Short story: Boomerang
“If colonization had a shape, it would be a boomerang…too many citizens believe they belong to a higher civilization somewhere else…this state of mind allows too many of us to lie to cheat and steal from ourselves and others… ”
Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Bluebird’
Friday, 6 May, 1983. Kotoka International Airport, Accra.
19:35. I looked up from my watch. I could have sworn I told her to pick me up at seven. My eyes raced across the room in search of what I thought Akosua would look like. I had not seen her since she was seven, but I knew exactly what to expect; an African goddess, cowries in natural African hair and a curvy African figure draped in local cloth. All I could see, however, was a clipping from an American magazine. Every woman in the room either had a perm or a weave.
“Excuse me sir,” a polished accent that almost sounded English addressed me from behind. I turned around in surprise. The owner of those words was in her late twenties. She was sickeningly thin with light brown skin, expect for the slightly darker blotches that showed she used to be dark skinned. Like most of the women around, her hair was not her own; most likely imported from some far away land.
“Are you Walter?” she spoke again, stressing on the‘t’ so much I almost couldn’t tell she was saying my name.
“Well, my name is Nana Kwamena Arhin, but some do call me Walter.”
My words seemed to hit her like fire on a sunny day. She scrutinized me more closely, and seemed insulted by my appearance: from my low quality sandals, my shirt tailored from African print, eventually settling on my unkempt afro.
“I’m Victoria,” she said, finally breaking her fixation. After noticing my confused expression, she mouthed, “Akosua” with a menacing grimace.
For a split second, I took a step back and the buzzing of the crowd faded into nothingness. All I could see before me was a stranger who had introduced herself as Akosua. My Akosua. I forced a smile. She nodded and motioned for me to follow her. Walking through the Kotoka glass doors and into the outer courts of the building, a hot gust of air hit my face to remind me I was no longer miles across the ocean in a foreign land. Akosua walked ahead of me with a clearly rehearsed feline gait that could match up to any super model on television. She stopped beside what I thought was her car and unlocked the doors with the flick of the car key. A few minutes later, my only bag was in the back of the blue-black Datsun and we were speeding through a partly deserted street.
“So Walter -,” I cut her off before she could go on, “Please, call me Kwamena…”
She grimaced again.
‘Kwamena,” she said the name with so much distastefulness, “You said you were here on business?”
“Yes. Mining business. I want to set up the first mining enterprise managed by a black man,” I said with a smile.
“And all of this you say you have to do in how many days?”
“Well, I continued, ignoring her rudeness, “I’ll be setting off to Kumasi early tomorrow to meet with the chief about the land. The actual setting up of the business will start in a few years.”
“But you know what they say about the mines,” she said, “The white man was smart enough to take all our minerals and leave the land uninhabitable.”
I frowned. That was true. I had heard several stories from colleagues who had gone to their home countries with the same intention, only to realize that, there was close to nothing left to be mined.
“There are no minerals Walt – Kwamena,” she said in what was almost a whisper.
Just then we pulled up next to a large building that I assumed was the hotel she wanted me to stay in. When she turned off the ignition she turned to look at me with an awkward expression.
“So what is really up with this look?” she asked, “Still not American enough after twenty years?”
I was embarrassed and disappointed.
“My clothes are comfortable and above all, African.”
I shook my head and followed suit as she hoped out of the car, stifling laughter.
I grabbed my bag and followed her as she sashayed up the stairs and into the building.
Sunday, 8 May, 1983. Bantama, Ashanti Region.
I was awakened by a woman shaking me.
“Eat this.” Her voice was pleasant.
I opened my eyes to see my grandmother bent over me with a tray of what looked like breakfast. I sat up in bed and noticed it was already afternoon. I had been bone tired from the journey from Accra to Kumasi yesterday so I was justified for sleeping in.
“Nana thank you,” I croaked as she made her way out of the room. I gobbled the food down in such a hurry; you would think I was sharing it with a dozen people. I grabbed a simple pair of shorts, pulled a white shirt over my head and went into the kitchen holding the tray. My grandmother and cousin sat at the little bamboo table where I had had lunch for almost fifteen years of my life before I went to the United States. I put the tray in the sink and turned to my cousin, “Abena, wash my plates when you finish eating.” To this statement, both my grandmother and my cousin looked at me as if I had committed a taboo.
“What has twenty-three years in America taught you? Eh Kwamena?” my grandmother asked. I was surprised and amused at the same time. “Don’t you know that young girls of today don’t wash plates or engage in any activity of that sort? They are too occupied with reading, school and looking good.”
I wanted to stand and argue but I knew I didn’t have the time; I had to meet with the chiefs of the town in less than fifteen minutes, so I just nodded and made a mental note to confront Nana later. Walking through the streets of Bantama reminded me so much of my childhood; I almost felt like I was twelve again. I passed by a sign that read: ‘MINE CLOSED. DANGEROUS. KEEP OFF’. I shook my head, remembering what Akosua had said.
Undeterred, I reached the chief’s palace and walked with confidence through the gates. I had already arranged with the ‘Okyeame’ to make local gin available, as it was considered disrespectful to visit the chief without bringing him a gift.
When I reached the front door, the ‘Okyeame’ met me with two large bottles of local ‘pito’.
Before I took the bottles and went in, the ‘Okyeame’ motioned for me to draw closer so he could whisper something into my ear.
“Massa,” he addressed me, “You are fine man. I won’t like you to be deceive. The chief no have power for land ooo. Now na government oversee the land. Chief no fit do anything give you.”
I nodded, grabbed the bottles and walked into the room; I didn’t want to keep the chief waiting.
The current chief was a light-skinned man with a stomach so huge, it made a potbelly look decent. As the chief spoke on and on about the land, I couldn’t help but think back to what the linguist had said. From the little I gathered from the English he had tried to speak to me, I was wasting my time. The way to access land was now through the government. But how was that possible? The chiefs had always been the sole custodians of the land.
After ranting on for over an hour, the chief finally told me he would look into the situation and get back to me. I thanked him and took my leave. If what the linguist had said was true, then there was no use coming to Kumasi. I felt a tinge of disappointment as my rubber slippers hit the untarred road.
I walked through grandmother’s door and into the living room. Grandmother and Abena were all dressed up in heavy clothing, despite the heat outside.
“Kwamena, we are going to church so get dressed in one of your fancy American suits and come along with us,” that was grandmother.
I shook my head.
“I haven’t been to the ancestral shrine in years”, I said, “Besides, we worshipped God perfectly before the white man came with all of the Christianity thing.”
Clearly Nana and Abena were both shocked. They stood there with their mouths wide open.
I walked upstairs, totally ignoring them, and began to pack my bags. I would not spend another night in this place.
Tuesday, 11 May, 1982. Accra.
I sat at a table in an exotic restaurant with a menu that did not intrigue me in the least. I was going back to the United Stated that evening and I was craving ‘fufu’ and palm nut soup. I would have given anything to be at a chop bar instead, but I needed to talk to Akosua, and she insisted we talk over breakfast at this overly expensive restaurant. If I didn’t already know she was the one sitting across me, I wouldn’t have noticed her. She looked so much lighter than I remember.
“You know it’s very rude to stare,” she said, sipping her orange juice.
“You know. It’s very rude to make me stare.”
We both laughed, and for that split second, I saw the little girl I had loved in my childhood.
“What happened to you, Akosua?” I asked with a straight face. Her change in expression clearly showed she took offence at my question.
“Don’t you like it?” she asked, extremely hurt.
I kept a straight face.
“I didn’t just come across the ocean to see the chief, Akosua” I said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a cowry.
Akosua’s expression suddenly changed. She remembered.
“Years ago I had wanted to tell you something I had rehearsed, but you were upset. You told me you had lost the only red cowry you had. The one your mother gave you. You asked me to help you look for it, but when I found it I didn’t have the courage to tell you what I had rehearsed. I told myself I would return the cowry to you when I was bold enough to tell you.”
Akosua sat there with a blank expression. She took the cowry from my palm, tears in eyes.
“At fifteen years old, I fell in love with you. If a child that young can understand love,” I reached out and held her hand. I put a piece of paper next to her, put some cedi notes on the table and got to my feet.
That night, as I sat on the airplane, it occurred to me that I was a stranger not only in a foreign land, but also in my own land. I had crossed the ocean to find the two loves of my life: my motherland and my childhood sweetheart. Neither were the same; time had claimed them and transformed them.
Written by Marilyn Osei