Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

My Friend Mansour

By Hassan Ali Ganda

We became friends through an accident. I had only recently moved into the area when one Sunday afternoon as I sat on the porch drinking beer and playing draughts with my friends we were interrupted by the sound of some- one calling out for the doctor. When I went to investigate I saw that it was a Syrian. His hands gripped the rim of a crumpled hat and his clothes were covered with patches of grease and oil. He looked nervously at me as I descended the steps into the yard. I could not remember him as being one of my patients and so I was unsure as to whether or not it was me that he was looking for. I need not have hesitated. He even knew my name.

"Dr Ali," he said, "my wife... she not well." There had been an accident in his house and it was clearly an emergency. I hurried upstairs and collected my bag. I gulped down the remnants of my Star beer, made my excuses to my friends and joined the Syrian in his pick-up. He had left it parked outside my main gate with the engine still running. We sped off in a trail of smoke and clatter.


Mrs Khoury was in a bad way. She was heavily pregnant and had slipped and fallen while in the bathroom gashing herself and breaking an arm in the process. Her fall had also precipitated an early labour and since there was no time in which to transfer her to the clinic I treated her on the spot. I sat her down and cleaned and bandaged her cut. With the assistance of her husband and their maid I delivered her a pair of noisy but otherwise healthy boys. We later sent her to the clinic. Mansour never forgot that Sunday. "Doctor Ali," he would say to anyone who would care to listen, "...he save my wife him life, he save my pikin life and he save my life." At first I had thought that the consequence of my treatment had been somewhat exaggerated but I soon realised that exaggeration was part and parcel of Mansour. Everything was either very good or very bad. Even my wife who knew a little more on the subject was assured that "Doctor Ali... him a good man and a proper good doctor too."

At first I had thought that the consequence of my treatment had been somewhat exaggerated but I soon realised that exaggeration was part and parcel of Mansour. Everything was either very good or very bad.


I had thought that Mansour was a Syrian and a muslim. He was neither. He was a Maronite Christian from Lebanon. I found this out when the civil war first broke out in Beirut in the mid-seventies. Marie, his sister, suddenly arrived from Lebanon and one evening he brought her to visit us. She was pretty and she carried herself elegantly yet I could detect in her occasional stiffness of manner the tensions brought about by her recent experiences. She brought a small jewellery case as a gift to my wife and the two of them in the course of time became good friends.

I really got to know Mansour properly from that evening. "Me and my sister... we born here." They had been born in Nsawam when that town was still a thriving entrepot. The rail- ways were then the life line into the interior and the fact that it passed through the town had turned it into a vital commercial centre. Agents of large European firms on the coast with small Syrian stores and African petty traders. Their father Mansour Khoury had been the immigrant in the family. He had arrived in the colony in 1920 and had struck out for Nsawam in 1923.

Through thrift, hard work and his ability to 'go native' he had built up a provision store with his own agents of Yoruba traders who distributed their wares in the surrounding villages. He had earned a good living and had married his uncle's daughter who had been expressly sent from home for the purpose. With his father-in-law's help he had expanded into the haulage busi- ness. The future had looked secure. After the war, however, Nsawam had rapidly declined and its fortunes and trade had suffered. Their father had transferred his operations to Accra and it was at that time that he had brought the large tracts of land at Kpehe upon which the family's business was later to rely.

"The time we come here…”, Mansour had said, "...the place all bush... nobody here." They had built the first block house in the area. "The Accra people, they fear ghosts. They think the bush full of ghosts so they fear." He told us of workmen who had refused to sleep overnight in the bush and the eerie calls at night and the snakes in the daytime which had all been attributed to the evil spirits inhabiting the land. They had stayed on but their business in Accra had not thrived.

Their father had tried his hands at taxis and cinemas and even ice-creams. He had even gone back into the provis- ions trade but nothing had worked. When he died Marie had accompanied their distraught mother back to Lebanon. Mansour had battled on alone. He had committed everything to a new spare parts business but that had also not taken off and he had been forced to sell off their land holdings in order merely to survive.

"This house..." he once said as we sat on my verandah, "...we build it. We build it with our hands. I sell to lawyer Boateng."

"I had bought the house in an auction. It had belonged to a Lawyer Boateng but he had drunk himself into poverty and death and his administrators had been forced to sell off the house in order to satisfy the demands of his creditors. "You know lawyer Boateng?" Mansour had asked. I said that I had not. "Him a proper good man... but he no pay me all for the house."

I became the doctor for the whole Khoury family, household and shop staff. It was not strictly a business relationship since I hardly ever drew a bill or received any direct payment. But I did receive access to all the spare parts I needed. If Mansour himself did not have what I needed then one of his brothers would certainly have it. All the Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and Armenians in Accra seemed to be brothers able to conjure up any requirement at a moment's notice. I was never allowed to pay for the parts and as a result I sought Mansour's assistance only as a last resort.

"Doctor Ali..." As he spoke he stretched open his arms as if to show off his black double breasted suit. " I join lodge!"

One day I saw Mansour in a suit. His shirt was spotlessly white, his face cleanly shaven and his hair lacquered and sleaked tight on his head. "Doctor Ali..." As he spoke he stretched open his arms as if to show off his black double breasted suit. " I join lodge!" He was triumphant. I was stupefied. He looked at me, lines of concern ridging his brow, "why... you no like lodge?" I assured him that I took no position on freemasonry. "But it is proper good... it be good for business. When I told him that one did not join the lodge for the mere sake of business he agreed. "True, true ... it no be for business, but it is still good for business." He had argued that if it was not so then why was it that every businessman of any consequence wanted to join? He recounted the names of all the big people he had met that day in his lodge. "You know, today I meet plenty doctors too. You and me brothers... I make good arrangement for you." I declined his offer.

I later found out that he had a problem. He could not memorise the various texts he was required to recite at their meetings and he would come to practise his efforts on me in the little free time I had. I reminded him that his craft was supposed to be secret. "Yes, secret but not proper secret." In the process I got to know almost as much about masonry as he did. At times I used to think that he considered the whole thing childish and silly but since it permitted him to mix with big men and promised economic deliverance he was not prepared to let up.

Regrettably things were already too far advanced for his membership of the lodge to have been any use. I rather think that his new found brothers fin- ally sapped any vitality left in the busi- ness. As life became more difficult these brothers came to rely on Mansour for their motor parts and not surprisingly no accounts were ever made or settled. I think in the end he stopped attending their meetings. One day his wife Grace had suddenly debunked. His sister also left for America to join her husband and when she was going took the twins. We saw less and less of him and when we did the old exuberance was missing.

Mansour never talked of it but I believe that what had actually broken his heart had been the departure of his wife. Grace, after abandoning home and children, was now thought to be 'doing business' in Lagos. I had always had my doubts about their relation- ship. She had seemed too young and frivolous for Mansour and I had not been surprised to hear that she had jumped ship. I later learnt that they had never actually been married and that she had started out as his maid when she was still only a child.

One Monday Mansour received a thorough beating at the hands of some soldiers. There had been a coup and victorious soldiers had raided his house in quest of cash and videos. He had neither and so he had been beaten. No one in the area had dared offer any help and his assailants had driven away, shooting their guns into the air and scattering traffic off the road as a mad dog scatters sheep. He had not been the only Lebanese to have been so treated and he was philosophical about his condition when I went to treat him.

After I had finished and was about to walk home he showed me a picture of his children which had been sent to him from America. They looked well and bore a strong resemblance to their father. He put the pictures on his bedside table and looked at me. "Doctor Ali" he said, "now everybody hate Lebanese. When Lebanese go who everybody go hate?". I told him that the soldiers were only ruffians in uniform and that no one hated Lebanese. I reminded him that he was to report at my clinic the next morning and he was to stop talking such silly talk. He managed a smile. His watchman found him dead the next morning.

talking drums 1984-08-06 Challenge to Siaka Stevens - Rawlings has no regrets