Akweley sits beside the burning pile of firewood, eyeing the boiling balls of husked kenkey. Her twin sister Akorkor is attending to the fish; deftly turning pieces of fish this way and that in the hot oil. There would be the customary queue this evening for kenkey and fried fish with hot grinded pepper mixed with shitor. The children are in a corner, playing ‘pilolo’ or learning some secret language. Akweley isn’t paying attention to them. She is watching Julie. The young girl her son, Odartey has impregnated. She now stays with them. Akweley dislikes her, not only did she not know how to cook any meal but the girl is disrespectful as well. Not to mention lazy and unperturbed by life. Right now, she sits on a stool beside the door of the room she shared with Odartey and his grandparents; Akweley’s parents. She has a phone in her hand. She has been in that position for over three hours, only moving to ease herself at the latrine. Akweley and Akorkor’s parents had shaken their heads when Odartey brought her to the house. Already there is no space in their home. Akweley and her husband share a room with their three children and Akorkor shares a room with her five children. Whiles the old people sleep in a tiny room. They had had to make rearrangements for her.
Odartey finished junior high school and decided to join his father in masonry. The boy’s hands seem to destroy everything they touch-except Julie apparently. He became an apprentice at a carpenter’s place. They sent him back home a few days after. He tried plumbing too. He lasted only a few hours. The worst case was when he tried sewing. The tailor returned him a few hours after he was accepted in the shop. Now he just sits and plays ‘dame’ with other unemployed rascals. She has been screaming down his ears for weeks about getting a stable job and moving out with his girlfriend. The cost of feeding both of them is overwhelming her budget. She doesn’t give him the chance to laze about in her house. He cleans the gutter and throws the rubbish at the dump beside the house. Her attention is drawn back to the balls of kenkey, away from distorted shadows of the present looming around her.
Akweley shouts at one of the children to put her pot down. Her nostrils flare up and her eyes turn to a dangerous shade of red. She finds her cane leaning on the wall not far from where she sits monitoring her kenkey. She gets up, folds the ends of the cloth tied around her waist. She grabs it and speeds towards the children. They all try to get away but she catches the culprit. He gets two good slaps on his face and a whipping on his buttocks. His screams can be heard in nearby homes. The other children say a prayer for him.
Akweley returns to her chore. Her husband, Nii Okine should be home any minute from now. There are pressing matters. The owner of the land they have settled on for years wants to start building as quickly as possible. They, the caretakers would have to evacuate soon. She wants to stay somewhere they can have a steady flow of electricity. The whole compound would soon be lit with candles and lanterns when night arrives. There have been no lights since morning. She wants a place where they won’t breath too much car fumes.
The smell from the manhole fills the air. Akweley is glad to leave that behind. That and the nasty toilet. Where would she find to suit her large family? It has to be a place where the people eat kenkey or there would not be enough money at home. Maybe they can get a place not far from here. They could look after someone’s land again or house if they are lucky. She would have to check.
She shouts at the children. They must take the table and bench to the front and set up the place for business to start. The children round themselves up and begin a routine they know like the back of their hands. When everything is in place, Akweley asks them to have their bath. The children march to the room and come back out with metal buckets and pans. They start a journey to fetch water from the only pipe in the area. She knows they would return with only half-full buckets, having splashed the rest around playing mindless games on the way back. They would put the buckets and pans on their heads and try to balance them with their hands at their sides. When they arrive, they would bath behind the house, throwing water and soap foam everywhere. Was it last week that one of the children had fallen when bathing? She had to look for her cheap perfume and dab it on the wound. Some of the children had to hold the injured boy down as he howled and cried for freedom.
Naa Adjeley, the eldest amongst the children walks behind her siblings, wondering how to keep them out of trouble. If anything goes wrong on their little trip to get water, she would be punished first and severest. The little group murmur amongst themselves. Adjetey, the second-in-command after Naa suggests that they find car tires and see who can roll it fastest and get to the pipe first. Nartey, the youngest one, argues that a grasshopper hunt would be best. The loser would carry two buckets; his and the winner’s. Before anyone else could come up with another accident-prone idea, Naa Adjeley asks if they have ever seen the devil. ‘He is called sasabonsam,’she mutters darkly. Everyone’s focus shifts to Naa. She starts to hug herself, whispering to her sisters and brothers that ‘sasabonsam’ may be around, listening to them. They all agree silently to quicken their pace.
‘He lives in the darkness, up up in the secrets places of trees. He hides, hanging there waiting for people to enter the forest. One day, a little boy went to hunt with his father in that same forest. The little boy wondered why he heard no animals scurrying around. There were even no birds singing. The little boy was carrying his best toy that day, a little soldier. He kept looking back when he was in the middle of the forest. One time, he watched his back. When he returned his gaze towards the path he was following, his father was no longer there. The little boy panicked. He started to cry, he kept shouting for his father. Then it started to rain. He looked on his hand and saw that it was blood. When he looked up, his father was hanging up there, bleeding to death. Sasabonsam was nowhere to be found.’
The children walk together as if glued to one another, frightened to death. Naa stands beside the huddled figures enjoying the spotlight. Nartey asks her to continue. Naa hits the bottom of her bucket, making a fairly slow and ominous rhythm. She then continues her narration. ‘The little boy hears a song as he runs.’ She sings in Ga, her creepy voice hitting soprano notes. “Bi lε kε tsε woɔ tsε lε eshai lε he nyɔmɔ, bi lε baafee akε eeejo foi shi abonsaŋ baana lε. Esa akε wɔ fεε wɔwo wɔ efɔŋfeemɔ he nyɔmɔ, bei komεi lε wɔ kε la woɔ nyɔmɔ. Kε okla aha mi. Gbohiiajeŋ nε, kaaajo foi. Ba, mi bi, jeee miishεε nii nε. Ha ni makεε bo teemɔŋsane ko ni mumuɔi po le".
This means; “The sins of the father are paid by both himself and son, the son will try to escape but the devil will find him out. We must all atone for our evil, sometimes we pay in blood. Give me your soul. Hell is here, don’t ran. Come, my boy, this is no fun. Let me tell you a secret that even spirits do not know”. Naa snatches one of her siblings out of the blue, making everyone else jump backwards. ‘That is how sasabonsam snatched the little boy and ate him,’ she says creepily whiles holding her captive by the neck. A cold breeze passes by making them all shiver. ‘Now, if anyone spills water on our way back, sasabonsam will come for them.’ She releases her prisoner back to the others.
Spooked out, everyone fills their bucket at the tap. Each carry their buckets as if it’s their own lives they hold, not daring to splash a drop. They make their way home in horrifying silence. Every one of them hoping sasabonsam doesn’t come for them. Back at the kenkey house, Akorkor talks to her sister about last night. A thief had been caught stealing from Akoto their next-door neighbour. Here, everyone knows everyone so nothing is ever secret. Akorkor says the young man had sneaked into the house around 2:00am. Unfortunately for him, Akoto had just woken up to urinate at the exact time. He saw the creeping shadow heading for his bicycle; which he kept tied to the mango tree in his compound. Akoto pounced on him and yelled for people to assist him. Men and women jumped from their beds like springs, rushing to administer justice to the culprit. Children snuck from the beds too to watch what looked very much like a concert. Other men helped Akoto secure the thief, Akorkor says. Someone brought a small gallon of petrol and forced the thief to drink it. Akweley had been asleep throughout the entire ordeal; worn out from hours of standing and selling. They had beaten him till he bled and left him to die there. Akweley shakes her head. The young man deserved it.
Nii Okine enters the compound in his ‘camboo’ and shorts. Bits of cement clung to his skin and his worn-out T-shirt, most of them are dry. Akweley hurries to fetch a chair for him. He’s murmuring something about the trotro mate cheating him out of ghc0.20ps. Then he goes ahead to complain about work as soon as he sits down. Today, he carried a lot of blocks and cement bags. He had only a few minutes rest after which he had to start mixing the cement with water. A madman had walked into the site today and messed up the plastering he had done on one of the walls. They tried chasing him out but he was aggressive. He had picked up a shovel to ward them off. So, the men had to quickly backed away. He left after a while, though they had to buy him a little food.
Listening to her husband’s tiring day, Akweley isn’t sure if she should tell him tonight that they were soon to lose their home. The sudden eagerness to spill the beans is gone. No, she decides. She will tell him tomorrow. Everything is ready for sales to begin. The fish is finished and so is the kenkey. One of the children burns a mosquito coil on the stand to keep away mosquitoes and other insects. She wonders what has gotten into the children. When she sends one, all the others follow as if they’re bond by invisible strings. They’ve been unusual since returning from fetching water. They have not separated or even played some mischievous game. They are very quiet. Oh, well. Maybe this is a different game they are playing. She calls one of the little girls to come serve Nii Okine whiles she herself walks to the kenkey stand, ready to serve tonight’s hungry buyers.
- Kenkey; local Ga meal of grinded fermented corn wrapped in husks and boiled in water
- Pilolo; a game played by children.
- Dame; a board game
- Sasabonsam; a folklore originating from the Ashanti about a vampire-like creature.
- Camboo; local slang for sneakers