Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Nuggets of Gold

Short Story

by Akosua Kuma

The whole town was in a bustle that day, which was unusual because apart from Christmas and Easter holidays, one hardly saw any activity in this ghost town. There were signs indicating that it had once seen life in the past. Its sheer size and the cosmopolitan attitudes of the inhabitants indicated that it had once been a bustling commercial town. A short stroll towards the Western end of the town immediately established the reason for the decay and its seemingly dormant vitality. The town had once been a mining centre.

There were the neglected lawns and wooden bungalows where the white mine-owners and the other workers had lived. The deep shafts were now covered with climbing and creeping plants which crawled and tangled with the railway tracks. These tracks connected the different shafts to the main depot where the raw ore was deposited for the necessary processing. The once beautifully kept golf course which the European staff of the mine used to relax on was now a small forest teaming with slippery snakes and ugly looking lizards

The only institution around this which linked the present with the past was a small hospital which still remained to take care of the health needs of the town-folks. Even in this hospital the effects of the inactive mines on the ancillary and support businesses were clearly evident. It has dwindled from a big hospital to a clinic. The wards were empty and the whole surrounding area was overgrown with tropical weeds.

The extent of the neglect and desolation were reflected in the faces of the people. The old people were prematurely aged with no hope in their eyes which were set in grim faces. The children were emaciated, sporting distended stomachs, apparently suffering from malnutrition. Nothing ever seemed to happen except births and deaths which were very infrequent as everything else.

That is why the excitement of the day was the arrival of Seth Boye's party which had come to town to help their friend get married to a local girl. The car stopped in front of a house; its prominence in the area was, among other things such as the solid cement structure in the middle of landcrete buildings, the two lion statues facing each other close to the front of the main gate. Seth and his friend jumped out of the car and knocked on the large wooden door. There was absolutely no sound from within inspite of repeated loud banging which would have woken the dead.

"Are you sure this girl's people know you are coming today to perform the customary rites?" Seth asked his friend.

"Of course they know, I sent Maggie here a week ago to inform them and I followed it up with a telegram," Bob Quansah said pulling out a piece of paper from his pocket "Here is a copy of the telegram, you can read it for yourself," he said tossing the piece of paper to his friend. They stood behind the gate puzzled and wondering what was happening. The bridegroom looked worried.

Bob had been in this town several times before and therefore realised that it was usually quiet but the atmosphere that day was uncanny. They were contemplating leaving when rustlings behind the door stopped them. An elderly woman opened the door slowly and peeped sleepily at them.

"Hello old lady! Did we disturb your sleep?" Bob asked with obvious relief.

"Oh, gentlemen, you are welcome. I am sorry I kept you waiting. I was putting the baby to sleep and nearly went off myself", she apologised. "Oh, Mr Bob, you are welcome. Maggie said you will be coming today but we did not know you will come so early." The woman said, leading them into the house.

She gave them two traditional wooden stools to sit on and water to drink. "Old lady, what is happening here today? The whole place looks like a ghost town; the usual screaming kids are missing from the streets. We nearly went back," Bob said.

"Oh, so you don't know. Well, today the Bono family is dedicating the rehabilitated town clinic to their great grandfather and from what I hear the feast being held there is bigger than anything that has ever happened here even during the old days when tons of gold were sent weekly overseas. You know, the great times when we used to dance the waltz with the white man." She got up to demonstrate, attempted a pirouette and nearly fell in the process.

The youngmen couldn't help laughing. "The Bono family? You mean the High court judge and the two city doctors are from this town?" Bob asked with surprise.

"Oh yes. Strange as it may seem now this town has once produced some really brave men but the closure of the mines has reduced everything to shambles. The oldman Bono who is being honoured today was the source of all the Bono fortune and fame," Maggie's mother explained. "The source of their fame and fortune?".

"Yes, it was quite a longtime ago. The Bonos were extremely poor." She whispered as if she did not even want the walls of the empty house to hear what she was about to disclose. "Nowadays nobody dares to even mention it but I can tell you on oath that the lawyers and doctors did not make any of the money which they display around. Their great-grand father put everything away for the future generations."

"What did he put away, old lady?" Bob who knew Madam Ewudzi, mother of the bride-to-be, asked with a knowing smile. He thought that once again the old lady was telling some of her tales.

Madam Ewudzi was no fool, she understood the smile and said with a sudden change of mood, "My-in-law this is very true, you have to listen to the whole story. My own father was involved but he is dead now - may he rest in peace."

"The story is that the Bonos, I mean the old man, was among the group of people the whitemen first employed to work in the gold mines. Most of the men were frightened at the idea of going down into the bowels of mother earth to extract gold, but the abject poverty of his family forced him to take the job. Later on other people joined the miners, including my own father".

"Old lady, then you obviously have some big gold nuggets hidden under your bed," Bob teased.

"I wish I had but my old man was not adventurous like the old Bono who is being honoured today. My father told me the secret of his riches before he died. He said about one hundred miners used to go down the pit with one white engineer, but the actual blasting of the rocks was done by three labourers who were called 'blastmen'. The white engineer only went down after the 'blastmen' had certified that everything had settled down. You know, the mines used to be one of the richest in the country. Many blastmen lost their lives and a few wise ones like Mr Bono got rich."

"You mean, he took the raw ore from the mines without being seen?" Bob asked full of curiosity.

"No, that's not how it happened. The blastmen sometimes came across real solid gold, pure and adulterated at the really rich deposit points. Usually they called the engineer to collect the nuggets which he put in his pocket. No one ever knew what happened to those nuggets because only the blastmen were searched when they came out of the pit. Everyone agreed that since the mines belonged to the whites, the nuggets went to the right quarters. On one rainy day Bono, my father and one Alidu blasted a real solid deposit. Inside the studded rocks there were real nuggets of gold glowing brightly in the dark pit."

"As the three men sat down and stared longingly at the huge nuggets, they considered their life situations their abject poverty, the monthly eight pounds pay packets and the prospects of being rich. Immediately, their minds were made up. The nuggets would not be given to the engineer; instead they would take the gold and suffer the consequences. They swore to keep silent no matter what happened", the old lady said.

"How did they get through the search at the top of the pit?" Bob asked.

"You think they were fools? They did not bring them out that day. Each one hid them in his own secret point underground. Within the next six months Bono ate only bulky food and the remnants were taken back home to the children. My old man sneaked his out by studding them under mud covered wellington boots. Alidu got his out under his cap."

"Then we were right, you have some of them as we thought. Definitely your father left you at least one nugget of gold," Steve joked.

Madam Ewudzi looked keenly at him and smiled slyly. "Don't jump to conclusions because that is not the end of the story. The whiteman was no fool. If it was so easy to take out the nuggets every miner would have been a millionaire.

"You know how you men behave when you get some money - drinking and women. The mine owners had set up prostitutes and local goldsmiths as spies and somehow the information got to them and the three blastmen were arrested. Those days only hefty men were recruited for the mines' security network. There was one really strong man whose slaps were so brutal that he was nicknamed 'hammer'. The three men went through all kinds of torture. During the investigations my old man and Alidu could not stand the strain. They confessed and their hoard of gold nuggets were confiscated. Consequently they lost their jobs. Mr Bono insisted he did not take any gold. It is said that he was beaten so much that he never survived."

"Anyway, fifty years later after the mines had closed down and all the owners had departed to their countries of origin", the old lady continued, "his wife who never showed any signs of wealth gave a whole potful of gold nuggets to his children. Is it any wonder my sons that a whole clinic has been dedicated to him today?" Madam Ewudzi concluded her story.

"But Mama, I think your old man was naive, he need not have sent all the pieces?" Steve Bog retorted

"Well, my mother was not so naive; she discreetly kept just two small nuggets for ornaments. My father never knew about them and that is how we came to have this concrete building we live in today." She replied.

"So, one can say that the oldman Bono died to liberate his sons and grandsons from poverty." said Bob offering a philosophical cover for the wealth of the Bonos.

"Yes. What can I say about my own father? He died and left us just as poor as before, but for my mother we would not even have a roof over our heads." She said, "but right now, we all have something to rejoice about haven't we? My daughter is about to get married and it's good news." The wedding guests' attention was broken by the entrance of a singing party from the hospital dedication ceremony. They had come to attend Maggie's wedding ceremony.

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