The afternoon sun beat the back of our necks; by this time mama was frustrated and hurled angry words at the ever slow to react chameleon Gladys. I chose to call Gladys a chameleon because of her slowness in everything. Chameleons always look around and take calculated slow rythmic steps as if unsure of the very ground they tred on. I wondered if Gladys herself even knew what a chameleon is. Gladys was the kind of girl I felt a mixture of pity and slight admiration for. At the age of thirty five or so, she had four children; two from one and the other two with different men each. I wondered every time I saw her being slow how exactly such a slow person could engage fervently in acts that ended in procreation.
Who even told me acts of procreation had to be fast? I wondered if she was forced or partook of these experiences willingly; or if they were consensual. How did she not know to protect herself against four unwanted pregnancies? How could one person make such a mistake four solid times?! What exactly was she told each time she set out on the same path and how did she not realise all the paths led in one direction? At the same time, another half of me felt like I needed to admire such a courageous woman who though impoverished, courageously had each of her four children and never for once thought of an abortion. She worked as hard as her slow body and attitude could let her and earned an honest living from mama out of which she sent these four children to school, fed and clothed them and ocassionally paid for their medical bills. Mama had had enough of Gladys, I could tell from the looks of disdain, the ice in her voice and the way she related to Gladys. To say mama was satisfied was a lie and on several occasions, she settled on sending Gladys home only to rescind her decision. Mama was a demanding hardworking perfectionist who would’ve sent types like Gladys home long ago if it weren’t for her four children. ”Maame!” I was jolted back to reality by the sudden and urgent mention of my name.
”Maame!” the call came a second time and I was forced to abandon my midday musings in direction of the voice that called, ”Yes!” I answered back with the same urgency as I stumbled to the front of the shop. Mama’s shop sat on a piece of land, comfortably and competively perched between a line of shops whose owners came by in the day to sell off their products admist general banter, constant comparision, conversations about life, the economy and gossip. Mama was in luck because unlike the other vendors, she was a vendor of food, the kind of eatery that could neither be classified as a restaurant nor a basic table top food business and was therefore classified as a bar for eating, or in a local sense, chop bar. I hurried to the front to find a dignified looking man, bespectacled, light skinned and tall. The type that could dress/speak or act as modestly as possible but still looked affluent or content due to unexplainable reasons, it sure had to be one or the other. I mean, one couldn’t go wrong with associating a lighter complexion with affluence, dignity and all that is beautiful. It was what we were unconsciously brought up to believe. So much for negritude and all the abstract ideologies Senghor and his friends pushed. Everywhere in Ghana, men made not too serious but serious comments about how a light skinned woman was an asset because one could make her out even in the dark due to her radiant skin tone. This led to the common metaphor that came about as a result of the repetition of these lines. Light skinned women were now referred to as ‘’Akosombo Kanai’’the reference that stemmed from the comparison between light skinned women and Ghana’s source of electricity; the Akosombo dam. What was it really about being light skinned? Right from slave farms where lighter skin was favored and given easier work or kept in the house for the master’s special use to contemporary instagram posts that projected a sense of pride for having light skin with the hashtag #TeamLightSkin, it was clear that Ghanaians still associate a lighter complexion with affluence, class and all that is good. And now, this Akosombo kania of a man! I chuckled slightly at this thought because he was not only Akosombo Kania, he was mulato, a term that Ghanaians crudely reduced to ‘half caste’. Half caste people while not necessarily favored in the West due to the question of their true racial identity were ironically favored and well looked upon in the Ghanaian society. As a half caste child, l was seen as one that was priviledged and special. The high school I went to growing up gave half caste girls the special privilegde of not cutting their hair short though all other students had to cut theirs short. A drop of white blood gave us the privilege pure black students did not have. In retrospect, that made no sense yet at the time it seemed like the perfect thing to do. Why was purely african hair fit to be cut while half caste hair wasn’t? That was a debate for another day.
‘’Maame meet Tucker’’ mama’s firm voice broke into my thoughts,…okay, hi…my voice trailed off, confused as to what title exactly to give this lightskinned man..was I to call him uncle Tucker or Mr. Tucker?..I thought for a second and decided to simply call him by the name with which he was introduced..of course, that was his name wasn’t it? There was no need to exaggerate respect by adding a title to a name that already sounded gallant. I always wondered anyway, why titles mattered so much, and why the overdone cloaks of reverence were cast on people due to status or priviledge…as if titles could lenghthen one’s life or provide food..These titles were many; from ‘’bossu’’ an adulterated from of ‘’boss’’ for a grown man who seemed to be in a better financial situation than the giver of the title to ‘’senior’’ also used for the same purpose. Ghanaians are just an interesting group of people who like their Nigerian cousins understood and knew how to adorn people with accolades and titles..mostly to their advantage There is also the bit about respect which makes Nigerians and Ghanaians use titles incessantly.