Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The mystery of the dough nuts

Short Story

by Akosua Kuma

Nobody can specifically indicate the beginning of the incident, but I think the whole thing started with groups of whispering school pupils. I was then a pupil teacher in the Local Authority School at Banda village. My recollection of Amponsah was that of a wretched and timid boy. The only way one could not forget him was for the fact that he was a perpetual late-comer. When he was late, it was not easy to question him since he invariably had a fishy smell that he carried around the whole week.

He would have passed through my class unnoticed but for one incident that left an indelible print in my mind and has also changed my whole idea about ghosts and the spiritual world. Even though ghost stories are as old as the hills and underscores man's effort to understand life after death some of the numerous stories about ghosts are, quite frankly, ridiculous.

The most famous one was about a woman who lost her only daughter and could not be consoled. She walked for seven years with a sad countenance until one day two children - a boy and a girl aged about six and four years respectively came to her house with their small hand luggage and called her grandmother. According to the story the children described the dead daughter as their mother. She had accompanied them quite close to the house and had pointed the house to them and on some flimsy pretext disappeared into thin air.

These ghost stories usually had no substance because I never saw any of these spiritual returnees nor did I ever hear the narrators stating categorically of an acquaintance who had returned from the underworld.

But Amponsah was a proper orphan. He explained that his mother died when he was just four years old and since then he had been living with his aunt, who happened to be his mother's younger sister. Though traditionally an orphan is pampered in the African society his aunt was an exception to the rule. One only had to take a look at his appearance to realise that he was not looked after properly. His coming to school late every day stemmed from the fact that he had to get up at dawn to help his auntie, a fishmonger, to work at the trade. Every day he had to sell a certain amount of the fish before he could have breakfast and come to school. Most of the time the work was too hectic for the nine-year-old boy and he ended up not having breakfast or a wash before coming to school.

Then the mystery began one afternoon. Amponsah sorted through some old junk in the house and found an ancient bag which he quickly cleaned and decided to use as a satchel for carrying his books and pencils. Initially he was so happy to have this satchel that he carried it around wherever he went. But as the novelty of it waned, he left it under his desk and went out with his school friends during the lunch break. His aunt's cruelty also became apparent when we got to know that he never went home for lunch like other pupils. He depended on the benevolence of the other children for his lunch.

Every afternoon he looked around for a kind-hearted friend to take him to lunch. Usually, one pupil would take him home for a day or two and then the hospitality would be over; he went around at least thirty of the homes of the forty children, to have something to eat. After the children realised Amponsah never invited them home they shunned his company and so he began hanging around the school building during the lunch break.

Gradually, instead of the boy becoming more wretched as expected he started blooming. Then the whispering began. He became so popular with the children that instead of hanging forlornly around the empty school alone, he had children clamouring and wanting to stay around with him. I called one of the children: "Dapaah, why are you hanging around today? You ought to have gone home by now. It is half past twelve and you are supposed to return to school at one o'clock."

"Well, Madam, I do not want to go home today," he replied.

"Why not; has your mother travelled or are you not hungry?" I asked, wondering what was going round that child's head.

"Madam my mother is at home but I do not want to eat gari and palava sauce today, I want to be with Amponsah and eat some of his sweet and lovely doughnuts."

That was quite a surprise. I could not imagine how he could be given doughnuts for lunch and even have extra to share with friends. Then the surprise turned to sadness. Good gracious, the poor boy had succumbed to the constant hunger and might have resorted to stealing to survive. My natural instinct nagged me to step in and save the poor boy's soul.

For the rest of the afternoon I kept calculating my pay and working out if I could support an additional mouth. By the time the children came back I had made up my mind. I would ask his aunt to let him come and stay with me.

As I was thinking and scribbling on a piece of paper I felt a lot of activity around in the classroom. There were about ten boys around Bob's desk and with outstretched hands they were all anxiously begging him for a little bit of the doughnuts.

"Hey children, why are you eating in the classroom? Amponsa, you come here at once! Why did you not finish eating your food before coming into the classroom? And anyway, where did you get the doughnuts?", I shouted angrily after taking the satchel and examining the contents. There were about ten steaming hot cookies and they were carefully wrapped up in paper. While examining them I was thinking about all the possible places from which he might have stolen them, when my concentration was broken by what he said.

"Madam please, I did not bring the food into this classroom. I get it from here and I was going to take it outside when the other children rushed around to beg for a bite."

"What actually do you mean by that? If you did not bring it here, then who did? Are you trying to tell me that these hot doughnuts came from the air?" I threw him these questions, gradually getting more angry because I thought he was telling a fib. As if in unison all the children cried out: "But Miss, it is true! The doughnuts are always found in the satchel whenever Amponsa leaves it in his desk!"

I was getting more confused. Almost all the children had returned from the lunch break and I was determined to get to the bottom of the issue. The whole afternoon was used in questioning the whole class. It was my hope that, at least, one child might have seen the actual source of the cookies and would inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. However, all the interrogation led to one answer - the doughnuts have been appearing mysteriously in the bag and neither Amponsa nor any of the children had a hand in its appearance.

It soon became apparent that all the children were telling the truth. However I could still not understand the issue. At the close of school that day I discussed the matter thoroughly with the head-teacher who believed firmly that one of the children was playing pranks and might have sneaked the food in while I was busy.

The following afternoon, as soon as the children went out for break, the head-teacher came in and we both examined the satchel and put it back, and left the room. We stayed out of sight but ensured that we would see and catch whoever might have been playing the trick. Exactly at a quarter to one o'clock we saw the kids rushing back behind the now very popular Amponsa. Both the head-teacher and I followed them and stood in the door- way and carefully searched every single one of them. They had nothing on them except the normal school children's playthings. The head-teacher then said:

"Now Master Amponsa go in and bring your satchel." The child went slowly to the desk and took out the bag. He walked over with an inexplicable smile on his face. The head- teacher took the satchel and began unwrapping the parcel. The utter surprise on his face confirmed my belief that the miracle had occurred again. He quickly thrust the satchel into Bob's hands and left the room.

Every afternoon he looked around for a kind-hearted friend to take him to lunch. Usually, one pupil would take him home for a day or two and then the hospitality will be over; he went around at least thirty of the homes of the forty children, to have something to eat. After the children realised Amponsah never invited them home they shunned his company and so he began hanging around the school building during the lunch break.

Later in the evening, we decided to seal the bag in the headmaster's office and then observe what would happen. This was done. The office door was locked and we left for lunch. On our return again the doughnuts were there. By this time the entire town was aware of the news and as usual everybody was either talking about the aunt's maltreatment of the boy or some other such ghost stories. It was now firmly believed that the ghost of Bob's mother had been sending lunch to her son.

Then as suddenly as it had started the mysterious doughnuts stopped appearing. I asked Amponsa what actually happened. He explained that his aunt started treating him better and she advised Amponsah to write a letter to his dead mother requesting her to send her money for new clothing. The very day that letter was left in the satchel there were no mysterious hot doughnuts ever again.

The mystery of the doughnuts however, remains the best ghost story in the Banda village.

talking drums 1984-09-03 arrests and tension in Liberia - WAEC's leakage problems