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…”
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
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.
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.