Factory Girls

4am. I am beyond late.

The idealistic part of me hated the job but the realistic part urged me and told me to go gather life experience and sauce for my writings. I’d read Emile Zola and how the repetitive imagery of darkness fills Germinal. A white horse trapped in the bowels of the mine remained untainted and my classmates and I took turns pontificating about why a horse could remain a solid pure white in a dark and dirty mine…Happens the horse symbolized hope. Hope of the common man’s resurgence after the ruling classes’ exploitation of them and blah blah

This morning though, darkness didn’t dominate my surroundings. The area was fairly lit and I stood in a sea of people, mostly women who were here to make croissants, brownies, cinnamon rolls and whatever else for the president. The task was simple. Perform the work of a human-robot picking and stacking containers with as much of what was rolling out on the carousel. And in an orderly fashion. These human robots had been at this task for years and their dexterity and pace was unmatched. How long? Twenty, thirty years? They were very protective of their work and reflected a collective sense of pride and confidence at being this excellent at their task. The task of stacking plastic boxes with cinnamon rolls for thirty years?! I shat on their ‘achievement’. I was not in awe of excellence at a career in stacking. The simplicity of the task rather exhausted me and I zoned off deep into my thoughts for life.

It was the era of the Octopus. He lay on the White House and puppeteered everything with his great long tentacles. I suppose he ate croissants too. Or did the Octopus eat croissants? Cos if he did like other normal people, he wouldn’t stir such trouble…then again, the idea of trouble is subjective so…. He probably ate croissants, that or at least some of the baked goods that this Bread company got its profits from. I wondered if the women would all pass E-verify checks. It was that or no work. You’d return home if you went hungry. Then again it was strikingly clear that this place was full of the Wall people. The people who were supposed to stay behind the Wall once it was built. They made no attempt at speaking some English and were very unapologetic about talking trash about other people just because they thought they had some kind of code language. I looked sideways at them. Another group of people here was the Dark people. The Wall people dominated though. Some of the Dark people had very dark lips, a slur and frankly needed the paycheck for the next pair of trendy sports shoes. What a life.

My guess was that the factory made more than five thousand pieces of baked goods each day. The ones that didn’t get sent off were frozen to be sent off later. A lot of the Wall people had a gold tooth or two. Was it a trademark like the Indians and Senegalese and their elaborate rings? Outside of this, I also noticed that some of the Wall people had backs that were tense and curved with years of repetitive work that no one wanted. I decided on day two that whatever this was wasn’t for me and with renewed thinking, I learned not to look down on the Factory Girls’ hustle.

They were right after all to be this protective of their work because no one else except they could do it this well.

The Octopus could have their work if he wanted to. After all, he had eight tentacles and near perfect business acumen.

Make America great again.

Letters to a YOUNG NOVELIST I Mario Vargas LLosa

Capture d_écran 2017-08-23 à 1.49.49 PMNote from the blurb ;- “he (the writer) lays bare the inner workings of fiction, all the while urging young novelists not to lose touch with the elemental urge to create.”

One of the truest reasons for my huge attraction to fiction is my recognition of the existence of inspiration all around us. There are stories all around! The story of your neighbor, your own life, the events that unfolded between you and the random man or woman you met! Or the dramatic break up of your friend who never listened to your words of wisdom on that waste relationship. Seriously, there are countless reasons to create! Having this in mind, I was happy to read about not losing the urge to create in the blurb of this book and discover a narration of how to grow the spark for writing.

The book is a collection of short stories, each crafted with a specific message to be delivered. I smiled as I read the parts of the book that addressed my fears/secret wishes and maybe uncertainties. How revealing it all felt! Without even going over my head with excitement and a stark fascination at how piercing its truths were, I had to remind myself that of course, this was more or less a manual of some sort created with aspiring writers in mind. One of these truths that pummeled through me addressed the aim of being a best-selling writer. Was my aim selfish or legitimate?

“I venture to suggest that you not expect quite so much and that you not count too much on success. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be successful, of course, but if you persevere in writing and publishing, you’ll soon discover that prizes, public acclaim, book sales, the social standing of a writer all have a sui generis appeal;  they are extraordinarily arbitrary, sometimes stubbornly evading those who most deserve them while besieging and overwhelming those who merit them least. Which means that those who see success as their main goal will probably never realize their dreams; they are confusing literary ambition with a hunger for glory and for the financial gains that literature affords certain writers (very few of them ). There is a difference.” 

This right here is an answer to the thought that has long gnawed at me. I wondered constantly how best selling authors ‘did it’. Was there a special formula to becoming a best seller? Did it have anything to do with how the material was sold or marketed? Did it have anything to do with the title of the book in question? Who decided if a story was worth the hype or not? Did the story have to be overly intellectual and loaded with lofty allusions or was I going to be fine writing about mundane things? How about the countless writers already on the scene? How do I ’emerge’ from the lot? I actually told a boy manfriend about my dreams of being a writer and he replied asking me if I knew the number of books that had already been published and if I really thought I could stand out? Did this remark ruffle my feathers? I kept my composure on the outside but on the inside, I crumbled and hated him immediately.  However, this quotation just allayed the ‘fears’ I had created for myself. Reading this quotation though, I found the answer! Consistency and a focus on the desire to create versus a fixation on the thought of success whether in the shape of fame or monetary were not the more important question. What mattered was wanting to write and keeping at it regardless of all the odds.

And how do you know you are cut out for writing? Here you go; “deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of life,..” 

But of course, I more than agree that writing is “a mysterious business, of course, veiled in doubt and subjectivity” DOUBT! Doubt and subjectivity! How many times have I done and undone lines because I felt I didn’t sound smart enough?

How does it all start? “a man or a woman develops precociously in childhood or early in his or her teenage years a penchant for dreaming up people, situations, anecdotes, worlds different from the world in which he or she lives, and that inclination is the first sign of what may later be termed literary vocation”. These lines explained the constant pang in me to write. I do have a penchant for dreaming up people and situations. Whenever I meet a person, I try to get to know them as much as possible and listen to all of their stories. I also allow different perspectives to air and will only cut in if I feel what I am hearing is absolute nonsense I can not deal! Yet even with all of that, there really is a drop of truth in some kinds of trash talk. So I still listen just to be able to bring all these together in a rich melange for stories.

But why do I like literature though? Answer – Because my age old mantra has reminded me that literature mirrors life and that it is a way through which life’s events can be reflected.  Yet for some reason, an interesting truth about fiction that I know I knew subconsciously but never happened to consider forthrightly was the fact that we write to alter reality! We do! Well I do! ; ‘The secret raison d’etre of literature / what they (writers) were (are) obliged to fabricate because they weren’t (aren’t) able to live it in reality and, as a result, resigned themselves to live it only in the indirect and subjective way it could be lived: in dreams and in fiction. Fiction is a lie covering up a deep truth: it is life as it wasn’t, life as the men and women of a certain age wanted to live it and didn’t and thus had to invent.

Bam!

Childhood

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? – Langston Hughes

Years have a way of adding to the meaning of things.

One day you just wake up and you’re like “snap!, this is what this woman meant when she kept repeating this saying…”

Yeah so we sit in tiny school rooms and recite in oblivion, after all a letter grade is all we really need isn’t it?

And then there’s that part of the story where we fold little pieces of paper and throw them at our friends trying to get their attention. We grew too smart to allow carelessness to allow us get discovered.

-“psssst…look how big his butt is, why did he not chose pants that were a little less tight?!”

It was absolutely annoying to utter a string of words in all excitement and honesty only for your friend to stare blankly at you and say huh?

-“huh”?!

-“Oh boy”!

-“Are you telling me you DID NOT HEAR ALL I SAID”?!

-“Noooooooooo”….

-“Sigh”

-“Then write it on a piece of paper”.

-“Noooooooooo if it gets intercepted, we’ll be in big trouble”.

-“Oh well then wait till after class”

-“Sigh. The info will lose it’s relevance by then”

-“Tant pis”

-Mtchew.

“So what were you saying?” My friend now has the time to come back and ask useless questions. I give in anyway, just for the sake of conversation and a giggle or two. One of the things a teenage girl does is gossip. “So his pants were too tight and there was that bulge and he sat on my table and I had that mathematical instrument in between my fingers all the while! I really just wanted to pierce the skin beneath his zipper with it just to see what he would do”!

“Hehe”.

 

Let’s Make Palm Soup Tomorrow

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.

What To Do With Your Accent

So I get asked why my people and I say “docta” (doctor) when the word is “doctor” hence the need to say it as doct-OR with an emphasis on the ‘OR’ since the two letter word is pronounced ‘OR’ and not ‘er’ and I go crazy trying to break the heads of these Nigerians the same way I get irritated when they question me about why I say ‘pasta’ and ‘pastor’ the same way.

So in West Africa there’s that constant disagreement between Anglophone countries, mostly Ghana and Nigeria over who better speaks a language we do not co-own but inherited as part of a colonial gift package. This isn’t a history lesson though, so I’ll go on and share the fact that I was also quite pleasantly surprised to hear my professor say that French people do not regard the French she speaks as the original version since she is Belgian, and the fact that growing up she sensed a lack of national pride with regards to French spoken in Belgium since France mocked them and regarded their French as not standard. I also remember sitting in a Francophone culture class and watching a snippet of a show with a Canadian couple whose French pronunciations our teacher asked us to analyze. For what I thought.  At the time it was to help us understand that different cultures possess the French language and have an entirely different approach to it; in terms of pronunciation, lexicons and expressions, etc. Beneath this exposure though,  I felt a hint of mockery but that wasn’t apparent enough so there was no need to explore it. Back to my professor, I would learn that her parents moved around quite a lot and so she had the opportunity of studying in the US, France and Northern Africa all leading to a career that exposed her to the French Caribbean and its own intricate linguistic culture. She would say words a certain way and her mother would be quick to say no do not pronounce it the Belgian way; say it the Parisian way; better still let’s enroll you in a school that would perfect your diction and pronunciation, and help you speak the standard French and so they did.

Moving back to Francophone Africa, it still surprises me how Ivorians, Senegalese or Congolese feel their spoken French is the best. Similar to the raging war between Ghana – Nigerian English. Interestingly enough, Ivorians have this overwhelming sense of superiority (I’ve known too many of them not to be able to safely generalize) and actually make fun of Beninese and Togolese accents. Learning French however, I hung around quite a number of Francophone Africans, mostly West African. I got used to some expressions that did not necessarily apply to other cultures, I also overtime developed an accent other French speakers claim they are unable to place with a specific place. I don’t know if that helped, but as an anglophone, I feel my dream of acquiring Parisian standard French was flawed. In retrospect it was flawed because no matter how I speak or how anyone else speaks for that matter, the key thing is the ability to be all rounded enough to understand when an African, Canadian, Island dweller (Caribbean) or European spoke to me in French. My goal as a French speaker is to understand and be understood and not have a bias against different accents. A year of surviving the swift Parisian and Rennais accents taught me above all things to tune my ears to be able to pick up what was being said to me since these were not as slow or  as stressed as African delivered French.

Talking and listening to American professors who have studied French language and have managed to perfect their French despite an overwhelming urge to gloss over words with American linguistic trade marks such as the infamous ‘R’ sound; the very sound that the French also emphasize especially with the throat and not the lips, I feel I’ve come a long way. Even in the same country, people based on their origins, native language and many other factors, would always have accents.

Accents are a huge issue. My professor argued that if people sought to have neutral accents, things would be better. I’m still thinking about how possible that is.  Accents are still a huge deal though, huge enough to make a person lose their self esteem and huger enough to leave impressions and conclusions and even stereotypes about the person before they have hardly finished their sentence. However, through all of this, I think the most important question is the ability to understand what the other person is saying. Understanding accents, cutting through this layer of haze (if you like) is the most important thing, so i’ll conclude by saying seek to understand, that’s the bigger thing at stake, not necessarily  the battle of accents much like the overrated Ghana and Nigerian Jollof.

What to do with a lying Tongue

She’d spoken about him for weeks and frankly all the other girl wanted to do was to meet him. Let’s see who he is already! She thought about high school where girls would go on for days on end about boys they had crushes on and how they couldn’t wait to have them come up the hill to see them for nothing more than a conversation, a hand squeeze and maybe a hug or two all under the eagle eyes of teachers who thought no better of these girls. Why did these adults think so lowly of the girls anyway? Had they themselves been this unworthy of trust when they were growing up? Or it just had to do with this generation and how untamable they were? Back to the subject of the boy, yeah she really was curious to see him. Not that she was that thirsty or ‘boyco’ (boy conscious), it was just that when you kept hearing a name, all you wanted to do next after a while would naturally be to put a face to the name…….and well also to decide if the face matches your expectations…there, I said it ! Evil grin..

So she met him; AND when she did, she was with Ewurama who decided to pull her along. They had just stumbled out of Rahama, the best Ghanaian food place literally in all of Virginia where she’d bought a pack of spicy jollof with fried plantains for herself and a pack of boiling green soup and Tuo Zaafi for the glutton she called a sister. Now to the man’s place. They get there, get dilly dallied by concierge and then finally up to the apartment he called a home. Door’s open, someone is home, music playing, lights low, we look round, no one…so where is he though?!…Oh he’s in the bathroom…well okay, either way, today be today.

She takes in the space, it looks clean and kept. A single bookcase sits up against a wall in between two impressive windows that rise from the floor to the ceiling. The windows give an impression of actually being on a roof top with no barriers because the view below is both intimidating and beautiful. His apartment overlooks a busy mall and is very well situated meaning he probably pays a lot for this space. She goes through the books to get a sense of who this person is and quickly finds that these are books she loves. Well the fact that he has a bookcase full of books you like doesn’t mean anything. So relax.

Her sister and Mr. Steele seem quite fond of each other. Mr. Steele does his part of playing the role of a perfect gentleman. He seems well put together, appearance wise albeit not that drop dead gorgeous. He takes both ladies out for dinner and the evening ends with good conversation and the perfect feeling of time well spent with good company. All this awesomeness which is perfect but does not quite become that perfect since its not a fairy tale. Fast forward into the future, Mr. Steele tries to stir up trouble between sisters. All he has to do is tell Ewurama something mean about her sister, something mundane like oh your sister is jealous of you. Really? So  be careful…….People still say backward stuff like this in this century? Ewurama decides to reveal these details weeks and weeks later after Mr. Steele says this to her. Sister in turn decides to tell Ewurama about how Mr. Steele tried to touch her inappropriately. Shall we confront Mr. Steele? Ewurama wants to do that immediately yet sister feels rather amused by the shallow turn of events. Me jealous?! Wow that’s a first. Yet questions still hang…

Why would he even say that and why would she also be amused by the ‘shallow turn of events?’

 

Papa Doc and the New BMW

We hadn’t seen papa doc in a long  while. Calls to his cell phone relayed the same old rehearsed voice message. He had accused us  of being users who called on him only when we needed rides. On those days, papa doc would listen quietly and depending on his mood, would give a brief harangue about our abrupt calls and the fact that he isn’t a taxi driver that we could have as and when we decided. We would swallow our pride and listen as he ranted with the hope that after the brief nkwasiasem, he would finally show up, and then after we hung up, we would wait hours and hours on end for his arrival.

‘Yes I will be there at 4pm’….

Papa doc would show up at 5 or even 6 amidst a flow of ‘je suis desolés’. On other days, he would appear defensive because after all, the car was his and he was the one giving us a ride. On other days also, he would arrive on time, drive us to our destination amidst love and conversation and general banter only for us to get there and for him to snap at us and create a scene about how slow we were being. ‘Hurry up!’ He would spit, ‘Hurry, I don’t have all the time in the world, dépêchéz-vous,les filles!’. Ei, so was this how life was?! A common ride could warrant this much disrespect?!. We thought we were women, who needed to be addressed as such, but really, where did ‘les filles’ come from?! Had we missed anything? Had he morphed into our dad ?! And did the change suddenly grant him the chance to call us girls?! We had had it and so we decided to buy a car too. It was that simple.We loved papa doc, but, love just wasn’t enough especially when you mostly got nonsense in response to help you wanted. We could no longer swallow the spittle and the words he threw in our faces. Papa doc himself had taught us a Senegalese word, ‘deng’ and this word was supposed to be used in reference to a punk. We concluded quickly that the teacher of the word deserved the word the most. He was indeed deng and no one could wrestle that title from him.

So on one bright day, well it wasn’t exactly bright, but then our good fortune made it bright enough  we decided on a car. We bought the Silver Ford and paid cash for it. It was such a delightful day and the birds seemed to chirp even louder. Progress! Ah such sweet relief! We could go anywhere, any day, anytime and all it took was consistent dexterity of American roads and a slight press of the accelerator. Victory, independence and dignity smiled at us and we in turn, hugged them back. No one could tell us anything! We were women of our own and we could do whatever we wanted…yeah thanks Queen B!  we had that hop to our steps and our Friday trips uptown increased. The only intimidating part was THE POLICE..they were bad news from hell and in the era of #blacklivesmatter -ing, we weren’t trying to get stopped, arrested or worse,- killed! So we had fun, but we were cautious, vigilant and responsible about it.

Had we told papa doc about our new baby? No. Had he noticed we had dogged him? Yes!

(..Dog, – a Ghanaian slang that means ignoring someone especially when you no longer have a need for them).

He sure had noticed that we’d dogged him and everyone knew about it thanks to his leaky mouth.  Since information had legs, this piece of juicy information about papa doc calling us users and slave drivers came knocking at our door days after he had said it. We went ballistic because guess what, we had called him endlessly to break the good news to him only for him to leave our calls unanswered and unreturned as always. This guy! We called him once again, and guess what? No answer. Days later on a calm Friday afternoon, we caught him in our parking lot! We literally had a huge free space for parking which meant that our friend had come all the way from his hinterland apartment to park right in front of our house without so much as passing by to say hello. And you say papa doc isn’t deng?! We pounced on him and nearly tore him to pieces. He had on a navy blue kaftan that looked starched and well pressed with complimentary slippers and that Taqiyah cap that he hardly washed. He looked dignified enough so we couldn’t rough him up but then for some reason, the stream of ‘je suis desoles’ came out and we forgave him and showed him our latest toy.

A week later, we saw a photo uploaded on Facebook by a worn out papa doc who was perched on a bicycle. The caption beneath the photo read;  ‘me and my new bmw’. The caption was both humorous and overly comprehensible;  Papa doc’s smooth Volkswagen had developed a fault and he was going to be carless for weeks to come. (Evil grin)…

Who were the bosses now?! 🙂

PS.Do not gloat on the misfortunes of your enemy friend

*       *        *

“The part of the towel you clean your bum with today could be the part you wipe your face with tomorrow; be nice” – anonymous

 

Papa doc II

Papa doc was Congolese, ebony skinned, bespectacled and immensely dramatic. We just loved him for his occasional constant awkwardness and pure heart. The thing about papa doc is that he has ultimately good intentions. Good intentions that make him want to genuinely extend a hand to friends in need but somehow, lack of planning, a lack of an awareness and respect for time, his overwhelmed life among a host of other unknown factors prevents him from being the truly helpful and optimal version of himself. There seemed to be a constant battle between his ideal and real self.

So on one pleasant Saturday, I entrust my precious plans into the loving plans of papa doc and what happens? He disappoints as expected. I once heard someone say that  expectations breed disappointment. I gave the saying a thought and decided I was no longer upset being that I was also to blame to an extent for not measuring my expectations.

Later that day, he offered to make up by taking me and my friend out to the Chinese restaurant that reminded us of home. Since an invitation to eat together did not directly translate into eating freely, we clutched our purses tightly and sped off in the direction of food with empty bellies and salivating mouths. We imagined the particularly fresh, seasoned and crisp taste of the chicken the restaurant was known for. Contrary to the usually grumpy and burdened waiter who often served us and acted like he was rather paying us for eating at the restaurant, we were met by a rather pleasant waitress who was clad in a neatly pressed uniform. She came up to us and after several negotiations of meaning, including modified Franco-Anglo and Sinophone accents twisted and beaten up in a melodramatic scene, our order was finally taken and our meal on its way. We ate and had a good conversation and expected to go the Dutch way after lunch.

‘Bill together or separate?’

‘Separate!’ My friend and I chanted!

In a bit, the crisp sheet that would spell the monetary value of our eating came in. We walked up to the cashier and swiped away. Papa doc remained motionless. Monsieur, its time to pay, let’s go man, aren’t you ready?!

Moments later, we arrive home amidst laughter and tears. Papa doc knew he had no money in his pocket, yet, he invited us to wine and dine. We ended up paying for him; in addition to good company and conversation and free gossip. In effect, he did nothing at all in the sense of making up for the earlier inconvenience. All this was too funny…but once again, he was our very own papa doc, so AGAIN, we will let it slide.

The Door

The house held its breath, the inhalation and exhalation ceased like a noisy TV set that had been muted abruptly. Abrupt, yes that’s the word ; and it hung in the air for what seemed like forever as I actually came to understand and fully appreciate its meaning.

Abrupt : definition-Sudden and Unexpected.

I was distraught and  visibly shaken. My friends had teased in the past about how I sounded like I was laughing whenever I cried ; how I wish this wail would actually transform into a cackle now.

He was gone. They returned from the hospital with the remnants of what he possessed; a cell phone, a book bag, a note pad with illegible writing which he kept as a contact book and other things I was too broken to take note of.

‘What happened?’ I asked in between sobs, ‘what happened to him?’ I asked again.

‘He fell’. ‘He fell’ was the inadequate response that returned my question.

The cell phone begun to ring and for a minute after the ring subsided, we all sat in silence leaving the phone to lie  lifeless as if hoping against hope that somehow its owner would suddenly appear and ask us to hand him his phone.

The Door II

Ghana is a vast country with more than a dozen ethnic groups which in turn have their unique idiosyncrasies and conventions. I am Fante, the year is 2014 and though I believe myself a true daughter of the land, I just found out that ours is a group that has an unwavering respect for the dead. Respect that is palpable enough to make questioning minds  uncomfortable and hence my predicament.

‘The door must be locked for a year’

‘What?!’, ‘Why?!’

‘That’s how it’s done. This is out of respect, it is only after a year that the door can be opened and mainly by an elderly person’

‘I see’. Was the curt answer that escaped my lips.

The door was subsequently locked and day in day out the mystery of the locked door occupied and assailed my thoughts. How could I avoid it when the door stared back at me no matter which entry or exit point I took in the house? By some twisted fate, it seemed as if the door had also begun to purposefully amplify my fears by looking darker and more imposing than ever.

On some days, I wondered if the occupant of the room came by to sleep in. This silly and unexplainable fear of what lay beyond the door was in part influenced by the help who claimed to have heard a distinct shuffling of feet; the same way my grandad used to walk. I dismissed her claims as ludicrous and still went on observing the door; more curious than ever; checking for tell tale signs of any life , activity or occupancy.

Over time, my relationship with the door moved from a mixture of curiosity and stale fear to resignation. A kind of resignation that made one throw their hands in the air and accept their unchangeable fate.

Whatever I did, the door was here to stay.

I couldn’t dismiss the fear and curiosity that gnawed at me. What was I even afraid of in the very first place?! A fear of ghosts? Ha! Who said they even existed? Or Had I read and watched and read too much Harry Potter to the extent that the dementors in the hooded masks seemed real?

I was a mess, I yearned to know yet was unable to ascertain my willingness to face whatever it was if it decided to face me.