Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Mallam's Predictions

A Short Story

by Akosua Kuma

It is really incredible the number of achievements seen in this twentieth century. The century is referred to as the electronic age, thanks to the fantastic achievements which were not even dreamed possible thirty years ago. But one of the really astonishing scientific break-throughs, apart from going to space, is the test-tube babies. Genetic engineering and in-vitro fertilisation leading to the production of babies by women who could never have had them in the normal way have brought man towards God, the Creator. One of these programmes on the television about child-birth sent my mind back to the experiences of two friends.

Abena was a firm believer in the spiritual world; in fact she had more faith in the mallams, fetishes and spiritualists than any of the modern hospitals. Abena was eight months pregnant and being in a country where shortage of basic drugs and infant mortality are great problems, both relatives and friends were anxious and apprehensive about her first pregnancy. Her friend Winnie visited her one Sunday and was impressed to find her basking in happiness full of confidence and not at all bothered by her coming ordeal - for that was what it boiled down to.

"Abena, I am really glad to find you so strong and lively" Winnie greeted her. Winnie was one of the devout Catholics who never stepped outside her house without her rosary. Abena jumped up and down and declared.

"Well thanks to Mallam Akurugu, I am hale and hearty. Infact I was getting ready to go there now when you came.”

"What? you mean you've been visiting these mallams? If what I hear is correct these chaps also charge fancy consultation fees going into thousands." Winnie was full of surprise.

"Oh you are one of these modern girls who do not believe in the powers of mallams, the ancestors or the fetishes, eh?" Abena asked, obviously a little annoyed at her friend's sarcasm. Winnie prayed for patience to avoid saying anything that will upset her friend.

"I don't doubt them or believe in them. You see as a Catholic I am not supposed to believe in anybody else but what the church teaches", she replied.

"Well wait until you are going to have a baby and talk about believing in what the church teaches. Look, even the most devout christians belonging to all kinds of religions secretly go to the mallams and the fetishes for protection during times of crises. If you don't believe me then let us go today to Nima and see for yourself the number of people gathered outside Mallam's door for consultation. I can assure you that not many of the so-called specialist doctors at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital get that kind of attention," Abena said. She spoke with such force obviously coming from inner and absolute belief that would have persuaded the devil himself. Winnie considered her suggestion and decided to find out the truth. PARADOX The mallam's residence was located somewhere in Nima, a sprawling slum of Accra. The taxi driver knew his way around the capital because he deftly manouvered his vehicle through the busy evening traffic and soon they found themselves on the Nima highway. This highway was construct- ed by one of the military governments and it was said at that time that no civilian government could have persuaded the inhabitants to accept the kind of compensation paid out to the landlords whose houses were affected by the construction of the street.

It is paradoxical that this modern first-class street lined with bright lights passing through a well-established ghetto is juxtaposed to a once posh residential estate built in the first republic. It actually goes to confirm the saying that there is only a thin line separating the ridiculous from the sublime.

The ridiculous state of Nima hits you as soon as you step on terra-firma. One fact that sticks out like a sore finger is the number of vehicles lining both sides of the almost one-mile long street all rumoured to belong to the Alhajis and mallams living in the area.

The taxi driver had a lot of difficulty finding a parking space in between the articulated vehicles and taxis packed all along the highway resting from the activities of the week. Winnie, feeling a little apprehensive, looked around as soon as they alighted from the taxi. Abena looked around her and said: "Winnie are you feeling shy? Well, you needn't because a lot of important people live here, just look at the cars, the mallams are very rich." Winnie followed her friend quietly. She can't be surprised any more, she told herself

In fact they had to lift up their skirts to avoid soiling their clothes in the numerous pools of standing water and human and animal excreta. The heavy smell of putrefaction that hung heavily in the air was almost palpable. The public rubbish collection dump near the main Cinema hall - Dunia - was overflowing with tons of several weeks uncollected side product of man's consumption habit.

Picking their way through this quagmire, they came upon children building a 'bridge' over a wide pool of standing water with empty tins of baby foods, milo, ovaltine and many other empty cans apparently collected from the nearby refuse dump - a veritable example of maximum utilization of local resources or is it re-cycling of materials. The 'bridge' was to help the children to cross over to the main public toilets.

Presently, the two friends entered a two-room house or shed constructed with rusty aluminium sheets. There was a long bench placed on the dusty verandah in front of the rooms. It was obvious that mallam had regular visitors the verandah appeared well used. Already there were five women and one rather young-looking man sitting on the bench. Winnie scanned all the six faces and wondered what crises had brought them to Mallam Akurugu. The first 'patient' shifted to make room for them. Abena sat down and Winnie perched precariously at the edge of the bench. HELP There were mutterings coming out of a dark room with a curtain made with raffia mat. For almost fifteen minutes the incomprehensible mutterings went on behind the raffia mat. "Do I wait for you Abena?" Winnie asked.

"Well, I'd like you to go in with me; I am sure you also need some help don't you? Everybody needs help. Abena said in a solemn tone; the kind of tone used at banks and chapels. Winnie who had her doubts about the whole affair was quite alarmed at her friend's explicit faith in such people often described as confidence tricksters. But she was also aware that she must be open-minded to test the situation. Soon the mutterings stopped and the rafia mat went up as a beautiful and well-dressed lady stepped out from the room. Abena tapped Winnie's hand and whispered:

"Look at this lady, I will tell you her story later."

As the lady put on her sandals and left, the other 'patients' went in one after the other. Winnie was impressed with the patience and orderliness exhibited at the mallam's; it was quite a contrast to the disorder and squabbling which are characteristic of outpatients departments of the government polyclinics and hospitals. The woman in front of them went in and Winnie turned to Abena and whispered "who was that woman? She looked very familiar to me.'

That is Autie Rose, the second wife of Mr. Kusi, the rich businessman. In fact, through mallam's help, the husband has built her a house, bought her a car and she does her children's shopping in London", Abena said. "She is a regular visitor here and if you were to come here you would understand the source of many people's wealth." They removed their sandals to enter the consultation room.

Mallam was still looking into his Koran, holding tightly to his beads when they entered. He continued mutt- ering to himself for some minutes, oblivious of their presence. Then suddenly he stopped, put the beads inside the Koran and reverently placed it beside him on a large goat skin on which he was squatting cross-legged.

"Hello teacher, how is the baby boy today?" he greeted Abena stroking his long grey beard pensively.

"Fine mallam, fine. I came with my friend here to..." Abena started to introduce her but he lifted his hand and stopped her in the middle of her sentence. "It is all right, I'm doing meditation on her and after I had finished with the little boy it will be her turn," the mallam said confidently. Winnie was very surprised to hear the reference to the unborn baby as a boy.

The basis of Abena's strong belief in the Mallam became clear. Abena was married to Bonsu, a divorcee with two daughters. He was anxious to have a son; she knew that the birth of a son would seal the relationship and help take off Bonsu's mind from ever straying to his estranged wife.

The mallam smiled as he picked a small board and scribbled some figures on it. All his actions were slow and done deftly. In his elements, the mallam's face was inscrutable. He filled the board with writings then he took a white bottle filled with water and poured it over the board into a neatly cleaned calabash. He muttered some few words and gave the calabash to Abena who drank it with gusto.

Winnie began to panic. She wondered what she would do if she had to drink some of this potion. Abena put down an amount of twenty cedis into a bowl full of money. The mallam did not look at the money at all but started searching vigorously inside a large leather bag behind him. He brought out a large bottle containing a brown liquid and gave it to her.

The mallam turned to Winnie and said: "You are also a teacher aren't you?"

"No mallam, I am a seamstress," she said.

"Well that is not your work at all," he said as he picked a blue ballpoint pen and a piece of paper and started writing some figures on it. Winnie wondered if she would soon be asked to chew the paper. However, he said some few words in a strange language and then solemnly turned to them. PREDICTION "Teacher, this your friend is a great woman, but she is not doing the work which Allah destined for her. One day she will sell cloth and she will be a very rich woman. There are, however, some few things I have to do for her. Next week she must bring forty cedis and I will use it to buy a white fowl to perform 'saleka' for her." Mallam Akurugu finished his predictions and Winnie grateful for not being asked to chew the paper said:

"Mallam how much must I give to you now for the present consultation."

"Well, as you are new here I cannot ask you to pay anything. After all, knowledge is a free gift from Allah to his children. The money I take is only for buying items used for 'saleka' but you can give any amount that comes from your heart. There is no force at all," he said, turning on his full charm. Winnie searched her handbag and put one cedi into the bowl.

That was some twelve years ago when the cedi was worth something more than the piece of paper it has become these days.

Winnie was wondering what to make of the mallam's predictions. She had been sewing since she left secondary school and yet she was always hard pressed for money. The thought of becoming rich one day was a very nice one. Yet she had her doubts because she could not see how she could get a passbook from the merchants' shops to enable her to become a cloth seller. Anyway, Allah works in mysterious ways so, maybe, she should keep her fingers crossed.

Winnie got the forty cedis by dint of hard work but by the time the money was ready Abena was too weak to go with her. The two therefore agreed to go as soon as the baby was born.

Winnie and Mr Bonsu were the first people who went to the midwife's to visit Abena. As soon as they reached her bedside Winnie was shocked to find her in tears.

"Winnie, it is a girl . . . a girl can you believe it!" Abena sobbed uncontrollably. Winnie quickly recovered from her initial shock and immediately adopted a protective stance.

"Abena, it's alright; it is a healthy baby. You know, it is not every woman who gets a healthy bouncing baby. Some women have deformed babies while some cannot have any at all."

Bonsu her husband went to the bed side and held her lovingly, a clear indication that the sex of the baby did not really matter in their relationship. Winnie returned to her house completely purged of any ideas suggested by the mallam. With the forty cedis she opened a savings account at a commercial bank. The interest on her savings, she reasoned, would be better insurance for her future than becoming rich through selling cloths.

The last time the two friends heard of Mallam Akurugu his lot had improved tremendously. Auntie Rose, tired of playing second fiddle, had installed Mallam in her house to help her make her man a full time husband.

Predictably, the husband left and Mallam Akurugu took over as full time husband his prediction had come true eventually.

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