Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

The noise that kept coming back

by Ato Imbeah

I clung to my mother's back, holding to the seams of her dress. Occasionally I kept up as I have seen people who ride horses do, and mother gives me a gentle tap on my thigh, showing her disapproval of my acting for she knew I wanted to touch the large basket she was carrying on her head, with my fingers.

Walking in front of us was my father. He was a tall man and I always heard people say he was handsome. Whatever that meant, I really did not know, but I liked him. He gave me everything I wanted, even if mother protested, like when he gave me a big pink baby doll. He brought it from the big town. He went to the big town the previous day, but when he came home he was very unhappy. He said he could not get many items to buy. And mother too was unhappy when he told her that there were no toilet soaps, washing powder, sugar, cooking oil, toothpaste and cooking utensils to buy. My mother was very angry when he told her that he had to walk from the big town because all the cars and lorries had queued up to buy fuel. I also cried because he did not tell me any story that night, and went straight to bed, saying he was too tired.

But he looked all right then as we went to the farm clutching the fire brand in his left hand and two well-sharpened machetes in the other.

Only the three of us went to the farm that day. On Saturdays, my two bothers Kaza and Meo, and my big sister, Tara joined us. From Monday to Friday they went to school. They were learning how to read and how to write. The school was held inside the chapel because they could not complete the school building. The Reverend Minister said there were no cement, nails or roofing sheets.

Tara took me to the school to start learning, but they could not get me a table and a chair, so the head teacher said I could start the next year. My father was not happy when he heard it, for he said things could be worse the next year. That was why I always went to the farm with them. I came to love the farm too.

When we made to branch to our farm that day from the main path used by all the villages, my father saw his friend and stood there waiting for him to come up. Mother walked on but I protested that we should wait for my father to join us. "Ah, so early today," said his friend, "considering yesterday's ordeal."

"Well", replied my father, “only God who gives us the strength to go on living."

"Oh, good morning, Mama, Nde” said my father's friend when he saw him partially hidden by the tall savannah grasses.

"Good morning, Papa Yogi replied my mother.

"I can see that Nde is bustling with life as usual," said Papa Yogi waving at me.

"Yes," cut in my father. "Thank God they do not have to worry their heads over soaps, sugar and petrol - we do."

"Hmm!" sighed Papa Yogi. “What is our world coming to?"

"I wish I knew," replied my father

"I just couldn't believe yesterday,' said Papa Yogi. “the capital city in such a total mess roads have disintegrated and rot houses caved in with rubbish about everywhere."

"What baffles me is the long of vehicles waiting for petrol," said my father. "I wonder how life there everyday under the nose of our honourables," said Papa Yogi

"I understand the tanker bringing petrol in some thousands of miles on the sea," said my father.

"I am afraid to say that although the government is making it seem right, I only smell more misery in the air," said Papa Yogi.

"Well, what can we say but..." began my father.

"...hope for the better," cut in Papa Yogi. "We always have. Is the distance for that 'better', to cover so long that we cannot see him before we join our ancestors?"

"Papa Yogi," said my father as my mother made to move on, "well, let's leave the future to its own antics. The sun is breaking at the east. Let's make a better day of it."

"All right, Papa Kaza," replied Papa Yogi, "Mama Yogi would be wondering what may have happened to me also.'

"I will see you this evening," said my father.

"I hope so," said Papa Yogi, "but I feel that our nation has gone the wrong way."

With that saying and a look of uncertainty on his face, he also branched off towards his farm, and my father in- creased his strides and caught up with us. My mother never said anything when my father joined us. She never spoke much. She loved to work and make everybody happy, especially my father. She always wanted us, the children, to be neat and clean. She never made the effort to change any- thing, oppose anything or even raise her voice when speaking. "She always accepts the new order," my big sister used to tell my brothers.

We came to our farm, a very big farm, with so many crops like yam, cassava, maize, potatoes, pepper and tomatoes planted in near rows. My father never wasted time at the hut we used as a resting place. He always went straight to work. That day, he went around the pepper which was at the far end of the farm. My mother later went to weed around the tomatoes at the other end, after she had fed me, and left me alone to play about

. As the day wore on, I became tired and fell asleep in the middle of the farm, under the shady cassava trees, I must have slept for a very long time. Suddenly I woke up, and there was noise everywhere, everywhere was dark, very dark. I became afraid and shouted for my mother. The noise continued, the trees shook and there were bright flashes in the sky. It then started to rain heavily. I was afraid. I thought something would happen to me. I did not know where to run. I shouted and I cried, but all I heard was the noise in the sky and the rain falling heavily.

Suddenly, my father and my mother were beside me. My mother grabbed me and held me tightly to her bosom, and we ran to the shelter. That evening when I had my supper, I reserved some of it, and sneaking out, I spoke to the sky, which was very calm then. "Please don't make that noise again. I don't like rain. It made my new dress very dirty on the farm. Father and mother also did not finish weeding around the crops. Whoever you are up there, come for this food and stop making that noise. I am leaving it behind this house. Please, don't make that noise again." And I left the food there and went in to join my family. I did it because I had seen many people do it. People gave gifts to reluctant kids to go on errands for them, and even when policemen came to make arrests they gave them presents so that they went away.

It had been a long time since that day of the storm and there had never been any noise again and no rain had fallen. I thought whoever was up there came for my food and did not make the noise again. But did not let the rain fall also. But the villages had started to complain about the rain not falling. My father and my mother were very sad. All their crops dried up and withered, as the river which flowed from the mountains dried up and we the children started to play along its path. One day there was fire everywhere. It brought smoke into our eyes. We ran away from our village. My father, Papa Yogi and their friends went out and put the fire out. Some of them got burnt. They did not come back with the rest. They said it was a bush fire, and it burnt everything on the farms, even trees and grass. Everybody was very unhappy. Many goats and sheep died in the fire also.

From that day, when my father woke up every morning he would look up to the sky to see if there were clouds but he was always disappointed. Everybody started to eat twice a day. I always cried when hungry and I was made to eat three times every day.

One day Papa Yogi came to see my father. He was very upset. My mother could not give him a calabash full of water. Papa Yogi told her not to worry because for the next few days he would need every drop of liquid to keep alive.

"The people of Esima region say they are seceeding from the rest of the country," Papa Yogi told my father.

"What?" exclaimed my father who was very surprised.

"And that has brought division in the government," said Papa Yogi. "I don't like what is coming," said my father.

"They claim that the government has neglected us," said Papa Yogi.

"But is it only we of the Esima region that are suffering, or the whole nation?" asked my father.

"Well the elders of Esima say that our sufferings are unparallelled," said Papa Yogi. "So, they are asking every Esima man to prepare to face the worst when it comes.

"What!" exclaimed my bewildered father for the second time. "Are they preparing to fight the government?"

"But you know that the government will not give its blessing to such a decision," said Papa Yogi, and with that he stood up to go as my father gazed in front of him at no visible object.

The days following that discussion of Papa Yogi and my father brought a lot of chaos. Many people came from different places to our village to look for food and a place to sleep. Some of them were very ill and could not stand up properly. Although we, the villagers had grown tall and skinny, these people were very thin indeed. They grabbed at anything to eat, even pieces of paper. Whatever brought them to our village I was very convinced that these people had never been taught how to laugh.


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talking drums 1985-06-24 kwame nkrumah Gold Coast end of empire