Day 6: Shorn by Olufunke Ogundimu


My mother scraped my hair off, when I was 13 months old. She told me my tightly curled baby hair was full save the bald crescent at the back of my head. She cut my hair to rid me of my blood hair; my birth hair. My hair grew back, thicker and fuller. My childhood was filled with weekly sojourns to the shops of hair weavers – shuku, ipako elede, koroba, patewo, kolese hair styles graced my head. My hair was weaved, combed, twisted, pulled and wrenched out from its roots but it stubbornly grew. It reached out for my chin and tickled my back.
When I was 11 years I cut my hair. My secondary school, Girls College, required that it be cut short. For the first time in over a decade, I felt the wind tickle my scalp. I would linger in the bathroom enjoying cold water trickle from my scalp to my toes. My hair grew half an inch longer each month, so I cut it every three months for the next six years. Secondary school was a blur; those six years ran by me. I try to remember all the days of those years. I cannot. But I remember the haircuts days. Girls’ college’s gates released me in 1989. I allowed my hair to grow again. I twisted, pulled and wrenched my hair again but willfully this time. I let it grow for six months then I poured it in to another mold.
I tortured it; I poured hydroxide on it.
It grew long and silky but I had to add hydroxide to it every two months. Not long after it tickled my back again. I spoilt my hair with aloe-vera gel, coconut oil and Shea butter. It shone like a mirror reflecting the in the midday sun. I stopped twisting, pulling and wrenching it. I let it grow and so it grew and grew.
Until my father’s sister had to cut my hair again. She scrapped it off with a new razor blade until my scalp tingled and bled in some spots. I promised myself I would never cut my hair again. I would never let a razor blade, a pair of scissors or clipper touch my hair again. I thought I had succeeded in burying that hair cut in my past.
Today, I remembered that haircut because I cut my hair. I cut off four inches of straightened African hair. Yesterday, my black silky hair was fourteen inches long. When I asked my hairdresser to cut my hair, she was so stunned her drawn eye brows disappeared into her receding hairline.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked.
I have never allowed her to trim it, let alone cut it. ‘Yes, I want it shoulder length, please.’ I mumbled.
‘Scissors!’ she snapped at an apprentice and pushed me into a chair before I could change my mind.
She combed out my hair and snipped. She cut deep into my heart. Goose bumps appeared on my forearms. And I began to cry. Not the loud, noisy tears. They were quiet and unseen. They rolled down my heart and clogged my lungs.  The salon’s cracked linoleum floor was soon covered with my hair.
She kept cutting.
I remembered our tears, I remembered our fears, and I remembered that haircut that I had buried in my past… My mother sat on a stool outside my father’s family compound in the village, her shoulders bent under her grief. She did not see the mosquitoes dancing around her head or feel the sand flies biting her. Big painful tears fell from mother’s eyes. They fell on the packed laterite mixing with her cut hair. The keening of our women folk wrapped her in anguish. She sat weeping beside the empty grave of my father, keeping a vigil as required by our customs.
‘Are you cold?’ my hairdresser asked, ‘You are shaking.’
I shifted in my chair. My brain struggled to lock those painful memories back in my past. I couldn’t sit still as my heart bled and my body jerked with the pain.
‘I’m fine.’
But I couldn’t stop shivering. A dam had been breached. Memories swirled around in my head. I tried to keep them locked in.
 She cut my hair.
 On the floor that day was hair from all of my father’s female relatives; my mother’s, my father sister, her daughters and my sister’s and my hair. Grey fluffy hair, jerry curled hair, purple tinted hair, relaxed hair and tightly curled virgin hair. As my father’s first daughter, it was my duty to sweep up our hair. I poured the libation of our collective grief into his grave.
‘Do you like the hairstyle,’ my hairdresser asked me. I jerked out of my past.
I peered into the mirrors lining the walls of the salon. The mirrors reflected my hairdresser expectant face and the fear in my eyes. My hair grazed my chin. I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes, shoving that hair cut back into the past. I took in a deep breath. My shorn locks are still rooted in my head and heart. It will grow again. It will reach out for my chin and tickle my back again.
‘I love the haircut,’ I said.

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Day 5: Gyedi


I came to Master Balding’s house 2 moons before Ottobah. Mistress Murray sent me away to be sold after she found out her husband, the master of the house, was saving himself from her for two weeks to lay with me for his 45th birthday, as a treat for himself.

I knew she was going to have me sold even before she had me flogged. I could tell from the glint in her eyes. She had me flogged naked at the edge of the plantation, in front of the other slaves before selling me off. I could barely walk after the beating, and she asked Ol’ Farrow to hurry me off to the market before Master arrived from his travels. She told him he could sell me for 2 shillings or less.

Mistress Murray was a handsome woman, with bushy eyebrows, a beautiful nose and a sturdy chin. The creator had painted her chin with a few stubbly hairs that she did not need. I always wondered why she never shaved them off, but Matilda whispered once that they sprouted back faster when shaved.

I lifted my weak arm to my face, looked the mistress in the eye and pretended to pluck hair off my chin – hair I didn’t have, just to spite her. She slapped me hard across my face and spat in my face. My ears rang too hard to reason. The possessed mistress was determined to pull out my hair. It was Ol’ Farrow who reminded her I had to be sold in good condition.

So being sold to Master Balding was a blessing. He was a perfect gentleman who didn’t have brutish baseness and barbarity attached to his name. But let’s not talk about me, Sara Murray. Let’s talk about Ottobah.

 Ottobah came to the master’s house two moons after I had been there. Tom the butler said he recognized him from when he was a wee lad in his land before the whites came for him. He said Ottobah was the son of the King of Agimaque, a city on the coast of Fantyn. And his brother (Tom) was the King’s food taster. Tom was shocked to see Ottobah in chains. The white men never dared take royalty as slaves.

Our paths did not cross until months later. Ottobah had become a personal aide to the master and his English was better than mine. He could even read a little, he said.

He was a nice lad who smiled all the time. He told me about how he was captured from the woods a little far off from his uncle’s habitation along with his cousins when he went on a visit, and how they were chained together with several other boys. He said they were handcuffed and conducted by a guard to the castle, and when he asked what they were brought there for, he was told they were there to learn the ways of the browfow i.e. the white faced people. Ottobah did not cry when they were sent off to a prison for three days, but when a vessel arrived to conduct them away to the ship, he cried bitterly. The rattling of chains, smacking of whips and the groans and cries of the men brought him to the painful realization that he was being taken away from his homeland.  He planned to escape through death with the other countrymen, for death seemed like a more preferable option than this caged life.

They planned to burn and blow up the ship and perish altogether in the flames, but that plan never worked out. The men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, but Mansa’s daughter, who slept with some of the head men of the ship, thought by betraying her countrymen; she could be spared from slavery.

He spoke of his pain. He spoke of his past. He spoke of his motherland and hope to see it again with such passion. He spoke, and he found solace in my bosom. He spun whole worlds for me between his fingers. He taught me how to love this black skin of mine despite what the browfows had done to us. He taught me to see all the pain and chaos as a beautiful motif for hope. He was mine and mine alone. There was an unruly servant in me that became submissive at his touch. We were wrapped around each other like a skin rash, and he disentangled himself from me long enough to tell me the life we were growing in my womb, was going to be called Gyedi.

Gyedi. Hope.

Hope for the future

Day 4: Grandfather’s story by Nyameye Dwomo-Anokye


“Papa, tell us a story.”

Grandfather looked up from the book he was reading. My sister and I stood in front of him, flashing what we hoped were our most winning smiles. I was eight and Ama was six, and we were bored out of our minds.

Grandfather looked at us for a long time, and then he nodded. “Fine, children. I shall tell you a story.”

Yaay!” Ama said, sitting down by Grandfather’s feet and looking up into his face. I sat down on the floor too, a little distance away from Ama.

“Will you tell us about Ananse and his family?” I asked.

“No,” said Grandfather.

“What about King Arthur?”

“No. I will tell you a new story, children. I will tell you a story that my grandmother told me, and her grandmother told her, and which one day you will tell your grandchildren in turn. I will tell you the story of the river that fell in love.”

“Don’t be silly, Papa,” Ama said. “Rivers can’t fall in love.”

In any other house she probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble for those first three words, but Grandfather simply smiled and said, “This one did.”

“How is that possible?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

“Was it a big river?”

“Yes, Ama, it was.”

Ama, who, being only six years old, had a hard time keeping quiet, said “A really really big river? This big?” She spread her arms as wide as they could go.

Grandfather threw his head back and laughed. “Quite a bit bigger than that, my child.

“Now will you let me tell the story?”

We both nodded, and he said:

 

“Once upon a time,” and stopped.

Silence.

Grandfather cleared his ancient throat. “Once upon a time.”

“Time, time,” said my sister and I together, finally catching on.

Grandfather smiled.

 

“Once upon a time there was a river that ran by a large village.

“It was the first village in this land, for it was the village of our ancestors, the village of the first of our people.

“The people of the village worshipped the Spirit of the river. They prayed and gave offerings to him and in turn the river provided them with fish for food and water to drink, as well as the biggest swimming pool you ever saw.”

 

We giggled.

He continued.

 

“Nobody could remember exactly when the river became their god, nor could they remember a time when it was not so. Years passed, generations passed. Kings came and went in the village, but the river stayed eternal, and all was well with the people.

“And occasionally the Spirit of the river would take the form of a man and walk among the people, unnoticed, and he would listen to their problems and commune with them, though they never knew it. He did not do this often, perhaps only once in a few decades. Gods do not lightly mingle in the affairs of men.

“One day the Spirit of the river took the form of a man and went walking in the forest. And he came upon a young woman bathing naked in a pool, and his heart was stolen away, for she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on, and from the moment he laid eyes on her the Spirit of the river was lost.

“She did not see him; he hid himself in the trees and watched until she was done and had gone back into the village. The Spirit made himself invisible – most gods can do that – and followed her. The woman came to the palace and went inside, and the Spirit knew who she was: daughter of the King and Queen of the village, Princess of the land.

“And the Spirit returned to his throne at the bottom of the river, and sorrow seized his heart. Because even though he loved the princess, she was human, and it is not given to the gods to love the daughters of men.”

 

“So what did he do?” I asked.

“What did he do, Papa?” asked Ama.

 

“I’m getting to that, children, I’m getting to that.”

“So now the Spirit of the river walked in the village more often, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the princess. The more he saw her the more he loved her, and the more he despaired. Especially since she didn’t know who he was; to her he was just another man from the village. And the Spirit dared not reveal himself to her, or she might be afraid, and then she would truly be lost to him.

“A year passed like this. The princess was nearing the age where she would need to take a husband. The Spirit did not want this to happen.

“And so the Spirit of the river sought advice. He left his watery throne and went out into the world, chasing the wind. He chased for a long time, for the Spirit of the wind is hard to catch.

“When the Spirit of the river finally caught up with the wind, he went on his knees and bowed before it, because the wind god is one of the oldest and most powerful children of, Mother Earth.

“And the river god said: ‘Oh Mighty Wind, I have sought you for many moons with diligence, and now I humbly seek your counsel.’

“The Spirit of the wind, The Four Winds who is One, replied and said unto him: ‘Speak, young one.’

“And the river god spoke, and told his problems to the wind, saying: ‘You have travelled the world many times since the dawn of Time, and you know the ways of men better than I. Tell me how I might win the princess for my own.’

“And so the wind told him.”

 

“What did the wind say to him?”

 

“You’ll see.

“The Spirit of the river returned to the village. He took the form of a man for the last time, and crept up on the princess when she was bathing alone in the forest. And there he struck her down, and stole her life and hid it, and thus the princess died.”

 

What?”

“He killed her?”

 

“Yes.

“He killed her and left her body for the people of the village to find. And when they did there was great mourning in the village that went on for many days, because the princess was well loved by everyone.

“One day the King and Queen of the village came to the river, just as the Wind had foretold. They brought the body of their only daughter with them. They came alone, in the early hours of dawn.

“They knelt by the banks of the river and offered the Spirit everything they had in exchange for their daughter’s life. The Spirit of the river, ever generous, told them that he would bring their daughter back to life again, but only on one condition:

“That she be dedicated to him for the rest of her life.

“She would stay by the river, and she would serve him all the days of her life, and she would never marry another man.

“And the King and Queen agreed. Anything, they said, as long as their daughter would live again.

“And the Spirit of the river gave the princess her life, and she opened her eyes and drew breath, and became alive once more.

“The village rejoiced. The princess was eternally grateful to the river (for she did not know that he was the one who killed her in the first place). The villagers made a hut by the banks of the river, and there the princess stayed. And in the nights the Spirit would appear to her, though never in the form of a man, and talk to her, and over time the princess became quite fond of him.

“And time passed.

“But the princess was not happy.”

 

“But you just said…”

“I said she grew fond of the Spirit, and she did. She liked him, but she was not happy.”

“Why?” Ama asked.

 

“Well,” said Grandfather, “She missed the company of other people. She missed the chatter of the young women, and she longed for the warmth of a man. She would occasionally visit the village and watch the little children playing. Deep in her heart she wanted children of her own. A family. You cannot start a family with a river, you know.

“One day, when the Spirit of the river arose from the depths, the princess was gone.

“The river was furious, thinking that the villagers had snuck in the night and stolen her away. He overflowed his banks. He destroyed the crops the villagers had planted. He poisoned their wells and drowned their livestock. And the people of the village were afraid that he would kill them all.

“And he would have, too, but in the dead of night the princess came back to him.

“She begged his forgiveness, begged him to spare the village. She told him that she had run away of her own choosing.

“And the river was angry, but he loved her and was glad that she had returned. So glad, in fact, that when the princess knelt down and asked him to grant her a wish, he told her to ask him anything.

“And so the princess asked for permission to leave his side and start a family with another. With a man.

“Now upon hearing this, the Spirit of the river was deeply saddened. It broke his heart to look into her eyes and know that she was unhappy with him. It broke his heart that he couldn’t keep the one he loved happy. It broke his heart that he was not enough for her. It broke his heart that she desired another.

“But he had given her his word, and he could not take it back.”

 

Here Grandfather paused, and said quietly, “And perhaps even an immortal being like a river Spirit could come to learn that sometimes when you love someone the best thing to do is to let them go.”

My sister and I, for once, were quiet.

 

“So the girl went to the village. She met a young man, fell in love with him. They made plans to leave the village and the river and start a life on their own.”

 

“Where did they go?”

 

Grandfather smiled. “Far away. And every day that she was gone the Spirit of the river mourned.

“The princess settled in a faraway land with her husband. There she bore him many children. There they raised a family. There they grew old together. There she finally came to know happiness. But she missed the river, and thought of him often.

“And then one day she fell sick, and she knew she was going to die.”

 

No!”

 

“Death comes to everyone eventually, child. One day it will come for me too. We just have to accept that. Besides, she was very old.

“And when the hour was come and she was ready to go, she asked one final thing of her husband:

“She asked that, when she died, her body be returned to her home village and laid in the waters of the river, that she may know his embrace one final time. Her husband gave his word that he would do so.

“And so, closing her eyes peacefully, the princess died.

“The morning after her death, her husband wrapped her up in her favorite cloth, packed supplies, and set out on his journey.

“The journey took him many days and many nights, and he was no longer a young man. He was exhausted by the time he stumbled to the banks of the river, starved and near death himself. But it did not stop him. He waded in and gently lowered his wife’s body under the surface of the water.

“And the river water took her body from him, and she sank out of sight. Then the Spirit of the river came out of the depths and spoke to him, saying:

“‘In Life she was yours; in Death she belongs to me, and neither of us is any worse off for it.’

“When he heard these words the husband turned and left, and never returned to the village or the river.

“And the next time the villagers visited the river and gazed into its depths, they saw the spirit of the princess and the Spirit of the river dancing joyously within.

“And there they have remained, dancing, ever since.”

 

Here Grandfather stopped, and we knew the story was ended.

“Now off to bed with you, children. It is late.”

 

*

 

There is another version of this story.

That one is told among the gods and the spirits, the children of Father Time and Mother Earth, in the language that existed before the world was made and will exist long after the world has passed away. And in that version of the tale perhaps things happened differently.

But then we may never know, for that is a tale of the gods, and it is not told to men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3: God has low standards


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We were in the middle of drafting a proposal for the annual non-denominational conference, when Hawa slammed her hand into the table and popped her eyes out, as if she’d seen an evil spirit. An E flat echoed from afar. We were close to the choir room, you could hear the singing and the gentle strumming of guitar strings. I had wanted to stay home and watch an episode of Amandla to learn more about Biko for my thesis on apartheid.

 

I would’ve preferred to babysit my little cousin, whom I always wanted to choke because his pretentious mother had succeeded in infecting his heart with a level of vanity that deserved a slap every thirty minutes, than involve myself in any extra-curricular church activity of any kind, even if it was an eating competition. And that was saying a lot because nobody adores food as much as I do. But Kess, my half-sister, refused to take no for an answer and promised to get me a new laptop to replace the aging half-dead excuse of a machine I called a laptop if I volunteered to be a part of the non-denominational Christian board. So here I was, after 10 Saturday meetings in 5 months; and I still couldn’t bring myself to be enthusiastic about this group.

 

Going to church was a struggle for me, but the probability of the sermon, 7 times out of 10, being a compass needle of some sort to my wandering soul was the only motivation that kept me going. On the first Saturday, Kuvi was the first person that caught my eye. His hair was jet black and beautifully shaped, as if an artist had painted him way too perfect for human standard. His protruding eyes were a precise shape of an almond, with a darker tone of an outline around his eyes; God had gifted him with natural smoky eyes that girls would die for. And he had the most perfectly trimmed moustache. I wanted to hand him my panties that very minute, but I restrained myself and just smiled. He was a beautiful man.

 

But of course, isn’t God just a fucking brilliant artist? Everything that came out of that man’s mouth was horse dung.  He was the crown on the head of the homophobic king. He and Mama Anti thought faith could fix everything, including Mama Anti’s 10 year old daughter’s decaying toe. And he thought women had no business whatsoever wearing men’s clothes. He was an accurate definition of a textbook character, except, you’d expect men like these to be profoundly ugly. But he wasn’t. I thought to myself that his face must’ve been God’s compensation for his insistent cling to these absurd beliefs.

 

I looked around the room. 12 men and women from different denominations. There was Julie from the Presbyterian Church, Asor from Assemblies of God, Hawa from Pentecost, Grace-Marie from the Catholic church, Kweku from the Anglican church, Masai from the Baptist church, Jude from Emmanuel Evangelist church, Mama Anti from Christ Apostolic , Kuvi from the Methodist Church and Kess, Roger and I from 2 charismatic churches.

 

A bunch of hypocrites and mules. That’s what we all were. Me, at the front of the line pretending to be interested in this group in exchange for a new laptop, Kess, pretending to like everyone with a permanent smile on her face when all she did was cuss them out the minute we got home, Julie with her feet firmly rooted in the belief that God had a blueprint for her life,and that meant sitting with her arms folded till manna dropped from heaven. I was very sure Asor believed tongue-speaking would get her to heaven; there was no other explanation for the eagerness with which she rolled on the floor and screamed her head off in the name of tongue-speaking. Grace-Marie, with her soft voice and demure nature as if she wasn’t sleeping with Kweku, who was married with three kids. Masai, who believes every failure is the will of God. As far as Jude was concerned, the word “change” did not exist, and as such, anybody who seeks to divorce from their partner is going straight to hell. And Roger, blessing the daughters of Eve in the name of God the father, the son and the holy spirit through his manhood.

 

Pitiful. That’s what we all were.

 

An argument had broken out. I had been too distracted reading tweets. I wondered what the problem was. They all looked furious.  I elbowed my sister.

 

“What is it this time?”

 

She sighed.

 

Hawa started it. They’re all angry because they want the seating arrangement for the conference to be by denominations, Hawa thinks they can mingle after if they want to”

 

I looked at them again. They were arguing furiously, you’d think they were fighting over something as valid as a child’s rights.

 

Hawa slammed her hand into the table again. As if on cue, Kweku cut across in his crisp holier than thou voice.

 

“People people, please relax. God wouldn’t appreciate this behavior from us. Let us do God’s will”

 

That was the last straw. A current spiked up in my head, as if my brain had been waiting for one more excuse from these people to spew my wrath on them. Kess must’ve sensed it because she elbowed me sharply. But it was too late. I was already on my feet.

 

“I am sick and tired of everyone of you.  God loves homosexuals and the inventor of flats. He adores babies and wishes he was still a child with not a care in the world.  His favorite fruit is the cashew nut in my neighbour’s backyard. He tries to suck his left nipple once a week and he touches himself sometimes. He hates like hell being an orphan and he wonders what his parents look like. He’s proud of teenage parties and mourns every still birth. He’s afraid of heights and sometimes,just sometimes, he gets high too.  He farts in church and pretends he doesn’t even have an asshole. He regrets inventing sorrow but is ecstatic about how fucking good an orgasm feels. He completely digs women with short hair. Hell! He’s even caught an std before and he was damn grateful for his doctor’s expertise. Whiles you’re busy disturbing your entire neighbourhood with your loud prayers and tongues, he’s singing in the shower.

 

God is in you and he is in me. But by God! You all must have spat him out at birth. And if you cannot get your acts together and reason like he gave each of us brains, then none of you have any business calling yourselves Christians.”

 

The room was silent. Wide-eyed people stared at me. Kess had put her head on the desk in front of her.

 

I knew I had just said goodbye to the new laptop…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: The Clean Up Woman by Malaka Grant


Dzigbordi parked her Toyota Corolla in the lot of the dreary, oatmeal-colored subdivision and looked around. A despotic green dumpster sat resolutely in the far corner of Liberty Hills Community for the Aged, looking as though it was ready to vomit its contents. It stared at her defiantly. She knew that when her job was done in the next two hours, she would be forced to confront the imposing refuse receptacle on a more intimate level, and prayed that it would show her some measure of mercy.

The entire subdivision oozed decay. Cracks in the asphalt beneath her feet were so wide that she wondered if an earthquake had devastated the area at some point in the recent past. Of course she knew this couldn’t be the case. There were no earthquakes in Macon, Georgia. In fact, nothing ever happened in Macon. She wondered how and why she had ever left her life in Accra to come to this… but there she was: a 32 year old woman with a mop and bucket in her hand, trying not to break an ankle in one of the fissures of this poorly painted  parking lot, wondering if she should go inside.

Her co-cleaner made the decision for her, and rather bluntly.

“C’mon, African. We gotta go in,” said Trisha. She tied a blue headscarf over her bright blond weave and took a last sip of water as she spoke. “Ain’t no use standing here. Jus’ standing here lookin’ at it ain’t going to make it clean itself.”

Dzigbordi hated working with Trisha. Trisha was ten years her junior and had no respect for herself or anyone else. She was uneducated. She mispronounced simple words like “ask” and “strawberry” and “street”, saying “axe” and “skrawberry” and “skreet” instead. And she always left the most difficult work for Dzigbordi to do because she was so damned lazy! But of all her transgressions, the one that irked Dzigbordi the most was Trisha’s insistence on calling her “African”. The impudence! If this girl was in Ghana by now, SHE would be Dzigbordi’s house girl… And she certainly wouldn’t be working shoulder-to-shoulder with her, cleaning White people’s shit.

“Please collect the rest of the things from the car so we can finish and go,” Dzigbordi directed with as much politeness as she could muster.

She felt inherently superior to Trisha. She knew that she shouldn’t, but she did. The Bible did say that all people were equal before God… however she was confident that she was a little more equal in the eyes of the Lord than this yellow-skinned girl, with matching yellow hair, popping her yellow banana flavored chewing gum. She looked like an ashawo – a whore – and God did not like whores, or women who dressed as such.

Clad in khaki shorts and white t-shirts, the two pair stood at the door, knocked and waited for someone to answer. A shiny cockroach scurried along the foundation of the modest townhouse, most likely on its way to the cornucopian dumpster. Dzigbordi felt something bite her leg. She scratched at it with the toe of her shoe, refusing to look down. This was the part of her job she hated.

At least twice a month, Clean n’ Cruise offered the public half off their regular price to clean a house of any size as part of their marketing strategy. This meant that virtually ANYONE could afford to get their house cleaned; not just the owners of the mega-mansions that she imagined herself owning one day. Drug addicts, drunkards, college students – the very lowest and scummy bottom of genteel society in general came flocking to Clean n’ Cruise website looking for a deal on the first and fifteenth of the month.

In Ghana, people did not behave this way. Dzigbordi would never understand how Americans did not feel shame to have people see the nasty conditions that they kept their homes in. She had seen it all: used condoms strewn on the floor, empty liquor bottles scattered everywhere, excrement spattered and dried in and on toilet seats: None of that prepared her for what she was to face that day.

A pale woman with a hooked nose and watery green eyes opened the door and stepped aside to let them in. Her head was topped with a mop of thinning, oily red hair. The smell of rotten food and filth escaped from the doorway with such fervor, one might have thought the nauseous gases themselves were being held captive against their will, and with the opening of the door took the opportunity to seize their emancipation.

“My name is Mary,” the home owner said kindly. She extended her hand in greeting. Dzigbordi put down her mop to take it. Trisha began to chew her gum viciously, refusing to shake her hand.  “Please do come in. Excuse the mess. I tried to tidy up a bit before you came in. But I guess that’s why you’re here.”

As she smiled a weak sort of smile, the cleaning women looked around the home and grimly nodded their heads. Dzigbordi turned her lips upward in a flaccid half bow, trying to mask her horror.

“I’m Dzigbordi and this is Trisha,” she said in introduction. “May we see your coupon for today’s cleaning?”

“Yes! Yes of course! Please come in. My computer is in the back.”

Trisha cursed as she tripped over a damp, slimy knotted rug in the center of the kitchen floor. The entrance to Mary’s home took the trio from a tiny kitchen to a dining room which led to a modest sitting room and finally to two bedrooms in the rear of the townhouse. Something was glowering with circular eyes that pierced through the dusky air, and in the near distance Dzigbordi could make out the silhouette of a cat. Agitated, it scratched itself around the neck and belly in vain.

Fleas. That’s what must have bitten her outside.

“Where would you like us to begin?” she asked politely.

“You have a lovely accent,” Mary complimented. “Where is it from?”

“She African,” Trisha replied sharply.

“Yes. I’m from Ghana… in West Africa.”

“I had a guest here once from West Africa,” Mary said softly. “That room to the right is my guest room that I rent out to people who are looking for cheap accommodations.”

Yesu! You mean an African stayed in this house? How possible? And how did an obroni woman come to be this way? Eh? So an obroni can keep such a house? How possible!

Dzigbordi’s mind was buzzing with confusion. Without another word, she made for the first bathroom on the left of the narrow hallway. Trisha didn’t like to clean bathrooms, but Dzigbordi didn’t mind. She had swept gutters and weeded fields in secondary school. Wiping a mirror or two with the protection of plastic gloves hardly compared in difficulty.

 At least that’s what she thought, until she pushed her way into Mary’s bathroom.

Stacks of soggy newspaper and empty Febreeze bottles sat between the toilet and sink. A rose-colored litter box had spilled its contents all over the once white-tiled floor. Grey mold sprouted on the knobs of the sink and shower head, and a quick glance to the right reveled fifteen or more nearly empty shampoo bottles sitting forlornly on a wooden shelf, covered in dust and sticky goo. She flushed the toilet before she dared to glance inside and poured a cupful of bleach without looking. What was that in the bathtub? A can of Raid? Were there actually cockroaches living in the shower? The carcass of the dreaded species of the pest confirmed the worst.

God. These are the days she wished she could summon a spirit to do this work for her. Ah!

Soon, sweat was pouring down her brown face, mingling with bleach and scouring powder. Mary stood in the background, admiring the transformation while giving firm instructions.

“Don’t throw this out. That’s still useful. I need these to store things in…”

Trisha rolled her eyes and put a rotting ice-cream carton and a mountain of ancient copies of Good Housekeeping magazine back on a rickety side table that groaned under the weight of so much debris.

“Do you recycle? We can take these bottles and cans out for you,” Dzigbordi said defiantly. So much of this stuff had to go!

“I do… unofficially,” Mary muttered. “You can just put the bottles in this plastic bag and set them outside the door. I’ll make sure they get recycled.

Dzigbordi nodded and set the swollen bag by the back door while Trisha hastily vacuumed. The overfed grey and black cat was going ballistic, scratching itself and mewing mournfully, clearly distressed by the foreign sound of the mechanical cleaner. She cut her eyes at the sickly creature, daring it to attack her so she could put it out of her misery with a quick stab. Trisha gave Dzigbordi a side glance. She had had enough. It was time to go.

“I think that’s going to complete it for today, Ms. Mary,” she said as began to pack up cleaning supplies. “Would you walk through and see if it’s to your satisfaction?”

“What about the kitchen?”

“We cain’t do the kitchen with no dishes in the sink,” Trisha snapped. “It’s in the terms you agreed to.”

Mary brightened up with a sudden thought.

“Give me a minute! I’ll take care of that right away!”

The two cleaning women groaned inwardly and rolled their eyes while Mary painstakingly put away her crust covered dishes. Dzigbordi wiped up around her, eager to make as much progress as possible. Trisha had abandoned all hope, choosing to wait in the car. She knew the African would understand. She was used to stuff like this – ‘cause she was African – but Trisha was American. She couldn’t be expected to deal with this kind of crap. 

Dzigbordi paused in the middle of spraying and wiping and looked at the refrigerator door. There were two boys smiling back at her with wide, toothy grins.

“Are these your grandkids?” she asked Mary kindly.

“No, actually this one is my son, and the other is my grandson,” Mary explained. “Don’t they look just alike?”

“Yes they do. And very handsome, too.”

“Do you have kids?”

“Yes,” Dzigbordi replied. “A daughter. She’s ten. Trying to adjust to life in America.”

Mary patted Dzigbordi’s hand. She resisted the urge to flinch.

“She’s going to be fine. Somehow, kids always make their way. They figure out the best thing to do.”

Dzigbordi nodded and asked the elderly woman if she’d be needing anything else before she left.

“No, no! You’ve been so kind,” she whispered. “Please take this for yourself and your friend. You were wonderful.”

Dzigbordi looked down at the two orange prescription bottles that Mary had placed in her hand. They were filled with quarters.

“I didn’t have time to go out and get cash. I hope this is okay…”

“It’s all money, Ms. Mary. Thank you for thinking of us. It’s certainly one tip I will never forget!”

Mary smiled and waved goodbye as they drove away. When she was certain that the cleaning women were far out of sight and would not return, she drug her beloved plastic bottles back into the house and set them in the living room. Then she glanced over her shoulder as she made her way to the dumpster. Waste! What waste! She mumbled secret incantations about saving the earth as she returned new and old treasure back to her home. The phone was ringing. She scampered towards it and answered with trembling hands.

“Eric? Honey? Hi! Yes… yes honey. The cleaning women just left. I am trying, Eric. I really am. I just wanted to keep a few things is all… Please bring Jason over. I haven’t seen him in so long. I know, honey, I know. Eric, don’t talk to me like that! I’m still your mother! Sweetie, I’m sorry… Hello? Hello?!? Eric… Eric!!!”

Mary sighed, put the phone back in its cradle and gazed at the darkling house filled with things. Things that never judged her; and more importantly, things that never, ever left.

 

Day 1: The neighbours still don’t give a shit


Your feet are tired from walking all day, working as a sales rep for a small financial company is the shittiest job you’ve had so far. You tell everyone you’re a Senior Sales Executive and they look at you with such respect because it sounds so fancy. But you know you’re nothing more than a susu collector. It’s your job to bring in more clients, to convince people that they need to save with PortC Financial services. It wouldn’t be so bad if you were tucked safely behind a barely working desktop computer, in fake geeky-looking glasses and second hand clothes. But you have to walk from house to house everyday till your feet are sore.

You would love to head straight home but it’s Friday night, the best time to shop from Eno’s. You find a couple of things you need to try on for size. You walk into a small dressing room and proceed to take your clothes off.

There’s a new sign taped to the right edge of the mirror: Stealing is for low-lives and good-for-nothing whores. Please do not steal – you could be jailed and it will haunt you for the rest of your life.

You struggle to fit into a one size-smaller nylon dress. When you look into the mirror and see a representation of folds of skin, looking like the red sea when Moses parted it for the Israelites to pass through for a  stomach, you wince. But you suck your tummy in and brush away all your insecure thoughts. After all you’ve still got sex as a weapon in your ongoing battle with the Dick team, which you usually win, especially since you set your sights low. Who would’ve ever thought that you’d be dating a guy who could only reach up to your waist?

 Akoto thinks you’re looking three months pregnant. You met him 5 months ago but it feels like a lifetime already. He teases you about banks selecting only cute girls with flat tummies for tellers. Fuck him and his entire family tree. One fine sunny day, you shall be a head teller in the country’s biggest bank.

You pull a black sleeveless dress from the hangar and slip it over your short nappy hair. Having natural hair hasn’t done diddly damn squat to your look. The black dress looks good on you; you wink at yourself and blow a kiss, telling the mirror what a gorgeous girl you are.

You take it off and eyeball the price tag. It is 80 cedis. You only have 50 cedis to spare. You want both the nylon dress and the black dress, you can only afford the nylon dress. You notice the sign at the edge of the mirror again. It will haunt you for the rest of your life. You grab the black felt pen you stole from the lady at the provision shop on the Accra high street  who smells like a mixture of old clothes and depression, and write in block letters underneath the sign: IF YOU GET CAUGHT.

You rip the tag from the black dress and fold it neatly till it fits into your palm, and then you shove it into your bag.

You can almost hear your mother’s high-pitched voice quoting bible verses like she wrote the damn thing, praying for her dear wayward daughter like she was Jesus on the mountain.

Suddenly you’re 18 again and locked up in the small room you share with your mother, flustered and waiting for an opportunity to bolt. Pretending to listen as she screams her head off at you for letting Big Joe squeeze your breasts under the drying line.

You’re not sure if she’s upset about Big Joe squeezing your breasts or the neighbours watching Big Joe squeeze your breasts. “Sex is just the icing on the cake Boatemaa, your character is what will get you a good well-adjusted man.”

You’re sure she means filthy rich when she says well-adjusted. You’re glad you didn’t inherit her screeching voice. She stops in the midst of her angst to answer the door. It’s the nosy overweight lady with the little boy whose nose is constantly in the rainy season from next door. She’s here to sympathize with your mother over the scene under the drying line. She tells your mother to keep you indoors and to have faith and keep praying, God will deliver you from the snare of the devil. Your mother bursts into tears for no damn reason and for a full minute you wish circumstances will reverse so you could lay her over your lap and paddle the black out of her ass. You want to tell her the neighbours don’t give a shit about her, much less her daughter. But you bite your lips instead and clutch the worn out bible to your chest just so she muffles that awful sound she calls crying.

But you’re not 18 and sharing a room with your mother; occasionally borrowing money from her purse when she’s not looking. Not anymore. You’re twenty-seven and struggling on your own, and you’ve learnt anything in these 27 years, it’s these three things:

  1. The neighbours still don’t give a shit
  2. God’s love ain’t enough
  3. Sex is the cake, not the icing

And since you want to keep your crown on the Dick team, you need this little black dress to put a little oomph in your sex game.  You zip up your bag and stride casually to the checkout. You pull out three 20 cedi notes and pay the pimple-faced cashier who can’t stop digging for the national treasure in his nose. He places two 5 cedi notes on the counter. You reach for the black felt pen; holding it like a compass needle, and drag the notes into your bag. The cashier’s head tilts up with a wounded look. You want to dare him with an offended look but the black dress is burning a hole in your bag, so you look down and walk away.

On your way out you pat your bag as though it was an obedient child. You smile to yourself. Now that you have a little black dress, you can seduce Akoto into buying you a washing machine. It’s going to be a splendid weekend.