“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.

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“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!

“Just Talking” by Prosper Kwao.

We are at it again. We start off calmly, slipping in sentence after sentence; phrase after phrase; word after word. You ask why I spoke with a tone of frustration- was I tired of you?

I giggle. ‘You’re overreacting … Relax,’ I say. You smirk and nod repeatedly. Now we’re really getting started.

‘Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that I hate having to repeat things I’ve already told you. You know how annoying that is. You complain when I do it too.’

‘It’s okay. I complain when you do it too. So every little chance you get, you must show revenge. I see.’

‘Oh c’mon. You know that’s not what I mean. Stop overreacting.’

‘Oh yes, Ophelia the over reactor. Ha-ha. You should nickname me, you know. Call me Oh-Oh … Overreacting Ophelia. Double Oh. Ha-ha.’

‘Okay, listen. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’

‘Slow down on the promises, mister man. We’ve heard them before. “It won’t happen again. That was the last time.” …  Apii.

‘Ophelia I said I’m sorry. What is this! Stop getting so emotional, please!’

‘Ha-ha. Okay. I hear you. I won’t get emotional. I’ll be like you. Mister Anti-emotional-yet-I’ll-snap-at-the-smallest-thing. I’ll be like you wai.’

‘Why do you have to be like this all the time?’

‘Be like what, Kweku? Why do I have to be like what?’

‘You, it’s okay. Never mind.’

‘Ha-ha. I knew it. Mister Kweku-it’s-okay. Mister Kweku-never-mind. I dey feel you roff-roff!’

I smirk at your sarcasm, and sew my lips shut for the rest of the drive back to your house. You get off and we make no effort to say our goodbyes. You slam the door and slip out a caustic ‘sorry’ without parting your lips.  I watch you push your gate open and step into your house. Smiling and chuckling, I turn on the engine and drive off.

It’s not the end of the world. Our world. There is no need to stay up all night wondering if this is the tipping point of our emotional roller-coaster. It is nothing. We were just talking.

“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.

“Mobile Vulgus” by Andrew Teye.

He was dragged like an insolent goat. He felt a hard blow against the back of his head, and then another. There was a slap from behind, and then another. The voices around him were mixed and rising. All the while, the old man he heard them call ‘Old Souja’, tightened the grip he had on him. Old Souja had locked him in the classic Ghana-police ajoss grip: the waistline of his trousers had been yanked far above his abdomen and he could feel his testicles strangling towards castration. The old man’s strength was evident in his grip. There was no slipping out of his stranglehold.

A loud raspy feminine voice suggested he be burnt with a bunch of car tyres. She claimed to have a gallon of kerosene kept somewhere in her house and could send her child to fetch it as soon as it was needed. The crowd roared in agreement.

He shrieked at the mention of this, quickly pleading and breaking into sobs. He was struck immediately by Old Souja this time. The old man who had remained calm up until this point was now joining in the violence. With that fierce look on his steel face, Old Souja looked like he would have no difficulty breaking every single bone in his body. The old man was the self-appointed leader here and he yelled at the mob to calm down. “He won’t come here again, don’t worry,” Old Souja announced.

He was being dragged with the reins clinging to his genitals, by an ‘Old Souja’, the mob following closely behind stealing chances to strike him on the head. His big head- the big coconut that thought it had schemed well enough to complete a successful burglary.

So it was, up until they reached the big sandy square at center of the neighbourhood. The parade had turned into a march for justice now and from the vibes he was getting, this would not end well for him. This was the procession to his death.

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

“I said who did this?” the police officer asked for the third time, “are you people deaf?”

Nobody answered. They simply shook their heads and shrugged. He gave up, turned to the body again and pulled out his phone. After taking some more shots, he dialed a number.

Yeh Akwasi, tell Joe to come with the Pick-up. And, with one body bag too,” he paused, and added almost as an afterthought, “and call that your nurse- girlfriend, another borla is coming so she should make space.” He chuckled silently and turned to the crowd behind him.

“So you people have decided to take the law into your own hands eh? How many of you have not stolen before?”

There were blank stares all over. The policeman felt like an idiot.

“Did you ask him his name?” he asked with little hope.

A dozen heads shook from side to side on each neck. These people were well-rehearsed. He spotted a fearsome-looking old man somewhere in the back of the crowd. He stared at the frowning wrinkled face and chuckled. He scanned their faces passively for a moment.

“Next time ask for the name and write it down,” he informed “Now everybody go home! Come on, clear off from here!” He barked and stamped his boots. They dispersed slowly in silence.

* “Mobile Vulgus” is a Latin phrase meaning “the fickle crowd”. The English term “mob” was originally derived from this phrase.