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.

The Pen Would Always Find Her

She cut her teeth on Cry the Beloved Country, and Maya Angelou’s defiant biography nursed her growing pains.  Matilda and What Katy Did were quickly discarded for more irreverent works. She craved writing that didn’t feel safe and homely, writing that was definitely inappropriate for a girl her age. Her appetite for books was insatiable, and yet, it grew to become a natural part of her being. Devouring books for breakfast, or in the car on the long commute home, or on the toilet before bed, where everyday occurrences for her. She laughed a raucous, daring laugh with Sula and played with the children in Anita Desai’s luscious garden in the balmy Indian sunset.  She was never really curled up in an old armchair in a small house on a dusty street somewhere in Accra; she was watching in awe as the owner of the plantation controlled Liana so effortlessly and mean-spiritedly, and she wept when Pecola finally found her blue eyes.

So how did she get here? How did she reach this place where she constantly asked herself, “What would Sula do?” She looked at her feeble reflection in the window flecked with the unseasonal December rain. The smudged louver blades created a disjointed reflection that appeared to shake its head slowly in disgust at its sorry excuse for an owner. Sula, who she was convinced was her more powerful alter ego (sort of like Sasha Fierce, but a lot more reckless), would most certainly disapprove of her apathy. Writing was supposed to be a release; her private getaway to a flawless white beach with water that was such a striking shade of blue it hurt the eyes in a single glance. Maybe her protagonist would have piercing blue eyes? A little black girl with blue eyes and an unruly bush perched in the center of her head? How obvious. Tell me again how you’re the new age lovechild of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf? Doesn’t that just make you crazy with a hint of soul? Writing was both her fountain of youth and her kryptonite, and yet she sat twiddling her proverbial thumbs idly in front of a blank white screen, with the specters of Yaa Asantewaa and the long forgotten ancestral mothers glaring down at her with eyes ablaze, “What a disgrace! We thought you would be strong like us!”

Clearly delusional, she slammed her state-of-the-art laptop shut. It had been a gift from her publishers after the signing of her very first contract and she remembered the uninviting cold of its metal surface as she rubbed her hands back and forth over its cover, feigning a benevolent smile as she attempted to choke back tears of fright, and regret, and “Did I make the right choice?” She blinked furiously in the non-existent glare of the naked overhead bulb, attempting to fight those same salty tears that lurked behind her eyelids, threatening to burst forth with a vengeance the minute someone uttered the word “deadline” or “Pulitzer”. The computer hummed and came to a slow halt, and in the silence that followed she confronted her empty future like she had done a hundred times before. The engagement called off in favor of the good little wife freshly called to the Ghana bar. Ghana Barbie: fully equipped with an innocuous smile, crisply pressed black robes and dainty wig, and an unbelievably fine-tuned recipe for groundnut soup (batteries not included.) But of course she’s only going to the chambers twice a week, twins on the way after all! The relatives clucking with disappointment, jowls quivering in shame as they hash out what a waste of a scholarship she had turned into. A dozen missed calls and text alerts flashing on her phone screen like the feverish strobe lights in some sick adaptation of her life, Quentin Tarantino style. Only this time, instead of a heroine squeezed into a bright yellow bodysuit, she felt about as invincible as the sickly gecko crawling on the once- turquoise wall of the childhood room she still called home. She answered the landline with a resounding sigh, “Yes, I am serious about this writing thing…”

The Girl with Horizontal Dreams

So the girl with horizontal dreams sat on a cold kitchen stool, looking out of the window at the wide expanse of  lively flora and fauna that seemed to mock her with its vivacity. She sat there, one missed call away from depression, one chipped fragment of her soul away from death. This is what it feels like to be happily married. She looked down at the white gold band around her frail left finger and felt nothing. Not even nostalgia, not longing, not the teary-eyed happiness she felt on her wedding day looking up at the stoic cross hanging on the brick wall behind the altar as if to say, “I am with you.”

She sighed and rose wearily, studiously avoiding the taunting ticking of the clock as it betrayed her daily fear, 10:15pm and he’s still not home.  This was a dangerous place to be in, this deep sense of failure and giving up for which apathy was too light of a descriptive word.  She ran her fingers over her dry messy bun, tendrils of hair sticking out in the back, and marveled in disbelief at the time when she dreamt to be his wife, two become one, until death do us part, Amen. She wandered through the comfortable desolation that was her family home, echoing with the footfalls of many a long-gone toddler. Her heart had ceased to bleed long ago. She had forced it to, for fear of her husband’s dismissal that only served to increase the pain rather than to alleviate it.

She had an endless inventory of things she could no longer say, what was the point? He would be back soon, take a quick cursory glance at her distressed face marked with valley-deep channels of her endless tears, and all he would do was shrug.  “If you don’t want to talk about it I’m not going to ask”.  She looked down at her dwindling frame and suddenly felt cold even in the perpetual 33-degree Ghanaian heat. How does infatuation, and passion, and lust and obsession, morph into flippant neglect, and uneasy comfort, and torturous nonchalance?

She had dreams, and although he never categorically forbade her from following them, she felt she had to stunt their trajectory, what was the point if she had neither his disapproval nor his praise? She used to yearn for everything that was him; a discarded handkerchief, a late night phone call, a smile; and so it didn’t matter that she let her ambitions cool on the countertop like a stale apple pie. Thinking back, she couldn’t even remember why she turned down that summer at the writing institute to spend time with him. He wouldn’t have said no, he didn’t even have the right to, but she thought he was worthy and so she gave him a full pass to her heart, her mind, her free will, her future.

And so her astronomical dreams were put to rest. Her life stretched out in front of her in an endless sea of company functions, and traditional weddings and lonely nights in the cold tundra of their four- poster bed. Her dreams for their life together died a thousand deaths at the first shrug of his shoulders. She slid into the icy bed sheets. 3:15am, he’s still not home.

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.

The Tougher than a Mother…

Her back has ached for years, carrying the bags she never unpacked filled with regrets and out of touch friends; artsy and interesting friends she could have still had if she had followed one fork in the crossroads and not the other. But she carries her burden with style and grace, and an exquisite, hard-earned handbag held tightly against her body in the crook of her elbow. The high-flying echelons of society, the supposed crème de la crème of Accra never really accepted her; her neighborhood was not on the approved list of addresses where ladies who lunch recline on stiff brocade covered sofas and complain about their house-helps. They hated to admit it, but the aura of independence and self-assuredness that preceded her into a room, tinged their self-conscious laughter with envy. She did not live under the cloud of the constant possibility of one bad business deal crushing an entire empire and snatching away the first-class flights and gold-fringed kaftans.

She brushed of any underhanded attacks on her dignity and her unexpected achievements. When she helped her daughter shed the standard Ghanaian “tea and bread” school uniform for the green and white stripes that were synonymous with wealth and a stamp of the word “privilege” on the forehead, she laughed and agreed when someone said snidely, “This is what you have always wanted”.

Neither did the single mum’s club welcome her with open arms, her laugh was too raspy and raucous, more like a cackle really, she seemed to at ease and content, free from the hard-edged bitterness entrenched by all the pointing fingers “Her husband left her and now no-one is looking for her.” But that suited her fine, she did not wear single motherhood like a blood-stained medal of war on her right breast; she just got on with the business of living, devoured good books and drank good wine, and discussed the joys of singlehood with the few who were just as irreverent as she was in the face of materialistic, vapid women with lukewarm sense of humor.

She sat cloaked in pride and joy through award ceremonies and piano recitals and dance shows and open days every last day of the term, until her smile froze painfully on her face at the thought that her daughter did not share her last name. She had to endure the constant corrections to enthusiastic teachers, “No I’m not Mrs. So-and-so, but she is my daughter”. Maybe you should have given her your name after all, but how would you have faced the accusatory inquiries into your strange situation “Srowo de? Where is your husband? She has brought a baby from Amereecah with no fathah.”

She soothed her back pains with the ointment of success, of a dream fulfilled, for her entire life’s purpose had transformed into making sure she raised a shy little girl into an accomplished young woman. She cooled her forehead with prayer and praise, baring her soul to the Heavenly Father every night like clockwork. She did not even mind when people paid her unintended backhanded compliments: “Ah in fact, you must be a man, no woman can do this by herself.”  Yet the dull ache in her back remains, with the neatly packed cases of everyone else’s burdens (she seems so capable in that steely-eyed, pointy-nosed way, so of course one extra bag won’t kill her). Her back has ached for years, but hopefully this time she will learn that she really does deserve to pack light.