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.
“So I’m sitting behind the counter at my Town Central boutique when Mike walks in. you know Mike, yes the-sweet-guy-who-always-shows-up-with-flowers-Mike. Don’t give me that look. You know very well there’s nothing going on between us—anymore.” I sigh.
Trust Vida to still give me the guilty feels even after all I’ve been through to prove that I’m a changed woman. A whole year has passed without my indulging in flings of any sort, you’d think I’ve earned myself a bit of respect among friends by now, yet Vida for instance never misses a chance to remind me of past crimes. Deciding that what I had to say was more important than putting Vida in her place, I go on with my narrative while overlooking the scowl on my friend’s face.
“So he walks through the front door and immediately looks to his left—towards the counter, as if to say that I’m the reason he was in the shop. He didn’t even pretend to be interested in any of the clothes on sale, he just walked right up to yours truly behind the counter and goes like ‘Hey, nice shop you’ve got here. I really love the décor’. Now I was just amazed by his presumptuous manner and need I remind you that my shop attendants are all teenage relatives of my husband so I was nervous he might let on that there was anything going on between me and him. In my haste to stop him in his tracks, I just blurted out a query, “what can I get you sir?” looking into his face with all seriousness.”
Vida has a distinct look of interest and alarm on her face now that gives me the confidence to go on with my story. I continue.
“That put him off his game for a moment, I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t pleased with what he’d just heard. Thankfully he realizes what I meant and goes like ‘yes ma’am I was walking on the opposite sidewalk when I happened to remember I needed a corset for a dinner I’m to attend this weekend. Looking around for a nice place where I could get what I needed, I happened to notice your shop across the street and here I am.’ He then smiled imploringly at me, as if to suggest that I personally help him with his purchase”.
Trust me, if you knew Mike as I do, you’d recognize that imploring look.
“He’s smart like that, saying one thing with his words and communicating his true meaning with subtle facial and body cues. I learnt that from him–.”
That’s when she cut me off, coming in like “You don’t expect me to believe that was his first time ever to set foot inside your boutique now, do you?” and leaving me all angry and flustered.
“Are you calling me a liar, Vee? I’m telling you it’s true. All that time we were seeing each other it was strictly at our favorite motel and nowhere too personal for both of us—well until he started acting all clingy and lovesick. Then he started suggesting stuff that would’ve made things awkward for me especially. Like more than once he threatened to mail flowers to my home address, and then he’d pester me to spend the night after our late evening rendezvous. Really awkward and cringe-worthy stuff that had me concerned about where our fling was headed.”
“Well you had to have known that things would have to end between you two sooner or later—.”
“—and I made sure it was sooner rather than later, honey! I’m not dumb.” I added with a chuckle.
“Well thank goodness for that. And you say he’d never been to the boutique before that. Why go there now? Why show up where he’d be least expected to do so after you’ve ended things with him?” Yes. Now she’s getting to the point in our conversation where I needed her to be.
“Honey, that’s the thing I can’t really figure out myself. But that was a dumb move on Mike’s part, trying to surprise me like that and expecting a warm welcome—in a shop full off witnesses!”
“Yes, really dumb, I totally agree.”
“Vee I’m telling you I told him off at once in front of everybody and watched him leave the store with a pained look on his face. I never saw him again since and it’s been a month now.”
“Hahaaaa, epic!” she cackled.
“I know right, but not as epic as mum used to do way back. Mum was carefree, but that was her undoing. I mean hear this: I found out when I was 19 that almost all our so called ‘family friends’ were actually her sexual partners over the years. And it wasn’t so hard to figure out since every night after they’d come visit, we’d hear mum and dad arguing loudly in their bedroom, and words like ‘whore’ and ‘cheat’ would be carried over by the wind to our bedroom right across the corridor…”
It happened unexpectedly. Eventually. Unlike his commitment to Augusta, the discovery took time. When he uncovered the reasons behind her phone calls and averted eyes, he saw that this point would have been reached sooner, if only he had not been overly confident in his ability to hold Augusta’s attention.
He stood in the rain, his temper rising as the raindrops on top of his head grew heavier and heavier. He opened his mouth and received the rain. The weight and saltiness of the water in his mouth brought on memories of tongues locked in passion, bodies pliant to the desires of the other. Hungry for more, he pushed out his whole tongue and held it still in space. When recalling became painful, he pulled his tongue back into his mouth.
Augusta returned home to find Kwasi’s drenched form stretched out on their doorstep. As soon as she saw him, she knew their journey together was over. She hesitated in the car. Somewhere deep inside her, a breath of relief and of regret came alive. Being in harmony with Kwasi had become tedious, so tedious that she had looked elsewhere for what he no longer provided. Yet Augusta wavered. She had to be sure she was ready to let go.
Slowly she turned off the engine. She opened the door and placed one foot onto the wet ground, and then the other. It had stopped raining. She walked towards Kwasi, her face filled with sorrow. She tried to read his thoughts, but this time it was impossible. The force that had connected them was broken, and his mind was shut from her probing eyes.
“Kwasi.” His name escaped quickly from her lips. She was breathless, as though she had run a marathon and was struggling to get her words out. “Kwasi,” she called again.
He said nothing. On his face was etched a hardness Augusta had never seen before.
“Say something.” She searched for absolution, a sign that all would be well between them.
In response, there was only the heavy sound of breathing and the cricket song that filled the air when the rain clouds receded.
He decided to help her out. “As long as you are happy,” he said, almost too softly for Augusta to hear.
She waited for him to say more. But these were the only words that revolved around them in the growing darkness.
They stood on the doorstep, framed by the arches of the veranda. They had stood there countless times on days they escaped outside when their small house became too hot inside. The doorstep was Augusta’s favourite spot. It was there they sat on Fridays after work to eat kelewele bought from the woman down the road. It was there they spent evenings with no power, and, with just a candle and a mosquito coil between them, cursed ECG and anyone else responsible for the unending dumsor.
Augusta walked past Kwasi towards their front door. He had anticipated what she would need. Four suitcases stood near the door. One of the suitcases was made from a synthetic beige material with red stripes. It had remained pristine over the years. It was the suitcase Kwasi’s family brought to her parents’ house the morning of their engagement. It was the one they had packed with kente and cloth she hadn’t yet taken to her seamstress. All these years she’d kept the suitcase covered with a large see-through plastic bag. Now, she had to drag the suitcase on the muddied cemented ground to her car.
Again, Kwasi thought ahead of her. He grabbed hold of the bags and packed them into the car.
“Goodbye,” he said, as he slammed the boot shut and made to walk back towards the house.
“I’m sorry,” she said, as she placed a hand on his arm. Then, encouraged by the softening in his eyes, she leaned over to trace the angry lines on his forehead. He flinched when her hand touched his face.
“Just leave,” he said, and Augusta quickly got into the car, realizing his patience would not last.
She pushed the gear into reverse when he entered the house. Her left leg shook as she lifted it off the clutch. She had all her belongings, but still it felt like she was leaving a part of herself behind. The car stalled. She put the gear again into reverse, and pulled out of their yard. She did not stop even when she looked back and thought she saw Kwasi step out onto the doorstep.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Rodney found this out the hard way when he broke up with Amanda. His reason? She somehow managed to manipulate him into spending every single second of his life with her! Ah!
Amanda – one who is fit to be loved, lovable. Rodney translates this as someone with the power to hypnotize you into caring about and doing things for them even when you don’t want to; and that’s not very convenient, is it?
He loved Amanda more than he cared to admit, and it scared him silly. People were starting to notice that there was very little he wouldn’t do for her, very little that he wasn’t willing to give up – for her. His friends were calling him otoolege now. He knew they were just envious and yet, it got to him. He couldn’t afford to lose his place as the ‘leader’ in their group. That was the real reason why he broke up with her.
Fast forward to two weeks after the breakup, and enter Esi Belinda. Esi Belinda had a good enough face; he could work with that. Her personality was a bit flat, but surely, he could change that.
The deciding factor was her name combo: Esi-Belinda. Wow! The safest he could have wished for. Esi was simply a girl born on Sunday and Belinda meant beautiful snake. Beautiful snake paaahn?! He had laughed till he had tears in his eyes when he had found that out.
He found snakes disgusting; in his opinion, even the most beautiful snake could not be lovable. He would be safe with this beautiful snake born on Sunday. He would be the man!
The first couple of weeks went great, she cooked for him, washed his clothes; all things that Amanda refused to do.
In the third week, things began to change.
First, he found himself doing her assignments. Next, he was losing sleep because he had to stay up all night, either out with her friends, painting her nails or doing some other activity she had dreamt up. What was all this?! Would he never know any peace?!
That was the build up to him being in Esi Belinda’s hostel one hot Sunday afternoon, but not with her in her room. He was at the back, at the washing area, all alone, sweating half his body weight away. He must have been a sight to behold; a 6 foot 5” “macho man” with charcoal skin bent over a tiny bright pink bucket that his hands seemed to have trouble fitting into. His well-toned abs ,exposed, the racetrack for the drops of sweat that raced to his waistline. Brows furrowed and the tip of his tongue sticking out in concentration, his hands rubbed away at the sudsy contents of the bucket. Satisfied with his work, a small smile tugged at his lips as he squeezed, and then shook out what he had just washed.
And that was how Amanda found him when she click-clacked in her turquoise heels that complemented her form-fitting white church dress to get her towel off the drying line. Tall, sexy Rodney, shirtless body glistening, big smile on his face, holding up the most gigantic, most misshapen granny panty she had ever seen, stretched out between his hands!
“Ei!”, she couldn’t help it. The word jumped out of her throat making him turn sharply.
His face had immediately been wiped clean of the smile and was now contorted in an emotion she couldn’t put a name to. Maybe it was many emotions mashed up into one. She burst out laughing.
Several times he opened and closed his mouth, as though searching for words to explain the situation. He seemed to give up and walked to hang up what he had washed. Struggling to suppress her giggles, she followed him and touched his face.
He turned his head away from her.
“Rodney, I’m sorry…”
This time, he gave a tiny nod.
“I’m making jollof. It will be ready in 30minutes”
He turned to look at her. A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips.
They both knew he would be at her door before it was ready.
We are at it again. We start off calmly, slipping in sentence after sentence; phrase after phrase; word after word. You ask why I spoke with a tone of frustration- was I tired of you?
I giggle. ‘You’re overreacting … Relax,’ I say. You smirk and nod repeatedly. Now we’re really getting started.
‘Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that I hate having to repeat things I’ve already told you. You know how annoying that is. You complain when I do it too.’
‘It’s okay. I complain when you do it too. So every little chance you get, you must show revenge. I see.’
‘Oh c’mon. You know that’s not what I mean. Stop overreacting.’
‘Oh yes, Ophelia the over reactor. Ha-ha. You should nickname me, you know. Call me Oh-Oh … Overreacting Ophelia. Double Oh. Ha-ha.’
‘Okay, listen. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’
‘Slow down on the promises, mister man. We’ve heard them before. “It won’t happen again. That was the last time.” … Apii.’
‘Ophelia I said I’m sorry. What is this! Stop getting so emotional, please!’
‘Ha-ha. Okay. I hear you. I won’t get emotional. I’ll be like you. Mister Anti-emotional-yet-I’ll-snap-at-the-smallest-thing. I’ll be like you wai.’
‘Why do you have to be like this all the time?’
‘Be like what, Kweku? Why do I have to be like what?’
‘You, it’s okay. Never mind.’
‘Ha-ha. I knew it. Mister Kweku-it’s-okay. Mister Kweku-never-mind. I dey feel you roff-roff!’
I smirk at your sarcasm, and sew my lips shut for the rest of the drive back to your house. You get off and we make no effort to say our goodbyes. You slam the door and slip out a caustic ‘sorry’ without parting your lips. I watch you push your gate open and step into your house. Smiling and chuckling, I turn on the engine and drive off.
It’s not the end of the world. Our world. There is no need to stay up all night wondering if this is the tipping point of our emotional roller-coaster. It is nothing. We were just talking.
Sometimes she didn’t like to talk, and I knew better than to interrupt the silence. I enjoyed it. It gave me the concentration I needed to study her facial patterns, to try and determine what she was thinking. She had never been able to hide her emotions properly. They’d always find some way to seep into her face. We were sitting on a bench at the back of my family house. We were completely alone. Everyone had gone to sleep a while ago, tired from the performing of funeral rites for my dead uncle. The only company we had was the clothes on the clothesline, slow dancing in the village wind. Someone had forgotten to take them down.
“Yao, have you noticed the stars?” she asked me, breaking the silence.
“Of course I have, love. They are…a lot.” I said, pretending the first thing I saw when I had looked up was quantity, and not beauty. She got the joke, and I saw her teeth flash in the darkness.
“But I don’t get it. I mean, it’s all the same sky that covers Ghana right? So why is it that the stars are so beautiful and ‘a lot’ out here, but we hardly see them in Accra?” She asked, the question directed more to the wind, than to me.
I thought of Accra. I thought of the hustle and bustle that we knew to be everyday life. The honking and cussing drivers, rude pedestrians, slow traffic, the general noise. The answer appeared.
“Maybe…Maybe it is because we are too busy handling what’s down there to notice anything up.” That was my answer. She didn’t immediately say anything, but I could tell from the furrowing of her brow that she was contemplating what I had said. Silence once again engulfed us.
“Promise me,” she said, turning to face me properly, “that we will never be that couple. The ones that are too busy with life to appreciate the things they appreciated when they first met. Promise me, Yao.”
“I promise,” I said, chuckling. The intensity with which she had made the request was slightly funny.
“Thank you,” she whispered, smiling softly. The comfortable silence appeared again, and in the darkness, I felt her hand search out mine.
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?