The People Called Family

They came in their numbers at dawn. When Aya heard the distant wailing, she thought she was dreaming but it got louder so she woke up, and it became louder still. Then she heard the knocks at the main gate. She also heard Yoofi walk out of his room to go and open the gates. The wailing was now at its loudest.

Owuo ayε ma di ooo owuo wa yε ma di. Ah we di mi ewu” screamed a woman, she was addressing death as though it was human. She said he had taken something precious from her. Her voice was hoarse, perhaps, from shouting too much.

Aya got out of her bed and crept towards the window. She could see them, they were clad in the traditional black and red mourning attires. Many of them were women who wore black scarfs on their heads, black wrappers around their waists, and red bands on their wrists. The screaming woman was lying on the ground, and the others stood in a somber semi-circle around her; their quieter sobs, the chorus to her mournful song.

The woman stopped crying to blow her nose into the cloth she had around her waist. The sound tore through the compound, loud and long, it felt like she was forcing decades of goo out of her insides. She looked up towards someone, Aya could not see the person from where she hid behind her bedroom curtains so she tried stretching her neck and standing on her tiptoes. A hand reached down to help the screaming woman stand up and sit on the bench in the compound. This time Aya got a good look the wailing woman. She was fair and lean, she had a protruding forehead, a big flat nose, and thick dark lips. Just like Paapa.

“Yoofi, my son, tell me what happened.” the woman was saying to Yoofi. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen, and still had tears in them.

Yoofi was about to speak but was interrupted by a lanky old man. “Young man, it is too early to talk about what happened. Tell your sisters to bring your aunt and the rest of us some water, then call your mother for us. This is a matter for older people to address” the man cleared his throat.

Aya slipped into the black and white dress that hung on the door of her room while she waited to be called to serve the mourners; It was the same one she had worn to the hospital yesterday. The same one Paapa rested his head on when in the car while she watched as his breath stopped and pupils became still. She shook her head fiercely in an attempt to clear the memory.

Yoofi didn’t come to call her. Aya went back to the window.

The old man was addressing Mama now. “Nana Esi, thank you for receiving us, and for telling us what happened. It is the wish of the elderly in every house that they are buried by the younger ones but death has his own timetable and has decided to call my nephew Joojoe.” He cleared his throat again and continued. “As custom demands, we shall meet here again on Tuesday to have the one-week rites and announce the funeral arrangements. Send word to your family, and take heart.”

Aya sat on her bed and blocked her ears, tears flowed freely from her eyes and there was a sudden tightening in her chest that made it hard to breathe.

Yoofi finally came into her room. He was dragging in two suitcases and a large handbag.

“Who are those for?” Aya wanted to ask, but she said nothing.

“The people called family,” he said, answering the question in her eyes.

Today you were here


Today a lady joined me on the bus. She smelled just like you, that soft blend of gardenia and rose with a touch of lily that preceded you everyday. Not the typical scents of a man, true, perhaps that’s what drew me to you. Your masculine features and yet ever so feminine touch.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, I could almost see you; those beady eyes, that contagious smile, I miss your gracefulness,  you were indeed the perfect gentleman.

When she got off the bus, her scent- your scent- lingered on a few moments. I thought I felt you squeeze my hand. A sudden warmth rushed over me that brought tears to my eyes. I saw myself once again in your arms, I heard you whisper in my ear. It was just for a few moments but it matters little because today you were here, you were near, close to the touch.

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Ritual Penance


Nii Afotey bent over the aluminium bucket with his shovel in hand. He diligently scrubbed the shovel with a metal gauze and soap. He was once a mason but that was a long time ago, when he still had youthful hair on his head and teeth that could bite bones. Now his only pastime was doing menial jobs around his compound and scrubbing his precious shovel weekly.

Mansa, Afotey’s wife and her sister Tawiah looked on, they still could not understand Afotey’s obsession with that particular shovel. It was so old and rusty; the handle was broken and one screw on the shaft was missing. Still Nii wouldn’t let go of the shovel. Tawiah often teased her sister that she had a shovel for a rival, and though Mansa laughed along her sister’s jokes, she occasionally caught herself giving it some thought; Today they had the same weekly conversation.

Afotey listened to the women’s chatter in the porch. He knew what they were thinking, they had asked him so many times but he never said a word in response. He continued scrubbing in silence. As he scrubbed he ran his hand over a small dent in the back of the blade. That dent was part of the reason the shovel had become a sacred object to him.

Afotey’s mind took him to the path that led to his farm, he had just finished work on his site and was heading home, but he decided to uproot some tubers of yam to give to Mansa his betrothed. She was a beautiful lady and of wealthy lineage, so he had to make sure her parents understood that he could take care of her. Already, Kojo from the big city had started making advances at her. Afotey could tell by the attitude of Mansa’s mother, that she preferred Kojo to him. After all, Kojo was rich, and from the same tribe.

He recalls meeting Kojo at the crossroads to his farm. No one knows about their encounter and Afotey had hidden the truth in his heart for so long he no longer remembers vividly. Now he’s unsure what really took place. Only snippets remain … the sound of a gun… The instinctive shielding with the shovel… The retaliatory smacking of the assailant… Moans of pain…blood…

Kojo was buried a week after Afotey and Mansa’s marriage ceremony. He and his wife moved to the big city soon after. He took his shovel along and though he worked as a carpenter he never disposed off the shovel. Each week he would bring it out and scrub it thoroughly. It was a form of penance ritual for him. But no matter how long or hard he scrubbed, he still couldn’t wipe those snippets of memory…especially the blood…out of his head.