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.