Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

White Magic

By John E.S. de Graft-Hayford

THE STORY SO FAR: 'Concluding the story, Mr Danso the pharmacist in charge of Mrs Tate's drug store in downtown Accra is craftily playing "games" with the affection of his boss but his real love for Murield whom he is forced to share with Captain Choboe. Unfortunately, beautiful Muriel has fallen sick and when the two men meet by her bedside, accusations fly about as to who had caused her illness.. (see part 1 and part 2)
As may have been gathered, both Danso and Yaro Fulani stayed on the premises of the pharmacy: Danso in a well-furnished outhouse and Fulani, as became him, in modestly furnished steward boys' quarters. As may also have been gathered, both men had access to Mrs Tate's living rooms: Danso, as befitted him, up the front stairs through the offices; Yaro by way of the backstairs, leading into a passage that led past the bedrooms. After business hours Mrs Tate could summon either of the men to wherever she wanted them by pressing appropriate call-bell buttons, and the men were not at liberty to intrude on her privacy otherwise. It was also not possible for either of the men to see the other unless he deliberately posted himself at one of the two 'entrances', since the smaller buildings were on the flank of the main building.

It was a convenient arrangement, but Mrs Tate took other precautions which need not be elaborated here to ensure that there were no clashes of personalities in her bedroom, if one may use such a mild mannered expression.

However, if Yaro thought that he was the only one who served the proverbial whisky and soda nightcap to the adventurous lady, he was mistaken. After his first successful amorous approach, Danso shared this privilege, although he was unaware of any other sharing his pleasure! We must leave this matter to conjecture at this stage...


"Good night, my lady," the male voice floated through the quietly closing bedroom door. Joyce Tate did not answer. She felt exhausted, humiliated. She switched on the table lamp, spread her fingers through her ruffled greying hair, pulled down her disarrayed nightdress, and slipped into a sitting position on the edge of the quilt covered bed. She was wet all over. Years of frustration with an ageing almost bed-ridden white husband and her anxiety to make up for lost opportunities in her remaining years had resulted in - THIS. Her dreams of black sensuality and pulsating primeval passion had been shattered on the bedrock of painful practical experience, and yet there had been this lingering longing to tempt her fate last. again. Danso's first approaches had been timid and had made her ridiculously as it turned out - assured of herself. She had even thought the love-making episode would follow a mediocre course leaving her to turn to her other sources of satisfaction. Yaro for instance. Now she was in a situation in which she was involved emotionally and in a strange way indeed! It was her fault, she admitted. She had fiddled whimsically with this idea of keeping Danso on a lead and then this had happened - nature in the raw.

She did not know whether to be glad that she was leaving West Africa or not. She was confused by this recent experience. Was it possible that there was an element of hidden love - true love in the affair she had been having with Danso? Had there been give-and-take on both sides — or had it been a one-sided - perhaps routine carefully tailored business? Had she really derived the multi-dimensional feelings she had expected? What she had done, she had done! The spent years of spinsterhood reasserted themselves. She pulled herself more upright, replaced her false teeth in the tumbler of water on the bottom shelf of the side table, and reached for the bottle that usually contained her tablets of valium.


The morning sun was shining through the window curtains, its heat offsetting the coolness of the air- conditioned room when Joyce woke from a troubled sleep. Somebody was banging on the door with the same staccato rhythm that was banging away in her head.

"Come in," she screamed.

The door opened to admit Yaro Fulani with a scared but satisfied face. Joyce Tate was startled. She also felt a sense of foreboding.

"What do you want?" she got out at last.

"Palaver finish," Yaro made a meaningful gesture. "Muriel die for hospital, Nobody savvy what kill am. But me- I no go sit down for dis house any more. You happy - yes? - no? Anyway, gib me de money you promise. I sorry for you white woman, but me I no be your class - I be native man - you yo’self say so. Mebbe I certify you… so now I go - I no go sit peoples cheat me any more… “

"Oh, no, it can't be true? You … well, I suppose what wil be will be”. Joyce felt she must get a grip on herself. She took another hand look at Yaro, who was fidgeting impatiently.

"Where is my note - the one I wrote to Muriel?"

“I spoil am," replied Yano indifferently, stretching his hand out

"Oh, all right." Keeping an eye on him she sidled across to the small wall safe, opened it, withdrew a wad of currency notes. She twisted the knob and twiddled the combination and held out the money. Breathing heavily the man snatched it away, threw a small bag on to the bed and, as he passed through the door, said: "Dat be de rest of your medicine you gib me.

"Judas Iscariot" she shouted after him, and followed him down the passage. She saw the door at the other end of the passage move slightly but put that down to her imagination. She went into the study from where she watched the well-built Northerner cross the road, hail a mammy wagon, haggle with the co-pilot about the price and enter it.

After a while she returned to her bedroom, slumped on the bed and fumbled for her bottle of tablets. She must compose herself. Another day's work lay ahead - and Danso. Then a thought struck her. How would he take the news, as it must have reached him by now. Would it affect their business and other relations? Perhaps she should give him a little time to get over the shock, but well he knew on which side his bread was buttered - and time was a great healer. Time, however, was running out! The airways had confirmed her passage and the firm of cargo handlers had tied up their arrangements to convey her personal luggage to Britain. She would make the most of the time left. One final fling, what? The real thing, and then off to dear cold Blighty, her own social set - and that slut of her twice married and divorced daughter. Perhaps she could convert her - or she might now have a problem in converting her mother. She giggled inanely.

Mrs Tate was drumming her fingers on her desk when Danso showed his somewhat ashen face in the office. "You've heard the news, my dear lady?" he said evenly. She feigned surprise and suffered the whole story in silence. The doctors at the hospital had been baffled by Muriel's malady. At one stage they had diagnosed anaemia, at another poisoning from unidentifiable native sources, and yet at another cardiac failure. (Hearts always eventually fail, Joyce mused.) Apparently all the medicaments and methods used had produced negative results. The girl, also, seemingly, had lost the will to live... Very strange in a girl of such vitality who had limitless opportunities for wealth and well-being in the world of anxious men.

As he spoke Danso lost some of his grief, much to Joyce Tate's relief and, after a while, they were conversing about business matters. Money-talk brightened them both up again. (After all, Muriel's family would have the job of burying her and reimbursing themselves from donations. They could all contribute towards drink to appease the gods and drown the sorrows of the close and distant mourners!)

Joyce Tate suggested that they have a business lunch at the Admiral restaurant, but Danso said it would not be decent for him to be seen in public 'celebrating' (as it were) while a female who was known to be a friend of his was lying in state, ready for the customary all-night wake-keeping.

"You are quite right," said Joyce Tate, lowering her eyelashes to conceal her feelings. "We must have patience."

"Yes, my dear lady." (How he liked this expression.) "There is plenty of time."

Not so much, thought Joyce.

The next two days passed peacefully enough. Danso was the perfect business understudy by day and the whole-hearted lover by night. Joyce Tate felt she was making up for years of unfulfilled married bliss and gave herself wholeheartedly to the performance of her nocturnal duties or pleasures. It might even be said that she became to a certain degree - proficient in an "African way", where passivity was at a discount and action-packed variety qualified for a premium! In applying himself seriously to the task in hand Danso ran the risk of falling in love with Joyce which Joyce thought he already had!

"You have no idea how much I have become attached to you," she whispered one night, lying on the quilt, their heads nudging each other on the pink pillows under the masked nightlight.

"We are indeed very much attached," sighed Danso, and this was an understatement.

"I am beginning to have second thoughts," she was nibbling in his ear, "since we have found so much in common. Why don't we make this a permanent thing, which, of course, might mean a change in my - and your - plans?"

Danso made a sound which was interpreted as one of pleasurable agreement, but in fact spelt surprise and disconcernment.

"The matter requires some thinking over," he added to ease her mind.

"You are a darling darkie," she sniffed and put her arms around him again.

"Back to the salt mines" he thought.

* * *

And then Joyce Tate fell ill. This time seriously. Three days of the usual pills produced no improvement. It was exactly a week after Muriel had died.

Mrs. Tate had not cut off all her relations with the European community in Ghana, although most of them did not approve of her way of life especially since her dear old Geordie had died, but they rallied fast enough on hearing about her state of health - or illness and got her the best private ward in the Ridge hospital which meant "dickying it" up themselves. Of course, Danso was at her beck and call, and appeared to be a most perturbed man. He had good reason to be, since no agreement had been signed about the handing over or sale of the pharmacy business, everything so far having been done by word of mouth and on trust.

Furthermore his dalliance had merely purported to cement the verbal arrangements. If only he could get the dear lady to sign on the dotted line - such signature having been delayed following Joyce's alternative proposal of marriage that fateful night. Her idea was of course quite correct. If they were married, what was the purpose of handing over the business. They would be in it together for better or worse worse, in this case, thought Danso. Worse for another reason again, as we shall see. He had mistimed certain things...

Mrs. Tate did not get any better. The doctors wanted to know about her past medical history and she obliged them. Old Doctor Guff with white whiskers and bleary eyes, himself suffering from hypertension, took her pulse and wagged his head at her low pressure.

"Do you drink?"

"A little."

"Do you, er...?"

"Once in a while - but not at night."

"Drugs, sedatives, etc?"

"Only for the past ailments I've told you about."


Among the doctors: "If you ask me she seems to be suffering from th new-fangled AIDS-anti-immunity deficiency syndrome. . . I don't think so; just worn out with God-know-what.. was some deep-seated fear eating into her. . . no will to fight.. sinking fast… perhaps native juju y'know… deals with queers called herbalists…blowback … devilish..."

The last day - as all do - arrive A strong sea breeze made hard going for the mosquitoes outside the new crickets chirped in the hospital grounds, cockroaches scuttled in the pantry, the nurses padded up and down the creaky wooden passage. In the distance those in the ward could hear dance music, singing of hymns and the clapping of hands of a new religious sect under a phoney parson

Mrs. Tate smiled benignly. The doctors, hovering around, did not. She was composed but puzzled: why did the room wax and wane in size? Why did her eyes mist over now and again Was that music she heard in the background real or imaginary?

The doctors nodded to one another. The youngest one, tremblingly: "Should I send for the priest?", but before could be answered, Mrs. Tate's wonderfully strident voice pierced mosquito net: "I wish to speak with Mr. Danso please."

Danso stepped forward and held white hand under the net, and b forward to hear her, while the doctors withdrew to a discreet distance.

"Dearest," she whispered. "I have a confession to make. It was I who arranged for that girl friend of yours Muriel, to be got rid of. I began to love you so."

Tears ran down Danso's swarthy countenance as he bent still further looked into the blue eyes which started to darken prior to glazing.

"Yes, I know, dearest," he gasped "And it was I who put the nasty poison pills among the valium and your whisky.

Danso let go of her hand, and the grizzled head fell to one side. It was over.

The white community discovered that Mrs.Tate had left no Will and Testament, and only a partly completed document transferring the pharmacy business to Danso, subject to certain conditions and considerations being met. These had not been met obviously, although Danso claimed that he was entitled to something as a partner, which he was not, being clearly mentioned in the firm's files as an employee.

The High Court, which heard the case, ruled that Mrs. Tate's daughter - whose address was found - should be contacted, her airfare paid out of the firm's current liquid assets (which were frozen for other purposes). The Court would then resume hearing and order the issue of Letters of Admini- stration to the daughter, named Suzie Wuzie…

This should be the end of the story, but it is not.

There is the epilogue.

On the 31st September of that year, a group of junior armed forces officers carried out a successful coup d'etat in Ghana.

Mr. Albert Danso, private pharmacist, was listening to the radio which was playing the inevitable marching song "Colonel Bogey", and tapping his feet in harmony, when there was a clatter of hobnailed boots outside his house, cries of alarm from men and women in the street, and the sound of rifle butts battering his wooden gate.

He had just reached the verandah of the building and was standing there in his brightly coloured pyjamas, when the gate fell with a crash and three soldiers in camouflage uniform approached him.

The leader was Captain Choboe.

"There is the man who killed one of our lady intelligence agents, Miss Muriel," he shouted.. There was a rattle of light machine gun fire.

Captain Choboe spat on the dead body and turned it over with his boot so that he could look with satisfaction at the distorted features of the hated man whose lovemaking with Joyce Tate had influenced the white woman to send incompatible drugs to be administered, under the guise of friendship, to Muriel to make sure of her eventual death.

Captain Choboe looked again at the note, torn to pieces by Yaro Fulani after leaving the bush hut, but carefully pieced together by other intelligence agents.

It read: "Muriel take these tablets. Together with the other medicine you are taking you will soon be well again and meet your darling Danso."

The unanswered question is: Muriel was an intelligence agent, why did she not use her intelligence?

talking drums 1985-02-11 open letter to rawlings