“Purgatory For The Innocents” by Akosua Brenu.

Hurry up, Kofi,” the girl said to her little brother. He was always doing this, but she had learnt to remain patient with him. He was still only eight years old. He trudged along behind her, stopping and swinging his foot at stones and watching his feet slip through them each time. They got to the T-Junction.

“C’mon Kofi” Naana called out to him yet again. The red car they had come to see was approaching from about 500 metres away. Kofi glided nonchalantly to her side, still trying to kick at stones.

“Why do we have to come here again?” he asked, after slipping his feet through another small mass of little stones.”You know why Kofi. We have to find out what happened.””I don’t like coming here,” shrieked little Kofi. Then he stared at his feet and pouted his tiny lips.

“I know Kofi … I know,” Naana replied in sympathy. She slid her palm into his and held on tight, “It will be over soon, I promise.”

She spoke the words with little confidence. It was simply to soothe him. She had absolutely no idea when it will all end. She hated living this nightmare over and over again each year. You have to find out what really happened, The Master had said. She didn’t understand it. They had been coming on the same day for the past five years. Still, there was nothing different to see. She had no new revelations and neither had Kofi. He had always shut his eyes at some point, yet she reasoned that if there was something to be seen they surely should’ve seen it by now. After returning nine times already, The Master’s insistence was becoming tiresome. Naana doubted if there was indeed anything that had escaped sight.

As they stood holding hands, the red Toyota Corolla was now within 200 metres of the T-Junction. On cue, the Tipper Truck poked its front bumper up the horizon of the Hill, from the right connecting road of the T-junction. The voices in the car soon became audible to Naana and Kofi now, and they could hear their mother singing from the front passengers’ seat.

They saw their father nodding in that eternally funny way- his head bobbing up and down just like the bobble-head dog toy stuck to the top of his dashboard. And in the back seats, flailing their short arms all over the place and chanting to their mother’s singing, sat Naana and Kofi from exactly ten years ago.

Kofi wore the same Ben 10 shirt he was wearing now. Naana, wore the same pink t-shirt with the big red love symbol embroidery on the front. Naana leaned forward from the side of the road and readied to peer carefully at the imminent scene. She felt Kofi try to slip his hand from her grip, but she held on tight and squeezed softly.The climax was staged in all of thirty seconds. Their father had spotted the Tipper Truck coming slowly from his left side and he judged accurately that he could move on ahead before the truck got to the intersection. Also, he expected the driver to slow down. But he had succeeded in getting to the midpoint of the crossroad before something punched the back side of his head above the head-rest of his seat. His head jerked forward and he lost control of the steering. The car suddenly spun to one side and lay directly in the path of the truck as the engine died. The shrill screams from within the car blocked any impulsive decision. The crash was as loud as Naana and Kofi remembered it, and the screams as piercing as ever. Naana turned away from the scene and dropped to her knees. She felt Kofi’s hand slip out of hers, but she didn’t try to hold on this time.
She covered her face and began to weep into her palms, but there were no tears, only sorrowful gasps.

Kofi stood with his mouth blank open. He had seen it. The scene had stayed the same for ten years, but he had finally seen it today. He had always shut his eyes just before the crash, but not today. Today, he had watched and finally seen it. Guilt enveloped him as he sunk to his knees by his sister. He wrapped his arms around her and sobbed out the tearless pain. “It was me, Naana. It was my fault!”

“Noooo. It’s okay Kofi. It’s okay. We’ll keep trying. We’ll come back again. Next year.” she tried to calm him, empathizing with his exhaustion.

“It was me. I d-d-didn’t know! It was me!”

She hugged him tighter, “It’s okay. It’s okay. We’ll be fine. We’ll-“. He gently pushed himself out her arms and stepped a couple of feet backwards. He covered his eyes as he spoke.

“No Naana! Listen! It was me, Naana! I looked! I saw it! IT WAS ME! I-I-I WAS THROWING MY HANDS AROUND. I HIT DADDY! I HIT DADDY! MY HAND HIT DADDY’S HEAD! OH GOD, PLEASE FORGIVE ME. IT WAS ME, NAANA!”

Tyres screeched all around them as cars broke into a halt around the scene of the crash. His little voice sobbed above the wailing voices. He dashed to her and she collected him in her arms. The world suddenly began to grow silent around them, and the air around them began to spiral into a ball of spinning wind. They were swept up in their lock-arm posture, soaring into the clouds and fading into the sky above.

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Aside

“20 Years” by Tsiate Totimeh.

Akosua Yanteh, No 2 Aburi close. That was the address she gave me. I folded the page I had extracted from my diary and tucked it back into my breast pocket. I got out of the jalopy that my wife is so ashamed of and stepped
onto to the exquisitely checkered block-work for the walkway leading to the solid wooden door. It was an imposing house. It was one of those mansions that
make you think life is unfair. In the blinding sun of the typical Ghanaian 2pm it stood tall and colossal. Its tinted windows seemed to wink at me, reminding me that the coolness inside would not only be due to the split unit air-conditioners.

My leather soles squeaked against the tiled walkway and as I looked down at them and saw my face staring back at me, I was struck by the acute elegance and subdued extravagance. Akosua had never struck me as a modest person, but this was definitely another realm of luxury. My former classmate and close friend had definitely made it; like she had always said she would. She had always been that kind of person. Akosua, beauty and brains, then more brains and then even more beauty.

The first time I met her I was speechless. She offered her hand first. I am sure she realised from the stare in my eyes that I had forgotten I had hands. It was our first day in school and that euphoria that comes from having a full chop-box and a full pocket at the same time was rich in the air. She spoke first, with a bemused smile on her face, and in all the years of school after that, she would end any serious argument we had with her impressions of that confused person she met that day.
Her voice was deep, and yet feminine. I have never heard a voice like that anywhere; 20 years down the road of this temporal journey we call life. I know my wife will get jealous, but that voice… that day… there is magic in
strange places in this world. Akos was magical in her own way, and the fact that she was brainy gave her a little something that some beautiful ladies do not have.

As I knocked on the solid mahogany door, I remembered the good times we had had. School and its pressures has its strange way of bringing people together, making friends closer than they would ever have been.
I remembered Akosua most for her beauty, but this was the one thing that had gotten her into the most trouble.
The boys… oh the boys. They chased her everywhere she went. I am sure I must have had a crush on her at one time or the other… I think I accepted on more than one occasion, that her friendship was too good to lose.
She would tell me about this guy whom she had to bounce and the way that other guy talked and sometimes I would wonder whether she ever saw me as a guy at all!

The teachers joined the fray once in a while… the huge host of male species chasing the trophy;Akosua. A few times I know, for a fact, that she had to accept bad marks in a subject she would normally have excelled in… because of a disappointed elderly teaching Romeo marking her paper with extreme absence of bias.

One day, in our final year of secondary school, I was sitting behind my books in the classroom when she rushed in, her hair in disarray and eyes awash with
tears. She spent the afternoon on my chest weeping uncontrollably, pushing my books aside and telling me the story.
A teacher she had been running away from for the last two years, had finally caught up with her and made a pass. A struggle ensued… and she had freed herself and ran like the wind – with evidence. She had the chewing gum that had fallen out of the teacher’s mouth in an ill fated kissing attempt. It was badly chewed, but it was all she had. She would not tell me who it was, but I found out later… it was Mr. Odenke. Our school’s august English professor. The language seemed to flow out of his mouth like choice spring water. When she got over this event, I remember her vowing never to go near English in her life, in university, in the world.
I could now hear her footsteps… the reminiscing faded into the past, as I looked blankly at the expensive door… wondering how she would look like when she opened the doors.

I held my flowers up like an expectant school boy. The door swung open and there she was. After 20 years she had not changed… she was still as beautiful as ever. She screamed like a banshee –and hugged my flowers into a paste between us. After a century of moments we finally separated and then she was screaming urgently for the husband to come and see the naughty classmate she had been incessantly talking about the whole day.
He came down the stairs. A broad smile on his face. He had not changed much. I kept a fixed smile on my face. It was Mr. Odenke.

“Jato’s Box” by Prosper Kwao.

They shook him awake. As he groggily opened his eyes and began to adjust them to the dim light from the aged incandescent bulb in his bedroom, he felt a strong blow against the side of his head.

“Ow!” he shrieked.

There were strangers in his room- Robbers. The pain at the side of his head increased and he quickly realized he had been struck with the back end of some heavy metal. Armed-robbers, he now confirmed. One of the robbers who stood close to him pointed the weapon in his face. He could not remember ever being so close to a gun.

“Shhh. Any wrong move, you go chop bullet. You understand?” a cold voice from the dark figure towering above him announced.

There was really no need to make any move. They were in his one bedroom self contained home. There were no other rooms in the building. There was no one to call out to. From what he could remember, his next door neighbours had made the trip to their village the night before; there was mention about a funeral in the family. He was truly on his own against these men.

He slowly leaned against the head post, sat upright and finally made out the figures of the two robbers who now occupied his room. Both men were at least six feet tall and wore black tank tops. Their bulging biceps poured out of their shoulders.

“Boss, I beg, my name bi Jato. I no-”

“-My friend, you better shut up,” the nearest robber with the gun said softly. The mixture of alcohol and marijuana sprayed out from his breath into Jato’s face.

“WHERE THE BOX DEY?” another of the robbers bellowed from across the room. He had stepped back and was now leaning in the corner close to Jato’s wardrobe, hidden from the dim light pouring out of the bulb.

“Boss. I no get any-” Jato began to plead but stopped short when the gun was again pointed squarely in his face.

“I go ask you for the last time. Where the box dey?” the same man called out from across the room.

They shot him twice in the head. And his brain split open, spilling fluids and the invisible memories of where he had dug out the soil and hidden the box containing the stolen gold.

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

For years, everybody wondered about Jato’s death.  The body had been lying in his bed for a week at least, before it was found, the policemen had said. Questions had been asked, sometimes with the intimidation tactics that were typical of small town policemen. Young men were rounded up and physically abused for answers. Slaps across both sides of the face and the back of the head were distributed freely. Still, nothing concrete was gained. Jato’s death simply remained a mystery.

But the June-July rains came heavily five years after Jato’s death. The weather-people said it was the highest to be recorded in a decade. The floods had carried few electric poles and cables away. Kiosks were uprooted and dragged away by the currents. The soil had eroded and the ground had split in many places. As people stood in the safety of stronger grounds, pointing and identifying the debris being washed away, Jato’s box floated along unnoticed and its black padlock swung with every movement. The rhythmic clanking of fifty bars of pure gold, inaudible to the observers who were too busy identifying their own properties, silently marked the drift of Jato’s box.

“I cried and cried” by Daniel Hanson Dzah.

I hated my school. I hated my teachers. I hated my classmates. I hated the boring Social Studies books. I hated the difficult Math lessons. Every day, I would count the hours till school was over. Then I would run to Boadu’s house. Boadu was always at home. He went to school at home. I wish I could go to school at home too.

Boadu’s house was big. It had a big compound and many trees. He brought his big Case-five football and we played Dribbling-to-goal. Boadu won all the time. It was because he was always at home. If I stayed at home, I would win too.
Once I played for too long in Boadu’s house. Boadu’s mother said to me, ‘Koku, its good you’re here today. Supper is ready. Come and eat.’ I said to Boadu’s mother, ‘Thank you Auntie Akos, but I’m not hungry.’ I lied, but Boadu’s mother said, ‘Silly boy’ and brought us a big bowl of Omo Tuo with groundnut soup. We ate it outside in the porch. The Omo Tuo was delicious.
Mother came to catch me eating Omo Tuo at Boadu’s house. She smiled and said ‘Hello Akos’ to Boadu’s mother. Then she pulled me by the ear to our house. Mother said to me, ‘Did I not tell you never to eat in people’s houses?’ Then she beat me with a stick. I cried and cried.

One day, Boadu and I got into trouble. We were throwing little pebbles at each other on our street. We did not see that Doctor Awuah’s car was parked close to us. Our pebbles cracked his windscreen. We tried to run away but it was too late. Doctor Awuah’s daughter saw us. She told her father and her father told our fathers.
Later in the evening, I could hear Boadu screaming as his father beat him. Then father called me to the hall. I was afraid. But father was smiling. He told me that I had been a bad boy. He told me that anytime I did something bad, I should feel sorry and never try to hide it. Father told me to close my eyes and pray for forgiveness from Jesus. I closed my eyes and prayed. Then, father beat me with his leather belt. I cried and cried.

My cousins came home for the Christmas holidays. I shared my room with Kojo. Awo and Adzo slept in the guestroom. It was the best Christmas ever. There was so much food. Mother killed many chickens and father brought home many cartons of Malta Guinness. On New Year’s Day, mother baked a dozen cakes. She put the cakes in three baskets and sent us to all the neighbouring houses on our street. The baskets were very heavy. At each house, the neighbours gave us something in return. We came home with the baskets full of Soft drink cans, bars of chocolate and tins of Danish cookies. Mother clasped hear hands together and said, “God bless them o!”
We had a big dinner that evening. Everyone was satisfied. Everyone was happy. Father kissed mother on the cheek and mother said, “Dee, the children!” Then father laughed with a deep voice, and said to us, “Go to bed! All of you!”

The following week after New Year’s, Awo, Adzo and Kojo had to leave. They did not want to go. I did not want them to go, but Uncle Ganyo came with his car. He said their school was reopening.
My school was reopening too. I did not want to go to school, so I stayed in bed and pretended to be sick. I could not fool mother. She opened my door and ordered me out of bed. I cried and cried and went to school.

“A Close Shave” by Akosua Brenu.

It had been a long and busy day in town. I was exhausted and eager for some sleep. I was walking alone along the deserted path that went through the thin forest and led to the compound of my single-roomed home. I was deep into the forest, but perhaps only one kilometre from home when it began.

It started quietly, with a gentle breeze simply whistling through the leaves. But almost immediately, stronger winds came rushing through from out of nowhere. The trees began to sway from side to side, and the branches began to look like long extended arms, in the darkness. The leaves shook violently and with a dozen rustling sounds. They looked like they would all together fall off unto the ground. Fireflies blinked in and out of sight with blinding pace, at random spots in the darkness. Crickets chirped out an odd discord. It was as if someone had upset their peaceful gathering. An owl hooted a bit too audibly for comfort and I instinctively picked up my pace. A twig snapped under my feet and I shrieked.

Over and above this cacophony, I heard giggles. They were almost human, but it was hard to tell if it belonged to men or women. It was not a familiar tone. I was not a man who scared easily but I quickly broke into a trot. The sounds around me grew louder. I picked up pace and started to run. I was running, or so I thought. Surprisingly, the flickering neighbourhood lights ahead of me were not getting any larger. I kept running and running and running. But in fact, my feet were glued to the spot where I had first heard the giggles. I was not moving. I was running on the same spot.

The hands were cold. They reeked of dust and dirt. Rough fingers covered my mouth. My shouts were muffled. Then everything began to swirl around me. Everything became silent. Everything became dark.

When I awoke, there were faces and voices towering over me. I made out the familiar faces of my neighbours and friends.

“W-What is this? What am I doing here?” I asked, attempting to rise from the ground and failing.

“We don’t know Mensah. We just found you here, sleeping.”
Afi responded. She had her sleeping baby tied to her back with her waistcloth.

“Maamle thinks you are lucky. She thinks they brought you here,” Afi went on.

Hands reached down to help me stand. I was now on my feet and brushing the dust off my clothes. I was still slightly groggy. “They? Who?” I asked, turning to Maamle. She shook her head and mumbled.

“We don’t know,” Afi replied.

I rejected all escorts and walked home by myself. I locked myself in and walked to the bathroom. I didn’t know who they were. Nobody seemed to know who they were, but they were not invited to my house tonight.

As I poured the pail of cold water over my head, a sharp shriek escaped from my throat. I passed my fingers over my head. My hair was gone. All of it. I was bald. My heart was pounding now. I reached out for other parts of my body. My genitals were safe. There was no pain anywhere else. They had only shaved off my hair.

“30 Cubes of Chocomilo” by Nii Moi Thompson.

When my great-grandfather was laid in state he had a sly smirk and a near-wink on his face. I mean…the man married nineteen women, acquired seven concubines, begat fifty-seven children, read Songs of Solomon every night before bed, and smoked probably mega tonnes of tobacco his entire lifetime. So whisper in his corpse’s ears why he should not spread a satisfied grin on his face. He had lived fast but died slowly, smiling his way to the pearly gates.

But he left me a lesson; ‘You’re only betrayed by friends you once trusted’. This axiom did not dawn on me suitably, until…

I remember when we were just boys. Osa was my best friend, and Elizabeth was my dream wife. Although an inch taller than I, Lizzy was a human plethora of intellect, ladyship and grandeur. Her skin glowed, her smile appeared carefully carved; thin, bubble-gum pink lips behind shiny dentures… and when she walked, she almost hopped; toes on ground, heels afloat. She flicked her braids frequently, and it killed me. Lizzy and I could walk and talk for minutes after school, with Osa trailing jealously behind, feeling like the second fiddle he actually was.

“I saw Lizzy first,” he would grumble. “But she spoke to me first,” I’d retort. My instincts cautioned that Osa was nursing something lethal inside.

The annual war was on. Our rival neighbourhood riff-raffs from Ola Balm had called our bluff. The war was a war of paints. The more warriors you drenched in paint, the closer you were to winning the war. Well, the previous year they had welled the eyes of my warriors with paint-bombs, captured a sizeable number and demanded an agreed ransom of a spanking new case-five football. We were determined to win the war this year.

We broke sweat every day after school; scaling walls, practising manoeuvres and paint-bomb throwing, with utmost precision. I mapped out our war strategy and surveyed the battle grounds; an uncompleted duplex house on a no-man’s land with several corners, long corridors and various escape routes. We were winning this war. Every one of my warriors beamed at the thought of winning the agreed ransom, which had been raised a notch higher. The captives were to pay for five tickets to the Christmas Kiddafest my parents could not afford. I had promised Lizzy I would take her to the kids festival, and then plant on her wrist the silvery bracelet I had stolen from my mother’s box. So we had to win this war, and the tickets.

A day prior to the battle, we carved assault rifles out of wood, made our paint-bombs, cut our ropes to size and set traps all over the battle-ground. As commander-in-chief, I mapped out the plan of the uncompleted duplex house on a wide sheet of brown paper, and marked areas my warriors could lay ambush and attack upon my signal. But I had a winning strategy only Osa knew about. It was long-range water-gun my mother had bought for me for Christmas. It could squirt paint many inches off. I had filled the barrel with ample paint, and planned to drench as many enemies as I could with this subtle water-gun, which I irrationally placed in Osa’s custody, as second in command.

“Pampanaa”, the battle cry was a poor shriek from a hungry orphan, but we heard it anyway and set off to lay ambush as planned. Our enemies from Ola Balm were bigger and fierce, and never missed when throwing paint-bombs. They had Rambo, a towering, robust and ruthless 13 year old I was so determined to capture with my water-gun. He would not have to see me. I would creep up to him so silently and generously spray him some paint before he could get time to react.

Osa and my water-gun were supposedly safeguarded at the North-eastern section of the battle grounds, waiting for Rambo to strut his muscles into the arena. I heard a few paint-bombs detonate, followed by hollering and chants of victory, but my eyes were so affixed on Rambo I had no time to probe further.  As he tiptoed into the trap, I crept up to him from behind, but my water-gun was nowhere near where I had placed it, and Osa was at large. Has he been captured?

Suddenly, in a flash, the distance between me and the brawny Rambo was the width of human hair. He had me helpless in a deadly chokehold, as one of the enemy riff-raffs appeared with my water-gun, and copiously splashed a concoction of water and ground pepper in my eyes. I was blinded momentarily, and the pain I felt echoed through the duplex like a lost hiker on Mount Everest howling for help.

Later that evening I learnt Osa had betrayed the squadron for thirty cubes of ChocoMilo. Goodness!  Thirty bloody cubes of ChocoMilo. The next morning en-route to Sunday school, I chanced upon Osa and Lizzy in her mother’s shop, spitefully chewing those chocolaty chunks of fun. Such a Judas!

“Underneath the Stars” by Fui Can-Tamakloe.

Sometimes she didn’t like to talk, and I knew better than to interrupt the silence. I enjoyed it. It gave me the concentration I needed to study her facial patterns, to try and determine what she was thinking. She had never been able to hide her emotions properly. They’d always find some way to seep into her face. We were sitting on a bench at the back of my family house. We were completely alone. Everyone had gone to sleep a while ago, tired from the performing of funeral rites for my dead uncle. The only company we had was the clothes on the clothesline, slow dancing in the village wind. Someone had forgotten to take them down.

“Yao, have you noticed the stars?” she asked me, breaking the silence.

“Of course I have, love. They are…a lot.” I said, pretending the first thing I saw when I had looked up was quantity, and not beauty. She got the joke, and I saw her teeth flash in the darkness.

“But I don’t get it. I mean, it’s all the same sky that covers Ghana right? So why is it that the stars are so beautiful and ‘a lot’ out here, but we hardly see them in Accra?” She asked, the question directed more to the wind, than to me.

I thought of Accra. I thought of the hustle and bustle that we knew to be everyday life. The honking and cussing drivers, rude pedestrians, slow traffic, the general noise. The answer appeared.

“Maybe…Maybe it is because we are too busy handling what’s down there to notice anything up.” That was my answer. She didn’t immediately say anything, but I could tell from the furrowing of her brow that she was contemplating what I had said. Silence once again engulfed us.

“Promise me,” she said, turning to face me properly, “that we will never be that couple. The ones that are too busy with life to appreciate the things they appreciated when they first met. Promise me, Yao.”

“I promise,” I said, chuckling. The intensity with which she had made the request was slightly funny.

“Thank you,” she whispered, smiling softly. The comfortable silence appeared again, and in the darkness, I felt her hand search out mine.