Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Short Story - The Guide

By Hassan Ali Ganda

We first met in Lagos. I was at the airport awaiting the departure of my flight. In between futile attempts at Soyinka I watched as aeroplanes cut their invisible paths through the air. There was little noise and they seemed to climb and float eerily as if by a magical and alien process.

I had been the first to check-in and had become unaware of the arrival of others. That is, until the seat next to mine started to fill with an assortment of bags, rugs, sandals and hats. These appeared to belong to a girl who was herself festooned with more of the same. I saw that she needed some help. I got up and relieved her of two heavily laden shoulder bags and what I took to be a Masai blanket. We arranged her things on the chair and on the floor.

"Thanks... I am Denise" she stretched out a hand. I took it and received a vigorous and rattling shake. Both of her arms were encumbered with more bangles, rings and chains than can be found on a Benin bust and they clashed as she moved. She seemed to be out of breath. I offered her my seat. "C'mon... sit down". She motioned me to reoccupy my seat while she set about removing her things from the chair. She sat down and took a short rest. She then started to rearrange her goods in her lap and in mine and on the floor. She stopped and looked at me and smiled. Perhaps she had been conscious that I had been observing her all the while. She touched my knee with her hand and said slowly and deliberately "you....think... I am... nuts... right?"

I waited a little before I replied. I was not sure of what to say. "No, not really,' I replied. Strange perhaps but not nuts in any certifiable sense. After all, it took all types to make the world and Murtala Mohamed airport terminal was as good a place as any to savour a different variety.

"I've been watching you.. from over there..." I turned to look. She was pointing to a door on the other side of where we were sitting through which more people were arriving “.. and I think you are a nerd". Having made this statement she seemed to hesitate, give me another smile and then laugh. "But don't sweat ..." she continued, "I like nerds". I did not know what she meant. Was it a compliment, or an insult or both. Did I in fact want to be liked by this girl? What was the meaning of all this? There was to be no respite.

"Where are you heading?" I did not appear to have heard it so she repeated herself "where are you heading?"

I am going to Freetown... to Sierra Leone". I had more than enough of my own problems and I needed that rest in Freetown. I felt a little irritated by the persistence of this girl. But she seemed determined to talk so I closed Soyinka and finally put him away.

I sank lower in my seat. I took a deep breath and exhaled. I turned again to my neighbour. For the first time I gave the girl a proper look over. She was older than I had at first thought and better looking too. There was a certain harmony about her. Her smile, speech, her manner of dressing, her body... they all complemented each other. I must admit that the thought did flash through my mind that had I met her at a different time and a different place I may have had more interest in her.

"I know you ain't from Town," town being the diminutive for Freetown, "so I got great news for you ... you got yourself a guide ... and it's free... right?" My own plans apparently counted for nothing. I did not commit myself.


It appeared that Aisa, for that is what she preferred to call herself, was a member of the Peace Corps. For some reason I had thought that the Corps had not survived Dallas. I had been mistaken. It had, and it had grown from strength to greater strength. Aisa was an instructor at a school in Kenema. She was involved in an intermediate technology project. She was a specialist in weaving mechanics. The project was appropriate and it was relevant. It was also fun. Her enthusiasm for African weaving practices and her desire to infect me with its beauty knew no bounds.

It was limited only by my complete and overt ignorance of any of its finer points. She was disappointed. But before long, she said, she would be back with her looms, cocks and buckles. The blanket I had thought came from Kenya had been bought in Mopti. She had just finished a gruelling six-weeks trek through Mali, Upper Volta and Niger. These were the best years of her life.

I told her that I was going to Freetown, to Aberdeen to be precise, for a holiday. She doubted that. "We all know that Africans don't do that, they don't go to other African countries for their vacation", she continued, "they don't even travel in their own countries... right?" She stopped and looked at me. Of course she was wrong. The vast majority of Africans took no holidays and those that did could not afford to go anywhere. I said nothing. My silence encouraged her. "They go to Europe, to the States, to Bangkok... you name it ... they go any and everywhere but!" I did not want to get embroiled in a debate over this issue. I did not like this categorisation of Africans by this girl and her friends. In any event I was going to Sierra Leone and that was that.

She seemed to notice that I was not particularly forthcoming. She changed the topic. "Did you know that they have absolutely the most beautiful sunsets in Freetown?". It was a question but it required no answer. She looked at me and put on a pair of very large sunglasses. She appeared to be thinking, to be recollecting.

"Do you know that the most beautiful people in the world are in Africa?" By this time I was becoming used to her superlatives. Many an African would have said that the most beautiful people inhabited the covers of Ebony. But I don't think she meant that kind of easily accessible beauty. She seemed quiet. She had slipped lower in her seat. She was holding her hands clasped together between her legs with her face tilted back looking towards the ceiling. I could see tears down her cheek. She seemed to be locked into an experience of which I was not a part. I gave her a tissue. I always keep tissues with me. She took it, removed the glasses and wiped her face. She smiled and at that moment she too was beautiful.

We spoke of her trek, of Ouagadougou, of Bobo-Diollaso and of their rugged beauty. It appeared that in those bleak and deserted parts as the sahel she had come to understand the strength and beauty of her people. She had come away with her Juffure.


Part II

I believed that a seat number on a boarding pass indicated a particular seat on which one was required to sit and so I made my way to mine after I had entered the plane. This was an error. A large Agbada-clad man reeking of some brutish scent had installed himself where I should have been. I informed him that he had made a mistake and that seat no 24C was mine. He snorted, gesticulated, removed his handsome hat and commenced a monologue in some vernacular tongue. It must have contained some wit for in no time at all half the passengers and all the stewardesses I could see were shrieking with laughter. I was rescued by Aisa. She dragged me down the aisle and onto a seat next to her.

"The US Cavalry rides again thanks". She did not appreciate my wit. But I had not been rescued for nothing. I was again lumbered with bags and other paraphernalia. I set about securing them as best and as safely as I could.

"Man... you are something!" she said after I had finished, "... you gotta know how to handle these guys". Since I did not particularly want to know how to handle these guys I was in no mood for a lesson. I settled down, loosened my tie, undid my shoe-laces and watched as she arranged her braids and dabbed her neck and cheeks with cologne. When she finished she closed the bottle and put it in one of her bags.

"You still ain't told me your name. I gotta know who I am with". I was not sure that I was with her but I told her my name all the same. "Sam, short for Samson". It thrilled her.

"Where are you from. . . no, let me take a guess... I'd say it's gotta be Ghana... right?" She was right the first time although I was a little perplexed as to why it had to be Ghana. We talked and we laughed. I took the opportunity to ask for the meaning of nerd. "A nerd is a jerk with class, dummy!" For some reason I was relieved. I had feared that it may have had something to do with a natural product usually associated with ruminants and open fields. She found out that I was an Accountant. "That figures" was her wry comment.

We settled down. For a while we did not speak. I looked for my Soyinka. It was The Interpreters. A difficult book. Just as I was about to open it she held my arm. Her pent up fatigue seemed gradually to be overtaking her and she needed a prop. "Tell me more about yourself Samson". I paused. Before I could even begin to think of what I could usefully say her head rolled on to my shoulder and she was asleep. Her breathing was very gentle. She had a soft fragrance about her. I unbuckled her belt.


Part III

I saw Denise Collete Forster, for that was Aisa's full name, again, a few days later. It was at the junction of Wilkinson Road and Carlton Carew Road. It was drizzling, for it was August and we were in the rainy season. There was a rainbow in the sky. She had stopped a poda-poda. She was in shorts and track-shoes. Her t-shirt was drenched. I offered her a ride in my friend's Mercedes. It was brand new and it looked it. It even smelt it.

She came up to my side of the car and leaned down in order to speak, "I dig the wheels. . ." she said "but you ain't gonna see Freetown this way". She smiled. She always smiled. This time it had a mischievous and superior edge to it. I looked at my friend. I turned to Aisa and said goodbye. We sped off. I think she waved.

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