Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

Adventure of the Elusive Millions - Part 1

By Kwame Poku

The train was moving through the English countryside. I could read the city-name of the station we have just passed even in my state of half sleep. It has been a jolly ride, like some interminable glide through space and time for the hotel-on-wheels was warm, cosy and comfortable. On and on, it moved fast but noiselessly through the snow-clad landmass, with the white panorama of a blanket of snow, thick and beautifully layered, receding backwards with the forward moving coaches.

I thought of home, I was going home on a short visit to the unending glare of the African sun away from the cold and blitz of the March winter. I was alone to my thoughts: The past two years have marked a dreary turning point out of the ten I have lived in this country. I have had sleepless nights, shed uncontrollable pillow-soaking tears, despaired endlessly and longed for the warm embrace of my mother. How aged will she be by now? How will she recognise me let alone receive me?

I have reached a point when my life with Alicia seems poised at the edge of a precipice, likely to tumble to shatter the future of our five innocent black-white hybrids of children we have brought into my alien world. Demeaning as this situa- tion has been and however defiantly I resolved to free myself from a chain of financial catastrophes, I seem to be getting no answers after several times of trying all possible and probable schemes. It has been a relentless fight and I was determined to go on trying. Last February, a month had passed to be precise, I sensed a prospect before me, and like a drowning man, I was eager to grab this last straw.

It all came in a flash - diamonds, glittering diamonds, sparkling crystals - the perfect road to the world of millions and a sure way of instant rescue from my predicament. Within three weeks, I can settle all my debts, buy everything I need and pack everything and back home for good. I was excited, bewitched and my mind raced out of control. And why not? My country has plenty of diamonds, practically accumulated in the basin of every river and stream worth its name. And are they not there for the taking? Why should I struggle so much and suffer her so much in this self perpetuated exile? The train entered a tunnel and the momentary dark- ness interrupted my thoughts but only briefly. Of course Alicia has vehemently objected to my reasons for going home to Africa and we have had a nasty row over my idea to indulge in such fearful dreams.

"You will definitely get caught at the airport, you will then be exposed as a gem smuggler, you will probably go to jail... what will happen to me, to the kids?

We argued and argued but I was set firmly on my decided course of action and not my wife's tantrums could persuade me to abandon it.

Eventually I got to London in the early hours of the evening and reached the airport without much difficulty. I had two hours to spare before the departure of the aircraft which will carry me to Accra. I checked in my ticket and luggage and was straining my eyes through the travellers when the din around me was intercepted with a call on the system in what appeared to be a personal summons:

"Would Mr Kwamina Biney meeting Mr and Mrs Bernard Yamfo please report

to the airport information desk?" I felt relieved because I was eager to meet my bosom friend and his wife Constance. Ben had been the best man when I married my white wife, Alicia and both had attended the christening of my two sons and later congratulated me with a giant card when Alicia delivered the trip- let girls just over a year ago.

It was great seeing them again and the pleasantries were exchanged with smiles and affection. Presently, Constance, charming and vivacious as ever, was leading the trio to the bar and calling the waitresses.

"Good to see you Kwamina", said Ben with an infectious civility as we took our seats.

"Good to see you too, old chap", I replied and continued. "Dundee is under the blitz, cold, dreary and..."

"London seems to have escaped the worst of the winter", said Ben. "How is your good lady behaving nowadays... and the kids", asked Constance as the drinks arrived.

"Alicia has never been a model of a wife, as you know but we are, well, surviving. The boys love their three little sisters," I replied.

"Still nursing old people at Ninewells Hospital?" Ben put the question to me. "What else could I do, Ben? Had to abandon the Accountancy course eventually."

"And how are things generally? You sounded less cheerful on the phone last night....

"Things are bad, Ben, very bad." I paused and smiled into their faces, gulping the beer as normally as I could.

"However," I continued, "I have a proposal to undertake which I believe can make me rich overnight and kill all my worries at a stroke; a million-dollar adventure to brighten the horizons of this dull future."

"What is it?"

"You appear you have won the million already," said Constance.

"I'm going home to buy diamonds from the bush and bring them over here to sell. I know Constance hails from that diamond mining district in the Eastern Region and I believe she may be able to brief me a little or get me an introduction to someone in that business who could guide me," I said.

"What do you know about diamonds, anyway" asked Ben.

"Next to nothing," I admitted, "I'm open to advice and learning," I said.

"Forget it chum. It's a risky business, very risky... Gem traffiking is a dangerous pursuit, especially, for a beginner like you" he said.

"I've got to start from some point, Ben and I want to make it big in a short time", I replied. "You've got capital?" Constance asked. "One thousand pounds. Bank loan".

"Too small, Kwamena", said Constance, "I am afraid... You could deposit it for a second-hand car and begin a taxi service, hmmm?" said Ben.

"I can't, besides, Alicia won't move to London with five kids and... You know her penchant for tantrums no, I want to be able to return home finally in a year's time. This is the only option for quick cash."

They spent sometime to try and persuade me to abandon the idea but I was stubborn.

"Well, since you've made up your mind, we can only wish you good luck. Do get in touch with us on your return. Do contact my brother, the motor mechanic at Takrase and I'm sure he will assist you in any way he can. Take this parcel to him and convey our greetings to him and all the family", Constance concluded. I said goodbye to them and hurried away.

It was the voice from the aircraft's control room which jolted me to my senses. I had slept or dozed or done both all through the flight. My watch dial told me I have been aboard for over five hours. It was the announcement which caused my pulse to quicken and tumbled my state of mind into the abyss of confusion. It was that the plane was not able to land at Accra in view of unconfirmed reports of the closure of the airport due to some imminent political crisis. It added that if an all-clear signal was not obtained in the next half hour, the crew may have to return the aircraft... retrace its path...

"I'm going home to buy diamonds from the bush and bring them over here to sell. I know Constance hails from that diamond mining area in the Eastern Region and I believe she may be able to brief me a little or get me introduced to someone in that business who could guide me.

"Back to London?" I gasped questioningly without expecting any answer. I was sweating and my heart was pounding and a mixture of fear and desperation swal- lowed my whole being and my hands began to shake. I gripped my seat firmly and reached into the turmoil raking my brain. "What am I going to do if this preliminary adventure collapses even before I'm to touch down on the soil of my homeland. How am I going to extract myself from the maze of financial worries into which I have been caught. It's now or never. This adventure is bound to make or mar my whole future and if I go down, I will be doing so unwillingly, taking along to my doom all those hoards of kith and kin who have depended and still depend on me for sustenance. I thought my world was crashing with the aircraft still hover- ing in the air round and round and me crashing down, down, down... I closed my eyes and began to recite the Lord's prayer and...

The Lord did acknowledge his univer-sal prayer and after what looked like a long time of suspension in the heavens, the news came that the plane was going towards home after all. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, fastened my seat belt and waited in anticipation.

Four days had passed since I arrived and still I was not well adjusted to the heat and the high cost of living. Taxi fares especially were so high that when I paid about two hundred cedis to look for an old friend in some part of the city, I was astounded but then, "been-to's" are always easy prey to taxi drivers, hotel keepers, luggage carriers, all sorts of hawkers... the whole lot.

The sun scorching at all times took its toll of my strength and there was never a moment in which I was free from profuse sweat and skin-rashes. But home is home and I can't say that I didn't enjoy my brief stay at the village. I returned to Accra to look for local currency to begin the ad- venture. The most memorable ordeal was the road journey from Accra to my destination to try and locate Mrs Constance Yamfu's brother, the motor mechanic at Takrase.

The Bedford mammy truck was overfilled beyond its capacity and thundering along the rain-sudden impassable bush road was a horrific experience, bone- shaking, nerve-racking and devastatingly excruciating, and at some point in the journey, I regretted for subjecting my health to such brutal pain and pressure and wish I were back in my Dundee council flat surrounded by my noisy chattering five half-castes with their nagging mother.

When I finally located my host and guide in the village, I was fatigued, hungry and in low spirits. Kwaku Badu was over excited to receive the parcel I had brought him from his sister and brother-in-law and I didn't need any formal introduction, except to tell the story of my mission. Of course, I had learnt from fellow passengers on the mammy truck how the village is a typical scenario of poverty in the midst of plenty, mud houses thatched with raffia palm built on the soil that contain the shining stories which are precious to life and material well-being.

After telling my host why I came, he did not express any visible sign of deject- ion or joy until I asked when I could return to Accra. First he coughed and with seriousness intimated that I was patently a novice in the business and need lots more guidance than he had expected.

talking drums 1985-12-23-30 looking back at 1985