“Family Friends” by Nana Owusu Bediako.

“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…”

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“Listen-” by Sedem Garr.

27th August 2011

2:03 am Hey.

2:03 am Are you awake?

2:06 am I’ve been thinking…

                                                                                                  Oh bestie. Sorry I was asleep. 8:17 am

8:17am No worries. How are you?

                                                  I’m okay. My mother and stepdad are finally talking. 10:56 am

                                                                                                                                               You? 10:56 am

10:57 am Terrible. I’m tired of this.

10:58 am It’s not worth it.

10:59 am I want to leave.

                                                                 Sigh. You really should talk to HER you know. 11:03 am

11:04 am I know, I know.

11:04 am But…

                                                                                                                                                 Brb. 11:04 am

11:04 am Would she even listen? She’ll think I’m crazy.

11:05 am Okay.

9:20 pm Hey. How was the rest of your day?

                                                                        Cool, cool. I went out with the bae. Yours? 9:23 pm

9:24 pm More of the same really.

                                                                                     You brood too much. Just be happy. 9:24 pm

9:25 pm This is all just rubbish.

                                                    Lol. You shouldn’t think like that. Cheer yourself up. 9:25 pm

                                                                                                              Go out with your guys. 9:26 pm

                                                                                                There’s a party this weekend. 9:26 pm

9:27 pm I can’t. I really can’t.

9:27 pm And crowds depress me by the way.

9:29 pm I just can’t help it. I think I’m losing my mind. Why won’t it end? I know you’re tired of hearing this and I wish I wasn’t insane. I know you’ll eventually grow tired of me. I know I cling but I try. I try really hard. It’s a never ending cycle. I just don’t get why I can’t pull everything together. I haven’t seen my dad for three years you know. And strangely, I don’t remember that last time I saw him. It’s strange. I have nothing. I wish I could find a way. It’s just so dark in my world. It all doesn’t mean anything you know. Why suffer through all this rubbish for nothing? The world, it eats us alive. I don’t think I can ever be normal like you guys. I love you so much you know. I really do. I wish I could stop all this and be the friend I should be. I owe you everything. I could lay my life down for you, you know. SHE doesn’t care about me. You’re the only thing I have. I don’t know if you understand what I’m saying.

9:31 pm I can’t even make sense.

                                                                                                                                              TL;DR 9:45 pm

                                                                                                                                                      😛 9:45 pm

9:46 pm 😦

                                                                                                                      Lol. You’re weird. 11:47 pm

                                                                                                                                                 Brb. 11:47 pm

11:48 pm Okay.

 

28th August 2011

2:03 am Hey. 

2:03 am Are you awake?

2:03 am I’ve been thinking.

                                                                                                                                                Hey. 11:24 am

                                                                                                Want to go to the mall today? 11:24 am

                                                                                                          Lol. You and your drama. 2:17 pm

                                                                                                                                       Pick up la! 2:51 pm

                                                                             Don’t tell me you’ve been cutting again. 3:15 pm

 

29th August 2011                                       

                                                                                                                                                       ?? 2:03 am

“Morning Sickness” by Jesse Jojo Johnson.

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?

He knocked.

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.

“Clarity” by Priscilla Adipa.

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.

“Breaking the Silence” by Daniel Hanson Dzah.

After she had been buried, and the funeral over, and he had managed to evict all the relatives artfully ensconcing their way into permanent residency, he would sit in his wooden grandfather chair kept under the large mango tree in his compound, breathing in the tropical breeze and cooling off under the shade of the green thicket.

He would sit all day, silent. Sometimes he would daydream for hours, floating freely between patchy nostalgia and pitiful hallucination. Sometimes he would slide into a deep sleep and only be jolted awake by an unusual swoosh of air. Then his stomach would rumble for lunch and he would obediently go into the kitchen. But he would be back soon after lunch, a good deal before sunset, and resume his posture under the mango tree.

The neighbourhood children would return, heartily retailing anecdotes about school or most often, sharing mean jokes about their teachers and classmates.

They would notice him, but they would not greet him.

He wished to scold them for their lack of respect but he no longer had the strength or conviction. Sometimes, thoughts of how things had changed in the last few decades would float to his mind’s surface and spread themselves over its banks. But his body would soon wear out his mind and the two would walk hand in hand in resignation to the times. He would look up at the flower panicles. A tired wrinkly smile would plaster itself unto his face.  

 

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

 

They were late.

At first, he thought the sun was setting earlier than usual. It was nearing the cold season after all. He tried to lift himself upright but paused halfway. The laughter and chatter were not as loud as always, but they were familiar. It was the school children. He sank back into his chair.

They had just laughed off a quick round of jokes and inadvertently toned down their voices to near silence as they approached his compound. Then they heard him call.

A hoarse version of the same sukuu nkwadaa they often heard older people call them. School children, he called out to them again. They stopped, momentarily unsure of what to do. He called them over as any old man would – in a tone of cordial invitation with a tinge of authority. They bashfully moved their human caterpillar towards him.

It was nothing after all. Just old people talk as usual. What were their names? Where did they attend school? What classes were they in? Who did they want to be in future? He mentioned that he had been trying to get their attention every time they walked past his compound, but they never seemed to hear him above their racket. They respectfully apologized. He accepted their apologies and made them promise to greet him tomorrow. Then he dragged his left hand behind his chair and pulled out a black polythene bag.

As was evident on the tree, the mango season had started. He was gifting them the first ripe fruit he had plucked himself. He joked that he was an expert tree climber. They giggled, shy at his grey humour. He counted them. Four boys and two girls. There was a mango for each. They thanked him profusely as they would their own grandfather. He nodded his approval. He would see them tomorrow. His regards should be extended to their parents, he added with a wobbly wave.  

 

************   



Two of the children managed to speak before they, like the others, foamed at the mouth and danced for the last time.

When the wailing brought the entire neighbourhood together, when everybody learned what the children had said and where they had last been and what they had last done, a furious whirlwind of bewildered men and women swept towards the old man’s house. They stopped short at his compound. Silence fell on their numbers. They only gaped, the venom drying in their throats.

A street lamp shone brightly on the mango tree. Two feet like ripe fruit dangled low from its branches. Some young men straggled to the tree to bring down the body. A single loud wail pierced the dusk and broke the silence. A torrent of ululations followed.

“Grandpa’s Face” by Edwina Pessey.

There he lies. He could have been asleep. He really did look like it. Although slightly bloated. His chest area looked robust for an aged, dead man. Grandpa was almost smiling. He always managed to see the humour in any situation. That was something Aba had picked up. It was this face, now inanimate, that raised his granddaughter.

 

When Aba was six, Grandpa’s bespectacled face towered over her’s. He had just found her on his bedroom floor with his upended first aid box beside her. Her lips were chalk-white.

Aaaa,” Grandpa said. “Open your mouth. Aaaa”. Aba opened her mouth to reveal a white mash on her tongue. She unfurled her fists to reveal round tablets with a big ‘G’ embossed on them. Aba’s eyes began to water. He had caught her. Grandpa burst out laughing and offered her a hand so she could stand. Aba’s grandmother would later medicate her with the Bentua to ease Aba’s constipation.

 

Presently, Aba notices the neatly folded Kente at the foot of the coffin. Her cousin told her that beneath the Kente was money that Grandpa would use in the spirit world. She had rolled her eyes at this. “Really?”

 

She turned her eyes to the corner. Grandma sat surrounded by consolers all keeping wake. Her eyes returned to Grandpa…

 

When she was nine, Aba kneeled and faced Grandpa to watch him eat pawpaw. She had her elbows strategically placed on the table to support her chin. This was a tactic she and her cousins devised — silently willing Grandpa to give up his food so they could devour the rest. That day it was soft pawpaw with evaporated milk; the day before that it was Abiba’s Waakye. “Fine. Here you go,” Grandpa resigned and pushed the bowl towards his granddaughter. He chuckled to reassure her that he was not annoyed. Aba grabbed the bowl and dashed behind the longest couch. She would be hidden from the eyes of her cousins if they came prowling.

 

Mourners circled Grandpa’s body. Aba allowed little room between herself and the coffin so the slow march circled her too. It looked like a dance; the kind of dance which involved shuddering shoulders, dragging feet, and the occasional dab around the eyes and lips a handkerchief or the back of a hand.

Some mourner-dancers were more energetic than the rest; they loudly proclaimed their wish to go with Grandpa. Aba’s mother was one of them. “Ei! mini sane nε,” Aba thought, while struggling to smother an emotion that had started to well up in her. She returned to her late grandfather’s face.

 

Her childhood rushed like a flood in her mind as she stared. Aba screwed up her face as though to sneeze, or cry—possibly the latter. The sound that erupted was not of a sob. It was unmistakable laughter.

“The Things that Came with the Light” by Ewurama Amoonua Adenu-Mensah.

I lift a handful of sea water to my face and cringe as it settles into the rubbed-raw cracks underneath my eyes. But I do not feel the sharp stinging I prepared for. I do not feel anything. I look up and squint and hope that what I had just seen was merely a sleep-induced hallucination. But it is still there, and it still shines, a light brighter than anything I have ever seen.

I must be dying.

I scoop up more handfuls of the cool water and this time I wash my entire face. The water shoots painfully up my nostrils and I feel a coppery saltiness course down my tongue. I sink down onto the shallow sea bed and the wet sand shifts to accommodate my bony form. I briefly contemplate praying to the ‘ɛpo sunsum’ but I get the immediate sense that even the sea god cannot command this one away. It feels far too real, far too close. It’s certainly much too late for a prayer.

“Ato, bɛsen ma yɛnkᴐ”, I hear my friend Atta call from beyond the grove of palm trees we lay under to watch the sea at night. I hear heavy panting and the retreating slaps of bare feet against soaked earth as he continues to call for me to join him run back into the village to tell someone, anyone of this light charging steadily in my direction.

I feel it come closer and yet I do not move. I cannot move. It is mesmerizing, this growing brightness. I truly must be dying.

I am humbled by this light. It is brighter than a thousand fishermen lamps held together, faster than Paa Quansah’s paddles during the Bakatue canoe races, scarier than the fetish priests performing the morning rituals and I am humbled by it. I do not move. I cannot move. I simply stare at it.

I am definitely dying.

I decide to resign to my fate. The gods must want me back and I am not about to challenge their authority. I feel the cool water seep into every inch of my cloth as I lower myself with my arms spread out and lift my knees off the soft sand of the shallow sea bed until I am floating. I close my eyes bravely, awaiting the next phase of the dying process.

I feel a sharp jerk and the tender flesh under my arms and above my ribcage throbs. I know that when you die, your soul has to leave your body but I never thought this would be an actual physical process. Interesting. I wonder which other part of dying will turn out to be much different than I imagined.

I hear the garbled commands of a voice that sounds remotely like my father’s but I am not entirely sure. This out of body experience is amazing. Maybe I am at my funeral, and maybe the voice is the last call to my dead body to rise before I am mistakenly buried alive. I hear it happens sometimes. I wish that this call would work, that I can wake up and run into my mother’s arms. She is probably weeping bitterly, my poor mother. I am her only son. But I cannot change the ways of Death and as much as I want to stay, I must leave. It’s funny how I don’t even know where I am headed but I know it’s only a matter of time.

I feel a heavy pressure on my back and it builds steadily with every passing second. Maybe it’s the mud piling up on my back. I surely am being buried. The pressure builds. It feels surprisingly very real, almost painful even. It’s crazy how real this all feels, these processes of dying. I always thought death would be painless when I was alive. The pressure still builds. This is more painful than I thought it would get, this steady thudding at my back.

“Ato, bue w’enyiwa”.

Definitely my father’s voice, a little too coherent, a little too close. He wants me to open my eyes. The heavy threat looming in those three words he speaks is enough to scare me into trying. My eyes open just as his fist crashes into my lower back and I let out a strange, strangled sound. I am not dead.

I follow his eyes to see the light that shocked me into thinking the gods were calling me. It’s attached to a Big Canoe, a looming wooden structure wedged in the wet sand at the shore. In the dark, I make out the figures of other men from our village craning their necks from their crouched positions behind the thick-stemmed palms to watch the Big Canoe.

A thing emerges from behind the light and I hear the quickly gathering breaths of confused people. It looks like a man, two hands and two long legs like my father’s. But it is different. Its skin looks like the inside of a freshly cut yam and its hair runs down its back in waves, just like the sea. It reaches the shore and we stare in puzzled amazement. And then it screams. It did not speak Fante or maybe I haven’t fully regained my hearing because of the water that still stands stubbornly in my ears.

After it screams, other things like it jump down from the Big Canoe and tread towards the shore. The last thing I notice is the different colors of their hairs as my father yanks me up from his lap and drags me along, barely missing the palm trees. On his face is a look of pure panic, possibly terror. I have never seen him look so scared. We speed as fast as our legs can carry us to the house of the king to tell him about the things we just witnessed on the shore. The king must know what they are. He knows everything.