Fledgling

A cool breeze was blowing through the town of Asamankese, whipping dust off the dirt roads into the eyes of pedestrians and the wares of hawkers, preceding the rainfall that was forecasted for that night. Maria was rushing home, her left hand holding a plaid plastic ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag and her right hand firmly gripping Kookie’s small fingers. Her haste was partially due to the imminent bad weather conditions. Asamankese never had a light shower. It would be raining cats and dogs in no time. But she was hurrying and causing the four year old to straddle twice as fast as he usually would because she was in public and she hated to be seen in public. Her ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag was filled with market produce- yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, amongst others. The plaid pattern of the bag, thought to originate from 3rd century China, closely resembled the rich tartan kilts of the Scots. Yet ironically, the utility plaid bags had no place in the rich tradition of Ghana, they were emblems of poverty and hardship which had gained popularity when Ghanaian illegal immigrants were forced to leave Nigeria, thus the name ‘Ghana Must Go’. Since then they had remained in circulation and since Maria’s arrival in that town, her bag had served several purposes. It was her market bag on Friday and every other day, it contained her personal belongings. That day, being Friday, she had gone to the market dutifully and bought almost all that was needed to make supper tonight.

Every young woman was doing the same. Thus as she walked home, she could only inhale the aroma of smoked fish and spiced meats and sigh to herself. Asamankese seemed to be home to mistresses who were black belts in husband-retentive cuisine and mothers who firmly believed in nourishing their families. By seven o’clock, only a few vehicles would be on the road. The men would be in hot pursuit of their wives’ peppery soups and the children in turn would scamper home for a bowl of whatever Mama had prepared. Homes in that part of town were built such that stoves were outside and thus much of the food preparation, the pounding of plantains into fufu, the grinding of Habanero peppers and ginger and the crushing of palm kernels for abenkwan was done in the open compound area. And because people neither built homes with gates nor walls unlike the wealthier parts of town, all household activity was in plain view for passers-by to see unless shielded by trees or hedges. Those without large families and households, resorted to hawkers and food joints just beside the market place. Bachelors, divorced men and the women in their circles, visited these chop bars which gave them the feel of being at a bar and in addition, faithfully served up indigenous dishes. The meals were as delicious as what could be found in a home with even more variety and at affordable prices so that no appetite would be left unsatiated.

The market was approximately half an hour from her home by foot but she could make it home in less if she walked in her usual no-time-to-waste manner (as though there were hot coals under her feet). It came to mind suddenly that there was nothing in the refrigerator for supper that night. She would need to cook a meal afresh, plus she needed Kookie to be home before his parents arrived. That way, they would never know she had taken their son out without their permission.

She felt some moisture on her neck and squinted her eyes; she could now see it was drizzling. The sun was setting, leaving the clouds in the sky as beautiful patches of amber. There was enough light to make it back home without the use of a lantern which also meant just enough light outside for her to be seen. Bustling to and from the market, there was still a number of women making last-minute purchases for supper and fortunately no one was paying attention to her. She pushed past the small throng, leaving the market and made her to the narrow road which if she followed all the way down, would lead home. Skipping to avoid potholes and ditches in the road, Maria hissed her teeth. The road was so uneven. Very few of the roads in Asamankese could even qualify as third-class roads. Each time it rained the streets would flood, gullies would form and water would remain stagnant for days, breeding mosquitoes. She pulled Kookie close to avoid a rift and looked at his feet. She would have to give him a shower when they got home. It was getting chillier and the raindrops were heavier but she arrived home before the rain could properly begin.

Maria Sakyi was born to be a model, a celebrity and a bright shining star. Yet that cloudy night, when few stars could be seen, she found herself wiping mud off a four year old’s foot, next to a basin full of a discouraging pile of dirty silverware, pots and pans, outside by the bore-hole from which they fetched running water. She belted out in song randomly taking Kookie by surprise. “The thing you dey do!” 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 a silver lining on 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.

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