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.
We need to talk. Lunch tomorrow at Aku’s Cafe. 1pm. Please don’t be late.
She was twenty minutes late. Armed with with her silence and a wry smile successfully masking the guffaws she was holding inside of her, she took her seat and eagerly anticipated this episode. She said “Hi” and was acknowledged with a nod and an immediate return to texting on the phone. She took a cue and started randomly texting on her phone too.
They soon checked the menus and she confirmed his mood via the shrugs and monosyllabic answers he gave to her questions about sides and desserts. Something was definitely up, and he was about to deliver one of his silly argumentative essays to her. She wondered why he always did this. The sequence was always the same. First spend a fortune on an impromptu date, eat and then follow it up with venting—a spoken word session to an audience of one.
She watched him slowly chew on the fries with his pouted lips. She stifled a giggle: Oh how mature he thought himself to be, spending his cedis on their meal so she would be obliged to listen to him speak his mind. He sat there feeling exceptionally masculine, and she sat opposite him, sparing no propriety for the lunch she was glad to be having with this man-child. She munched away and slurped her milkshake.
She’d taught herself to not pay attention to his inexplicable inability to keep his voice down whenever his emotions overtook him and gave his voice that tiny tremble she found funny and adorable. She traced the lines in her palms with her thumb while he talked. She noted other patterns, tracing their flow halfway round her thin fingers. Years ago, in her primary school, there were some pupils going about playfully posing as palm readers. She remembered this with nostalgia and his voice trailed into the background of her thoughts. She numbered each line and thought of them as representing the possible ways she could respond to him.
When she returned her attention to him and heard a few lines blurted with familiar audacity, it made her want to chuckle. His complaints, as always, implied that she was reneging her duties in the collective action of mutual love. It made her want to let out a loud laugh before telling him matter-of-factly, “Ei Massa, do you think I’m your wife or something? Mtww. Please. Relax wai.” But she had already selected a line and bundled her fingers into a fist. So she stood up instantly, walked away from him without a word, and hailed a taxi. She was sure to dump her phone in her bag, with mock resolve to not answer his calls.
She knew he’d call or text within the hour, begging and pleading, apologising for being a jerk. Yet again making promises he had no willpower to uphold. No matter. These episodes were always a small trade-off for the many joys and benefits of their friendship. And after all, life was too short to be spent breeding and raising grudges.
Six months had passed without a single beep from him. She lay on the couch on a Saturday morning, fiddling with her phone. She smirked, and almost playfully, playfully almost, scrolled through her contacts and deleted his number. She lifted her left thumb to her right eye, wiping off an escaping tear before it reached her cheek. A thought immediately came to her after a fleeting look at her thumbnail, that she was due for a manicure. She sprung to her feet and grabbed her purse. Encouraging distractions were her heart’s specialty.
Enam woke up in a different room.
The first thing she noticed was the panelling. The lines run perpendicular to the folds of the curtains covering the full length windows. They were mahogany, the finish so thick the glare of sunrise shimmered above her bed like a spirit, adding to the brilliant display of the morning.
The curtains were drawn open. Too much light. Not her room.
Her head was cradled in the pit of a pillow too soft, she was on her back, her legs spread out immodestly (she hastened to shut them just as she noticed) and both arms were spread out like wings. She had sank into a mattress too willing to take all her weight (?) and for a moment, she felt it give way just a little when she tried to stir, as if it meant to lull her back to sleep.
The bed was too large. Her hard lump of a pillow wasn’t under her feet. Not her bed.
As you can imagine, Enam panicked. She shot out of bed like a bolt, felt gravity force her down, and shot up one more time into a seating position. That crafty queen sized mattress spread itself like butter and immediately swallowed half her arse, making her lose some balance. But that wasn’t what made her scream. It is the bulge of her tummy when she saw it.
Her arms and thighs were too thick for the lithe sixteen year old who went to bed in her worn out Hello Kitty pajamas, a bit too drunk to care what Grandma was nagging about. Her bed was too regal for the spartan affair she loved to coil herself on to spend those sweet, sweet hours falling asleep while WhatsApping with the Expendables. This room did not reflect the hormonal tumult of late adolescence, nor did it smell of the gay rebel who called it her cave. This silvery grey sack shimmering on her tight, sweaty skin was not her nighty.
In a moment she had regained composure (outwardly, it should be noted) and instinctively leaned back into the embrace of her mattress. Of the mattress. First things first. What time is it? Text Margaret. I can’t come over this morning. She reached for her iPhone from under her pillow. Then she threshed the torrent of brightly coloured sheets until she was convinced her phone hadn’t made it here. Her arms ached from the effort.
Then she slid her arse out of the dell, to the left some more, until she felt the hard, wooden frame of the bed. Then she walked her fat arms, crab-like, to the same place, let her left leg reach out and probe until her toes found the floor.
You may have guessed already: her toes curled on an especially eager rug, thick as pudding and fuzzy. It should have made anyone smile, or glad for the way such a rug caresses each toe, but you may have also guessed this: Enam did not enjoy the opulent comfort. Her’s was the cold, hard tiled floor that hurt the under of her feet.
Unlike you and I, Enam hadn’t the presence of mind to evaluate such trivialities in the face of her overnight pregnancy. And life wouldn’t even give her the chance to worry about this. A more immediate inconvenience was approaching from downstairs, whistling as its footsteps grew less faint.
She shouldn’t have screamed. It was too late. She couldn’t help it. My husband is coming.
She was almost saying those words when the dissonance struck her. What a foul croaking voice she had! She reached her neck and massaged the folds with her fat, little fingers. What is this one too! She thought aloud, examining her long, purple painted nails.
Hajia! Hajia did you say something? The whistling was loudest now.
Jesus! Enam instinctively made the sign of the cross and reached for the crucifix usually lodged in her cleavage. Sweat and air, that was all her fingers found.
Sweetheart I heard you shout oo. Came the voice from the corridor. He sounded like a school boy. He turned the door handle and forced it open.
It did not budge.
She could breathe again. ThankyouLordJesusthankyouLordJesus awo Ewuradze woe is me! under breadth with her hands over her head, her eyes darting across the room, wondering what in the universe was happening to her.
She got up. Quietly. Mustafa’s breathing was audible behind the door. He must have climbed a good distance. Was their house that high?
She pretended not to hear, though she was sure he could sense her panic anyway. She cradled the thing in her womb and looked round. The dresser was at the far corner of the room, in front of her, the mirror tilted at an angle so it showed more of the ceiling and less of whoever was standing next to it. Behind her was a door that led to her bathroom. The door was left open.
Beside her were the two large windows that announced the day’s events. Those she approached, seeking some sense from the outside world. Or at least, some perspective. Nothing made sense inside her head, and inside her room.
Three storeys below, two boys, aged ten and eight, in matching jalabiyas, swung sticks at each other in some violent play near the red visitor’s gate. A short way off, to their left, a teenager squatted beside the right front tire of a 2010 Land Cruiser Prado, scrubbing it like his father would let him take it to town when he finally got his license. He splashed soapy water at the rascals whenever they came too close. A girl, no more than six, naked except for the hairline string of beads round her waist, sat on an empty flower pot picking her nose, watching the action, tracing circles on the pavement with the heel of her little left foot.
Hajia’s husband was still knocking when she drew the curtains shut and slid into a resigned heap on the soft, persian rug, without making a sound, in the darkness of their master bedroom. She rested her head on the cold white, oil painted walls, wrapped her hands round her unborn child and fixed a perplexed gaze on the fading display of lights on the ceiling panels.
Odo me di car ne be ma wo, Odo me di car ne be ma wo… the missing iPhone started to sing.
Politicians dey vex me. The fact say if you no go school you no dey fit get better job dey vex me. The pastors wey dey preach for inside trotro dey vex me. The old women wey dey see my hair wey dey call me thief den wee smoker dey vex me. I no be thief walaahi. I be gameboy. Ebi ein I dey get money small small dey take buy the wee I dey smoke. But that no dey mean sey if I dey pass you for call your kiddies make them come house. Weytin concern me plus the kiddies? Them sef dey vex me.
You go fi see sey plenty things dey vex me. But nothing dey vex me pass policeman. Koti. Fire bon dem marafackas. Them wey dey stop me for car inside ask me for papers. Them wey dey like searcha me sekof rasta man always get some grass for ein pocket. I no be rasta man sef. E just be say I shon dey comb my hair. Five years this I never touch my hair plus comb. But if you talk this thing koti go slap you sey you dey diss am. Obey before complain! Them go shout put your top. But that thing sef be lie. Them just dey want make you obey, period. If you be man, complain. Them go carry you go counter-back make you chop some cool weekend for there.
The koti dey vex me pass anything for this world inside.
That be why today me then some kotifight. I dey cabbie inside wey the driver dey speed. Me I no dey drive some, I just dey pay the man wey dey drive. But as the policeman stop am e no spy am sef. Ebi me e dey want harass. But goddamn today no be good day give am. Today be the day I dey go my auntie ein funeral. This be the woman she take care of me my entire life as my mommy disappear. Poppy never spend
kaprɛ for my top. My kiddie time sef I see am like three times pɛ. So ebi this woman wey raise me. Then this koti want fool. He dey searcha me an tins. Of course today of all days some small tree go dey my pocket. I get funeral go. I no want feel some tins. I try explain give am he no soak. I try tap the cabbie inside he bore wey e push me. Ein e make I bore. You know me some place? Why say you for push me? I give am some one two one two blows make e conf. Then e no dey fit me. How he go fit sef? The Bukom boys sef hear my rundown. Like e no be say fraud good, I go turn boxer take claim money from them white marafackas them dey America. Money Pakayo an tins. By the time I finish am then he dey floor dey beg me. Koti dey beg me. You ever hear some before? I try tap the cabbie inside make we lef but opana lock the door wey e speed lef me. Then the matter be simple. I for weigh another cabbie. I stretch my hand sey I go stop another one, but the car wey stop for my front be police car. Be like them come relieve opana from post.
My story no plenty. E dey end for here. I hear say the way people cry for the funeral there?? Stop! But then I no fit go. As the other policemen see what I take do demma guy, how them go make I go? Them beat me for there nɔɔ. Them damage my eye sef. I no be boxer but rydee I get eye problem. Them make I bedcounter-back like one week. Every gbɛkɛ them go come beat beat me. Wey be like God touch demma heart make them release me. The beatings no touch me sef. Weytin man no see before? The only thing e bash me be say I no go Maa Dina ein funeral. My last chance wey I go fit see am but some koti mess me up.
I woke up for the third time that afternoon. Okyerewaa no longer troubled my sleep: this time I did not dream.
When I opened my eyes, the motor of the ceiling fan had just gone off: the comforting hum was gone as the blades spun to a halt. The heat must have roused me, I thought, shaking off my covers, pulling the shirt off my back.
I was too lazy to actually get out of bed. My pillow was damp, the old mattress too depressed to provide any more comfort. I lay there adjusting to the dim room. I was thinking of Okyerewaa.
My next action was mechanical. I picked up my phone pretending to check the time. That goddamned icon. My heart beat faster anytime I saw a notification. After six months I’d pavloved myself into a mild frenzy anytime I got a message from her.
No new message from Okyerewaa this time. It was the nuisance of those groups I was too worried to leave, lest I draw needless attention to myself. I let the phone slide out of my hand. My eyes clouded and I wandered on the threshold of sleep.
We moved to North Legon nearly a year ago. Our house is a story building at the edge of the Madina Zongo. In front of my house is Malam Issaka’s signboard, complete with two phone numbers (MTN and Airtel), an email address (Yahoo!) and a crudely drawn image of him draped in a white jalabiya dancing in front of a snake-infested pot.
A red arrow on the signboard points toward my house. Malam Issaka doesn’t live with us, no. His enterprise is actually behind our wall. You skirt the razor-wired fence till you meet a footpath. It’ll lead you to a large gutter that has three wooden planks across it. Crossing that bridge takes you behind my house and into my favourite attraction.
Anytime the lights are off, I sit by my window and look across the gutter. There’s a forest of TV antennae sticking from the roughest housing I know. There’s a dusty, fenced park with two wooden, faltering goal posts that displays talent better than our premier league. There’re the loose girls who sit on the boys at Fuseina’s and cackle loudly at jokes I cannot hear from the distance. When I don’t want to think of Okyerewaa, I sit there and distract myself.
Today was a slow evening: the sun had beat us all to submission. Two old men drank quietly at the notorious spot. A pretty girl bathed her little sister in a basin in front of their house. I panned to the left. The park. Six boys sat on benches near the imaginary touchline, bored as I was. Perhaps the blackout had driven them out too.
A dog strayed into the park. A seventh boy, barely ten from his height and manner, closed the park’s gate. He stayed outside.
The boys inside the park stirred to life. It was then I noticed two of the oldest playing with two large sticks. What conversation they were having grew more animated.
One boy broke from the group and walked toward the nearer goal post. I did not notice when he picked up the stone. He had already broken into a light run. Then he stopped and turned to his friends, like he was about to say something. He spun and flung the rock hard as he could. It struck the dog dead on its thigh. The creature howled – I heard it – and broke into a run. The hunter chased after it. He had another stone in hand.
The dog crossed the center line and made for the farther half of the field, edging closer to the touch line. It might have noticed the fence was too high. It made a large arc near the right of the penalty box. The hunter cut across the arc and stopped the hound in its tracks.
The dog barked and bared its teeth. The hunter teased attack, brandished his missile, faked another run to confuse his target. He feigned a run to his right, then threw the second stone with his left. The dog, more agile, sprung toward the missile, which only grazed its back.
The hunter slipped and fell in the sand. His cohorts were roused. Five strong men broke out in two flanks. The eldest held the center. The dog ran down the touch line toward the nearer goal post, howling all the time. The hunters chanted back a vicious chorus as the two youngest ran to meet it head on. They had no sticks, no stones, only intimidating faces and savage grunts.
The two older boys meant to intercept the dog as it tried to get away from the younger boys. The oldest, trotting along with an aura of experience brandished his staff with haughty flair. He was meant to clean up operations when both his flanks failed.
Our fallen hunter meanwhile was busy looking for stones to direct their victim’s run if it didn’t favour the pursuit. The youngest boys charged without care at the dog. It stopped in a cloud of dust, danced this way and that in a moment of confusion, and dashed in the opposite direction, right into the other flank.
Or so I thought.
In a moment of instinctive brilliance our dog made for the gap between both flanks. The nonchalant leader of the gang broke into a run and swung his club once, twice. There was a howl. A human cry. He was floored. His stick flew from his hand and landed worthless a distance from him.
The dog bolted free from the attackers and made for the left corner of the field, towards the farther goal post. There the fence was lower. A few leaps to the end of the run the dog collapsed in a tangle of its own legs, in dust, and with a cry that caught my breath. The fallen hunter spun another stone at an angle. It must have hit the beast right on the spine: after another cry, it stopped moving entirely.
The ten year old who had closed the gate was reaching over the fence, stick in hand. The hunter with the stones gestured to him to get back. Instead, he rushed to the dying dog. He smashed its head in with his stick. I counted all six blows without flinching.
The five boys, dusty from the hunt, walked towards their prize.
My phone vibrated the frame of my bed and pulled me out from the surreal tragedy. I reached for the lit screen like a jewel in the dark, my thoughts alive again with Okyerewaa’s name.
The sun was setting and the natural light was slowly giving way to the natural dark. We should have called it a day, but it was unanimously agreed that there was time enough for one more round of gunfire before the darkness enveloped us. We split into our designated groups, clutching our weapons tight and disappearing into the dense thicket of plantain and banana trees. The trumpet sound was mouthed loudly to call both sides to combat.
I emerged from one of the many trees supplying a jungle ambience to our combat zone. I imagined the impending spillage of blood on the green leaves and how the stems would be ridden with bullet-wounds. It made me chuckle, but not loudly or long enough. A true commander knows such reveries are not strange on the battlefield. However, they have to be quelled so the mind can concentrate fully on dangers on-hand.
It was hard to spot them at first. They had worn black t-shirts and we had stuck to our brown. In the shade of the setting sun, both troops were almost invisible. That was where my work really began. As commander, I had to be able to spot the enemy’s positioning and then covertly signal my troops for an appropriate attacking strategy.
It was easier than I expected. I squatted under the nearest dense group of trees and squinted into enemy territory meters ahead. Nothing moved for minutes, but when I saw trees walking like men, I knew I had the enemy in sight. They looked about in the shade, just as confusedly as my troops. They would soon be at the mercy of our gunfire; these dark figures gently pushing away branches with the barrels of their guns.
My troops were taught to keep their eyes on me and await my silent orders. I immediately signalled with my right index and middle fingers by pushing them towards my eyes, almost poking my eyeballs. My troops understood instantly.
I knew the black troops would stay true to their aggressive strategies. We had long since figured how intently they held on to their ‘Forward Ever’ mantra. We had suffered many losses in their previous waves of attack. When my troops froze in their spots and stared for my next order, I raised my trigger finger and spun invisible circles. They began moving into their positions for our ambush.
I inched a foot forward and could see them clearly now as they drew closer, tiptoeing on the dried leaves and soft tropical soil. My troops had deftly formed the circle of ambush I had ordered for. I nodded my satisfaction thrice.
We started firing away as we hopped from behind the trees, staining them red-blood red, bright even in the near darkness. We watched them humbly fall to their knees, and those who could manage, fell on their faces. We shot them all. Every single one of them in black t-shirts. A perfect ambush.
“Chale, let’s go. Mosquitoes are here,” I called out, and began trotting out of the thicket.
I was closely followed by my troops, happily holding their guns and sporting their brown shirts with no red stains.
Then, the black team emerged, their t-shirts spotted with the poster paint I had brought from my Father’s art studio. They slung their guns by their sides and sauntered along like zombies from some old time horror movie.
Each of us wore a frown on our faces. Each of us had legitimate reasons to be angry. But her frown was different. It had more wrinkles and it formed a more visible web on her brow. But, yes, each of us had legitimate reasons to be angry.
I had been nearing Stage Five of Tetris on my hand me down Nokia when she barged into my room in her work clothes, barking about me just lazing about and doing nothing all-day while the chickens ate up the beans she had left outside to dry in the sun. We had also run out of gas, and if only I had tried to boil the Kontomire like she had told me to, I would have realised this. She yelled out my charges for ten minutes straight; a new recent record. I held my tongue for ten minutes straight but there was nothing impressive about that. She had raised me well enough to be capable of shutting up for twenty-four hours, in the presence of a scolding adult. When the yelling was over for a while and she had loudly clanged pots and utensils together for some time, she called out for me from the kitchen.
I swung the papa ferociously till the effusing smoke from the Coal Pot left us in a coughing fit. We soon recovered and resumed our frowning. Finally, the pieces of charcoal reddened and a long streak of flames replaced the smoke. I dragged the Coal Pot closer to me so I could effectively fan the flames but she charged for the iron handles and pulled it back to her. The knotted web on her forehead tightened. I sighed and kept on fanning.
When the heat had finally built up to cooking temperature, she placed the pot full of Cocoyams, Vegetables and Salmons on the Coal Pot and began stirring with a wooden ladle. In no time, the Mportormportor began to boil. I dropped the papa, and stood to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she snapped.
“I-” I began, gave up, and returned to my stool.
I picked up the rhombus-shaped weaved raffia by its pointed handle and began to fan more heat into the Charcoal.
“Stop it,” She said flatly.
I dropped the papa, and began counting my fingernails.
“When are you going back to school?” She asked, after we had sat for about thirty minutes in silence and I had counted my fingernails long enough to master Algebra.
“Monday,” I replied, ignoring the fact that I had told her twice already in the same week.
“Have you told your father?”
“I gave him my report, so I am sure he knows”
“So you have not told him?”
“No… I have not told him. If he asks me I will tell him.”
The silence returned and she resumed her stirring for a while longer. The aroma from the pot screamed invitations at me. Had the ambience in the kitchen been cordial enough, I would have grabbed the ladle and stolen a taste.
“Bring your bowl,” she ordered finally.
I contemplated for a second and replied in adolescent brinkmanship, “I am not hungry.”
“I didn’t ask if you were hungry,” came the defiant retort, “I said bring your bowl.”
There was no use protesting. I had put up a good show of anger. She had gotten the point, but she was still in control here. However, I hadn’t planned on giving up that easily. I gave it one more shot. I brought out a smaller bowl than I usually would use. When I presented it to her, she eyeballed me menacingly.
I could almost feel her smirk warming my back as I turned around and drew out my favourite bowl. Straight-faced and betraying no emotions, she filled my bowl to the brim and almost shoved it at me. Playing along, I received it and said a drab thank you. There was no reply.