Copyright © Karen Owusu Banahene, 2020
All rights reserved
Dedication: Ex Sergeant P.K Obeng
Rest well grandpa, your memory lives on.
Mrs Veronica Yeboah, (BPharm) Mama, you have been the greatest storyteller of all times. Your rich stories of your early childhood has been the inspiration of this story. Thank you!
Sarah Opoku, IG @_ofaye_,
Thank you for this beautiful cover photo!💕😊
IT WAS ONE OF those nights when adults moved into the big compound, draped in black and faces in solemnity. I still remember my father waking up at once after he had received a phone call. He made mumbles as he buttoned up his shirt and mother seemed worried. Father was the head of all the labourers of Master PK who was a sergeant and a very wealthy man. He owned a lot of farms and livestock. His family was a reputable one since most of the children of that family were well educated. At that time, he had among his sons, a Teacher and a Lawyer. His daughters were beautiful too and married big men in the city. Once in a while, they would come for a visit and I, among the other children in the town would rush to the compound for sweets. Sometimes when we were fortunate, they’d bring us small moulds of sugar bread made specially in Kumasi. Mother loved those bread too and would tell me firmly, “When they give you bread, bring it home”
“What is it, father?” my inquisitive self, had the audacity to ask. Sometimes father would pull in something about my confidence and how school was doing that to me. The way he always muttered under his breath when He comes to meet me doing my homework instead of washing utensils like all other girls.
“Obeng, what at all is your problem?” Mother would give him a hard stare. “Are you jealous that Master PK’s wife decided to take care of my only daughter?”
“I am hungry, woman, and that is why I am here. Please give me my food”
After mother had set his table with a bowl of rice ball and groundnut soup, she would pick the matter again. “Stop listening to your other wives Obeng, they are just jealous. I don’t have a son like they have and I certainly know I have no share of your lands in future when you’re gone. What will my daughter and I eat?” she would then assume her task of washing utensils and say firmly to conclude the matter, “Adoma will go to school and be prominent like Master PK’s daughters. I will make sure of that”
Father continued buttoning his shirt. “Go and sit with your brothers Adoma” Mother said to me. And I did just that.
By mid-day father and his fellow labourers returned to the compound. They ate little and took in a lot of akpeteshi. Mother seemed more than worried while she served them and I did not understand. No one was talking to me and you see, it is very difficult as a child to enquire when all I would be told is to go out and sit with my brothers.
So I went to my brothers and sat quietly with them. Maame Benewaa, father’s first wife gave me gari soakings with bread and told me that I can stay for a while. When her sons returned from the farm, one of them looked at me and sneered “We shall see how you will go to school now!”
I went home and told mother about it and she placed my head on her lap. “Adoma, Master PK’s wife is dead oo, do you know what that means?”
What that means that no school for me again, as Mensu, had said to me or what that means by the fact that, it was death she was talking about. I nodded to both.
She began to cry silently and I wanted to tell her that it did not have to be a problem if I was not going back to school now that Ante Darkowaah was dead and that I could always help her in the market and chores like all the other girls. But then again, I could not fathom exactly what her tears were about. Sometimes I felt school did not concern me much. Most daughters of labourers were not in school like I was and when they gathered around to play ampe they would refuse to play with me. I felt left out and thought it would not matter if I stayed home and got to play ampe with my friends.
The weeks that followed were long and busy. There was going to be a funeral and it had to be big and noisy.
“But why? Isn’t it supposed to be a funeral?” I asked, Ackaa one of my father’s sons. We had gone fishing that morning when I managed to sneak out before mother found me. I was aware of the long arguments she sometimes had with father to give her money for me to go to school.
“Why?” he sounded my own question. “Because it’s Master’s wife! What is wrong with you Mmoni-ka?” Ackaa always preferred to call me by pet name making sure to add ‘ka’. It was a quick way of reminding me I was named after Ante Darkowaah- Master PK’s wife- who was now dead. Mmoni was what people fondly called her and Mmoni-ka simply meant little mother.
“You know my mother said they killed her with medicine. Are you not sad?” Ackaa asked.
“I am sad Ackaa” I supposed sad was feeling sorry that a kind woman who took care of me, bought me my school bag with a new uniform plus a water bottle and treated me well as though I was her own daughter was dead. Of course I was sad. “What I don’t understand is why the funeral must be big and noisy. Sounds like a party to me” I added and tugged at my fishing line. “I think I’ve caught a fish”
Ackaa looked at me aghast. “What is wrong with you? You and your big mouth err!”
“I think I have caught a fish” I told him again.
“No you haven’t” he seemed exasperated. What did I say wrong? “Be careful of what you say oo . That is how rich folks do their funerals”
“I see” I said and added after a while, “Ackaa?”
“Will we go fishing often if I don’t go to school again?”
He smiled and shook his head. “If you catch something today then we certainly will”
He then exclaimed and pulled out his catch and I beamed at him with so much admiration.
SCHOOL WAS LONG FORGOTTEN even after the big and noisy funeral and for me, it was not a problem. I had the liberty to play ampe with the other girls, to swim, to fish with Ackaa and to help mother when I was not playing.
That was so many years ago and quite a lot occurred afterwards. I never imagined myself living in a city and becoming a lawyer. But mother was ambitious and never accepted that I was not going back to school again. One evening when I had filled our small rack with firewood and fed the chicks, mother called me to her room.
“Adoma, what is wrong with you, don’t you miss school? Don’t you want to be a big woman anymore?”
“I want to be mother, school wasn’t bad either but how can I continue going to school when we can’t afford that anymore” I sighed. Not that I was worried about school, I was worried about mother’s stubbornness. It had been four years since Ante Darkowaah’s death and she still held on to this school thoughts.
“I have a plan” she said, her mouth set in a thin grim.
“What plan mother, won’t you let it be?”
“Let it be?” Her retort was a sharp one, clearly agitated. “Don’t even say that for me to hear! I should let it be er? And watch your father marry you away and give birth to a man who will marry another wife and neglect you err Adoma, what will become of me, of yourself er?”
“It wouldn’t be that bad as you put it Mother, besides you married father when you perfectly knew that he had other wives”
“Oh yes! So let that be my own mistake to bear Adoma, let it be! But I shan’t allow you to settle for mediocre mentality that your father has!”
“Mother!” I exclaimed disapproving how she spoke of father.
“I said I have a plan, so start preparing. She shifted on her stool and stood up “And you better not mention any of this conversation to your father!”
She waited for three fortnights and then sneaked out one very early morning. I watched her through the crack of the door as she bundled a big white fowl and walked into the fog, her quick moving legs made it obvious that she had no intention of being seen.
Three days later, when father came to eat his supper, as it was mother’s turn, he didn’t seem to be in the mood for food. When mother greeted him and served him his meal, he fumed and knocked the food away. “Nnekye, so do you still continue to regard me as your husband? Do you respect me at all?”
“Obeng, what have I done now?” Mother asked defensively. She had expected this obviously.
“Don’t ask me; don’t even ask me because I’m losing my patience!” He stood up, his solid built figure in full length. “Nnekye, did I tell you I couldn’t take care of your daughter? Nnekye, did I? Did I tell you I needed another man take my daughter to school?”
“Obeng, you didn’t but it was about time someone helped you realize that?” She said sharply. “You don’t even have intentions of taking your daughter to school, you say school is useless but look at Master’s children…”
“Am I master? Look at me carefully..” Father started moving towards mother and she backed away. The other wives were drawing near now and some of the labourers got there in time to refrain him. “If I won’t take her to school then so be it!”
“You will dare hit me, Obeng?” mother asked with disbelief. I honestly did not believe he would hit mother. I have known father not be an abusive man.
“It’s okay Nnekye, let it be!” the first wife started to take mother away. “You don’t wish me well Obeng, you don’t wish your daughter well! I know all your plans and I won’t allow it”
“It is me who wants more problem by taking you as a wife when I had three already! Now you disrespect me and talk in my face!” Father thumped his chest looking upwards towards the sky.
“The mistake of marriage to you!” Mother spat.
“Nnekye! Becareful of what you say!” One of the other wives warned.
Silently in my corner, I was ashamed. I could not believe I was the cause of all this. I wanted it to end and when later I found out that I was bound to leave for the city in a week time, I wished it would come faster. I avoided mother and visited father twice in his shackle but he would not see me.
Mother went about her business in the compound under peering eyes and wagging tongues about a woman who dared to stand up against our husband. They made comments about how ungrateful she was to their husband. And mother made sure to pause and say something about how in no time her enemies would brought to shame and if indeed they had spreading breasts like her then they might as well come out and tell her in her face.
On the day before Sunday, when I would finally make my journey, I could not take the silence anymore so I woke up early and called Ackaa with me. He brought two hoes and we went to father’s farm to work. We worked in silence until father came. When I greeted him, he pretended to be busy and hoed with us. At noon, Ackaa left to take food from the house.
“If you hoe for that long, you will get calloused hands oo” Father finally said to me.
I just continued with my task, this time more vigorous.
“Mmoni, didn’t you hear what I said, stop it!” Father shouted at once using my other name and I stopped.
I looked at him and I suddenly burst into tears. “Baba tomorrow I will be leaving oo”
“I know” he replied quietly. “I’m not mad at you oo, I’m just not sure again about making decisions concerning you”
“Baba if you don’t want me to go, just tell me and I won’t go”
“Come her” He called and patted me on the head. “Did you believe what your mother said that I don’t wish you well?” I shook my head. “Good, I wish you well, and I want you to go”
“Adoma, I’m sorry about your school but there was just no money. But now that there this opportunity, I want you to go. Now your mother may be quite a troublesome woman but I know it’s for your betterment. He said carefully. “Master’s son and his wife are good people just like their father. Look at what this family has done for us. As you’re going, promise me to be good to them, for the sake of their kindness, never ever ever disobey them. Have you heard me?”
I nodded and smiled when he said “I got you a little something to take with you. Now if you’re going to be a city girl, you might as well look like one. What are you going to do about this hair of yours er?
When I went home, mother was taking a basket of dried cassava in her hut. “You have finally come” she said to me but I ignored.
She entered the room too and saw me packing for the last time “What did your father get you er?” she asked brightly. “Let me press them for you?”
Suddenly I got a little annoyed. “No mother, let it be”
She looked at me, long and hard and quietly left the room.
At dawn when the cock crowed disturbing the serenity of the morning, mother patted me softly. “Adoma? Wake up and go take a bath for me to tidy your hair.
Mother carefully greased my hair with her specially made Shea butter that she had mixed perfume and other essence she got from the market.
“This should make your hair shiny and fresh” she said with satisfaction. I sat still and she carefully arranged strands of hair, over and under till it formed a smooth plait. By the time she was done I could feel my forehead protruded more than ever with painful tugs at the edges but I did not complain. This was very normal.
“Adoma” she called me softly
“You know I want the best for you and that is why I had to do all that for you” I nodded. “Please don’t be angry at me. It is for your own good oo”
I nodded again.
“Now when you go to city be a good girl and do everything they ask you to do OK?”
When Master’s son came that afternoon for me, mother discretely led me to the big compound of Master PK. “I don’t want any evil eyes to follow you to city, hurry and let’s go before they come out. Master PK’s son was called Master Ike and he had come along with his wife who looked at me strangely for a moment and then said. “Is that all her things?”
“Yes Madam” Mother answered quickly and tugged me closer.
“Alright then” Master Ike smiled at mother and picked my travelling bag to put in the car. “We should be on our way”
“Yessar” Father answered him.
“Go for your father’s blessing Adoma” Mother whispered to me.
“May it be well with you my daughter” Father held me up before I could kneel for his blessings. He hugged me and patted my plaited hair. And when he smiled at me, I was calmed.
As the car eased out of the compound I saw Ackaa waving, jumping and shouting “Don’t be too long Mmoni-ka and when you’re coming buy me paano”
I smiled and waved back.
It was cool and quiet in the car, with occasional soft probes from the bumpy road. The car was posh and I felt cold and dry from the cool air that faintly wheezed in the car. It was like the gush of coolness I feel from Baba Ahyino’s fridge when mother sends me to buy fish. And it was some time later that I got to know that, that cold gush that came from small compartments in the car was called AC- as Achiaa will say.
WHEN I FIRST LAID my eyes on Achiaa, she was too beautiful for me to describe, too fair like a borfo3. She looked at me with wide eyes. “Who is she, mummy?”
“Your new sister” Master Ike replied rather. “Why don’t you show her your room…?”
And she did show me her room, of course, and other intriguing things. It was Achiaa who showed me how to be a city girl, how to say Mommy and Daddy and how to eat with cutlery without touching my teeth with it. It was Achiaa who showed me how to sip tea at the table and never to belch out loud. Achiaa showed me how to sing Westlife songs and be a little American.
Whenever I woke up in the morning, I had to attend to the normal task of warming Master Ike’s bathing water, prepare tea and bread for the family as Master Ike tends to his little garden and his wife feeds their pet. They liked their things to be done in a particular way, for instance, arranging slices of bread or lettuce in bread carefully to make sandwich. Sometimes, they enjoyed their breakfast with orange juice, water melon or slices of pawpaw. While I found fried egg quite tasty and would not mind enjoying even two, they liked to share just an egg which has been fried by Mommy herself because she simply did not trust me with the oil. In fact, Master Ike’s wife did not trust me with a lot of things; salt, sugar even lettuce and she would always scold me when I forgot to shred the lettuce. “Adoma, so how many times must I tell you to shred the lettuce? This is not kontomire to be sliced!”
“Sorry mummy” I would say gracefully but I never really understood why. It only reminded me of the jagged ends a goat makes on cassava leaves after a neat nibble.
Achiaa liked to spend about thirty minutes in the bathroom singing amaalife by Westlife on top of her voice and I imagined her behind the closed doors pushing her hips left and right and throwing her hands about like a borfo3. This Achiaa, she thrilled me; walked around the house with perfumed airs, pecked her parents checks and rolled her eyes behind their back when she was being scolded. She never seemed to care about any of what her parents told her and did whatever she found pleasant to do. She was not particularly nice to me but she had days when she would sneak up into my room downstairs and tell me about all the boys who had touched her. One was called Joe whom per the softness of her voice, I realized she loved most. The other was Kingsley. “Oh I hate Kingsley, he stammers sonetimes and embarrasses me in front of my friends. Can you imagine?”
No, I could not imagine. I believed a boy must be assessed according to his intentions and visions rather than mere speech impairment. And when I blurted it out, she looked at me as if I was nothing but a child and needed a lot to learn myself before I made comments as such. Well Kingsley left to the States and his whole case did not matter anymore. As for me, I thought Kingsley was not bad at all.
It was Achiaa who told me about her kiss with Michael. “Do you even have an idea what that is, Adoma?”
I stopped the carrots I was chopping to make Spaghetti for diner and looked at her for a while then burst out laughing. Achiaa joined in the laughter and we laughed and laughed till tears sprung from our eyes. “I watch movies. Achiaa, I’m not that stupid”
She was amazed and maybe a little impressed.
But it was not long when she went to the university and started kissing another guy, one named Kelvin, then Chris, then Paul then a whole others that I lost count. Till at last it ended with Teye which made everything ran downhill. I never knew this Teye personally and Achiaa stopped talking to me about her boys, so when she started failing her exam and I was enquired about it, I could not give any proper answer. Mommy cried a lot and Master Ike spoke less of the matter. Only that, I noticed Mommy looked at me more fondly than before, touched my hands and smiled at me when I serve her morning tea. And one day when the our semester results came out and I had passed brilliantly, Master Ike excitedly said, “That’s my girl! You’re going to make one fine lawyer!”
That’s my girl!
Master Ike called me his girl and when I called home to give this news, father seemed pleased about it but mother exclaimed “He called you his girl? I hope he’s not touching you Adoma?”
I rolled my eyes to that and for the first time ever, I felt American. Feeling American was not the only transformation I could attest to. I noticed I took a lot of time to prim myself and realized I was getting more confident around my peers and I wanted Achiaa to also notice this change. I knew she would have been so proud of me.
Well she never noticed. All she cared about was her Teye.
The only time I asked if she was sure about Teye was when she was crying about a cheating issue.
She looked at me like I was even crazy to think that. “You have no idea who he is and you certainly have no idea what you’re talking about. Teye loves me”
“Right” I sighed. “Mommy wants to know when you’re coming home”
“I will see what I can do”
“That is what you always say…” I noticed a slight swelling near her chin which was turning purple against her perfectly fair skin. “…and what is that coloration near your chin?”
“Nothing” “Just tell them I will be home”
“And maybe you should know, Kingsley is back”
She rolled her eyes. “Ok”
Mommy and Daddy were lucky that day Adoma decided to come home. Apparently Kingsley was supposed to pull a surprise on her.
When Achiaa saw Kingsley she yelled at him. “Leave my house this instant! What are you doing here?”
“Achiaa, I love you and I want to marry you. Don’t do this to me, I beg you”
But Achiaa would not hear of it. She was agitated and kept yelling at him. Mummy and Daddy were ashamed. Later in the evening, Achiaa packed her things and left the house expressing her disappointment to her parents. Mummy and Daddy could not utter a word; they only looked on with silent concern.
THE YEAR THAT FOLLOWED after Adoma left the house, Kingsley continued to visit the family and I never knew I was the one who would eventually marry Kingsley. But this is how it finally happened.
One evening, Kingsley called home that he was coming for a visit again. Mummy and I took our time to prepare salad dressings with meatballs which was to be eaten with rice. It was getting quite late and the skies looked cloudy.
“Isn’t Kinglsey coming again?”
“I don’t know” Mummy responded. “Maybe you should call and ask him. I want to lie down for a while. I’m tired”
When I called him he said he was caught up in the rain because his car would not budge; the car was stuck in mud.
Without thinking I took an umbrella and ran to meet him forgetting to use the umbrella myself.
“Why are you so drenched when you have an umbrella?” Kingsley asked guiding me into the car. “ But why did you come?”
“I don’t know. I was just worried”
“Worried?” he asked surprised.
When we got home and served him his food, I sat there and waited on him to finish up. I do not know why I did that but when he touched my chin and urged me to look at him because I was giving too much attention to my fingers, I realized what it was.
I have heard about love and how it made people crazy. I was definately not acting crazy but this one made me sweat a lot. An unfamiliar ache settled on my chest and I could not breathe as well.
“Wo-ont you lo-ok at my face Adoma? Enh?” Kingsley stammered.
Then I knew he was nervous like I was. And then he kissed me.
Right after graduation. He took me to his house and asked me quietly “Adoma, please marry me”
I said yes.
When mother asked me if I loved him I replied I was not sure about it. He makes me feel warm and I like how he smells. She laughed and said “That is love oo Adoma”
NOW MANY YEARS THAT I have come to know my husband, I admit that he’s been nothing but kind to me. His caresses were gentle; always reminded me that I was thoroughly loved. It was not long until I carried his child and it was not long until the baby liquefied in me, crimson red, running along my legs and my screams were all that I could hear. Kingsley, my husband held me in his arms for days; he bathed me and tended to me till I was strong enough again. I never doubted him, never, only I always wondered whether it would have been different if I was Achiaa.
Few months later another sharp stabbing pain informed me that I was pregnant again and this time Kingsley asked me to be quiet about it especially to my mother. I wanted to tell him the only thing my mother was, was being too confident and ambitious and that is certainly not witchcraft. But I did not tell him that and someway somehow, the silence granted me a baby. That very same day Master Ike died. Mommy cried, a lot, not the American style that you dab your eyes with linen handkerchief after some trickle of tears as I expected. She cried and shook so much that her friends had to hold her back from doing something crazy.
I cried too but Achiaa did not. She hid her dry eyes behinds some shades sunglasses and pretended to be actually shedding tears. Mummy slapped her and when she looked like she was not sure of what she had done, simply because she never hits Achiaa, she slapped her again “All you father did was to make you happy Achiaa! You ungrateful child! Your father literally killed himself for you and you are here pretending tears”
Later when the will was read Achiaa laughed bitterly and gave me a look “You steal my man and steal my father’s love. Everything must be a joke!”
“No. this is not a joke” I voiced out in a monotone.
I was tired of the grudge she had against me ever since she came for the funeral. “A man must be assessed according to his intentions and visions”
“Remember, that day in the kitchen, I told you this. You never loved Kingsley, Achiaa. Don’t start now”
Achiaa looked at me alarmed by how I brazenly claimed Kinglsey. “You have no shame!” She yelled and started a whole rant I was not listening to. I was just looking at her cheeks and how the colour of her eyes was tinted red.
I grabbed her by the arm roughly. I was agitated when it dawned on me that Achiaa was suffering an abuse. “Does Teye beat you?”
“Let go of me!” surprise and fear shone in her eyes. I was more disgusted and angry. A whole Achiaa, a whole American girl Achiaa was afraid. “I said let go of me now! You have no right to make insinuations. Teye loves me!”
I did not know why I would not let go. I kept on holding her arm gradually being overpowered with anger, annoyance, and sadness. I began to cry “Achiaa he beats and you stay with him? Come home!”
She broke down in tears and crouched on the ground looking like a child. “I can’t leave him, I can’t, the pastor says he is my husband and I can’t leave him. If I leave him, I will die, he will kill me”
“Which pastor? Who will kill you?” I asked but the response I only got was more tears and gibberish non coherent words. She touched her head and pulled at her black scarf. It was obvious Achiaa was going insane so Kingsley and I drove her to the hospital.
The doctor said she was fine but I refused and asked for other test to be done. The results showed later of sexual intercourse. I concluded Achiaa had been raped so many times and suffered physical abuse. No one believed that especially when it was known that the two were actually in a relationship and in such case, real intercourse could not be deciphered from a rape.
Kingsley pleaded to take it easy and pay more attention to my child. I refused and filed a case showing dents on Adoma’s skin as a proof but anytime Teye was mentioned, she got nervous and would not even speak. “You need to talk Achiaa, I will not let anyone touch you”
“Are you sure? He said he’d kill me if I tell anyone about it and the pastor said Teye is my actual husband and no other relationship would work if I leave him”
“Well you will die in this relationship and nothing will happen to you if you talk because I am here and I will not allow anything to happen to you”
And she agreed to do so, so I argued the case in court and Teye pleaded guilty. He was a sakawa boy who took advantage of women spiritually and physically, overpowering their minds and keeping them against their own will. The shocking thing was, these women he kept would not run because they had been told if they even thought of it they would be killed. He took them to Pastors who gave the ladies concortions to drink while telling them that they are only tied to Teye spiritually.
When I informed Mommy about it she looked at me with tired eyes and said, “I have a husband to mourn, should I waste more tears on a child who has only caused us pain?”
But later in the evening Mommy came to visit Achiaa. They both hugged with tears streaming down their faces and possibly for Achiaa, the grief of her father’s death was now hitting her.
MY CHILD WAS A boy and therefore Kingsley agreed to call him after Master Ike. And after the Christening of our baby, Kingsley held me closer. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me and I am glad I chose you”
“Would it have been better if Achiaa said yes? Was I just a concession?”
He held my shoulders and looked at me with his most serious look. “You have never been a concession. I was wrong to think Achiaa would have been the best and somehow that never happened. You are the best deal that I made. Adoma, I admire you for all the strength you have gathered from the time you came here to now, becoming the pillar and the bind of an almost broken family. What I feel for you is more than love. I am filled with so much admiration for you Adoma”
I looked at his face and the subtle hair that lined his sharply defined jaw. “Our son has your face”
He chuckled quite pleased with that fact. “Nonetheless” he wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer. “I bet he will have his mum’s noble character”
“I love you, Kingsley” I always have. I quietly added in my head. From the time I saw you at school to the time you grovelled at another woman’s feet to be accepted, I always have.
He cradled my face and pecked on my lips urging my lips apart and taking exactly what he deserved. In the sweet moist corners of his mouth, I also sought for mine.
Akpeteshi– Locally brewed alcoholic drink
Ka- Means ‘small’ in the Sefwi language
Gari– A coarse granular flour made from cassava
Ampe – A Ghanaian sport or game for girls which involves jumping, clapping and basically counting for points scored.
Borfo3- A white man in the Sefwi language
Kontomire– Local Akan name for cocoyam leaves that can be eaten.
Paano– A local name for bread.