Eighteen Years

“And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.” Luke 13:11

Maria Sakyi was born to be a model, a celebrity and a bright shining star. But she found herself wiping mud off a three year old’s feet, next to a basin full of a discouraging pile of dirty silverware, pots and pans, outside next to the bore-hole from which they fetched running water. “The thing you dey do” she belted out in song randomly taking Kookie by surprise. “I think I like am!” She was loud and so he jumped a little and his face clearly said stop doing that please. Maria gave him a wide smile and hugged the little angel. His bright white eyes reflected innocence and intelligence. His hair was grown but it was clean, dark and healthy because Maria never let him miss a shower nor miss brushing his teeth. He owed his beautiful baby toothed smile to “Auntie Mari” as he called her. His smooth face shaped like a heart, made him as pretty as a girl till his mischievous smile gave away his boyishness. Kookie was Maria’s best friend and life had changed for her since he was born. He was the silver lining round the gloomy black cloud that seemed to perpetually sit above her head. She picked him and took him inside to dress him, singing to herself still.

Before his birth, Kookie’s parents desperately hoped for a child. They had Maria staying with them, but she was not their child and they never let her forget that. Maria had slept in a corner of the living room every night for the past eighteen years. There was not much furniture in the room anyway, except three dark wooden seats and a matching table. They did not own a television. Living in a remote part of Asamankese in the Eastern part of Ghana, Mr and Mrs Sakyi-Ankrah made their living off a poultry farm. There was not much money to go round but whatever extra funds Lina Sakyi got for herself, she used on her son Kweku (who Maria called Kookie). Hence Maria slept on the floor each night and was first given a pillow at age fifteen. The hardness of the cement floor she slept on however, did not damage to her soft skin; Maria blossomed naturally. Her graceful, lithe body betrayed the fact that she ate very little (leftovers, scraps and mostly fruits from the neighbors’ trees) nonetheless, at age twenty, her moderate bust and hips called for attention, making her body rather attractive. Her thick natural African hair crowned a face of striking features. The color of her skin was close to ebony but her teeth were bright white and they stood out, along with a slight dimple and a twinkle in her eye, each time she smiled.

Mariel Saks” was her stage name, her alter ego. It was her name on social networks- Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She kept her accounts active because through them, she lived. Maria never viewed herself as one living two separate lives. To her, she was dead to the Sakyi-Ankrahs and alive to the world. In her mind, she was not a poor young woman living in Asamankese and being denied the right of tertiary education. She was everything she wanted to be. This was why when she met Timothy Appiah near the town’s biggest bar one night and he offered her a job, she jumped at the chance. Tim would make her famous and she knew this since the very day she set eyes on him. He could see past her situation and into her future. He knew she had potential and drive and diligence. Maria had spoken with him for less than twenty minutes before agreeing to his proposal. Timothy Appiah said he was a photographer from Accra. His warm smile and expensive equipment convinced her he must be telling the truth because after all people from Accra were rich and must have nice lives. He gave her the name “Mariel” and they started business together. As of yet, Maria was not receiving any profits from their joint business, but Tim came around often and he assured her that it wouldn’t be long till she was rolling in millions of cedis. The thought of making such amounts of money put a huge smile on her face.

The thought of Lina Sakyi wiped that smile off and left no trace of it. Lina had seen Maria’s school reports each semester and knew that the twenty-year-old in her care was incredibly smart but never praised or rewarded her. She only increased the amount of work Maria had to do, as though cleaning every room, throwing out garbage, fetching water for the household, cooking, doing laundry, taking care of Kweku and other odd jobs was not enough. Maria had sobbed hysterically the night Lina decided that she was to start working on their poultry farm instead of going to vocational school. She had tried to explain to her that it made no sense for her to work on the poultry farm since there were already more than enough hands and secondly she was a female and could not be of much help. In return for her explanation, she received a cold slap.

“Shut up!” Lina’s shrill voice shook Maria to tears. “I’ll lock you outside and you can go and sleep on the streets for all I care.” Maria whimpered in the dark room lit by a lantern. There had been a power failure only a few minutes ago.

“No,” was all she could muster, in a tiny voice amidst sobs.

“Look at you. Prostitute!” Lina spat out snidely, sizing up Maria. The women had not gotten along since the younger of the two had joined their household. Lina had raised Maria up as a toddler. However, no matter how much she helped and watched over Kookie and worked hard at school, the plump woman with short hair would never consider the child her daughter. Angelina Sakyi had married Mr.Sakyi-Ankrah at age twenty-four. She was a beautiful light-skinned bride married to her dark knight in the town hall with three witnesses the day after a small but joyful and colorful traditional celebration of their marital union. It took them six years to have their first child by which time, she had gained an immense amount of weight, changed in complexion and practically lost the attractiveness that lured her husband Nana to her. She habitually dressed in loosely-fitted printed cloth and hated having her large arms seen. She continually feared that Nana had his eyes elsewhere and prayed to Allah that he would not disgrace her by choosing Maria over her one day. As Maria had grown up, she had frowned upon the child’s natural glow and beauty. She never wished Maria to be seen with her so she left her at home always. She also made sure the girl would dress in drab clothing that would keep eyes off her. Now that Maria was a woman, she was determined to make her existence hell before she grew wings enough to leave their home.

Maria needed to be alone right that moment. There was nowhere to go. She did not have a room to herself and could not claim any part of the acre which the Sakyi-Ankrahs house was built on as her own, not even the space on the living room floor where she slept. Although she wiped and cleaned everything in that home, nothing was hers, not a single item. She began walking outside and as she closed the door behind her, and muttered “You’re just jealous of me.”

Heh, what was that you said?” Lina turned to give Maria one last scathing look. “Get out of my sight before I do something you’ll never forget!” Trying her best not to slam the door but slamming it anyway because of how angry she was, the fledgling actress and model stomped out on to the road. Pulling her skirt up to her waist, wiping the tears from her face and brushing off dirt from her hair, she began to run into the dark night. Power had not been restored to the neighborhood. She would be home in the morning.

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