Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

The rails meet nowhere

(Also entitled The past in the present)

by Tehtey

To my right, the four-feet wide railway lines are an immediate gentle curve heading towards Kumasi. To my left, the lines run straight to Accra. Here, where I stand, where my footpath crosses the lines, you will walk a metric distance of four hundred units nearer Accra before the corporate signpost announce at the station that you are in Koforidua.

She walks along the curved rails in presentable rags. A mad woman, as she passes by, I cross the rails. I do not look or listen or stop; I do not adhere to what all signboards at all railway crossings advise, for the simple reason that there are no trains these days to run the rails.

I hurry home just as the mad woman hurries towards the station, through where the road crosses the rails.

Mr Afriyie lived upstairs. He was a respectable man; something or the other in the Education Ministry. He used a car. In the most tyrannic sense of the word, he was the head of the family. So though his wife was beautiful and as submissive as any thoroughbred African wife could be, he beat her cruelly as often as he was drunk.

At my age of five then, Mr Afriyie appeared to be a giant of a man - bulging shoulders, hairs on muscles, big mouth alcohol-bleached with a devil hoarse voice to match. When some of us children rushed upstairs to watch Mr Afriyie beat his wife, I would wander somewhere, just anywhere and pray he did not catch me. It was one such wandering that led me to find out how Yaa their little girl, about my age, took those heart-shredding beatings. She stood (hid) in a corner of our wall where the night was deepest and sobbed..

"That man isn't serious, there has not been a single teacher in his school since the school reopened".

I am reporting to my mother, on my attempt to get a teaching appointment at Koforidua Technical School (KOTECO). My staying at home without work after many years of schooling worries my mother. But it isn't really for her sake that I seek the employment. Curiosity kills the cat and boredom kills men.

"You're sure he'll employ you?" mother asks, counting the money she has brought from her fish-selling.

"He has already. I taught today".

"Ooh. Thank God then". But she is feigning interest. At that moment, her money demands all her attention. I watch her... her sweet face. . . she really is quite pretty... skin as dark as mine. People always wonder why I should take her face and leave her height. Really. How can five feet four be good enough for a man?

It is after she has contented herself on her accounts that she comes back to KOTECO. Suddenly, she gasps and slaps me on the shoulder. This she does to anyone whom she has something exciting to tell.

"Do you remember Yaa?"

Those who attended Nana Kwaku Boateng experimental school were children of the elite. Their lunch and snacks were specially prepared just as their lessons were. Perhaps, that was why they could speak English as well as English children. At first, I didn't bother about them. But every morning, Yaa would appear prettier in white socks, 'Achimota sandals', check uniform, ribbons in the hair and descend with her mother to the daddy's car. Soon I began wondering whether it would not be good after all to attend an 'experimental' school. My mother however pointed out that it was the children of rich parents - daddys with cars - who attended experimental schools.

My way to Koteco goes behind the huge cocoa sheds at the Railway station. I meet her here. She is certainly mad. Her dress is kaba. She is neither short nor tall and her flesh and youth waste under a real negro skin made blacker with dirt and grime.

She walks slowly. Like a tortoise. I keep my eyes on her face. If she looks at me, I will call her. She doesn't. I call her all the same.

"Yaa". A sheep would have been more mindful of me. She goes by. I turn and call again. Her pace never slackens nor quickens. Hear me she does but, she doesn't.

We used to call her auntie, just like many literate Ghanaian women in their own homes by their own children. But she really was Mrs Bertha Afriyie. She was fairly short, fair-coloured, and a little plumb. She never realised how much her beautiful voice and eyes stirred my love, then, I used to think goodness was beauty because of her. That night, she was receiving her beatings when the man came. They said he was her brother. I could not tell how he could have timed his coming so perfectly. It was good for 'Auntie' and bad for Mr Afriyie. That night, he took 'Auntie' away.

We all watched Yaa, next morning, with no ribbons in her hair, without packed lunch, her face fixed in some kind of wonder, follow her daddy to the car, on her way to school.

The Methodist Church is a long way from my house. I pass by it however, on my way to school, every morning. I see her now walking round the chapel. Slowly and seriously- that's the way she always walks. Even if I am not in a vehicle, I won't call her in the midst of so many eyes.

Yaa had been sucking her thumb all day. I espied her sitting on the stairs. I had had my lunch and I should have been playing with the other children in front of our house. But I wanted to be alone and think of why Jesus should allow himself to be caught and mocked like a common thief as our Sunday School teacher said. Where I sat, I saw Yaa moving up and down the stairs. I could tell she wanted me to come to her. But, I was afraid of her father. Moreover, I was still bothered by Jesus being caught like a common thief and killed as such.

Then she came and stood beside me. From somewhere she had conjured a snail shell and together we studied the spiral contours. My mother cooked rice for supper. We ate together. I could tell she had had no lunch. But she nearly stopped eating when mother asked whether her father was in. He wasn't.

He would never be. It was that day he drove, stone drunk, into an accident and died on the spot. We heard it from the men who rushed to break into his room and claim custody of all his property. That was not the Akan custom but it was the result of it. They forgot Yaa with us till her mother came the day after the next.

She has in her hand a piece of paper - the kind you would pick for cleaning yourself after defecating.

Because I am talking to Julie, I watch her pass.

"All my things had been stolen. Not a single thread..."

"Stop weeping Auntie, give everything to God "Mrs Afriyie still sobbed even as my mother continued to comfort her. "If you had been around, you might have been stampeded to death.

"Look at my child, strangers have to look after her…”

"Don't say that. We are all one people."

"The Ebusua killed him. They used witchcraft on him to make him drink.

Joel was a wonderful man before he started drinking."

Yaa's eyes were still dry as she clung lovingly to her mother.

She is looking at the poster. They are all over the town. 'NEW LIFE CONVENTION.. PREMPEH COLLEGE... all in block letters in no other colour but red. Because of the traffic here at the junction, I stop and look before I cross. If I call her I will tell her she is too dirty and too ugly now to face that poster in so far as it concerns my immaculate Prempeh College. But I believe that will be irrational if that is the word for it all.

Mother should have been prouder that I passed common entrance examination to this boy's school. Four out of five students in my first year class had attended experimental school. We learnt everything in exactly the way it should be learnt. Even for our drama activities, we went to Kumasi girls school to get actresses.

She was backstage talking to Senior Serebuor. I didn't look at her long enough to recognise her.

The kenkey seller is patient with her until she pays her two cedis instead of ten. The kenkey seller snatches her kenkey and..

"Go away, witch! I do not prepare my kenkey to feed your madness.".

Cars brake and honk as she runs across the street.

She wasn't a good actress. She was stiff with self-consciousness. But she had a beautiful face, a beautiful voice and a perfect figure. Her eyes were the only thing that reminded one of her mother. Her skin was dark and nice and smooth. She was acting some character in "Scoudrel Scapin".

"Oh I love him...

"Stop" directed Miss Tagoe harshly. "Is this how you say it to your boyfriend? so woodenly?" we all laughed. The girls continued to giggle as eyes searched the hall for Senior Serebour.

She sits here behind this cocoa shed.

I pass by with Julie casting only one glance at her. She is holding a cigarette butt and is looking at it with ravaging intensity.

I had asked her whether she remembered me. She had said yes, but the "Yes" was so curt that I left her alone. Perhaps I was a bit unfair in judging that reply. At one rehearsal, her friend came to sit beside me and told me Yaa said I was her brother. We had a lively conversation made livelier still when Yaa joined us until Senior Serebour came to beckon her away.

He friend Phyllis was her dear. A 'dear' in a girls' school meant all sorts of things. I was sure this one meant the worst. Phyllis wasn't pretty. She was tall and lanky, Yet, she was a rich girl - a daughter of a timber contractor.

She alarmed me when she asked if I went to dances. Such things were for toughs like Senior Serebour.

"There is one at the cultural centre tonight".

The Methodist Church is a long way from my house. I pass by it however, on my way to school, every morning. I see her now walking round the chapel. Slowly and seriously - that's the way she always walks. Even if I am not in a vehicle, I won't call her in the midst of so many eyes.

"Will you go?" I countered.

"Maybe", it meant yes.

"Will Yaa go?" Another positive maybe with some impatience.

"With Senior Serebour?"

"Of course" she replied with a look that added: you really must be daft.

The mad woman begs one cedi of me today near the marketplace. I am helplessly sorry. The news vendor has just been paid with my last two cedis. I watch her pass. Then I take a decision. I enter the market and borrow twenty cedis from my mother. I come back to find her under a shed.

Might be that after dances she sneaked somewhere with Senior Serebour.

"Here is twenty cedis" I say to her, holding up the money. She goes on mumbling to herself. She holds in her hand a dirty sheet of paper, torn from a drawing book. I can see the ruined picture of the girl on the sheet.

"Here" I try again, dropping the money into her lap. Then she flies into rage, "Why are you tormenting me like this, young man? Why..."

Heads are already turning. I am not fast enough to escape recognition from some people on the street.

Phyllis narrated this to me later: Yaa was definitely against an abortion. Serebour was definitely for it. It was Phyllis who convinced her to abort and not to fear. She therefore had to go to Serebour to be taken to the doctor. This did not fully explain why and how that night she went to the cultural centre and found Serebour with another girl.

Phyllis said Yaa picked a bottle and cracked it on Serebour's head. He turned on her, his skull cracked and drowned with blood, and beat her to near death. Okomfo Anokye Hospital was a distance from the cultural centre as one finger was from another when one made the victory sign.

Dismissal was for both. Phyllis said Yaa's uncle got so nauseated he packed her out of his sight to his cocoa farm somewhere in the forest. There she vanished with her undiscovered pregnancy.

Julie calls me 'dear' for the first time when I visit her at her desk in the office of the Magistrate court. Beautiful Julie. Slim, fair-coloured, she has a lot of hair now permed and a face as beautific as a mural. Dimples have nothing to do with breasts. But I always think her dimples compensate for her breasts which are so disappointingly small.

As I leave her, I think of our real big date. Disco? She is a devout Christian. I love nothing about discos myself. The blinding cigarette smoke, the skull cracking music, I prefer the cinema... We will go to REO. I don't care what's on so long as I take Julie out. Presently, I am rocked out of my daydreams. There she is at the public standpipe

"Poor girl" sighs a woman passer-by.

"For a woman to be mad and strip naked in broad daylight..." warns our superstitious elder.

I must turn somewhere. But I am walking this alley which branches neither to the left nor to the right, except at the T-junction where the public standpipe stands. I am almost at the end of my gauntlet, my eyes riveted away from where she bathes her nakedness. The children gather here and look even as the grown-ups shout at them, and try to chase them away with sticks.

She calls me. Yaa calls me. I don't believe it.

"Tehtey." I refuse to hear. At the junction, I branch out quickly, to my left and away from her.

"Drive those children away, Tehtey." I walk faster.

"Tehtey... Tehtey..!"

The children laugh as they mimick her. I do not look back as I walk still faster... hurrying... fleeing...

talking drums 1985-04-29 Ghana tourism - rise and fall of Cameroon national unity party