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.
My phone was ringing, and it displayed ominously: ‘Junior’s Housemaster’. It was a short conversation over the phone. I nodded repeatedly and spoke softly, “I’ll be there shortly.”
I knew my way around the school compound, having been there recently—three times already this academic year. When I walked into the administration office, he was standing in the corner of the room with his hands in his pocket, a familiar frown on his face. He looked away as I sombrely shook hands with the headmistress and his housemaster. I anticipated the worst.
The headmistress related the incident, speaking with the calm firmness that comes with decades of parenting and teaching. He had not destroyed school property or broken school bounds this time. He had gotten into a fight. Not with a junior colleague or a classmate like before. He had attacked a teacher.
I sat poker faced as his housemaster filled in the details. He had been goofing around in the back of the classroom during a lesson. When he was ordered to step out, he refused and dared the teacher to force him outside. The teacher—his authority and pride directly threatened—tried to drag him out, but he had fought back and pushed the old man off him. Luckily, other students intervened before he could land any punches or kicks.
They were suspending him indefinitely, the headmistress informed. They would call me if they thought it was alright for him to return. “We cannot make any promises,” she said, “we hope you understand.”
I drive in silence from the school to a washing bay some kilometres from home. We leave my car and I lead him to a chop bar adjoining the bay. The place is unsurprisingly empty at this time of the day. He reluctantly sits on a plastic chair at the end of a small rectangular table, facing me.
My wife calls on the phone and asks if everything is okay. “We’ll be home shortly,” I tell her. I order a bowl of Fufu with goat light soup. He shakes his head when the waitress asks what he’ll have. “Bring him the same,” I say, “and bring us two bottles of water.”
He does not eat. He sits in the chair, petulant and looking at nothing in particular. His contoured brow is strongly tightened. His jaws clench and his lips pout.
“Junior, eat your food,” I say to him.
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbles, his gaze now fixed on an invisible horizon.
“Look at me,” I say. He almost appears to ignore me but, slowly, his neck forces his head to face me. “Eat your food,” I repeat the command, with a death stare inviting him to defy me.
He scoffs momentarily and slowly washes his hands before finally dipping it into the bowl. He plays with his food, picking at the lump of Fufu and pieces of meat. I ignore him and work my way quickly through my morsels. I drink up the soup with a spoon. He is still playing with his food. I wash my hands and wipe them clean as the waitress eventually returns with two bottles of water. He still plays with his food.
“Oh, sweetheart, please eat okay?” the waitress begs him.
He glares at her and she recoils. Quickly, she collects my empty bowl and walks off to mind her business. He takes his hand out of the bowl and starts to wash it in the water-bowl.
“—I said I’m not hungry ah!” he blurts out me, “can’t you s—”
I fling a bottle at his face and narrowly miss his head. His eyes light up in shock. The second bottle hits him square in the face and before he knows it, I’m already out of my seat and dragging him by his shirt collar to the nearest wall.
“You—” he starts to speak, but I am silencing his insolence with repeated slaps across his face.
He begins to kick out at me. But I am too quick for him. I pull him from the wall and slam him against the concrete floor. His hands reach for my hanging necktie but I quickly lock his forearms across his chest with my left arm and pin him to the ground. My knees hold his legs in place, fixed flat on the floor.
I am slapping his face. I am striking his left cheek with the inside of my palm. Then I am striking his right cheek with the back of my hand. I am striking him and reminding him who his father is. I arch my body, raising my right arm and twisting my fingers into a ball. I swing at him, but my blow is caught in mid-air. Wet soapy hands grab my arms and lift me off him.
He spits a little blood onto the concrete floor. He is squealing and then coughing. The tears are freely flowing from his eyes. Now he is wailing and choking up as the rest of the men from the washing bay collect him and take him outside. My chest heaves with quick breaths. I wiggle out of the grip of the men restraining me and return to my seat.
“Boss, take am easy okay? We beg you.” someone pleads. I reach into my trouser pocket and pull out a handkerchief. I notice a nick on my index finger. I bring it to my tongue. It tastes like blood.
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.
“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…”
During the hour long lunch break between their Saturday classes, Esi and her friend ventured out to a nearby store at the junction to buy some snacks. The other kids had gotten into a taxi and gone off to God knows where. She envied those kids, but all she could afford was a pack of bonbon biscuits, the remnants of which she clutched in her hands.
What are you doing! One of her friends hissed at her, motioning frantically for Esi to move while standing her ground some meters away.
Esi remained frozen in place. She had unwittingly turned to the call of a stranger, and now he was making a beeline towards her. Matted hair, tattered clothes and a layer of dust had engulfed him, making him look as though he had been trekking through a desert. Esi’s eyes darted between her friend and the man. He was at an arm’s length now, and he looked even more terrible up close. His corneas were jaundiced and bloodshot. Esi could see his blackened teeth as he spoke.
Do you have any change to spare? I’d like to buy some food.
Esi’s eyes widened. His voice was strikingly different from his appearance. He spoke with a refined accent that sounded like the foreign actors in the British movies on TV Esi watched all the time.
Im-im sorry, i don’t have any money. Esi stuttered.
Oh, that’s okay…are your friends afraid of me?
Esi glanced back briefly and shook her head.
Our break is almost over, so we have to hurry back.
Do you go to school here? He motioned towards the building at the end of the road.
Study hard, he said encouragingly with a smile.
He turned to leave. Esi’s heart went out to him.
W-wait, Esi blurted. You can have some of my biscuits.
She stretched out her hand with the half empty wrapper. The man smiled again. This time, his face brightened up, and his eyes sparkled. He no longer seemed so scary.
Keep it. But thank you, you’re very kind.
Esi stared at him as he disappeared around the corner. She wondered what had happened to him, and what had gone wrong in his life. Her friend inched back to her side. A bell rang in the distance, and the duo ran back to the school.
Weeks later, Esi sat in the corner on the front verandah of the school, enjoying the shade with her classmates after yet another long day at school. There was a barred gate enclosing the open entry, to prevent passersby from slipping onto the premises. They were not a group she would usually hang around. Esi always felt awkward around them, but she didn’t want to go home just yet. She might as well have been invisible to them, but that didn’t matter to her because he was there too…The one who made her heart flutter whenever she was near him. After about an hour secretly fawning over him from her corner, he had to go home. Esi decided to do the same.
As she got ready to sneak off through the back exit, she heard frantic giggles. Esi turned to the gate to see what had caused the sudden commotion. A scruffy figure headed towards them. She recognized him immediately. Her classmates excitedly whispered and giggled as he drew closer. Some ran away, others drew back from the gate.
You guys should stop being so rude! Esi blurted.
Everyone stopped to stare at her.
Why are you afraid? The man, now at the gate, said to the startled group.
His voice and articulate speech ruptured through like a burst of fresh air.
I’m not here to ask you for money so tell your friends to come back. I saw you pointing and laughing at me, and your friends ran away because of how I look. Even if I asked you for money, am I not human? You shouldn’t treat people that way.
Her dumbfounded classmates, guiltily avoided eye contact with each other.
I know she wouldn’t do that, he continued, and pointed right at Esi. You should all be more respectful, like her.
Esi felt the blood rush to her face. Her ears burned as everyone eyes sear through her.
He gave Esi a small nod and with a sad smile, he walked away. There was a dead silence. If she was invisible to them a few minutes ago, she certainly wasn’t anymore.
To Esi’s surprise, no one brought up the incident the next day. Everyone avoided the topic, and Esi avoided everyone. Her parents made a rare appearance to pick her up from school that day. They were making a trip to the city center. Esi sat back, absentmindedly gazing out the window. Up in a distance, a figure stood still on the corner. Her heart froze before she knew why. A split second later, she was face to face with the disheveled man as the car slowed to a stop at the light. Her first instinct was to duck under the car seat, but she didn’t want to attract attention to herself – so she quickly placed a hand over her forehead in an attempt to cover her face. Slowly, she peeked between her fingers and found herself staring him right in the eyes.
That was when Esi’s heart sank. Her fears melted away, leaving behind a deep sorrow. His eyes, which were so bright and clever the day before, were glazed over. He looked right at her, but Esi knew he could no longer see her.
On the eighth day after the birth while the moon was yet to evanesce, kinsmen thronged the now famed compound to witness the miracle baby. It was a replica of a shanty town; unplanned cluttered dwellings with very good asphalted roads flanked by open drains.
“Did you find it easy to get here. Here, taste this.” I was greeted at the wooden gate by my fiancée, Dede, offering a calabash of fresh, hot, dark corn wine she had fetched from the cauldron sitting on flaming logs, yet to boil fully.
“Oh yes,” I slurped a little. “I told the driver I was headed for Asere in Ga Mashi…Lante…”
“Lante Djan We”, we synchronized. “Yes, yes!”
By now kinsmen and friends, all clad in traditional white had carved a crescent seating formation, leaving the middle of the compound bare, where I noticed a ring of ash. I took a seat.
“That’s my Uncle Kwei Mensah and his wife, Nyɛkwɛ Kai”, Dede nodded. They were old and grey; I could say almost or a little past three-score.
“It’s indeed a marvel”, Dede explained. “She has been childless for decades, and my grandmother has given her no rest at all.”
“Your grandmother has patience the size of my baby finger”, one lady behind us interrupted our conversation, unwelcomed. I could detect an ample doze of tartness in her voice. She sounded salty.
“I know, Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor. Let’s not ruin today”, Dede, skinning her teeth, was not one to take offense at a first jab.
A towering old woman came hobbling across the compound clutching a baby wrapped in a piece of white calico safely to her bosom. The rite was set in motion. The moon was still blessing us with good light. She commanded much respect, for everybody either rose to bow or wave at her as she lurched into the ring of ash and rid the baby of its cloth.
She held the baby up towards the moon and chanted, “We present this infant to the Supreme Being”, then laid the baby down in the circle of ash, repeating the process twice.
“Oh it’s beautiful…it’s lovely. Our ears will rest henceforth”. Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor was still casting vengeful subliminals, this time echoing it across the entire compound.
A bowl of water, signifying rain was thrown unto the aluminium roofing sheet and allowed to dribble on the baby. Next, the aged woman gently tapped the back of the baby and repeated, “Never lie, steal or cheat. Take after me.”
I stared at Dede. “She is held widely as the eldest kinsman of good repute,” she explained. I nodded.
“This is water, and this is wine. Know the difference.” I saw the baby suckle on the old woman’s finger as both corn wine and water were put in her mouth. “Henceforth, you shall be called Lamile…Lamile Amoaben-ajaaku.”
The uproar which erupted was thundering.
I followed as the kinsman handed the baby over to her mother, slapped the cork of a bottle of schnapps and offered libation on behalf of the infant.
“Agoo Ataamei ke Awomei. Tswa Tswa Tswa omanye abla’o Tswa Tswa omanye abla’o. Tswa omanye aba, Osoro (Osu) Ahatiri, Obu Ahatiri, Oboro dutu wokpe, Wodsebu wodse nu, Wo ye wo nu wo kodsii adso wo, Gboni bale etse yi ana wala, Enye yi ana wala, Esee tuu, Ehee fann, Eyi aba gbodsen, Ese aba halaann, Wekumei wona faa ni wo fa le, Eba tsu eha wo ni woye, Eko atasi ni eko aba, Ganyo humile koyo tsua dani owieo, Tsua Tsua Tsua manye aba!”
“Hiao!”, the guests said Amen to that!
After the neighbours had chucked down enough meat and emptied the cauldron of its corn wine, and everybody was dancing to the E.T. Mensah’s “Abele”, I noticed Nyɛkwɛ Amateokor had locked Dede’s grandmother in a seemingly fond embrace, both swaying to good hi-life music.
“Look at them,” Dede sniggered. “This baby has made brothers of Nanumba and Konkomba.”
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