Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story


By Tehtey

Dreams easily came to Narh. The night before, he dreamt that he was at church buying and selling-turning God's house into a den of thieves. This night, he was picking mushrooms on the beach, of all places. The mush- rooms were unlike any other in whiteness and size. He was actually axing this one twice his five feet height when he came to reality.

At first it didn't surprise him that he was lying on a beach. In the sea to be precise. It was roaring and the sandy waves were sponging his entire half- naked body. Feeling cold, he reached out for his sleeping cloth. Then he became fully awake, though still uncertain that he was even at Ada-Foah.

Ada-Foah was right in the wedge of the Volta and the Guinea Gulf. It was a town smaller than its name in that, people still thought that it was a town with the vim of an old lady, lighted by lanterns and watered by wells and the River Volta which is naturally richer in Bilharzia germs than fish.

Narh went to sleep that night hearing the sea's grumbling come over four hundred metres away. Five decades ago, it was exactly a hundred times this distance though many people did not know. Between his house and the sea were a Police Station and a cemetery, one as inefficient as the other in checking any misdemeanour of unruly principalities such as the sea. There were many houses nearer the sea than Narh's who that night also slept the usual sleep of an innocent child.

And now where was he? On the beach? What happened? Where is everybody? Grandmother Yayo? Aunt Nyegwa? Little brother Narteh? Kofi? Tawiah? Amarlai? Esi? Gloria? Who else? Narh managed to get up. Slowly. The sea washed his unsteady feet. It was cold. There was moonlight to help him find out where he was and perhaps what had happened.

He stood on sandy land. Near where he had lain, there was something like a football goalpost. Not like - it was it all right. He felt like laughing when he crawled over and touched it. But the pain stifled every other urge. It was in every part of him; the left side of his head the left hip were tormenting hells. There was a building to his right. He moved towards it. Slowly, like a crab with its shell cracked, very slowly…


It was not the intention of survivors to isolate or congregate. But survivors found themselves massed confusedly at four points along what was now the beach. At Freedom Cafe where dances used to be held, at Texaco Filling Station, at Bana (the Presbyterian Middle Boys Boarding School), and far away Totimekope. Both the congregation and the isolation were enhanced by the time interval between the first and second disasters. Of course, the sea struck more than once.

The first killer wave came cascading onto the town just about midnight. Roar-thunder-crash-boom-bam-roar! It hit every house within 500 metres before pulling back to settle at less than 400 metres inland. In Narh's house, the first to recover from the paralysing shock was Nyewenye Korleki.

He was ready for a ghost. But it wasn't even a stranger. In daylight, you would see ethnic marks on both sides of his face. He bent down over the boy and peered into his feminine face.

"Yayo, Yayo!" she cried out, blowing from her nose and spitting from her mouth, sand and sea water. The angry roar of the sea perhaps did not entirely swallow her cries. She heard somebody calling "Yayo", but it was so faint she couldn't tell who. She jumped off the wet straw-mattress on the bed only to stand in moving water. It was fear which this time made her cry out "Yayo lee!"

In the pitch darkness which did not help orientation, she heard somebody reply "Yayo! Nyewenye Korleki! Yavo!"

"Narh!" Immediately there was that deathly crash before Narh could respond. But for the monotonous roar of the sea, there was complete silence.

… It took some minutes for Nyewenye Korleki and Nyegwa to find themselves. The roof and swish walls had crumpled down at the east and northern parts of their room. There was no wall where Yayo and some of the children slept. Now they were blessed with moonlight to look upon the horror of the night. They found Gloria (Nyewenye Korleki's daughter), found Amarlai and Tawiah (Nyegwa's children), all only slightly bruised most unbelievably. Narh was dug out half- buried some eternal minutes later.

With tears and sea water in their eyes and everywhere, they continued to work blindly and helplessly. In the moonlight and in the din of the sea waves, they could hear others hard at work to save their living and the dead. "Yayo... Yayo lee!" was their constant cry. They pulled back the levelled walls with hands and sticks and unlikely implements. Trunks and bowls and baskets and boxes were dug out disinterestedly. Yayo was nowhere to be saved.

"Is anybody dead?" The awkward silence that replied the well-wisher was rather unfair. She found her way to the mango tree where three children huddled together. Another was lying on the ground. "Who is that?"

"Narh." The well-wisher saw that he wasn't dead but was in pain.

The second disaster struck many minutes past midnight hour. The roar just built up to a crescendo and came thundering down in an almighty avalanche. Nothing weak or loose was. left to stand within 200 metres inland. Everything and everybody was a knocked out object for many minutes.

Narh remembered none of these things. He had reached the building and had helplessly laid down. It was the Methodist School building. It meant he was washed upon Dove Park. It meant he was at least 200 metres from his house, and the same distance from Bana where he came first in every terminal examination. More importantly, it was there he led the school band on parades because he was a handsome, clever, likeable fourteen- year-old boy. The pain, however, made all these facts unimportant. One half of his head had swollen to the size of another head. His hip was a distortion. he just laid there, his eyes shut, listening to the raging sea. He had never felt so helpless in his life.

"Who is lying there?" Narh nearly died of fright. "Who?"

He was ready for a ghost. But it wasn't even a stranger. Most people weren't in a small town such as Ada- Foah. He was Tseko (uncle) Kaseker. In daylight, you would see ethnic marks on both sides of his face. He bent over the boy and peered into his feminine face. When he recognised him, he started asking questions.

"Narh? Where is Yayo? Where is Nyegwa? Can't you talk?. Come, boy, let's go.”

Narh was blacked out by the pain as he was raised to his feet. Tseko Kaseker had to carry him on his back. His fifty-year strength was maintained by daily labours for inadequate wages as a Town Council labourer, and drained away by staggering doses of Akpeteshie (local gin) from which he even smelt.


The commotion at Freedom Cafe was not directly about the sea disaster. It was about who got onto the only known serviceable vehicle that plied between Ada-Foah and Accra. Over 200 people were struggling and jostling each other to find a place on the 33-seater Bedford bus. There were as many people on the carrier as there were inside.

"Get down all of you! Where are you going?... ", shouted the son of the owner of Freedom Cafe.

"Where are we going? Go and ask the sea," was the unheard retort. He went and brought his old man. Together, in varying emotions, they explained to, threatened, told the crowd that there had been no fuel in the tank (and the town) for the past three days. That if even there was fuel, man and bus had to rest because it was Sunday. "Did you see us going to Accra yesterday? Sheep!" That was the son. And the commotion went on, all ears shut to reason.

Tseko Kaseker came there with Narh on his back. Perhaps on the bus, Yayo, or somebody would be found. He did find somebody. Little Gloria. She was suffocating on the bus and was crying for help. It was not easy getting her out by the window. "Where are you going, Gloria?" Gloria stood and cried.

"Who put you on the bus?" She cried.

"Stop sniffing. Talk like a ten-year-old girl. If you wanted to die, why didn't you die in the sea? Where is Yayo?"

To this she answered "I don't know." Tseko took her by the hand and led her away from the estranged crowd. But he was just as confused as the child he led. He was tired. Narh was still on his back unconscious. He still wanted to ask where everybody was even though he came onto the street and there were people he knew by first names.

The singing was spontaneous. It was discordant at first, being much dominated by the roar of the sea and general voices of chaos. Then it finetuned.

EPEEWE NOKO, KE HA MAWU. (It matters not. Give it to God. DITTO).

YE BENE GBENO PEEWO HA. PASSA. (Look what death has done to us. Abjectly.)
The singing was spontaneous. It was discordant at first, being much dominated by the roar of the sea and general voices of chaos. Then it finetuned.
It brought us sanity; people began moving unidirectionally. The wailing and crying and weeping were fuelled. Narh was coming round on Tseko's back, dreamingly. Gloria held on more tightly to Tseko. The three of them were still unmoving and unmoved even though they stood in the midst of the biggest wake-keeping for the lost and the dead.

"Where are you going, Kojo?" Kojo was Tseko's co-worker at the Town Council.

"You stand there asking where I am going. Fool." Tseko didn't hear the last word. His anxiety increased as did his tiredness. He wanted to catch up with Kojo and ask his question again.

"Asinye, is that you?"

"Yes Tseko Kaseker. Why are you standing there?"

"Narh and Gloria... I don't know what to do with them."

"Take them to Freedom Cafe."

"There is nobody there."


"I mean their people - Yayo, Nyegwa.. "Then come with us to Big Ada. I know their family house." "I know there," Gloria chirped in.

Tseko was irritated. "I can't carry the boy all that way." He was unashamed. The distance was three miles. He convinced himself that he had to leave Narh at Freedom Cafe and search for his Yayo and people. Meanwhile, Gloria would join the exodus immediately in care of Asinye.

Narh had had a wondrous sleep. Tseko Kaseker had covered him as best as he could. As usual, Narh dreamt. But the dreams were so diffused and superimposed on each other that it was one big world of lunacy. His Stella of the Girls School (also in Form Two like himself) shrieking just shrieking; playing football and scoring goals by the dozen, his colleagues jeering instead of cheering; being chased by a little girl and running into a fetish hut in the Volta where tall bespectacled men, one a duplicate of the other, made speeches about DAIKS and DAAMS.

He was alive, awake and alone. The sun was shining brightly in the sky. He had to drag himself out of wherever he was. He had to, in spite of the unbear- able pain, because there was a forbid- ding din somewhere which seemed to threaten his existence. It was almost an eternity before he got out only to stare upon an inscrutable scene. Before him was a clean street. Behind it was a sea waving back and forth. Unfortunately, he could only understand one thing - PAIN. Every memory was elusive, including how this sea swallowed a town - houses, churches, schools, fields - swallowed up all its inhabitants except him.

He tried to remember somebody - just anybody. It took him ages to remember just the name Yayo. YAYO? It was as if her (his?) memory was a cowry flung into this sea.

talking drums 1985-07-22 the cia in ghana behind the scranage-sousoudis affair