Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

That night

By Kwadjo Attakora Baah

The night echoed the screams of the baby and the mother. The beautiful moon-lit sky and the visible silver- plated handiworks of the invisible God seemed to metamorphose into invisible, dark and fearful objects. I thought God, all merciful, had sent one of His messengers to put off his divine generator supplying light and life.

"Tiyola is dying," came the rude interruption which split the still night and my heart apart. It was like nature crying out in pain while a divine executioner is busily at work ending its life span. That voice was wicked. I hated it. I wished its owner had not existed. That was the voice of the part which makes me a complete being, the tender and loving part of me. That was the voice of Bose, my wife and the better half of me.

The elders have said that a cock crowing at midday signified the imminence of some bad news or the other.

That notorious cock crowed right in front of me on Thursday. I looked down and saw myself standing in my shadow and then looked up and saw the sun smiling directly above me.

"This is a wicked and hypocritical smile," I thought, directing my anger at the innocent sun.

I looked round, picked up a stick and made directly for that cock. With that stick that should kill in hand, I roamed and combed everywhere for it. I met it after almost two hours search and instantly separated its body from its soul.

I made my triumphant return home, threw myself on my armchair and with the pipe decorating my lips, I sat contentedly admiring the spiralling smoke from my nostrils. It went straight to the holy heavens.

A minute or so later, I saw right in front of me another cock. It lifted its head to the bright sky and then a cock- a-doodle-doo followed. This was the one that had crowed two hours earlier.

"I killed the wrong cock,' I soliloquized regretfully.

'The cat' had been my nickname at Amanasi Middle School. I won that name by no accident. It was because I walked slowly, carefully and noiselessly. Stumbling over anything in my way was almost an impossibility. If in a single day, I stumble on three occasions all with my left foot hitting against a stone and on the third, fall flat on the ground, then there surely must be something wrong with me. This was exactly what happened to me on that Thursday afternoon.

The elders say if it is the left leg which is involved, then the gods must be appeased without delay. Tiyola was my fourth and the only living child. The first had died on his first birthday, the second when he was two and the third on his third birthday.

When it was the fourth year of our marriage, we remained childless, we went to Pastor Yeboah of the Larteh Spiritual Church for assistance. His magic with the candles, incense and Florida water worked. We were blessed with the first child in no time. He fell into a pit latrine and died instantly.

I remember Pastor Yeboah consoling us with, "God is love and loves all of us. Anything that comes our way is a blessing from Him. He has been solving and will continue solving our problems."

The Baba demanded the payment of 200 cedis, a white fowl, a bottle of the locally distilled drink, 'Ogoglo' and a white handkerchief.

"Are we going to have another child?" I asked impatiently. "We shall ask the good Lord for it and if it's His will, you will have another," answered the Pastor.

A year later, we had another boy. He left us painfully alone for a no return trip to the unknown world. He was drowned. We received the same consoling words from the Pastor of God.

A year and a half after this, Bose had her third conception and then her third baby. That was also a boy.

"This is indeed a chip from the old block," my mother commented. We did everything to ensure this boy's safety. We in fact handled him as gently as an egg but he was bent on leaving us and did leave. He had measles and that killed him.

Pastor Yeboah would not alter his style. His message was the same old "Praise the Lord for everything. That is the will of God." This I found unacceptable.

"Let's consult the fetish," I suggested.

"Fetish, no," answered Bose. She still had some confidence in the Pastor. I, however, persuaded her and we went to Baba Siaw, who was considered the most powerful fetish priest in my village.

"You've come to inquire on the recurring deaths of your children," said the Baba after five minutes of apparent meditation with the ancestral spirits.

"Yes, please," chorused Bose and I.

"Why have you wasted so much time? You should have been here much earlier," said Siaw.

We have been consulting a pastor."

"Pastor? They have only two eyes. We have a third one. Moreover, their God is not our God. Theirs is that of the white man. Ours is that of our fathers, remarked Baba Siaw with a smile, a most unwelcomed one for all his teeth were rotten. The Baba demanded the payment of 200 cedis, a white fowl, a bottle of the locally distilled drink, 'Ogoglo' and a white handkerchief.

"Kneel and face the east," he ordered. In a flash, the head of the fowl was sliced from its body. Its dripping blood was sprinkled on the white handker- chief. Silence reigned at the shrine for a moment. Muttering of unintelligible incantations followed. Siaw poured a glassful of the drink and in a single gulp emptied it. The blood-stained handkerchief was spread on the floor and the money put on it.

"This child is an obanje," said Baba Siaw almost in a whisper.

"Do you mean it?" I asked.

"The Gods do not lie! They are not to be challenged," cautioned the Baba again with the smile I hated. My mind took a quick excursion into the past. I raked through it in an attempt to identify any similarities among the three children who had died.

Yes, there were parallels. They were all left-handed. The third was born with a scar under his left armpit. The second had a big boil in the same left armpit which had resulted in a nasty sore. He died soon after that boil had been healed and he was left with a scar. They'd all been cheerful. The first child had fallen from a window and had had a fractured knee. The last limped a bit though he had no such accident.

"Indeed the gods do not lie," I thought.

"That boy is coming back."

"Which boy?"


That was the name of my third child. I wondered how he knew that.

"Ha haa, you are children. Don't you know the gods whom I speak for are all-knowing?" asked the Baba. He read my thoughts.

"When Sola comes, he is not going back.'

"That will be great."

"See me again during the next conception," counselled the fetish priest.

"We surely will. Without you, we are helpless." We did as directed. Baba Siaw gave us all the assurance that Tiyola was going to live through his natural span of life. All we owned was used for that service.

I was a tailor but hunting was my hobby and had become part of me.

This I did twice a week. The night of that Friday was too bright to allow a successful hunting but there was no meat in the house, so I decided to go to the bush and try my luck.

The hooting of that owl on that silent night was to my greatest discomfiture. "That is a herald of misfortune," so say our elders.

My efforts on that night were not in vain. I returned home at some minutes before midnight that was unusually early with two small squirrels, a rat and a guinea fowl. "The gods do not forgive the hunter who comes home with a squirrel. That is a bad omen," these were the wise words of my father when he was alive.

Only the devil could tell why I brought those abominable animals home.

Bose was up when I arrived home.

"You've done very well dear, but..."

"But what?"


"What is wrong, Bose?"

"But the squirrels. . . you shouldn't have brought them here."

"Sorry for that dear." I quickly bundled them up and threw the dead little animals back into the bush.

Bose was in no time at the fire place. She swept the floor, polished it up with a solution of red clay, split some fire wood into smaller pieces, made the fire and put a potful of water on it. This was to be used for the removal of the feathers and the hairs of the hunted little creatures.

As if directed by fate, our child, Tiyola, had woken up and was looking for his mother who had gone to the corn shed to bring out some of the crop for sale at the market the next morning. Just as she stepped out of the shed, she saw the big pan of boiling water tumble. She thought one of the troublesome billy-goats had caused that.

Then came a sharp cry. Bose sprang to the spot within a fraction of a second and before her was the writhing Tiyola. She screamed to attract my attention. I was by then in the bathroom for a wash down before retiring to bed. I was out before I knew I was naked. I was completely confused and dashed back for a towel to cover my nudity.

The screams had brought neighbours to the scene. Surely, Tiyola was dying. He'd slipped, fallen and the whole of the simmering water had poured on him. The whole body was instantly covered in blisters. With any touch, the skin just peeled off.

The nearest hospital was twenty miles away but my people did not even believe in that. The herbs and concoctions did the work of the white man's medicine. Before we got Baba Siaw, Tiyola had stopped breathing.

I had no moral right to blame Baba for that. "My good friend, avoid sex and alcohol each day you intend going to the bush for hunting," these were the Baba's instructions to me the last time I consulted him. These I hadn't followed religiously.

"This child was bent on leaving," I thought. Our eagle-eyed vigilance on him was bound to be fruitless. This I knew. He had once toddled alone towards the river. An old lady brought him and said: "This child, this child..." and left swallowing the rest of what she wanted to say.

The next day, he was seen going to the pit latrine alone. Bose had noticed him just in time. My second child had got drowned in that river and the first had fallen into that pit latrine and died.

The village folk kept telling me to take it easy but I always told them it was not easy to take such happenings level-headedly.

Tiyola was crudely buried. That was what should be the case. He was disfigured and buried in a disgraceful manner. After the whole body had been diskinned, his fingers, ears and the external genital organs were cut and thrown to the dogs. The uncovered body was then roughly thrown into a trench amidst hooting from a hostile crowd. "Go and come no more!" they bellowed.

These were to prevent the same Tiyola from coming to see us again and leaving after a short while.

Bose and I did not stay to witness the cruel scenes. I managed to take it as one of the things a man should learn to stomach. Bose could no longer bear it. I saw, reasoned and sympathised with her. I watched her face turn pale with anxiety and her body shrink with sorrow. A face which some years back was vibrating with love, light and life and a body crying to be wooed. I recalled the days I courted Bose and amused myself with my memories of them.

talking drums 1985-05-27 my vision of independent ghana paa willie - is kojo tsikata emerging from the shadows - wazobia the tale of three nations