Cancers that attach to beautiful flowers

Her lithe beauty was both incongruous but yet strangely at home as she picked her way through the crowded marketplace, expertly and delicately sidestepping rotten pieces of fruit squashed into the dirt. The well-to-do housewives visiting the market left their air-conditioned cocoons for brief periods of time in search of items they couldn’t find on supermarket shelves lined with imported goods. Their wealth seemed to ooze crudely from their overly moisturized pores as they lifted their spotless kaftans quickly and roughly out of the reach of the grasping hands of children begging for coins and the eager grips of market-women desperate to make a sale. She, on the other hand, elegantly extricated herself and flashed her flawless smile in apology. It was almost as if she knew that others couldn’t resist her, even though regrettably there wasn’t enough of her charm to go around. She paused every so often as she wound her way through the market, taking a deep whiff of Asana’s spices and agreeing with Aunty Vida on how ripe and juicy her tomatoes were this season.

She lugged her basket bursting with produce back to the waiting 4×4, and unless you were watching excruciatingly close, you would probably have missed the slightly uneven edge to her gait, and the exhausted puff of air she expelled as she heaved her wares finally into the boot of her car. She sat back against the cool leather and inhaled the new car smell that still clung to the car’s interior. She had come home from her final (and probably most stressful) semester at Stanford to find the sleek Mercedes resting in the driveway like a blinding white birthday cake awaiting the cutting. It was more so a lure, a bribe to stay at home and continue pursuing her medical career rather than returning to the States which she had grown to call home over the past couple of years. She declined to drive it at first, what would she look like, a “small girl” cruising the streets in a “big man’s” car?

She stared tiredly at her reflection in her rearview mirror. How could people fail to notice that she was slowly fading; her rich cocoa skin had this persistent grey tinge that couldn’t be banished with the oiliest of shea butter creams. Her parents were of course aware of her “unfortunate” illness, which is how they chose to conceal her terminal condition whenever a relative asked after her. They explained away her frequent hospital stays as weekend getaways to their home in Aburi, and excused her promptly from her dinner parties the minute they saw the vague glassy look invade her eyes and a slight gag following every bite of food.The irony of her situation left a bitter taste lingering in her mouth. Her dream to be an oncologist wavered in front of her like the air vibrating immediately above burning tarmac on another humid afternoon in Accra. “Cancer patients? Isn’t that going to be too depressing?” How could she explain to people that studying to be an oncologist would be like having the ultimate playbook to defeat an opposing team with one crucial page missing? She had all the flashcards and cheat sheets (one page only!) to pass any exam. Yet, the tumors raging along her spine did not answer favorably to the doctor’s neatly laid out strategies to conquer her illness. Medicine, the noblest profession according to her parents, had been foiled for the final time. Her dazzling smile was feeble now as she looked down at the tissue soaked with her coughed-up blood. She pushed the car into gear and maneuvered onto the busy street. Hers was a beautiful decay, perfect teeth and all.

The Interview

Trying some prose that is less flowery for once! Enjoy! 🙂

“Listen Quaye, it’s about time you got off that high horse of yours! How dare you refuse your editor’s orders?

“Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to publicize such an unethical public figure. I mean what about the million dollar scandal…”

Quaye straightened his frayed tie and swallowed rather obviously as he did whenever he felt that he had crossed a line. This nervous habit had been just one item on the laundry list of reasons Adwoa rattled off before packing all her things into the back of a rickety taxi bound for her parent’s house. “And another thing, a journalist? Where are you going in life? I’m sorry Quaye, I just don’t see myself with someone who lacks…ambition.  ” Six months later he received an invitation to the “joyful union” of Adwoa and the son of the newly inducted commissioner of the Bank of Ghana.

“Quaye I’ve heard enough! Ethics this and social justice that! As if you didn’t get this job because your uncle is a big man at GBC. Here’s your assignment, take it or leave it. If you still feel to big for this place, then don’t bother coming back.”

With a barely audible sigh and defeated sag to his shoulders, Quaye walked out of the offices of The Daily Drum, with his editor’s indignant muttering following in his wake.  He bought himself his usual lunch of roast plantain and groundnuts and stood squinting at the traffic that clogged High Street every afternoon without fail.  He knew he would eventually have to climb into his tired Opel and make his way to Movenpick to interview the minister. Maybe it was the overripe plantain that had brought on this strong wave of nausea, or maybe it was the fact that he was heading to a world of overstuffed sofas and overstuffed politicians.

An eager communications student, he vowed never to “sell out”. Writing invigorated him. He loved sharing his story and helping others tell theirs, but he also had a great desire for something more. There had to be more to life than the modest government bungalow that was the extent of his universe. There were certainly many more exciting things than the neat patch of dust that his mother swept carefully every morning, or the larger patch of dust on which he lost many a game of soccer. He was set on a career as an investigative journalist. His passionate young self would have scoffed at him in the present day, toeing his boss’s line in order to keep his mundane job, churning out story after story about the opening of municipal wells in some far-flung district and interviews with one slimy government official after another.

He pulled into the pristine grounds of Movenpick Hotel, the droop of his car bumper matching that in his shoulders. The doormen in their starched linen uniforms looked suspiciously at his threadbare shirt and too-short trousers sweeping at his ankles. Their suspicion quickly turned into disdain and they ignored his shaky “Good afternoon” as he walked past. He bore not one telltale sign of wealth, no driver sitting stiffly in a European car, no girlfriend with voluminous Peruvian weave giggling on his arm, no crisp banknote stuffed in his fist to be slipped discreetly to all the workers who were potential witnesses to an openly secretive affair with a young Legon undergrad.

(To be continued…)

This is Bliss

They stared at each other desperately across the room with its low ceiling, ant tracks concealed as best as they could be with Vim, steel wool and a lick of cream paint. Maybe the ache they felt pulsing in the depths of the abdomen was their profound longing for one another, or maybe it was the pangs of long drawn-out hunger after a whole morning of stiff formalities exchanged between families that at the very least were pretending to be cordial to each other. The number of bottles of Schnapps and rolls of gaudy fabric had no effect whatsoever on the feelings that had flourished and exploded between them after years and years of Skype calls, and text messages with the odd renditions of human faces that passed for emoticons, and siting on that bench after school far past closing time.

Like young couples are prone to do, they felt that they had revolutionized what it meant to be in love. This was the real deal, no Hollywood blockbuster featuring what’s-her-face and Ryan Gosling, nor stilted Nigerian movie, nor exaggerated romance novel could capture the depth of their devotion to each other. Theirs was that perfect and slightly annoying type of relationship that did not stomach grudges for long, to the dismay of onlookers eagerly awaiting its downfall. Their souls sang in the same dialect, and…

They were yanked out of this romantic philosophizing by the yells of joy being forced out of well-wishers with the promise of a hefty takeaway pack at the end of the ceremony, enough food for tonight’s dinner. All thoughts of souls and hearts fitting together like the last two puzzle pieces you thought you had lost at the bottom of the box vanished in a cheeky puff of air, replaced by the reality of the heat weighing heavy under the canopies outside and the itchy material of the imported lace aggravating the skin. Anonymous aunties with large expanses of bosoms swathed in kente swayed and danced as they sang the praises of the couple and wished health and many children on them.

-This lady did not just pray for ten children and ten more. What do I look like???  

-Haha but we agreed remember? 😉

Her favorite aunties shot deadly looks to the elder who attempted to pour libation in honour of the ancestors in a very Christian house, and with that the rituals came to a rather anti-climactic end. The pastor recited a limp prayer as damp as the collar that lay against his neck as though seeking shade from his protruding jaw, and all the guests rose with a unified sigh of relief as they headed straight for the table laden with food.

Air Conditioned Denial

He rolled up the sleek, tinted windows of his brand new, elegantly understated car, his status symbol, the signal that he had finally “arrived” in Accra.  Ivy league degree firmly tucked in his back pocket; he was poised on the edge of success much like a nervous bird teetering on the tip of a frayed tree branch.  He had very lofty but very vague ideas about “urban development” and “corruption in the Third World” and he was convinced that his senior seminars with titles such as these had equipped him with enough knowledge to turn the whole rotten system around. “Just give me 5 years, I have this all figured out!”

He was bolstered by the support of his doting parents who never missed an opportunity to slip him into the monotonous conversations held with cold acquaintances during fundraisers at the African Regent. “He has foresight, vision, you know. And he actually cares about Ghana! Our boy is going places!” Their boastful encouragement buoyed his ego like indulgent ocean waves lovingly propelling a little tugboat along. He was the little canoe that could.  Energized, he donned his white button-down shirt ironed and starched into submission by the house help.  He sped off through the tree-lined streets of East Legon, optimism bubbling forth as he looked around at all the “progress” and “potential” ready and waiting for him to tap into. Somehow he missed the droves of homeless and mentally ill knocking pitifully on his tinted windows asking for some money for the day’s lone meal. After all, if they worked hard like he did they would be where he was. As far as he was concerned, the American dream came wrapped in a fresh green plantain leaf.

Interview after interview, in buildings that all began to look alike with their stuffy rooms and dust-coated fans ticking away until lunchtime, and he still had no job offers. Irritable public servants, and non-profit workers, and bank HR managers scoffed at the affected American drawl and the gleaming cufflinks. “Look at this small boy too. He thinks his father is a big man and so what. Mtchew. NEXT!” His broad shoulders began to lose the confidence and strength they exuded, four years of varsity rowing gone to waste. He began to moan bitterly about the heat, the mosquitoes, the eternity spent waiting in line to pay phone bills. His parents grew more and more agitated, watching their wunderkind turn into just another failed returnee. He spent many more nights slumped over the bar at Republic, guzzling stylized locally-inspired cocktails and reminiscing with college classmates about the subway, and that one Moroccan restaurant in the Meatpacking District. His tank of enthusiasm was running below empty, his high school girlfriend no longer picked up his calls. What did she need him for? She’d started seeing a minister, yes that notorious minister with gold teeth flashing in his lascivious smile and a shiny European car. She had no time for dreamers.

The dusty streets of Accra lost their luster, and our dear boy began making plans to return to the States. Sorry young man, you don’t have all the answers.  Perhaps you should’ve rolled down the windows years ago and let the scent of fried yam and clogged drains waft into your nostrils.  You were never as in touch as you thought you were. The African kid on the rowing team, yeah he’s mad chill. The returnee waiting for Mother Ghana to embrace him with open arms? No, not so much.