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.
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….
Notsie. Not a day goes by without my mother cursing this town and the man who rules it. Not a day goes by without her cursing our ancestors for settling here. She thinks I don’t notice the tears, the pain in her eyes, the suffering of our tribesmen. “You’re a little girl,” she’d say to me, “You don’t know a thing.”
But I do. I’m a grown little girl. I see the bleeding scars on my father’s feet because he tread on mud and straw mixed with broken glass to make bricks. You shall build this town with your blood, the man who rules this place had said. And that we did. I can’t count all the scars on my elder brother’s back from being whipped, or the number of times the evil guards have beaten my father because he’d always protect my older sister and I from being ‘used’ by the guards. She’s just twelve, he’d shout at them, as they beat him with the blunt ends of their spears.
Notsie. We had to escape. And we did.
It all started with some rain. A small part of the wall that circled the whole town and prevented us from escaping crumbled. The king ordered that new bricks be laid. But we had seen the weakness of the wall: Water. So we came up with a plan; A brilliant one.
Every time we the girls and women washed, we did so near the part of the wall farthest from the guards. And when we were done washing, we’d pour the water on the wall. Every single time. It became our tradition, our source of hope and strength, the match that lit the light at the end of the tunnel. Then the wall crumbled.
My mother woke me up that day. It was dawn. “Sesi … Sesi,” she called me. I looked at her face. In her eyes was a light I hadn’t seen in a long time. My mother was happy. “Let’s go,” she said, “It’s time.”
Even for a little girl, I understood. The rules were down and unwritten. But we knew them: Take all valuable things, the rest got left behind. No torches. Women should carry as much food as possible. Children should remain silent.
But the one rule I thought to be most funny, was the most important: Everyone should escape, walking backwards.
As we left my hut, a place I very much hated, I saw my people. The faces of the adults were grim, but there was that glint of hope in their eyes. The other children were confused, but I was not. I knew. We all had our necks craned at odd angles as we tried to see behind our backs. The logic behind the backwards walk was simple. Our footprints were to lead to, and not from, our place of escape. This was to confuse the guards-To bid us time.
We passed by the crumbled section of the wall, not once stopping to admire our handiwork. We were leaving. In the absence of the torches, our warmth and comfort lay in the fact that we were all together. The night was silent as the last of us slipped past the boundaries of Notsie; Past the tears, screams and anguish. Past the stench of evil and death; of malice and wickedness. Past our old lives, and on to new beginnings.
Notsie. We have left.
‘Tell me, Kwaku. What exactly happened and what exactly did you see?’ the stout policeman in the black uniform and dusty black beret asked.
But father cut in before I could respond, ‘Oh boss, he is only ten. We have been here for hours and he has already told your men what happened. You have his statement. Isn’t that enough? Please…’
The policeman stroked his chin disbelievingly. His eyes dimmed slightly. When he spoke, it was with an air of reluctance. ‘Okay, you may leave. But we shall contact you if we need more information.’
‘Thank you,’ father said. He led me gently out of the Odorkor Police station to his Corrolla. His phone rang just as we sat down; It was mother. Her shrill voice sounded very worried, but father calmed her down. ‘We’re coming home,’ he informed. As he moved the car and made his way to the main Kaneshie road, I shut my eyes and replayed the scene again in my head.
It was all Opele’s fault. We had talked over this so many times. It was always us on the same team against Milo’s boys on the sandy sakora park behind Efo Avoka’s house. We had played together ever since we could ran on our two feet and for years, I always reminded him to pass the football like Xavi; Through the middle and on the ground. He was forced to play on his least favourite right-wing position today, but that was no excuse. If he had not lobbed the ball to me at such an odd angle, my overheard kick would not have been necessary. You see, I am left-footed, and Opele’s lob came through from my right side. I could have easily volleyed into the net, but my back faced the goalpost at that time. Gattusso, the chubby kid from Milo’s team was running towards me and I wasn’t about to risk challenging him to a header. So I made the smart choice; I leaped into the air and hit the ball with an overhead kick. I didn’t see where it headed immediately, but the groans from the boys were oddly loud.
‘You dierr! This small ball too dangbele!’ Opele yelled.
I wanted to shout sia! but Shamo, who was oldest amongst us commanded, ‘Hurry up and go for the ball! You are lucky Efo just left!’
Indeed I was lucky. You see, Efo has been our nemesis for years. I have lost count of the number of very fine footballs he has punctured because we over-kicked them into his house. Each time an unlucky kick landed a ball on his compound, the same sequence of events took place. His bald head would appear above his wall. He would scream insults and then throw the gouged ball at us. He taunted us; He scared us, and he seemed to like it that way. We grew cautious with our kicks over the years and when anyone shot into Efo’s house, it was agreed that the culprit was to get his parents to buy a new ball. I was lucky Efo was not home. I could retrieve the ball safely and continue with the game.
In a matter of seconds, I clambered over Efo’s wall. My two feet landed firmly into his backyard and I scanned around frantically for the ball. It took seconds to find the white leathery sphere. It was lodged in one of the branches of the many plantain trees Efo grew. I raced to it and reached for it with my hand, but my height let me down, for it was too high up the tree. The boys yelled my name. I yelled back, furious at their impatience. I scanned the backyard for some kind of stick to nudge the ball off the branch. There was nothing of the sort in sight so I decided to survey again. I sauntered all over the backyard, ignoring the boys’ calls and looking for anything that could help me. I instinctively decided to check behind the plantain tree; Perhaps Efo kept a stick for holding up the many drooping plantain branches.
There were about a dozen of these trees and I walked deeper into the thicket. Only faint rays of sunlight lighted my path but that was enough for my carefully planted footsteps. I scanned the dimly lit ground and sighed; Lying a few feet away was a long straight stick. I darted for it in relief but as my fingers wrapped around the thin wood, I sensed eyes staring at me. My heart skipped a beat. I froze to scan the atmosphere nervously. What I saw, would have left anyone petrified.
Positioned on the ground before me, silent and lifeless, were what appeared to human heads. Heads with mouths shut, with bulging eyes wide open and staring from nothingness. There were a number of them placed at different spots on the ground. The eyes did not move but they all stared at me from their sockets. A red cloth was draped over the wall in the background. White candles affixed upon white saucers with their flames blown out, stood in a circle on the ground before the red cloth. My jaw dropped to the floor and my heart threatened to burst. I instantly dropped the stick and run from the thicket, screaming all the way in fright. I clambered over the wall, out of breath and terrified beyond measure. I was panting and stuttering as I announced what I had seen. ‘H-heads! Hu-human heads!’
The events that took place afterwards remained very sketchy in my mind. I didn’t care; I was glad I was heading home. After four long hours with those mean policemen, I was exhausted. I just wanted to get home to mother.
I had a very bad nightmare later that night. Efo Avoka was wielding a long stick and chasing me on his backyard. Seven heads sprouted out of his neck. All seven were yelling ‘GOAL!’ in unison. I screamed myself awake and mother held me in her arms. ‘It’s okay… It’s okay. Mummy is here,’ she softly said.
When her eyelids parted, she wasn’t even sure she had really opened her eyes. Lying still, all she could see was a disturbing pitch black. Slowly, her tiny hands registered feeling. Then her back. Then her buttocks and legs. She felt folds of cloth beneath her, but the surface underneath the cloth was hard and rough. She was lying in a warm, funny-smelling liquid; the cloth had done a poor job of soaking it up and it was all over her legs and thighs. Confused, she sat up sharply and in panic. Her eyes tried to focus and adjust to the darkness but the best they could identify were oddly shaped silhouettes randomly moving about.
It wasn’t too silent, there were voices. Some extremely loud, some faint, none she could recognize. They made odd sounds, nothing she could understand, and they seemed to come at her from all directions. There were footsteps pitter-pattering non-stop in odd rhythms around her. Her sharp ears picked up one particular set, its consistent pattern began faintly and seemed to get louder and louder; they were approaching steadily in her direction. She opened her mouth to scream, but her throat felt like there was a marble stuck at the tip, blocking whatever sound wanted to push its way out. She tried to get up but her legs wouldn’t obey her. She rolled over onto her stomach, lifted herself on all fours, and began to crawl as fast as she could. In what direction, she didn’t know. All she wanted to do was scramble away, fast.
Before she could get far, large coarse hands grabbed her middle from behind. Her eyes widened to the size of fists as she watched the ground move further and further away from her. She flailed her arms and legs wildly, thrashing as hard as she could. The scream lodged in her throat pushed its way upward, but the marble wouldn’t budge. It hurt. Water filled her eyes but not a tear dropped. The blurry world began to turn slowly…no, she was the one being turned by the hands. In a split second adrenalin hit the ceiling, the marble popped out of her throat, the tears in her eyes had reached the brim and the first of them was about to drop. Before she realized it, she was face to face with … a face.
“Ei my child, where are you running off to?” the night kelewele seller exclaimed. She picked up her baby from under her display table. Spread upon the table were strips of cardboard boxes carrying the deliciously spicy fried plantain. Two kerosene lamps stood by. “Oh! And you have urinated on yourself too!”
Glasses and Credit- those were the first two things that came into Mawuli’s mind when he woke up. He smelled red earth and felt like he hadn’t taken a shower in days. He lifted his dirt-crusted face and peered around.
It was a full minute before he realized he was lying by the side of a major road, and that was only after the rushing sound of a huge truck startled him into alertness, causing him to sit up. The blazing glare of the sun forced him to shield his face with his right hand. He had no idea where he was. He could not recollect the previous day’s events. The noise of cars whizzing by him confused him even more.
Where was he? Not too far from where he worked, he believed. Yes, he must have been going home, or somewhere in the area. Either that or he was completely lost- he couldn’t be certain. His eyes scanned past the sea of vehicles, looking for familiar landmarks.
Something had happened the previous night. He was sure- or at least, he thought he was sure. He knew it involved glasses and credit, but for the life for him, could not recall exactly what. He tried to form a picture in his mind from fragmented thoughts.
Glasses. He felt inside his coat pocket, but his fingers pinched an empty groove in the silky fabric where the horn-rimmed spectacles should have been. This prompted him to rise to his feet, searching all his pockets. He found a cell phone in another compartment of the coat.
He looked up at the sun, almost in the center of the sky. It was noon. He was hours late for work, and would have to call in and explain. But explain what? He didn’t understand himself.
He hadn’t noticed the construction workers digging around him until just then. Most were minding their business, but some were looking in his direction, and laughing. Instinctively, he moved towards them. They began watching him closely, smiles hidden on their faces. One of them finally said, “Maa Adwoa is not here oh,” and chuckled.
Maa Adwoa. The name registered something in his mind. “Maa Adwoa?” He looked at the fellow. “Where is Maa Adwoa?” He was not sure why he was looking for her. His question went unanswered. He took slow, uneasy steps across the steaming red sand, unable to see properly without his glasses. Did Maa Adwoa have them? Is that what had happened?
No, he resolved. The last place he would have left his glasses was the office, and his secretary would have picked them up. He tried to check the phone for her number but it wasn’t there. His account balance was empty and he could not call anyone.
Credit. It suddenly dawned on him. Maa Adwoa was the credit seller, not too far from his office. He must have been going there to recharge. His pace quickened. He had to get to her, and he knew she was close by.
The sight of the familiar blue hue of her umbrella, albeit unfocused in his eyes, made his heart warm. He began calling out to her, “Maa Adwoa! Maa Adwoa!” He had drawn the attention of everyone around him, but he did not care. He was too relieved. He would talk to Maa Adwoa, call the office and explain everything. Everything would be fine.
Serwaa saw the madman coming again and sighed. It wasn’t that she was not used to it – he came everyday- but it made her morning a little more depressing every time. He was nothing but a slight nuisance on most days. Indeed, Maa Adwoa had insisted that he wouldn’t be any trouble when she took over the stand from her two years ago. Poor Maa Adwoa- she still blamed herself partly for the accident that day that left his mind disoriented, stuck in a loop. Maybe that was why she left.
She dealt with him every day- he was like a regular customer. He would appear in his mud brown suit covered in dirt- a suit he hadn’t taken off for the past three years- asking for credit with a story about his secretary. Then he would attempt to load it into his phone, which of course didn’t work, but he seemed to believe it did. Giving up eventually, he would wander the streets looking for his office, which had closed down years ago as well. He would eventually give that up too -or be escorted away by security- and leave. She didn’t know where he went, but he always came back. She tried several times to explain it all to him, but he didn’t get it. Maa Adwoa tried too. But of course, they had both given up.
“Maa Adwoa.” He called out. She hadn’t noticed he was already by her side.
“Mawuli.” She smiled- the type of smile that hides faint sadness.
“Me pa wo kyew, ma me-”
“Airtel.” She cut him off, as she did nowadays.
“-airtel five cedis.” She handed him a used card. He would not know the difference.
He tried to explain when he couldn’t find any money, but she waved him away. She let him stand under the cool shade of the umbrella, fumbling with his card and his phone. Then she watched him walk away finally, shaking her head sadly.
This is not the reaction I was expecting. I thought they would be grateful. Beatific, even. Now all will benefit from Sokpe’s lake.
You see, I have achieved –
Wow. The entire village is outside my door. Well, they asked me to stay. To help ‘improve their lives’. What did they expect? So ungrateful…
Like I was saying, I have achieved something great. I have enhanced human vi –
‘COME OUT HERE NOW!’ Kwame Asamoah screams.
They are banging on my door with large sticks now.
‘DOCTOR! SHOW YOURSELF!’
‘GET OUT HERE YOU SWINE!’
‘What have you done?!’
I poured everything into the lake. They encouraged me. Maybe I shouldn’t have told them the compound was meant to purify the lake’s water. Lies upset people. Even when they are safer than the truth.
They all shouldn’t be bathing in one water body anyway.
I invented a new compound. One that can do something no other chemical can. I could be one of the most celebrated scientists the world has ever seen. I could –
The front door has been broken down now. They will find me soon.
What I was trying to do was make the people of this village superior to everybody else. What I did –
Uh-oh. Not so soon.
They can hear me breathing.
‘He’s in here,’ John Darko, who I cured of malaria just last week, says.
Footsteps. Angry ones.
About five people. On the count of three, they will break down the storeroom door.
I gave them better vision and yet they still cannot see…
I can’t wait to see their new looks.
The door is pushed down and my face is introduced to the hateful pressure of Papa Asare’s fist.
I catch a glimpse of his beautiful, improved face before I crumble to the ground.
Awurade Nyankopon. Give people a third eye and this is how they repay you.