“The Taxidermist” by Jermaine Kudiabor.

The first thing you noticed about the room was its dreariness. The dark curtains responsible for the gloom also incensed the study with the smell of mothballs. Large, with an ornate dining table at the center, its meagre light came from a lamp placed in a corner. There were volumes on philosophy, anatomy, and medicine in a bookshelf, as well as several books on paleontology and the breeding of dermestid beetles.

The owner of the house was having dinner by himself. Once in a while his thin face would peer across the dining table into the darkness. As is the case with people who don’t have to live with anyone, his thoughts ended up being spoken aloud.

“The weather report predicts a rainstorm darling,” the man said.

His hair was badly cut, and with his large glasses and thin features, the first thing you thought of was a mangy rat. His long fingers had the pruny look of being immersed in water for too long.  They had seen many years of work, but the nails were well-formed and still gave his hands the graceful look of either a pianist or the precision of a surgeon, which was closer to the truth, but not quite.

“I might have to spray the place soon.” He said, scowling at the telltale holes of bug infestation in the table. “They should stay in the basement, where they’re meant to be.”

His voice turned ugly as he continued “You should have stayed here with me. Together.  Like we were meant to be. I know we had problems, but that was no excuse. Why did you leave me my love?” He paused, eyes questioning the darkness before him, but he was andwered with only silence.

“Fine,” He spat. “Sulk then, you’ve always been ungrateful like that.”

“I cleaned out the basement today – I’ll need more room. They keep growing and reproducing faster and faster, so now they’re always hungry…  If I don’t keep them busy they might bring the whole house down on us!” he said, raising his hands dramatically.

If he was expecting a reaction, he was disappointed. He shrugged, then continued eating, rambling on between mouthfuls. Thunder rumbled in the distance, a promise of rain to come. The man nodded his head. At least the weather people on GTV weren’t totally useless.  He finished his meal then glanced a two-week old newspaper. He just glanced at tbe screaming headline about an explosion at a gas filling station which had caused several deaths, then on to the financial and sports section. He finally ended up reading a missing persons report on a Juliette Asante. The man carefully read the article again, then nonchalantly put it aside.

He abruptly got out of the chair, wiping his mouth with the napkin as he did so. He walked towards the darkness and stood before a seated skeleton. It was a work of art, and the bones had been lovingly polished. There was none of the brittleness you got when you stripped the flesh off with bleach or other chemicals. The carpet bugs he raised ate away all the flesh, yet kept most of the tougher connective tissue intact, which made piecing the skeleton back so much easier. Even at this close distance it gleamed dimly with a pseudo life of its own, a purity, the man decided, it had neither owned nor deserved when alive.

The man placed a kiss on the grinning skull.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can dear, but don’t worry if I keep too long,” he whispered.

For a second he thought the remains of his fiancee shrugged indifferently, but it was only caused by a gust of wind stealing through the drapes. Flashes of lightning made the skeleton look on in crazy derision as the man left the room.

**************************

Linda hadn’t made any money tonight and she was wet. The only thing she could look forward to were beatings from Stone and bawling from her baby. The short mini skirt and tight hugging jacket was not exactly the right apparel for the rainstorm. It had hours ago, and it didn’t look like it was letting up anytime soon.

A black Mercedes slowed to a stop right in front of the bus stop where she was huddled. The door opened and a finger beckoned her inside.  Things where starting to look up. The man behind the wheel looked very skinny, with very large glasses. Probably the type bullied by his wife, she sneered.

“I’m the only one up tonight so it’s gonna cost you big boy” , she snapped.

The man just stared at her, till she started getting nervous. Would he say no? She was willing to bargain really, if only to show Stone it wasn’t her fault business was bad tonight. The man finally smiled and said, “Do you know you have an exquisite bone structure?”

She heaved a mental sigh of relief.

“You’re not bad looking yourself”, she lied.

The man’s smile widened into a grin, and he started up the car. Linda relaxed in the seat, safe from the cold and rain, and flicked off of a strange looking bug which had clambered onto her jacket. Tonight might not be so bad after all.

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“Mercy Killing” by Akua Serwaa Amankwah.

It was barely 7am, and I had rushed to the Private female ward to see Nurse Elma. Once again my boyfriend had beaten the hell out of me and I wanted Elma to dress my wounds before I went to my ward. I entered and gestured to Elma to come out. Then someone whispered my name in a tired, eerie, raspy voice reminiscent of ghoulies and ghosties in horror movies.

Efe.

I whirled around in alarm. There lay a thin figure in the bed. She had mentioned my name! She looked frighteningly familiar. I gasped when I recognized her.

Was it Maria or Marcia…Mercy! It was Mercy.

“Mercy! Mercy Baiden?” my voice was suddenly shrill. This couldn’t be. The zaftig, bubbly, happy-go-lucky Mercy I knew had metamorphosed into a thin bag of bones.

She nodded weakly and tried to smile.

“You know her?” Elma asked. I nodded. I went to Mercy’s bedside. She stared at me, her eyes wide, and her lips trembling.

“I’m sick.” she whispered.

It was conspicuous. Mercy was not just sick; she looked like she had one foot in the grave.

“I’m going to die. I know it.”, Mercy told me. Elma tapped me on the shoulder. “Efe come on, she has to rest. Let’s go.”

I touched Mercy’s cheek tenderly, and promised her I would be there the next day.

We had barely gotten outside when I turned to Elma, whispering. “It’s cancer isn’t it?”

She nodded sadly. “Ovarian. It’s bad. We’ve been trying to keep her stable but she keeps on getting worse…last week we almost lost her, but by some divine miracle she got better…so we moved her from the emergency ward to here.”

I gaped at Elma in surprise.

“Where do you know her from?” Elma asked.

“We went to school together.” I shifted uncomfortably.

“Oh Lord. That stupid man beat you again?” Elma had now realized I had nasty bruises. I nodded. She frowned. “Nonsense. I don’t know why you put up with him, come on, let’s go to the inner room so I fix you up.” I nodded, lost in thought. I was thinking about Mercy.

Mercy Baiden. The last time I saw her was six years ago in Brown Girls’ Secondary. She had been one of the most popular girls who had it all…a moneyed family…wealthy friends. She had her rich father visiting her weekly in flashy cars. I had always been jealous. She was so lucky, I always thought. And now she lay there dying.

I went there the next day, anxious to see Mercy again. I met her distraught family including her sister Marigold. After, no day passed without me going to see Mercy. It’s amazing how sickness can bring people together. I would go there in the wee hours of the morning to check on her, and then I would spend some time with her before I went back home.

I hated it when she commented on my bruises.

“Why don’t you leave him?” she always asked. I would shrug and look down.

“I don’t have anywhere else to live…besides most of my pay goes into my father’s medical bills, there’s usually not much left.” I would try to smile and change the subject.

Mercy’s condition was frustrating, one minute she would be on the road to recovery and the next she would be writhing in pain and enduring shifts from the emergency ward to her private room.  She was in excruciating pain.

The day she asked me to do her a favour I leapt at the chance. At least I could do something for her.

“What? Anything I’ll do it…!” I promised.

“Will…will you help me to end it all?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Efe. I am tired of fighting. I have death staring at me in the face and it won’t stop torturing me till it’s gotten me. I am tired.”

She smiled thinly. “Call it mercy killing…end my pain. Ironic isn’t it? Mercy killing.”

I stared at her incredulously. “That would be murder. No! No way. End of conversation. There is ho-“

“There is nothing…haven’t you seen my hair is all gone? It’s done. I’m food for worms already. I just need a catalyst. You.” She was glaring at me. Then her expression softened.

“I’m sorry…this is something I shouldn’t be torturing you with. But even if you don’t help me, I’ll find someone who will.” Mercy closed her eyes, a clear indication that she wanted to sleep.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said.

She wanted me to kill her. No!

The next week I was late to work. I hurried to the Private Room to see Mercy. Mercy wasn’t in bed. My heart was thumping strangely. Elma entered; her eyes bloodshot. Even without her speaking I knew what had happened. “Last night. We got the news last night. Her heart just stopped.” Elma told me, trying very hard not to break down. She too had liked Mercy.

I slid to the floor and sobbed noisily. I couldn’t say goodbye. When Marigold entered I almost screamed. How come I’d never noticed she was a spitting image of her sister?!

Marigold sat beside me. She looked like she had cried for hours.

“Mercy is in a good place. It’s better that way.”

“I didn’t see her…I should have come earlier…I should have…” I felt so guilty.

Marigold held my hand and whispered. “Efe. Stop crying. What Mercy told you to do, I did it. Last night.”

“You. What?”

Marigold nodded. “With a pillow. She didn’t struggle for long. That was what she wanted.”

I was lost for words. Mercy killing, she called it. And Marigold had done it for her.

“Listen, Efe, I only came back here because of this…she said to give it you.”

Marigold handed me a sealed envelope. Nervously my fingers pried it open. Enclosed was a hardcopy of transfer of money from Mercy’s account to mine. I gasped when I saw the amount. There was another note.

Leave that idiot and find yourself a decent place. And oh, your father’s medical bills have been covered for five years. I love you. Mercy.

Fresh tears were streaming down my face. “No! Why would she give me all this?”

“Listen, when Mercy got sick she lost a lot of her friends…they stopped visiting, calling…and you came and you stood by her…”

“But I failed her! She wanted me to…to…”

Marigold smiled thinly. “You couldn’t have done it…we all know you’re a scaredy-cat. No offense.”

I chuckled, and we hugged. I thought of Mercy. She had practically asked to be killed. But at least, she was out of pain. I looked at Marigold again, and we both began to cry. For Mercy, for her pain, and for ending my pain.

“A Fresh Start” by Vanessa Appiagyei.

I stand back deciding whether to take his offer or not. Tonight is the last night. What do I have to lose?
I am one of those they call “destitutes” in this country. I cannot remember ever having a mother. My body, I cannot even call it mine; it is shared between the men I sell it to when the skies turn dark, and the man who supposedly spawned me. That man. The one responsible for the many bruises inside and outside of me and the fact that I would probably never give birth again. The one responsible for my many jail records, who takes my dirty money and spends it on alcohol and prostitutes like me. My owner, Papa.
We live in the small wooden shed behind the town dump. When I’m not at home he goes to see the white woman who works in the factory in…let us leave his business for him today; one of these days I’ll finally sink the knife beneath my tattered clothes into his chest – although I don’t believe there is a heart there to pierce; how I hate that devil!
Why am I telling you all this?
Today I met a man. No, not one of my nightly visitors. This one is different. I saw someone following me, so I used my escape routine: dodge in and out of alleys till I reach the huge green garbage can in the town centre, change into semi respectable clothes, and walk on as though nothing out of the ordinary was afoot. A day in the life of a prostitute.
As I reached the end of the road someone tapped me from behind. I turned.
“Nice try,” he said “but you dropped your wig.”
I knew it would be pointless to argue. “What do you want from me? Are you police?” I asked in fear. I was not going back to that place.
“No.”
A customer then. I smiled, an actress who has played the same role for several years. “How can I be of service?”
“I don’t want your body.” he said.
 I stiffened. “Listen sir,” I said tersely. “I have a job to do, so if you’re buying what I’m selling please be quick about it.
“I don’t want your body.” He said again.
“Then what do want from me?” I said warily.
“I have a proposition for you.”
“What could I possi-“
“Let me finish. The police force needs women like you, women with good looks and street smarts to help us catch a criminal.”
“I thought you weren’t with the police.”. The old fear was back.
“I’m not.”
“Then WHO ARE YOU?!!” I exploded. I was getting tired of the merry-go-round. I hadn’t gotten any money that night. Papa would kill me.
“Let’s just say I’m doing a friend a favour. I’m helping the police force.”
“Then I can’t help you.” I attempted to walk off. He held me back.
“All your criminal records would be wiped off, and we’ll give you lots of money and a house. A fresh start.”
A fresh start. My dream. The one thing I’ve always longed for.
“I give you a week to think.” He pressed a card into my palm. “Call me when you agree.”
I was dumbfounded. A chance to live a life with no abuse. To be treated like a human being, not the worthless possession of a heartless beast. Maybe I could even be loved.
Papa’s whip that night was like a feather on my skin. Never again, I kept saying.
So tonight is the night. I will make that call. I would walk to the payphone and dial. I would…
No.
Who am I to long for freedom? Do I deserve to be free? Who knows what new beast is waiting for me out there?
So I tear the card to pieces, choosing the worthless life I’m used to over the fresh life I long for and all its uncertainties.
Papa is calling me now, whip in hand.
May Death come quickly.

“The Weight of The World” by Ato Kwamena Bentsil.

It’s been three days; three days and I have had the same terrifying dream. Each night after the first, the dream starts over but lasts longer, with more details than the previous night’s.

Father says the gods are trying to tell me something. His father, who was high priest before him, saw the gods at my age and he also, had his calling when he was only a boy. It has become my responsibility, then, to stay asleep through the nightmare and yield my soul without fear to the ancestors and gods so they can fully reveal what they have been trying to tell me the past few days. He said he could sense it as high priest that it was urgent, a matter of life and death- that I might just save a life or serve a bigger purpose such as saving the entire village.

Mother says she knew a day like that would come, right after her delivery of me, when Maame Akyaah laid me in her arms and she saw the hump on my back. She knew then that the whole world lay on my back and I would have to bear its weight always and carry it to safety some day.

She says it is the reason why the villagers treat me so specially, the reason why they give me my own space wherever I go so I can enjoy the fresh air and it is the same reason why the market women refuse to sell to me. They believe the shoulders that carry the weight of the world should not be labored with such trivialities as cassava tubers and tomato fruits. Their husbands and children avoid me for fear of the hump on my back but mother says its reverence for my destiny.

Three days ago, Father Moses, the Catholic priest, had seen me loitering around edge of the evil forest where his hut was and had invited me to talk for the first time ever. He treated me in a special way- more pleasant than the villagers ever did. He laughed at my name ‘Paa Baadu’ and said he would call me ‘Abraham’ instead and then he went on to read me the story of Abraham and his descendants from a book he called Bible.  When I told Mother of my new friend, she banned me from his company saying he did not revere my destiny, for the Reverend had said it was not the weight of the world I carried; that I was only a hunchback. “His god is also strange; different from the gods to which your father is a high priest”, and she would hear no more of the Reverend.

The weight of the world feels heavier tonight than any other night of my life. Even though father says I must yield to the gods, I am afraid to close my eyes and sleep. I am afraid the dream would return and terrify me. But the night is quiet and the stars mutedly watch on from above. Even the crickets aren’t haggling in their night business and I drift unwillingly to sleep with the breeze of the darkness.

Father Moses is with me again, this time with two other men in white robes. There is chaos in the village. A man has just been killed. He lies motionless in the village center with blood oozing from his nose and eyes. They say he was struck down by the gods. I ran over and realise it was my father. My heart pounds hard against my chest and I ran screaming towards our hut. The shrill of someone’s laughter terrifies me. It is Father Moses, “He was a fool my dear Abraham, all who do not believe in my God are fools and eternal punishment awaits them”.

I wanted to wake up but my consciousness was trapped in my dream. The gods have…no…God has spoken his message but refuses to free my yielded soul. Hands clutch me and shake me violently. “Paa Baadu! … Paa Baadu!”, I wake up to father’s grasp and mother’s ghostly stare. “What did you see?”… “What did you see Paa Baadu?”. “I … I … I saw the weight of the world,” I reply ominously.

“From The Backseat” by Akosua Brenu.

“Dada! Dada! Look, plantain chips!” I screeched from behind father and kept bouncing up and down on the black leather seat of his Benz. The seatbelt stretched to its limits to hold me in place.
“Shut up! Shut up! Can’t you see Daddy is on the phone!” Ama, my teenage elder sister scolded and pinched me in the arm to keep me still. But I was having none of that. I shoved off her pinching arm and called out again.
“Dada! Dada!”
I heard him mumble for someone to hold on. When he turned to face me, it was difficult to tell if his furrowed brow was because of the slow-moving traffic or because I had interrupted his call. I was soon to find out.
“Listen, both of you! You Adjoa especially… I am in the middle of a very important call. I don’t want any mprepre agoro at this time. When we get home you can make all the noise you want!”
“But Da-”I started.
“DID YOU HEAR ME! I SAID BE QUIET!”
I folded up into my seat. I was shocked and scared at this sudden outburst. He turned away, still fuming, and returned to mumbling to some obviously important person on the phone. “They take after their mother, I tell you,” I heard him say.

No plantain chips meant no reading, and no reading meant I would stare out the window till we got home. Today was just one of those dull ones with father. It would not be the last. I will survive again today, I thought to myself.
I looked on absent-mindedly as the PK chewing gum- seller tried in vain to get Daddy’s attention. Next was the guy with the shoe polish and brushes, a packet of socks hung out from his back pocket when he turned his back to us. I saw another Plantain Chips seller approach our car. I quickly looked away. She chorused her ‘Yesss plaintain’ and I covered my ears with my fingers to avoid the torture. I turned to my right side to face Ama. She had dozed off after Daddy had scolded, and her gaping mouth made me chuckle. I looked outside her window now.

There were two men flopping arms in each other’s faces metres away from the window. They were planted on the second floor of a building that seemed to be under construction. Scaffolds had been arranged at odd angles along the breadth of the walls. A number of cement bags had been carefully arranged at one corner of the floor where the two men stood. One of the men wore a white helmet, and blue overalls. The other looked rather dirty in his grey overalls. He wore a pair of very large goggles and I wondered why he didn’t take them off to talk to the first man. They seemed to be having a very heated argument. The man with the helmet drove his finger into the face of the man in goggles but it was struck away from the latter’s face with something that looked like the spanner Daddy often used to fix my bicycle’s chain. A look of shock was painted momentarily on the face of the man in the white helmet. All of a sudden, he pushed the man in goggles, in the chest, with his two hands. But he did not push hard enough, for the man in goggles simply stood his ground. Then, in a flash, both men lunged at each other and began to struggle on what now became clearer to me as the balcony of the building.

I turned to Ama; her eyes were wired shut and her gaping mouth was already dribbling on the leather seats. Father was still on the phone and clearly angered about what he was hearing. He yelled ‘unbelievable!’, ‘nonsense!’and ‘ridiculous!’ in quick succession. I refocused on my scene as I felt our car begin to trudge again along the road. The two men had now locked arms and seemed to be wrestling each other. Right before Daddy accelerated farther enough to erase that view, I saw both men lose their balance and fall off the balcony. I gasped and rapidly tapped father repeatedly on his shoulder. He turned around with fury in his eyes and threatened, “ADJOA! I’LL BEAT YOU!”
I sank back into my seat and shut my eyes.

“The Rainmaker” by Kofi Opare Hagan.

There had been no rains for four months. The effects of the drought were beginning to tell on the land. Cattle were dying, crops were dying and worse than that, people were dying to. The Chief sent for the Fetish Priestess. She was lost. Sacrifices were made but to no avail. Across the river and beyond the forest of Akatamanso however there was one who could make it rain, he was the rain maker.
The rain maker was a short man, almost like a dwarf but not quite a dwarf. His large eyes and bald head gave him a most fiendish look but he wasn’t fiendish. He smiled at everyone when he spoke and played freely with the little children in the sand as though he was one of them. Legend had it that with each generation gave a rain maker. That person could make the clouds cry or laugh, depending on how you look at it, and bring about rainfall.

I had never seen a rain maker make rain before. It was exciting watching him make the fire. He gathered some old twigs the town in center and with two stones made the fire. Then he placed some herbs into it. The smoke that came out had a pleasant sort of smell. Then he begun to dance, first gently and then almost as if something had possessed him. We watched on. We waited. When he had danced
enough, he put out the fire and cleaned up the little mess that had been caused. Silently, without as much as a good bye to anybody, he went into the dark woods.

We thought he had failed. Dejected we went to our homes. Four months of no rains, the wells had even dried up. Suddenly we heard the sound. Like many racing horses, nay it couldn’t have been horses! It was the gathering of the clouds. That night it rained! The rain maker had indeed made rain. How he did it, I can still not tell today and science cannot explain.

“Steel Arrows” by Edem Dotse.

I heard the car door slam shut before I even saw him coming. I was staring anxiously at my phone screen. My eyes were squinted, partly from the back-light and partly from the last blazing rays of the setting sun in the distance. A trotro horn honked loudly, and inaudible obscenities were hurled behind me as he climbed in. I revved the engine, and jerked forward only to be stopped by the row of stagnant vehicles.

Chale, the traffic be serious!” He shouted, as he scooted to the middle of the backseat.

“How did you find me?” I asked, still confused. My eyes darted to and from the rearview mirror, trying to get a good look at him without staring. He was stout and stocky but young-looking.  He was wearing a bright red jacket with a fedora hat, and he had a slight twinkle in his eyes. Something about him made me think of Kweku Ananse- the trickster.

He grinned. “I saw you trying to call me.”

I wanted to ask how he knew it was him I had called, but I left it alone.

“Anyway, thanks for meeting me on such short notice.  I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but Fred told me you were good.” I said, my hands gripping the steering tensely.

He didn’t respond; seemingly distracted by something.

“How’s Sandra?” he said, his gaze fixed on some hawkers outside.

I froze. “How do you know her?”

He leaned back and laughed heartily. “My friend, is that not why you called me? You’re asking me ‘how do I know her?’- ha! I do my job well, okay? I know Sandra. And I know you.”

I said nothing, feeling uneasy and wondering exactly how much he knew.

He sensed my discomfort. “Relax, eh, I’m here to help you. We’ll get her back, don’t worry. Now, how long has it been?”

I hesitated, slightly wary and slightly embarrassed. “two years,” I said finally.

“Two years! And you haven’t forgotten her? O boy, you need a psychologist, not me. Or prayers.”

Fred had warned me about his playful cheek. I was silently raging, but desperate.

“I’ve tried everything. I can’t forget about her. I don’t beg or stalk or anything. I just can’t forget her. I love her. Please.”

“And you know she’s getting married in two weeks?” His eyes were fixed on mine in the rear-view mirror. He was testing me.

“Look. I’m not a home wrecker. I was told you could fix things, make things right, the way they were supposed to be. That’s all I want.”

His gaze became softer and softer, until it was as though he wasn’t looking at me, but remembering something himself. He was quiet for what seemed like forever. I looked out the window. It was getting darker.

“You messed up, man. Everything was perfect! I made sure of it. Five minutes later and she would have left campus, the day you first saw her outside Balme library. Did you know that? Five minutes. Then I came in, and the sparks flew. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Mtchew.”

I was scared out of my wits. How the hell did he know all this? This was some kind of gimmick. Had Fred told him?

I looked in the rear-view mirror, wild-eyed, my hands shaking slightly. “Boss, are you a prophet?”

He gave me a scornful look and turned back to the window in silence. I was contemplating throwing him out of the car.

“It was a steel arrow.” he said finally.

“What?”

“Odɔ yewu. The love wound that never heals- that’s what you have.”

There was more silence, swallowed by the ambient sounds of traffic on the highway.

“You know what, eh? Come and see me in my office on Monday. I’ll see what I can do for you. Don’t look so down eh? It’s not nice.”

I laughed after he said that.

“Yeeeesssss pure water!” the loud shriek of a young girl passing my car startled me. The traffic dragged forward and I moved the car, glad to get away.

“Where exactly is your office loca…” I turned to ask, but he was gone.

A tiny business card lay where he had been. I stretched my free arm out and picked it up.

Kwame Cupid, Love Doctor. Call for further enquires.                                              

——————————————————— ——————————————————————————

** According to the Kingis Quair, The Greek god Cupid owned and fired three types of arrows. The gold, for a gentle smitin; the silver, for a stronger feeling, and steel, the love wound that never heals.