“Impulses of Her (Un)trained Heart” by Akosua Brenu.

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.

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“Clarity” by Priscilla Adipa.

It happened unexpectedly. Eventually. Unlike his commitment to Augusta, the discovery took time. When he uncovered the reasons behind her phone calls and averted eyes, he saw that this point would have been reached sooner, if only he had not been overly confident in his ability to hold Augusta’s attention.

He stood in the rain, his temper rising as the raindrops on top of his head grew heavier and heavier. He opened his mouth and received the rain. The weight and saltiness of the water in his mouth brought on memories of tongues locked in passion, bodies pliant to the desires of the other. Hungry for more, he pushed out his whole tongue and held it still in space. When recalling became painful, he pulled his tongue back into his mouth.

 

Augusta returned home to find Kwasi’s drenched form stretched out on their doorstep. As soon as she saw him, she knew their journey together was over. She hesitated in the car. Somewhere deep inside her, a breath of relief and of regret came alive. Being in harmony with Kwasi had become tedious, so tedious that she had looked elsewhere for what he no longer provided. Yet Augusta wavered. She had to be sure she was ready to let go.

Slowly she turned off the engine. She opened the door and placed one foot onto the wet ground, and then the other. It had stopped raining. She walked towards Kwasi, her face filled with sorrow. She tried to read his thoughts, but this time it was impossible. The force that had connected them was broken, and his mind was shut from her probing eyes.

“Kwasi.” His name escaped quickly from her lips. She was breathless, as though she had run a marathon and was struggling to get her words out. “Kwasi,” she called again.

He said nothing. On his face was etched a hardness Augusta had never seen before.

“Say something.” She searched for absolution, a sign that all would be well between them.

In response, there was only the heavy sound of breathing and the cricket song that filled the air when the rain clouds receded.

He decided to help her out. “As long as you are happy,” he said, almost too softly for Augusta to hear.

She waited for him to say more. But these were the only words that revolved around them in the growing darkness.

They stood on the doorstep, framed by the arches of the veranda. They had stood there countless times on days they escaped outside when their small house became too hot inside. The doorstep was Augusta’s favourite spot. It was there they sat on Fridays after work to eat kelewele bought from the woman down the road. It was there they spent evenings with no power, and, with just a candle and a mosquito coil between them, cursed ECG and anyone else responsible for the unending dumsor.

Augusta walked past Kwasi towards their front door. He had anticipated what she would need. Four suitcases stood near the door. One of the suitcases was made from a synthetic beige material with red stripes. It had remained pristine over the years. It was the suitcase Kwasi’s family brought to her parents’ house the morning of their engagement. It was the one they had packed with kente and cloth she hadn’t yet taken to her seamstress. All these years she’d kept the suitcase covered with a large see-through plastic bag. Now, she had to drag the suitcase on the muddied cemented ground to her car.
Again, Kwasi thought ahead of her. He grabbed hold of the bags and packed them into the car.

“Goodbye,” he said, as he slammed the boot shut and made to walk back towards the house.

“I’m sorry,” she said, as she placed a hand on his arm. Then, encouraged by the softening in his eyes, she leaned over to trace the angry lines on his forehead. He flinched when her hand touched his face.

“Just leave,” he said, and Augusta quickly got into the car, realizing his patience would not last.

She pushed the gear into reverse when he entered the house. Her left leg shook as she lifted it off the clutch. She had all her belongings, but still it felt like she was leaving a part of herself behind. The car stalled. She put the gear again into reverse, and pulled out of their yard. She did not stop even when she looked back and thought she saw Kwasi step out onto the doorstep.

“What’s in a Name?” by Amanda Olive Amoah.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Right?
Right…?
Wrong!
Rodney found this out the hard way when he broke up with Amanda. His reason? She somehow managed to manipulate him into spending every single second of his life with her! Ah!

Amanda – one who is fit to be loved, lovable. Rodney translates this as someone with the power to hypnotize you into caring about and doing things for them even when you don’t want to; and that’s not very convenient, is it?

He loved Amanda more than he cared to admit, and it scared him silly. People were starting to notice that there was very little he wouldn’t do for her, very little that he wasn’t willing to give up – for her. His friends were calling him otoolege now. He knew they were just envious and yet, it got to him. He couldn’t afford to lose his place as the ‘leader’ in their group. That was the real reason why he broke up with her.

Fast forward to two weeks after the breakup, and enter Esi Belinda. Esi Belinda had a good enough face; he could work with that. Her personality was a bit flat, but surely, he could change that.

The deciding factor was her name combo: Esi-Belinda. Wow! The safest he could have wished for. Esi was simply a girl born on Sunday and Belinda meant beautiful snake. Beautiful snake paaahn?! He had laughed till he had tears in his eyes when he had found that out.

He found snakes disgusting; in his opinion, even the most beautiful snake could not be lovable. He would be safe with this beautiful snake born on Sunday. He would be the man!

The first couple of weeks went great, she cooked for him, washed his clothes; all things that Amanda refused to do.

In the third week, things began to change.

First, he found himself doing her assignments. Next, he was losing sleep because he had to stay up all night, either out with her friends, painting her nails or doing some other activity she had dreamt up. What was all this?! Would he never know any peace?!

That was the build up to him being in Esi Belinda’s hostel one hot Sunday afternoon, but not with her in her room. He was at the back, at the washing area, all alone, sweating half his body weight away. He must have been a sight to behold; a 6 foot 5” “macho man” with charcoal skin bent over a tiny bright pink bucket that his hands seemed to have trouble fitting into. His well-toned abs ,exposed, the racetrack for the drops of sweat that raced to his waistline. Brows furrowed and the tip of his tongue sticking out in concentration, his hands rubbed away at the sudsy contents of the bucket. Satisfied with his work, a small smile tugged at his lips as he squeezed, and then shook out what he had just washed.

And that was how Amanda found him when she click-clacked in her turquoise heels that complemented her form-fitting white church dress to get her towel off the drying line. Tall, sexy Rodney, shirtless body glistening, big smile on his face, holding up the most gigantic, most misshapen granny panty she had ever seen, stretched out between his hands!

“Ei!”, she couldn’t help it. The word jumped out of her throat making him turn sharply.
His face had immediately been wiped clean of the smile and was now contorted in an emotion she couldn’t put a name to. Maybe it was many emotions mashed up into one. She burst out laughing.

Several times he opened and closed his mouth, as though searching for words to explain the situation. He seemed to give up and walked to hang up what he had washed. Struggling to suppress her giggles, she followed him and touched his face.

“I’m sorry.”
He turned his head away from her.
“Rodney, I’m sorry…”
This time, he gave a tiny nod.
“I’m making jollof. It will be ready in 30minutes”

He turned to look at her. A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips.
They both knew he would be at her door before it was ready.

“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.

“Brave” by Gabriella Rhoda Rockson.

I’m angry. I’ve been angry for close to 8 months. Nobody knows – of course – and no one ever has to know. “She was so happy and calm,” they’d say. “We can’t believe she did that.” A tiny giggle escapes my lips. Hiding my smile, I prepare to mingle like the best friend that I am. Working my way through the crowd, I make small talk and make sure everyone is having a great time. Smiling and shaking hands, I paint the perfect picture of warm and friendly. I’d been studying Devin’s mum and I had the act down pat.

Eventually I make eye-contact with the guest of honour, my best friend. He looks so worried. I quickly give him a reassuring smile that says all is forgotten and forgiven. Before I can cross over to join Devin, I’m waylaid by his vapid girlfriend. The last time we’d met I’d felt sorry for her and so I’d sat down to listen to her go on and on about her latest worry. She was slightly neurotic bordering on irritating. She was only Devin’s girlfriend because he felt the need to settle down. Devin’s parents -my god-parents- were the kind of Ghanaians who everyone aspired to be. They were still madly in love. They were down to earth. They were also insanely rich.

Devin was unfortunately the only who might know how angry I was. It had happened yesterday. I’d been testy the whole morning, I see now that I should have had lunch alone in my room. We had been sitting outside at a small table having lunch when he made a careless joke about my scars. I lost it. I turned over the table and slapped him.
Someone else might have thought it normal for me to react that way after what I’d been through. Someone who didn’t know how I’d acted after the incident. That’s what I called it. Right after it happened I’d been calm and collected, reassuring anyone who dared to cry about how bad my skin looked. I’d smiled and comforted them, letting them know that after my skin graft I’d look brand new. Not once had I yelled or cried. So it was perfectly normal for Devin to think he could make a joke. I was always making jokes about how for someone with such a name, he tended to make crass and very crude statements in the three local languages he and I spoke.

I fled to my room and locked the door. That’s when I cried for the first time since my death. That’s what I actually called it. Waking up in the hospital and realising what had happened to me had changed me; “Deadened” me. I cried, finally allowing myself to feel the pain I’d shut away for so long until I eventually fell asleep. When I woke up the first thing I did was to check my phone to see how long I’d slept. 2 hours. I had 17 missed calls from Devin. I called him back and we talked. I said what he needed to hear; insulted him to let him know we were cool, and lay back listening to him as he talked about the party he was throwing the next day.

Yesterday’s events would cause me to shift it to a further date. There really was no rush. Making my way across the room I wondered what people saw when they looked at me.  

A dark woman wearing a spectacular gown that showed only a glimpse of her neck?

A phenomenal woman who could still socialise after a horrifying ordeal with her ex-boyfriend, who turned out to be a psychopath who liked to inflict multiple cuts on his victims, and watch them bleed to death?

Or a woman, struggling to appear placid, as she plotted how exactly to kill her ex-boyfriend, in the most dramatic way possible?

“Another Love Story” by Antony Can-Tamakloe.

The Man:
There is a scent that follows me anytime I have a cold. But I can’t explain why it is here now. I don’t have a cold. Maybe it is because I’m nervous. Yes, that has to be it. My colds make me nervous around people. This is because of how embarrassing my sneeze has always been. It’s a high pitched sneeze always followed by a loud, involuntary snort that has plagued me since childhood. I used to get laughed at when I was a child, yes. Even up till now, I still get smirks from people. It has to be the fact that I’m nervous.

But why am I nervous? Is this not what I wanted? I look around me. I’m in her house. That’s where the knocking ceremony always is. The girl’s father’s house. There are two canopies arranged to face each other. One for her family, one for mine. It isn’t a big ceremony. Just a small one for both families to get rid of their children. The canopies were a terrible idea I think, as I run my handkerchief repeatedly over my face. There was as much heat inside as out, and less room for wind. I’m sweating profusely. On a normal day I’d joke and say that it was because I was about to give up my bachelorhood for a woman. But then today I can’t joke. Jokes are meant to be either untrue or exaggerated. This was no exaggeration. This was the real deal.

She was sitting between her parents, looking less pretty than the day I first met her. Had I been tricked by false advertisement? It was too late to find out. I smiled at her. She smiled back. My smile was only dutiful. People were watching. I didn’t love her, but that was for only me to know. Yes, I didn’t love her. Of course not. She was older than me by four years, and more successful, and when we were children she used to laugh at me. I don’t forget easily. I cannot remember what she used to laugh at. Just that she used to laugh. Now I had to pretend to love her for the rest of our dying days.

This wasn’t supposed to happen—my marrying her. This was only a correctional measure. Two months ago, Cecilia had come to me pregnant, claiming that the baby was mine. Knowing Cecilia, that baby probably had about five different fathers. That girl, she’d open her legs for just about anybody who had a third leg and could smile. But then she threatened to go see my uncle, and I panicked. My uncle was no fool to believe any story, but these days he had been pressurizing me to get married and would probably have made Cecilia marry me. The choice was simple. Better marry a woman who used to laugh at me, than get laughed at by the whole community for marrying a woman who had seen more beds than a roaming mosquito.

So here I was, bearing gifts of kind and cash, about to marry a woman I didn’t love. But I’m sure other men have had worse reasons. I look at her again. She is looking at me. By me, my uncle rises, walks to the front of our side of the canopies, and in a bid to call for silence cries out his loudest, “Agooo!…” I smile at her.

The Woman:
The smile I have plastered on my face reminds me of the time when I was a child and it was my 18th birthday. That day had coincided with an event at the National Theatre that all my friends were going to, and where Thomas had promised to give me a birthday kiss if I came. I hinted to my father for weeks that that was where I wanted to be during my birthday. I’d never been kissed before. And Thomas was the guy I dreamed about. It would have been the best birthday gift.

We spent the birthday at the bedside of my grandma who had suffered a stroke. And later on that night, when my father had asked me whether I had enjoyed the day, I smiled and forced out a joyful “Yes!”

That’s how I felt like. My conscious effort to keep the smile on my face nearly had me forgetting to respond to the greeting the old man had just thrown at the two families.

“Amɛɛ…” I mutter.

I looked at my future husband again. Is this what you are marrying, Awo? Is this who you would spend your life with? His shirt was half covered in sweat, and he had a permanent wrinkle on his nose as if he couldn’t stand his own scent. He had a goatee. Lord knows I hate goatees. We are going to have to work on his image. Shave off the goatee, make him look presentable if he is going to be my husband. This man was a gold mine, no doubt. He may not be worth much now, but that his uncle he always tagged along with had a factory on the outskirts of town that would be his one day, by customary law on their side. That’s why I’m marrying him, I reminded myself. Not because I love him. If there had been other suitors, I wouldn’t have even thought about him. I had allowed for myself to get older, while entertaining thoughts that one day Thomas would come marry me. And as you get older, the suitors all drop off one by one. Till you cannot get to make a choice anymore. But I’m okay with this man. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be compensated. And I will still be happy, anyway. After all, Thomas will still get to see me. Unfortunate that we couldn’t get married. But he had to marry someone else because of his father, who was a chief. But he still swears that he loves me. And I believe him.

I smiled, aiming the smile at him. But it wasn’t him I was smiling at. Thomas was on my mind of course. The funny thing is, my goat of a future husband smiled back. If only he knew…

“…My dear brothers and sisters, we are all gathered here on this day, for a simple cause…to help in the writing of yet another love story…”