple. Better marry a woman who used to laugh at me, than get laughed at by the whole community for marrying a woman who had seen more beds than a roaming mosquito.
So here I was, bearing gifts of kind and cash, about to marry a woman I didn’t love. But I’m sure other men have had worse reasons. I look at her again. She is looking at me. By me, my uncle rises, walks to the front of our side of the canopies, and in a bid to call for silence cries out his loudest, “Agooo!…” I smile at her.
The smile I have plastered on my face reminds me of the time when I was a child and it was my 18th birthday. That day had coincided with an event at the National Theatre that all my friends were going to, and where Thomas had promised to give me a birthday kiss if I came. I hinted to my father for weeks that that was where I wanted to be during my birthday. I’d never been kissed before. And Thomas was the guy I dreamed about. It would have been the best birthday gift.
We spent the birthday at the bedside of my grandma who had suffered a stroke. And later on that night, when my father had asked me whether I had enjoyed the day, I smiled and forced out a joyful “Yes!”
That’s how I felt like. My conscious effort to keep the smile on my face nearly had me forgetting to respond to the greeting the old man had just thrown at the two families.
“Amɛɛ…” I mutter.
I looked at my future husband again. Is this what you are marrying, Awo? Is this who you would spend your life with? His shirt was half covered in sweat, and he had a permanent wrinkle on his nose as if he couldn’t stand his own scent. He had a goatee. Lord knows I hate goatees. We are going to have to work on his image. Shave off the goatee, make him look presentable if he is going to be my husband. This man was a gold mine, no doubt. He may not be worth much now, but that his uncle he always tagged along with had a factory on the outskirts of town that would be his one day, by customary law on their side. That’s why I’m marrying him, I reminded myself. Not because I love him. If there had been other suitors, I wouldn’t have even thought about him. I had allowed for myself to get older, while entertaining thoughts that one day Thomas would come marry me. And as you get older, the suitors all drop off one by one. Till you cannot get to make a choice anymore. But I’m okay with this man. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be compensated. And I will still be happy, anyway. After all, Thomas will still get to see me. Unfortunate that we couldn’t get married. But he had to marry someone else because of his father, who was a chief. But he still swears that he loves me. And I believe him.
I smiled, aiming the smile at him. But it wasn’t him I was smiling at. Thomas was on my mind of course. The funny thing is, my goat of a future husband smiled back. If only he knew…
“…My dear brothers and sisters, we are all gathered here on this day, for a simple cause…to help in the writing of yet another love story…”
It was all my fault. It has always been my fault. It was my fault since the first chuckle at your cheesy one-liners and it has remained my fault since then. And now, especially now, it is my fault. At times, we like to go with the flow. You know, treat life like a pot of watery Tom Brown; swirling and swirling to the rhythm of the wooden ladle. And then we go with the flow for so long, we forget to boil and sputter for the ladle to be withdrawn and a lid to be placed firmly above us. We were supposed to be best friends; To be platonic enough to rise above the stereotypes erected in our society. We wanted to remain the example; To teach people that a man and a woman could simply enjoy each other’s company without straying from the narrow path of companionship.
I am tempted to call her. But there is really no need. I do not have the courage to tell a tale that should be kept secret. And even if I tried, I wouldn’t have the right words for an explanation that should follow. The facts are not so simple. Yes, you disarmed me with your tears and your declarations of “I can’t take it anymore.” I had never seen you like that. So distraught that you couldn’t bother to pull out your handkerchief, but rather wiped your soggy face on the sleeves of your Joromi shirt. Again, really, you did disarm me. Coming to me in that shirt I bought for you on your birthday. An innocent present, but a constant reminder of how much you matter to me. Its sea-blue and dirty black patterns on the cuffs depicting our respective favourite colours and suddenly shoveling fantasies into my subconscious.
I should have asked you what she did and at least tried to play Devil’s advocate. But I ignored all the unwritten rules of sisterhood and in unthoughtful haste, sided with you without hearing her crimes. And now, you lie behind me. With your chest bare and heaving harmoniously with your snores as your lower body remains hidden under my sheets. I want to turn around and fall back into your arms. I want us to lie in bed all night and wake up to the sounds of Wofa Kofi’s cockerels competing for the crown of Town Crier. But each time I turn around, the future frowns forebodingly at me. I worry about her. I worry about what you and I have now done to our friendship. I am able to convince myself that you disarmed me, but the truth floats to the surface easily. It is all my fault.