Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

White magic

By John E.S. de Graft-Hayford

She sat on the stool at the dressing table and looked at her wrinkled white face in the gilt-edged mirror. She smoothed away a few greying strands of hair from her forehead and smiled back at the mischievous blue eyes that stared back at her. She was still beautiful.

Twenty years on the west coast of Africa had not treated her too badly although bouts of malaria and drinking had taken their toll. Twenty years with dear stiff-upper-lipped Geordie who had parted for the better world, leaving her his worldly possessions and a permanent sexual frustration. How much longer would she last? She shrugged her bare shoulders and the embroidered nightgown slipped down revealing the still rounded pink nipples of her virginity.

At least she still had that allure although the rest was on the wane owing to her poorish health; but had she not enough money and social influence to remedy that? After all she was the owner of the best provisioned pharmacy in Accra and moved in high African and European circles. If she couldn't buy happiness, who else could? Still time was running out...

The heavy lorries rattled and rumbled on the pot-holed main street that ran past her house, mixed with the tooting of taxis anxious to beat the curfew hour. From the African township there floated the babble of voices, shrill laughter and the throbbing of drums.

Mrs Tate (for that was the white woman's name) was about to turn on the air conditioner in her bedroom when a new sound caught her ears - voices from one of the outhouses. Curiously she crossed the room and peered through the wooden louvres.

In the doorway of the badly-lit outhouse was the figure of her African storekeeper, towering over the smaller cowering shape of a slender girl. Throaty endearments and harsh demands were met with shrill protestations! The white woman could not hear the words and there were no signs of impending violence. Still her heart gave a jump, for she had recognised Muriel, the petite African blonde. She rang the bell by her bedsideā€¦

She was adding soda water to her usual three-finger of Scotch when after a discreet knock, the door opened to admit her steward boy.

She pulled the dressing gown tighter round her see-through nightie. Yaro looked at her dubiously, his black face split into the habitual grin.

"Pass me the cigarettes," she said shortly, and then "what is going on between those two people downstairs?" She knew, of course, and so did Yaro, and the normal reason for her calling him up here.

He obliged: "Mr Danso, our big-man storekeeper, he no want Miss Muriel for go. He say make she sleep with him tonight. He like her palaver proper. He say he go give 'am plenty money. Lef' small he go take over de drug store when you go, den he go marry am an' make am fine lady."

They exchanged a long glance and she felt something happening to her heart. He took in her glance and tried to return the expected look of promise and fulfilment. Both seemed satisfied with what had happened

"He said all that?"

"Yessah madam," Yaro appeared to be enjoying himself. "Danso also say make Miss Muriel forget Captain Choboe, who want to take am for army line, as he go fool am."

"Really." This was news. Mrs Tate sipped her whisky slowly and after a while looked up into the handsome black face of the well-built Northener. "Yes, another whisky," and after Yaro had poured it out and brushed past her. "And go to your quarters tonight. Oh, Yaro," she added petulantly, "will you tell Danso to stop the er - row."

In the ensuing silence, she put out the bedroom light and tiptoed to the window. Outside the darkness matched the gloom in her lonely bedroom. She thought she heard giggling, remonstrances and gruff assurances from the depths of the outhouse. She took two tablets of valium and went to bed. She felt sick.

.. Danso was getting on in years, his cultivated stoop becoming more pronounced as the weight of pharmaceutical duties descended on his unwilling back. He knew he had to justify by his willingness and show of ability the trust Mrs Tate was reposing in him to manage the business and make it profitable to both of them.

Sale of drugs in Ghana was lucrative. With food shortages a lot of citizens suffered from malnutrition. Others ate the wrong things in the wrong proportions and, hey presto, one had a series of new and old diseases sprouting forth. But much depended on the druggist's knowledge of the range of maladies and the remedies readily accepted as essential to human survival among the citizenry.

There were new-fangled prophylactics, some of Chinese origin, and recently invented curatives for heart, kidney, liver and bowel diseases of Dutch, German and French manufacture to which only the few initiated - like Danso - had commercial access. This limited access indubitably raised the prestige of the practitioner and stepped up margins of profit. Danso exploited this sideline and pocketed its rents!

Danso saw a bright future for himself. He would prove himself to be more and more indispensable to the white woman. While making her happy he would make himself happier and when the time came for him to buy over the business he would be in a position to do so and leave her with enough cedis to purchase the much- needed pounds sterling on the Black Market to finance her final journey homewards to dear old England, where she also now indubitably belonged. That is to say, if she ever got there 0 considering the manner in which she disposed of such miscellaneous items as Johnny Walker, Eku beer, Black Cat cigarettes, Pirate gin, valium and antibiotics.

Time to see the good lady, he thought. He gave a final twist to his tie - she would insist on staff wearing ties - and flicked a speck of dust from his spotless jacket. He reassured himself with a quick look in the ante-room mirror. Yes, his 'chop-money' moustache, nicely trimmed, had a few grey hairs, but this enhanced his business-like face. He broke into his special smile, calculated to win the hearts of wavering customers, put patients at their ease, and charm ladies - black and white.

Thus bolstered he entered Mrs Tate's office.

"Morning, Albert," she said briskly. "Time's getting short. Hope you had a good night's rest."

"Excellent," came the ready reply.

She wondered how excellent, but said: "Good, shall we go through the day's business programme?"

After a while she sighed: "You are not co-operating. Remember, you are supposed to take over the business shortly. I'd like us to do it nicely and thoroughly, but understandingly, but we cannot take too long over it."

"Stage by stage,' he agreed knowingly, and touched her hand.

She sucked in her breath. "yes, but let all the stages not take too long."

They exchanged a long glance, and she felt something happening to her heart. He took in her glance and tried to return the expected look of promise and fulfilment. Both seemed satisfied with what had happened. He walked away confidently; she relaxed in her executive chair and rang the bell for her morning brandy and coffee.

Yaro Fulani brought it in. She was still fumbling with a few papers and hardly seemed to notice him, but he knew that the manhood he was exuding would soon change all that.

"Yaro," she said. "You are a good - very good boy."

"Yessah, Madam. I do my best for you, because I like you plenty."

She looked into his face as if to reassure herself. "Yesterday you said something about the girl Muriel Mr Danso likes, and that Captain Choboe also likes her. Is this really true?"

Yaro nodded vigorously.

"So there can be trouble between Mr Danso and the Captain if the Captain gets to know what has been going on in the outhouse, eh?"

"Plenty trouble, Madam,' Yaro grinned happily. "Me, I be ex-serviceman, and we soldier man no like doublecross. Some time the Captain go kill Mr Danso, if somebody tell am...

"Oh, that must not happen, gasped Mrs Tate, her face turning pale, and her lips trembling so much that her cigarette parted company.

Yaro seemed to relish the effects of his remarks. Mrs Tate was a fine woman, he thought as he glanced down the front cleavage of her dress; she had been good to him in more ways than one. He changed his manner; he must not be ungrateful, and what was more important he must remember his position, whatever happened when Mrs Tate's defences were down.

"Madam no like Danso get trouble for Muriel palaver?" It was more a statement of fact than a question.

Danso saw a bright future for himself. He would prove himself to be more indispensable to the woman. While making her happy he would make himself happier and when the time came for him to buy over the business he would be in a position to do so.

And when Mrs Tate did not answer, looking out of the window at the truck bringing in the latest consignment of pharmaceuticals, Yaro wisely remarked: "Den, I think dat it be better if Muriel go for some oder place!

"Think it over, Yaro," smiled Mrs Tate, looking hard at his waistband. "Think hard, Yaro - let me know."

His black face screwed up in thought, the man who was more than just a servant, touched his forelock, and grinned and sidled out of the office.

Muriel was a pretty, well-shaped mulatto in her late teens. In pink and white striped jumper, holding her firm breasts high, flashing her bare midriff and wobbling her somewhat bulging buttocks which were prevented from going riot by tight-fitting blue black jeans she traipsed round the supermarket looking hopefully at the empty shelves. She was a pleasing sight to the other shoppers, especially to the young uniformed army officer who quietly barred her way.

"Surprise, surprise," he chortled, as he looked down into her green eyes. She stiffened to attention. "Oh, hello, Captain, sir, not at work?"

"Not where you are concerned, sweet child."

"Well, I am concerned," she pouted, "trying to get something to eat with what I have got in my purse.'

"No problem," he said, steering her towards the crowded fish counter around the corner of the store.

"Two kilograms,' " he demanded, breaking the queue, and paid the exact amount. The storemen complied with commendable alacrity - very understandably.

Outside the store Captain Choboe (for such he was) beckoned to a taxi driver, and as Muriel took her place in the car, he shouted: "See you tonight at the Juba villas." There was charm and self-mastery, she mused. She gave him one of her artificial smiles that left him half doubtful... Then she waved her pink handkerchief at him reassuringly, and the black car with its bright yellow mudguards was lost in the milling traffic.

Captain Choboe was to wait a long time before he saw Muriel again, but he did not know this as he walked jauntily away, singing the first few bars of the song the army always played when the army staged a military coup - successful or not.


talking drums 1985-01-28 cameroon land of plenty - students call for elections in ghana