Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story


By Kwadjo Attakora Baah

Wild grass had taken the place of the well-kept flower garden. The beautiful and airy orchard sandwiching the palace-like and isolated 19th century house was no more. In its place was a near impenetrable forest aggressively advancing on and threatening to swallow up the once cement- coated and white-washed house popularly termed Attakora Villa, about a kilometre from Amanasi.

The cement floors were muddy, the thick wall had vanished and the painted walls were no more. The whole structure was in fact crumbling. It could be heard crying for divine intervention, lest it falls forever.

The usual bleating of the sheep, the cock- a-doodle-doo of the cocks and the grunting of the pigs were no more. The birds who used to congregate in the orchard and sing songs of joy would only deepen their voices and sing dirges. The fireplace was icy. The food shed and the meat baskets were all empty.

That was what was left of my village, once vibrating with life and the pride of its inhabitants, when I returned there after my six month-stay in England.

"Is that you, Payin, my son?" gasped Aunt Asiedua in a shaky voice barely above a whisper. I saw her face shimmer to my delight.

"It's me, Sisi," I answered chirpily. That was how everybody young and old called her. It appeared my presence after the long break made her flood in a warm relief, temporary though it was.

She was 50 but the figure I saw on the low bed cocooned in a blanket was like that of a seven-year-old girl. She was nothing but a bag of bones.

"How are you, my son?" she said with a face contorting with pain. With much effort, she pulled out her all-bone right hand. I quickly held and shook it, gently of course, for it was so tenuous I felt it might break.

"I'm only waiting for death to take me away, Payin," she groaned again and went silent.

"Let's wait and see what God will do," I said consoling her. Tears welled in my eyes. "A man should always smother his emotions. He doesn't cry when other eyes are looking at him," my mother once said to me. These words came back making me hold the tears back.

Sisi had been sick for a couple of years. I was clearly liked by her. She did all within her means to encourage the amorous relationship between her youngest daughter Baabi and I during my student days at Prempeh College and at the University of Ghana.

She would ensure the provision of gari, some fruits and money on my return to school after holidaying with her.

The second cock crow at 3.00am woke her from bed each morning. By 3.30 she would be heard splitting firewood, making the fire and thus bringing warmth and life to the village. Since that fateful evening she complained of abdominal pains and was bed-ridden the following day, the whole village went bedridden with her.

"I'll love to see you and Baabi live together," Sisi had said, making me feel a bit embarrassed for I thought it was all a secret. She might have noticed the cordiality between Baabi and I many years earlier when she was six and I was ten. She had always had a face brightened up with childish excitement when I was around.

The usual bleating of the sheep, the cock-a-doodle-doo of the cocks and the grunting of the pigs were no more. The birds who used to congregate in the orchard and sing songs of joy would only deepen their voices and sing dirges. The fireplace was icy. The food shed and the meat baskets were all empty.

"You are lucky Payin is here. You'd have wept your lungs out today," she would say and Baabi would be freed from her mother's cane. Children, she believed, must be disciplined and her definition for that was berating and thrashing. She would discipline Baabi when I was not around. There were occasions I would hide in a corner and sob on seeing her cry. Baby love, I called it.

"Kwasii, Amaa, Emma, Aggiee..." were the familiar calls that rang through the house each morning at 4.00.

"If I had some schooling," she would mope, "I wouldn't have been a nobody like I now am." Sisi was the type who always harped on her misfortunes. These were not empty boasts. She had by self-tuition learnt to write her name, read the bible fairly accurately and read the clock.

She was precise, exceptionally neat and loved flowers. Her husband had died soon after the birth of Baabi and had since then learnt to be self-sufficient and played the role of both parents. Apart from her four children, she had half a dozen other children to cater for. Feeding all those mouths was no joke. She did all sorts of jobs to make a living.

Her banku and stew would be ready by 6.00am. The next two hours were for farm work and the rest of the day spent at her shed at the L/A Middle School where she sold her banku and stew during the children's break times. The weekends were for petty trading at the market and longer hours on the farm.

A child who passes through Sisi's hands never goes spoilt." That was a comment from my grandma, Nye. That explained the large number of children with her. Everybody wanted his or her child 'trained' by Sisi. She was strong and very hard-working but was hot-tempered. She was in fact the rock of the village. Her being taken so seriously ill meant the amputation of the village's right hand.

Men mellowed when she was around but here she was lying helplessly on her bed and being fed from there.

The doctors had proved hopelessly useless with their inability to diagnose what was actually wrong with her. They advised spiritual treatment. The fetishes sucked all the money she and her children had.

The churches weren't helpful either. The presence of Pastor John brought some ray of hope. He had the panacea. So he said. He claimed to have fasted and prayed for a whole week for Sisi. It appeared, however, that the more he fasted, the fatter he became and the more Sisi's condition deteriorated.

Kakra, my poet twin brother, had in one of his verses said of her:

Poverty has been her companion
but she is heavy with wealth
The world's riches come to
bow and borrow
She feeds the world's hungry
and goes hungry
She mothers the motherless
but is motherless.
"What do you think is wrong with Sisi?" I asked the Pastor. He raised his head to the heavens, shut his eyes and stood silent for a moment.

"Yes, your aunt is ill," he said abruptly and with a serious face. "I foresaw this in a vision five years ago."

"Five years ago and you did nothing to prevent it, Pastor," I complained.

"The Lord's time is always the best," he answered and to my surprise, with no pang of guilt.

"The Lord's time is always the best," I said after him. Serious Christian, I thought. But for his grey hair, I would have added, "You are a big fool." I'd returned from London with a chain of academic degrees. All had however expected to see a plumpy-bodied, bursting- cheeked and pot-bellied Braa Ataa, for he had just returned from the white man's land.

The opposite was however the case. "He came with papers and not cars." That was the gossip in town. Academic qualifications mean nothing today in Ghana. The gossipers were to a large extent justified to think that way.

On that Friday morning, Sisi passed away. That implied the granting of a death certificate to the entire village. The root of the family was uprooted. The fireplace was bound to be perpetually icy.

An obedient woman she was, she attended to the call of her ancestors but selfish as they were, they wouldn't allow her back. Our insistence on her return to us was uncompromising. The jealous ancestors proved difficult. We waged a war against them but they proved invincible. "All will be laid bare when I'm gone," she had told me.

"What do you mean, Sisi?"

"That's all I'll say for the moment."

"I want an explanation for that please."


I realised I had to stop bothering her with talking. The more she did, the worse her condition became.

The body was conveyed to Larteh where the funeral was held. She had a heroine's funeral. The Attakora family had to show it was one of some means.

The mourners were from all parts of the country. Sisi had belonged to a motley collection of groups - The Presbyterian Women's Singing Band, The Akwapim Fekuw, The Women's Fellowship, to mention but a few. These had all been either wholly present or had sent large delegations to the funeral. The Praise singers were there. Conspicuously present were the professional mourners. They loved that and were never absent from any such gathering. They took delight in singing, dancing and drinking their heads off.

The husband-wife hunters were there as usual, in their numbers.

"Hieeee, hieeee..." came the deafening and ecstatic yell from Aunt Bolaso, Sisi's elder sister. She had earlier appeared to have been hurt most by her death and was thus the loudest among the wailers.

All gave way and stood gaping at her as she raced through the crowd shouting at the top of her voice.

"I did it, I did it," she cried.

Yaw, Sisi's soldier son dashed out and held her. "You did what?" he barked.

"I did it, I did it," she repeated, trembling.

"You did what? Say it or I'll strangle you," he said threateningly.

With a shivering voice and a browbeaten look, Aunt Balaso said, "I killed Sisi."

"You did what?"

"I killed Sisi," she said, now wearing a harassed expression. All proceedings had come to a halt and all eyes and ears were turned to her.

Aunt Balaso was a witch and had been jealous of the strides Sisi was making in life. She had to end it all and did exactly that, her own way - spiritually.

The crowd's instant verdict was "Death to Bolaso," and it also did exactly that. She was lynched.

talking drums 1986-02-10 IMF dictates to Ghana - Inflation - Devaluation - Commonwealth Games